C.J. Spiller knows what his game plan would be if he were a defensive coordinator going against the Buffalo Bills.
“Stop our run and pretty much make our rookie quarterback beat us,” Spiller said Monday, a day after the New York Jets were able to execute that plan in a 27-20 victory. “I mean, that’s gonna be the model.”
The Jets showed how to build it Sunday. New York took Spiller completely out of the game – he rushed 10 times for only 9 yards before leaving the game for good early in the third quarter because of a quad injury.
“They just had a good plan,” Spiller said. “They wanted me to bounce it. They were doing a great job of getting pressure and making some of the running lanes tough. … They pretty much put a lot of people in the box and dared our passing game to beat them.”
EJ Manuel was not up to the task. The rookie quarterback could not beat the Jets’ aggressive, blitz-heavy scheme, which few teams have executed better in recent seasons. New York dared the Bills to beat man-to-man press coverage by completing throws down the sideline.
“Just got to get better at that,” Manuel said Monday. “Can’t say that it’s a footwork thing, just got to throw the ball inbounds and give them a chance.”
“Nobody has ever been able to beat the sideline,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “We want to make sure we’re giving our players an opportunity to make those plays. Am I sitting here and am I disappointed? Absolutely. I can tell you this – EJ Manuel is disappointed, too. I think those are the things that we’ll work on to correct.”
One receiver in particular who Manuel has had little chemistry with through the first three weeks of the season is T.J. Graham.
The second-year pro has been targeted just nine times on Manuel’s 108 pass attempts, just 8.3 percent of the time. They’ve connected just twice – for 13 yards – representing just 3.1 percent of Manuel’s 64 completions.
Graham had one catch for 5 yards on a season-high five targets against the Jets.
“I was running by the guy all day. They tried to use the sideline to squeeze us, but if you can run by them, then you have the whole field in front of you,” Graham said. “We’re a very young team. I’m not trying to make excuses, but there are times when we’re learning from that. Maybe next week. It’s early in the season now. We’ve got plenty of games to make up for it.”
The upcoming schedule shows little rest for a weary offense. The Ravens come to town Sunday with the fourth-ranked rush defense, allowing just 74.7 yards per game. The Cleveland Browns, Buffalo’s opponent in Week Five, rank eighth against the run, allowing 84.3 yards per game. Until Manuel shows he can take what defenses give him and turn it into first downs and ultimately points, there’s nothing to stop the Ravens and Browns from trying to copy the Jets’ blueprint.
“These guys are tough. They’re Super Bowl champions. Since they started their franchise, they’ve been known for their defense,” Spiller said of Baltimore. “It’s going to be one of those games where we’re just going to have to take what they give us.”
Spiller said the Jets’ plan was to force him to go sideline to sideline.
With he and fellow running back Fred Jackson mostly unable to find daylight — save Jackson’s 59-yard gain at the end of the first quarter — the Jets were able to tee off on Manuel.
“They just had more guys than what we had blocked,” Spiller said.
Manuel’s accuracy suffered as a result. He completed just 6-of-13 passes intended for Stevie Johnson and a dismal 2 of 10 for Robert Woods, part of a day when his completion percentage was just 45.2 percent.
“There’s always a few plays where I wish I had that throw back,” Manuel said. “I think the best thing is to learn from it and move forward.”
Spiller said his belief in Manuel has not wavered – despite the apparent cracks in the Bills’ offensive system that the Jets exposed Sunday.
“I have all the confidence in EJ. He’s gonna be great,” he said. “Teams, they’re going to try him and see how he handles it. I think he’s gonna do a great job at it. So, we welcome that. It’s just going to open it up for the other guys.”
Graham said the receivers need to have more of an understanding of what’s going on around Manuel.
“There’s a lot of stuff coming at him, flying in his face. We have to understand that. We’ve run friendlier routes, we’re there for him,” he said. “It’s kind of hard when 300-pound guys are running at you. I’ll never come on the sideline and say, ‘come on man, what are you looking at?’ because I don’t know what’s going on back there. Looking at it on tape, we’ll figure out what’s going on and adjust to it.”