8:30 PM EST, NFL Network – Line: New York Jets -2.5
Bitter rivals meet tonight at MetLife Stadium, as the New York Jets host the Buffalo Bills in what is commonly being referred to as the Rex Ryan Bowl. Or is that the IK Enemkpali Bowl? After all it was just three short months ago when the former Jets’ Linebacker punched then-starting Quarterback Geno Smith in an altercation that left the third-year passer with a broken jaw. After being released, Enemkpali was swiftly signed by the Bills, because well, that’s a very Rex Ryan thing to do. The outspoken Head Coach has never been shy when it comes to taking shots at division rivals, let alone the Quarterback of the team that just relieved him of his duties back in February. And if anyone was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Ryan’s press conference on Tuesday (we absolutely recommend you do so), then you’ll know that he has christened Enemkpali as a Captain for tonight’s contest. Way to go Rex. You’ll also hear that he feels that New York’s current starting Quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, isn’t very handsome on account of his beard, or that Clemson’s football program is pretty damn good (no argument here), among other things. Anyways, it’s common behavior for a guy that spent the previous six seasons leading Gang Green to a – record, including trips to the AFC Championship Game in both 2009 and 2010, all the while securing a foothold on the NY Post’s front page. So now that he’s in Western New York, what will the Magnanimus Rex have in store for the Jets in his first trip back to the Meadowlands?
With half the season in the books, the Bills (4-4, 3rd in AFC East) have resembled a mixed bag, as injuries have been prevelant enough to keep them from building any real chemistry with the new coaching staff. Three of their chief playmakers, Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Tailback LeSean McCoy, and Receiver Sammy Watkins have all missed a number of games thus far due to an assortment of maladies. In fact, both Watkins (ankle) and McCoy (shoulder) are listed as Probable heading into tonight’s tilt, with Ryan proclaiming that both will play, though how much is anyone’s guess. It’s a shame that these three haven’t been on the field together more often, for they bring an explosive element to what has been a plodding offense at times. All three were on display last Sunday against the Dolphins; in the 33-17 victory, Buffalo racked up 420 yards of offense, including 266 on the ground, with Taylor completing all but one of his twelve passes for 181 yards and a touchdown, which went to Watkins, who accounted for all but thirteen of said yards. McCoy rushed for 112 yards on just sixteen carries, including a 48-yard burst for a score. If they could keep these on the field together for a prolonged period of time then the Bulls should have no trouble improving upon their mediocre standing on offense (20th Overall). However, on the opposite side of the ball, their play has been very uninspiring to say the least. When Ryan took over one of the nastiest defenses in the league, many predicted that he would turn the Bills into the next dominant unit, but that has hardly been the case. Under the previous regime, Buffalo allowed just 18.1 points (4th Overall) 312.2 total yards (4th Overall), including 205.8 versus the pass (3rd Overall) on 5.4 net yards per attempt (2nd Overall), along with 106.4 against the run (11th Overall) on 4.1 yards per carry (14th Overall). Furthermore, they led the NFL with a staggering 54.0 sacks and finished third overall in takeaways (30). Fast forward to the present and they have tailed off considerably, yielding 23.8 points (16th Overall) on 355.5 total yards (16th Overall), including 259.9 through the air (24th Overall) on 6.2 net yards per attempt (11th Overall), and another 93.6 on the ground (6th Overall) on 3.9 yards per carry (10th Overall). Some have argued that as great as some of the players are, they are poor fits for Ryan’s scheme. Now that may sound like blasphemy, but there is a good deal of truth to it, for some reason they just can’t get to the Quarterback like they did in 2014. With thirteen sacks, Buffalo stands tied for the third-fewest total in the league, and their takeaway total has suffered for it (12), while they’ve permitted nearly as many passing touchdowns (15) as they did a year ago (16). Penalties have played a rather large part in this, which isn’t a surprise given Ryan’s track record; the Bills have been flagged sixty-three times on defense (11th Overall) for a total of 511 yards (13th Overall), including a whopping twenty-three First Downs, third-most overall. So in short, these guys are far from the ’85 Bears or ’00 Ravens, or even the ’14 Bills for that matter, but you wouldn’t know that listening to Rex.
Meanwhile, the Jets (5-3, 2nd in AFC East) have been one of the pleasant surprises of the season, bouncing back from a sloppy 2014 campaign that the Gang Green faithful would just as soon forget. Credit for the turnaround goes to Head Coach Todd Bowles, who despite an extensive defensive pedigree, is in many ways the Anti-Rex. Seriously, this guy is far more Belichick-ian in his demeanor, rarely providing the tabloids with any material. Then again, perhaps that is precisely what this franchise needed after half a decade of Rex-N-FX, the calm, soft-spoken, reserved Bowles was precisely what the doctor ordered. The architect of an Arizona Defense that ranked seventh and fifth in points allowed over the past two years, has brought his acumen to the Big Apple, where he has done what many thought that his counterpart in Buffalo would be doing; taking a talented defense to the next level. Of course that transition was made easier win the return of Darrelle Revis, the All-World Cornerback who left town two years ago only to hoist a Lomardi Trophy in hated New Englad this past February. The four-time First Team All-Pro has served as the lynchpin of a unit that has been solid to say the least; the Jets have allowed 20.2 points (9th Overall) on 323.2 total yards (4th Overall), including 242.6 against the pass (14th Overall) on 5.8 net yards per attempt (7th Overall), along with 80.6 versus the run (1st Overall) on 3.8 yards per carry (7th Overall). Furthermore, they have forced the second-most turnovers in the league, with Revis accounting for a trio of interceptions and fumble recoveries. Bowles will need No. 24 to be on top of his game tonight, for New York will be short-handed in the Secondary, with Safeties Calvin Pryor (ankle) and Antonio Allen (Achilles) both out for tonight tilt, while Cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie (thigh), Buster Skrine (shoulder), and Dee Milliner (wrist) each listed as Questionable at best.
With all that said, the Jets’ problems weren’t on the defensive side of the ball last year, for it was their inept offense that ultimately proved to be their downfall. Simply put, Geno Smith was a disaster under Center, contributing to a majority of their woes. It’s not opinion, it’s fact. And given his futility in the passing game, Bowles and Co. May want to send a Thank You Card to the aforementioned Enemkpali for sparring them another season of the Geno Circus, for that led to Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping in for his felled predecessor. For a team that has struggled at the position so much over the last ten years, Fitzpatrick has been a godsend, providing a steady hand for a unit in dire need of one. It speaks volumes as to how much better this group has responded to a veteran journeyman like this guy, than the kid that Management handpicked to lead the franchise. Though he’ll never be confused with Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, the Harvard grad knows how to compete when given the requests tools around him, evidenced by his eleven years in the NFL. Seriously, the offense has actually pretty decent thus far; the Jets have averaged 25.0 points (11th Overall) on 372.2 total yards (11th Overall), including 256.9 through the air (17th Overall) on 6.7 net yards per attempt (11th Overall), along with 115.3 on the ground (14th Overall) on 3.8 yards per carry (24th Overall). Fitzpatrick, for his efforts has completed 61.8% of his passes, tossed thirteen touchdowns to seven interceptions, all the while posting a legit Total QBR of 76.71, which if you believe it is actually higher Han Tom Brady’s this season. WTF indeed. Steady if not unspectacular, which fits the bearded one to a tee. And as for Rex’s comment on Fitzpatrick’s beard, leave it to the smartest guy in the room to issue the best retort of the year: “Well, I have five kids, so I must be doing something right.” Well said Fitz, well said.