Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills’ game against the New York Jets Monday night at Ford Field in Detroit:
1. Don’t let the many distractions from the devastating snowstorm that forced the game’s date and location to be changed to linger. This is a whole lot easier said than done. It would be foolish to think the Bills could just brush aside being snowbound for most of the week, missing key practice days and doing the bulk of their preparation for the game remotely via video conferencing, and be able to fully focus on playing a game. Even with the ability to get in some practices in Detroit, the players are well out of their comfort zone. Their conditioning and diets have been thrown off, as well as all aspects of what they normally do to get ready for a game. The coaches’ routine has been disrupted as well.
2. Don’t let Michael Vick take the game over with his legs and his passing arm. There is a real danger of this happening. Vick remains one of the more dangerous runners among quarterbacks in the league, and is capable of making big plays with his big passing arm. Despite the Bills’ 43-23 victory against the Jets last month, there is no reason to assume the same Jets offense that had six turnovers in that game will be equally incompetent this time around. For one thing, Geno Smith was the Jets’ starting quarterback in that game, and he was responsible for three first-half interceptions that set the tone for the outcome before Vick took over. Yes, Vick also committed three turnovers with a pair of fumbles and an interception, but he had almost no preparation for that game. Now that he’s the Jets’ full-time starter, he can be expected to be much better prepared. Vick also will be operating on a fast track with the artificial surface in Ford Field.
3. Establish a strong rushing attack and be persistent with the run. As usual, this might be asking too much for the Bills, especially against a defense as stout as the Jets’. When the teams last met, the Bills struggled to run the ball, but they stuck with their running game. That helped lead to plenty of fan and media criticism directed toward offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for being stubborn about sticking with the run. The fact is, the Bills were wise to keep running as much as they did because it helped slow down the Jets’ exceptionally strong pass rush.
4. Figure out how to score a red-zone touchdown. This is pretty much a standing order for the Bills’ offense, which has gone 21 possessions without producing a touchdown, including six inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. When the teams last played, the Bills benefitted from the short fields their offense received via multiple turnovers. They can’t count on that being the case again. Whether it’s more creative or simply smarter play-calling, or better execution, the Bills have to take advantage of opportunities to score touchdowns when they get them. As we saw in the 22-9 loss against Miami on Nov. 13, field goals are not a viable option.
5. Doug Marrone and his assistants do the best coaching job of their lives. This isn’t simply about X’s and O’s. Although putting together a solid game plan and calling the right plays are vital to the outcome, the much larger story in this game is how well Marrone and the other coaches guide the players and handle themselves through these incredibly unusual circumstances. They must keep everyone together and believing that they are equal to the enormous challenges they face. And, oh by the way, they need to reinforce the notion that, despite falling to 5-5, the season is not over and a win against the Jets will keep whatever dim playoff hopes the Bills have very much alive.