Just three points separated the Jets and Bills when they played a month ago, and there's every reason to believe their meeting Sunday will be another close one. The Bills have a resurgent defense and a young offense, and they seem like they can jump back into contention with a win on Sunday. The Jets, on the other hand, have lost four in a row, and are looking for answers to their struggles on both sides of the ball.
BILLS (2–4) at JETS (1–6)
Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Chad Pennington threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Cincinnati last week. It marked the third time in six starts this season in which he had a passer rating over 110.0 for the game. The biggest change last week was that he was throwing the ball deep. Two of those passes were completed for touchdown passes, one from 57 yards and another from 36. Coles ended up with 133 yards, the first time he'd gone over 90 in a game this season.
When these two teams met in week four, Pennington threw 39 passes while Jets' running backs combined for just 16 rushing attempts. That lack of balance in the offense was one of the reasons why the Bills' beleaguered defense held the Jets to just 14 points. While they were able to move the ball, they weren't able to cap their drives with points.
Buffalo's defense lost some key players to injury early, but they've played much better over the last three games. They held the Jets and Ravens to just 14 points and forced six turnovers in the Dallas game. As younger players get more experience, they've improved. John DiGiorgio has made great strides at middle linebacker, and Jabari Greer has done so well filling in at cornerback that he has probably earned the starting job. The Bills have also been helped by the return of a couple of players. Weak side linebacker Keith Ellson is back after missing the first four games with an ankle injury. Defensive end Anthony Hargrove returned after serving a four game suspension. It would be a stretch to say that the Bills are suddenly one of the AFC's best defenses, but they're playing a whole lot better than their year-to-date numbers might suggest.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards makes his fourth straight start for the Bills. While his numbers have not been impressive, the team has gone 2–1 in his first three starts. The lone loss came in a stunning one-point defeat to Dallas, when the Buffalo defense gave up nine points in the final 20 seconds.
The Bills spent their off-season revamping their offensive line through free agency, and used their first-round pick on running back Marshawn Lynch. They'd like to use their running game to control the clock and set up the vertical passing game that offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild learned as an assistant under Mike Martz with the Rams. Lynch has the kind of elusiveness to be effective in that role, and he's a good receiver out of the backside.
The change at quarterback has slowed the development of Buffalo's ground game. Opposing defenses have focused on stopping Lynch, and they've been more effective at doing that with Edwards in the lineup. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry in Losman's starts, but just 3.3 with Edwards at the helm.
The Jets' run defense has gone from bad to worse. They've surrendered at least 150 rushing yards in three straight games, and last week let unheralded Bengals' backup Kenny Watson roll over them for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Jets' head coach Eric Mangini revealed on Wednesday that linebacker Jonathan Vilma had suffered a knee injury in the loss to Cincinnati last week, and word leaked out yesterday afternoon that he may require season-ending surgery. Rookie David Harris, a second-round pick from Michigan, will take his place. Harris doesn't have the same kind of speed that Vilma had. But frankly, he's a better fit for the Jets' 3–4 system, and will probably be more effective against the run.
Gang Green has also struggled to generate a pass rush, managing just seven sacks in seven games. That lack of pressure has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for an average of 246 yards per game, with an 11/5 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.
KEY TO THE GAME
This game will come down to the running game, and which team is better at defending it. To win, the Jets have to contain Lynch and get Thomas Jones going.
Lahman's Pick: Jets 17–14