The Buffalo Bills' defense aims to continue its winning streak against New York Jets workhorse running back Curtis Martin today.
The Bills have shut down Martin in four straight meetings. Making it five in a row will be one of the Bills' keys to success in today's AFC East showdown at Giants Stadium.
"We'll be keying on Curtis Martin, there's no doubt about that, on the run and the pass," said Bills coach Wade Phillips. "We've got to be where he is and have more than enough people there for him."
Since Martin joined the Jets in 1998, the Bills' defense has held him to 45, 64, 54 and 38 yards, respectively, in four games. Martin has averaged a measly 2.75 yards on 73 carries in those contests.
How good is that for the Bills? Martin has posted rushing totals of 1,464 and 1,287 as a Jet and averaged 89 rushing yards a game the past two years.
That kind of run-stuffing has put the Bills in great position to win all four of those meetings with New York. However, the Bills have won only one of the four, because the Jets' defense has done an even better job stifling the Bills' offense.
Nevertheless, the first step toward beating the Jets remains the same: Contain No. 28.
"He's our workhorse," said Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "We just have to keep giving him the ball and giving him the ball. That's what we do."
"Curtis Martin is one of those guys that you leave him a little gap, a little hole, and he's going to break out," said defensive end Phil Hansen. "We've got to contain him and don't let him get loose because they use him in a variety of ways."
"They use him on draws and screens, anything to get him in the open field," said strong-side linebacker Keith Newman. "He's a lot tougher and more physical than he looks. He's not afraid to lower his shoulder and take you on. But his strength is his vision. If you overpursue, he can cut back against the defense and make some big plays."
Martin was at his lunch-bucket best in the Jets' opener at Green Bay, carrying 30 times for 110 yards and catching six passes for 34 more. He suffered a slight sprain of his left knee in the game and was held to 47 yards on 11 carries Monday night against New England.
"I'm feeling better, ready to go," Martin said after practice on Friday. "The next two weeks, we have to face two great defenses. (The Jets play Tampa Bay next week.) The Bills have so much speed and so much size. It's going to be a challenge."
The Bills ranked No. 4 in the NFL against the run last year and are No. 2 this year after yielding just 93 yards and a 2.6 average in two games.
Those numbers didn't have the Jets talking tough this week.
"You just can't go in there and stand toe-to-toe with them and play smash-mouth ball, because of their effectiveness doing that," said Jets coach Al Groh. "I think we're going to have to hunt and peck and work hard to find some yards for Curtis."
The big matchups in the trenches will pit Jets Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae against Bills nose tackle Ted Washington and Jets left tackle Jason Fabini against Bills defensive end Marcellus Wiley.
"Ted Washington is probably the hardest guy I play every year," Mawae said this week. "It's not a game I look forward to, to be honest."
The best thing about the Jets' offense against New England was its four- and five-receiver spread formation. Given the Bills' impressive run defense, it will be interesting to see if the Jets veer away from their meal ticket (Martin) early in the game and try to open the Bills up with the spread offense.
If that's the plan, Groh wasn't letting it out of the bag.
"It's important we establish the run," he said. "You can't be talked out of it because the previous opponents haven't done well."