This might not be the week to draw a conclusion about how much the Buffalo Bills’ run blocking has improved over last season.
The strength of the New York Jets’ defense is the stoutness of its front. The Buffalo Bills’ rebuilt, starting offensive line has been practicing together for all of one week in 2019.
Pounding the ball into the teeth of the Jets’ defensive line might not be the best way to attack Gang Green in the season-opener at MetLife Stadium.
“Week One holds challenges for every team,” said Bills center Mitch Morse. “We’re going against a very good defensive front and a very good defensive coordinator.”
Morse just returned to full practice last week after suffering a concussion on July 27. His first full-contact football snap of the year probably will be with Jets veteran defensive tackle Steve McLendon lining up over his shoulder.
McLendon is a 6-foot-3, 310-pound run-plugger in his 10th season in the NFL. His backup at the nose-tackle position is the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Quinnen Williams from Alabama. It’s expected Williams will be used to spell McLendon more in passing situations. So Morse will see plenty of him, too.
New Bills left guard Quinton Spain probably has the toughest matchup along the line. He most often will go against fifth-year defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who most often plays the 3-technique position, opposite the outside shoulder of a guard. Leonard Williams, the former sixth overall pick in the draft and a 2016 Pro Bowler, is a long-armed run-plugger with excellent interior pass-rush ability. His 33 hits on the quarterback the past two years are tied for second most in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I’ve played McLendon a few times, and I’ve trained with him in the offseason,” Morse said. “I have the utmost respect for the way he plays. There’s a reason why he’s been playing so long. He brings immense power and knowledge to the game and has played at a high level a long time.”
“I’ve played against Leonard a fair amount of times, too,” Morse said. “It’s a rare amount of times you get to go against a bunch of good dudes like this.”
The Bills are looking to establish a more physical style on the offensive line, something that was lacking last season. Bills running backs averaged just 77 rushing yards a game last year, lowest in team history.
The Bills had mixed results running against the Jets last season.
In the first meeting in New York, the Bills jumped to a 27-0 lead en route to a 41-10 win. LeSean McCoy rushed 113 yards on 26 carries.
In Week 14 in Buffalo, the Jets won, 27-23. Bills quarterback Josh Allen ran for 101 yards. But Bills backs managed only 53 yards on 18 carries.
The Jets are labeled a 3-4 defensive front under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach.
However, the expectation is the Bills will see mostly four-man defensive lines from the Jets. That’s what Gregg Williams has used throughout his career. Plus, the Bills are likely to go heavy with three-receiver sets, forcing the Jets to use four down-linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.
In preseason, the Jets played nickel defense with five DBs on 193 snaps. They played a 3-4 front on 35 snaps. They used four down linemen and three linebackers on 19 snaps.
“The thing is they’re going to throw a few wrinkles at us we haven’t seen,” Morse said. “It’s the first game of the year. They have a wrinkle for each team. We have to understand that. It’ll be huge to be calm. They might get us a few times. We don’t want it to happen. But it’s a possibility, it’s a probability. It’s about making that sideline adjustment and not freaking out because calm breeds calm.”
Morse will have Spain and tackle Dion Dawkins to his left. The Bills’ depth chart lists Jon Feliciano at right guard and rookie Cody Ford at right tackle. Those were the spots Feliciano and Ford manned through an extensive walk-through session Wednesday that media was allowed to see.
Ford knows the Jets will give him more complex and varied fronts in the game than he was used to seeing in college at Oklahoma.
“There was a few games where we had some complex defenses,” Ford said of last fall’s college season. “The biggest difference between now and then would be the verbiage of what we call those blitzes. In college it was simple stuff. Plus in college, you can’t really hide blitzes and hide coverages like you can in the league. I played in a few games where the defensive coordinator pretty much intimidated an offense.
“But just like back in college,” Ford said, “you have to study, go in prepared, take reps at every look you can, and you’ll be ready to play.”
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Only two Bills did not practice Wednesday, tight end Tyler Kroft and receiver/returner Andre Roberts, who has a thigh injury. Jets No. 1 receiver Robby Anderson (calf) and No. 1 cornerback Trumaine Johnson (hamstring) both were limited in practice. Johnson has been out a month, but reports out of New York indicate both he and Anderson are expected to play. Starting guard Brian Winters (shoulder) and punt returner Braxton Berrios (hamstring) also were limited. … The Bills reached an injury settlement with running back and special teamer Senorise Perry and released him from the injured reserve list.