The Buffalo Bills will find out just how much “pop” they have in their passing game Sunday against the New York Jets.
For the past four years, the Bills’ passing attack has done nothing but “fizz” against the defense of Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Ryan has dared the Bills to beat him deep, contested the easy throws underneath and shut Buffalo down. The Bills are 2-6 against Ryan’s Jets.
In seven career games against the Jets, former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed only 50.2 percent of his throws for an average of 174 passing yards a game. That was almost 10 points under Fitzpatrick’s average completion percentage and 50 yards less than his average passing yards per game.
Add the fact that this is the first road start for Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, and it shapes up as a major test for the young Bills team.
“Any time you play a team that’s man coverage all the time, and they press-man, they force you to be very accurate, and they force the wide receivers to win all the time,” Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said on Friday.
The Bills aren’t the only team that struggles against the Jets. New York has ranked among the top eight in the NFL in yards allowed each of the past four years.
Statistics show the key to their pass defense. They take away the easy throws to wide receivers. New York held opposing passers to just 53.8 percent completions last season, the second-best total in the league. Through two games this year, foes are completing a league-low 48.6 percent of passes. The league average this year is 62.2 percent.
“When you’re playing a zone team, you kind of fit in the spots, it’s easy little shots,” Hackett said. “But when you’re playing a man team, you’ve got to create separation and have an accurate ball. I’m not saying you don’t always have to be accurate, but in this situation it’s even more. It’s always going to be a little bit tight. You’re always going to be contested every single time you throw the ball.”
One solution, along with having receivers who can create separation, is to beat the Jets downfield. There will be plays available down the sidelines.
New England tried numerous shots down the sidelines in its 13-10 win over the Jets last week. But the Patriots’ depleted receiving corps couldn’t win the battles to make big plays.
Neither could the Bills against the Jets in recent years. The Bills love Manuel’s deep-throwing ability. Maybe it will be different Sunday.
Complicating the challenge for Manuel is the variety of different defensive fronts that the Jets show a quarterback.
“They have a lot of playmakers on their defense, and I think a lot of their turnovers come from just giving you hard looks,” Manuel said. “You don’t really know who to call out as the Mike and all that kind of stuff.”
The Mike is the middle linebacker, whom the quarterback aims to identify before the snap.
“They definitely do things where they put running backs in a compromised situation in picking up blitzes,” Fred Jackson said. “Whether it’s the back getting the wrong read and just missing the blitz or whether the Jets overload a side and the running back can’t get over to the other side to pick up a blitzer.”
“How are you going to handle that stuff?” Hackett asked rhetorically. “You need to have a nice, solid, simple plan to be able to make it so you can be successful.”
The Bills hope their new offensive scheme and talent is better equipped to face the Jets.
They also think their defense – which runs a scheme similar to New York’s – could help in this week’s preparation.
“It’s a huge benefit for us,” Jackson said. “We see a lot of the same things the Jets are going to do. We get a lot of exotic looks from our defense, and we can expect the same from the Jets.”