The Bills are without their two top running backs in CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson, thus creating a massive drop-off in talent to Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon. Buffalo fought on and won quite literally in walk-off fashion against the Vikings last week with a Sammy Watkins touchdown from Kyle Orton. With their opponents’ health ailing and the Jets having Percy Harvin in their weaponry now, Rex Ryan’s squad hasn’t had a better opportunity to win since week one.
This game is one of the simpler games to break down for the Jets this season with how the team’s strengths/weaknesses and injuries clash. Here are two focus areas for the Jets to bring the fanbase back to life with a win. Let’s get to it.
Gameplan Your Defense Around Sammy Watkins
Watkins was my draft crush last year as the unrivaled best wide receiver in the draft, and maybe the best overall player in the entire class. Since being drafted, all Watkins has done is live up to the hype, despite dealing with the consistent mediocrity of EJ Manuel and Orton. He is dynamic because of his speed, acceleration, precise route tree, and outstanding catching ability. He scored a season-high two touchdowns against Minnesota last week and flaunted just why he’s better than the competition.
It’s actually pretty simple with Sammy. If you let him run free off the line without pressing, you’re going to get beat. Captain Munnerlyn is a very capable NFL cornerback, yet he was degraded to another victim of Watkins:
Watkins’ speed naturally has Munnerlyn position himself angled so he can turn to the sideline and run with the rookie if he blows by his outside shoulder.
Seeing Munnerlyn fear the go route on the sideline, Watkins can toy with him. He angles his route to the outside to get him to turn even more, setting up one inside cut to accelerate his go route on the inside shoulder.
Watkins is already faster than Munnerlyn, and baiting him to the outside to make the race to the end zone even easier was the nail in the coffin. Touchdown, not even close. Spoiler alert – he’s already good enough to win games.
Luckily for the Jets, they can run their defensive gameplan around limiting the Clemson product. With Spiller and Jackson out, the Jets won’t have to load the box even to a standard degree on any given down. They can load up on extra defensive backs and keep constant shadow on Watkins, with a corner in man and the safety in Cover 2 blatantly favor his side of the field. However, the Jets have been utilizing a Cover 3 variation as of late and it has worked out well. I think it would be a perfect kryptonite to the Bills’ heavy reliant on their stud rookie. Let’s take a closer look.
This might end up being the ideal remedy for the dangerous skillset of Watkins’. He’s just too relied on and too good to play in man with any of the Jets’ corners, and they’ve been playing a hefty amount of zone lately anyway.
In this play above, it’s a typical Cover 3 coverage shell besides two differences, one of which will be essential to bring Watkins’ production to a halt. First, Calvin Pryor is the safety who jumps up to play the shallow zone when it would usually be Landry. Second and most important, Antonio Allen is playing zone despite appearing to be in press-man versus the Broncos’ high receiver out wide. His zone is what is usually referred to as outside containment, but in this instance, his sole purpose is to press the receiver heavily before handing him off to another player’s zone. With Watkins doing most of his danger on vertical routes, the corner far behind the press corner would pick up Sammy after being pressed. If he were to run a post, there’s only so much room too find between the two shallow inside linebackers, the safety who ran up in play the middle zone, and the deep safety in the middle of the field.
I can’t stress enough how imperative it will be for the Jets to press Watkins, because he is going to beat man to man all day long. He has always been able to yield off press quite well since his collegiate days, but no receiver isn’t slowed down or redirected by it at least a bit. Besides, the goal here is to bother him enough to convince Orton into straying away from his #1 receiver, considering he is almost always going to be his immediate first read. If Orton is stubborn and forces throws, then hopefully this kind of Cover 3 can force risky, tight-window throws. If there was ever a game to take advantage of turnovers, it’s this one. Orton will be looking for Watkins no matter how the Jets gameplan for him, and if not, the Jets can dominate the rest of the inferior receivers. Bills’ receivers other than Watkins lost two fumbles last week alone.
Decoy For Eric Decker with Percy Harvin
Unfortunately for the Jets, Greg Salas will likely be out again this week from his injury suffered versus San Diego. I point this out because while Salas isn’t exactly a consistently open option when he’s playing out wide, defenses still have to account for him since the Jets like running plays for him directly. Screens have been Salas’ forte, and the Bills would have to play him in man no matter what the situation. With Salas out, TJ Graham will likely start. Graham doesn’t carry half the value Salas does because the Jets aren’t going to be comfortable running plays for him, so the Bills can account for him with a man in shallow zone on that side of the field.
The double dosage of decoys in the passing game would have been deadly, but the amount of fear Harvin sinks into defenses should be enough for Decker to find his fair share of opportunities against man coverage. With Harvin split out wide, the Bills will need to have Leodis McKelvin (their second corner) in man with some sort of back up help since Percy is still an underrated deep threat. However, his most effective usage will probably be the slot, where he will likely line up on Decker’s side of the field 75% of the time. That way, the Jets can work Decker in the intermediate passing game like clockwork. With Harvin requiring man coverage in the slot and at least one linebacker or safety in a shallow zone or spy role, Decker will have man to man opportunities behind Harvin if they have Harvin run relatively short routes. This will clear the middle of the field for Decker pretty consistently.
If a rhythm is obtained through this process, the big play is within reach with the crime of a surprise. The Bills’ defensive staff will have their secondary play less Cover 2 to defend deeper routes and try to play more nickel packages to clog the middle of the field with coverage. Even if they stick with regular Cover 2 base coverage, their safeties will naturally start to cheat upwards to limit the amount of green in man to man Decker has to work with. That’s when a go route or double move deep downfield would be most lethal, and we all know Geno can throw it.
It’s also definitely worth noting that Decker’s likely foe all day will be Stephon Gilmore, who’s struggled mightily this season versus crafty route runners. He’s fast and instinctive, but those two qualities are a death sentence for corners if they can’t match it with mental patience and adequate positioning skills. Decker is the king of the double move, and I suspect that the Jets will have him run several this Sunday. If all goes according to plan, Gilmore will have fits trying to cover the Jets’ best skill position player.
Both of these strategies are essential to the Jets’ chances of taking down the 4-3 Bills on Sunday, and carry equal importance. Not only do these tactics jab at the Bills’ biggest weaknesses on both sides of the ball, but they correlate with the Jets’ biggest strengths. If they execute them this weekend, they’ll move to 2-6 and take a step forward to right the ship.