BBD Editor: Dan Hope
20 penalties for 168 yards.
That’s how many penalties the New York Jets had against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. They still won the game, 27-20, in a game the Bills should be embarrassed about losing.
The Jets showed an incredible lack of discipline, especially on defense, picking up stupid penalties at inopportune times. Of the 18 first downs the Bills picked up in the game, eight of them were a result of Jets’ penalties.
Between 20 penalties and two turnovers (both Geno Smith interceptions), the Jets shot themselves in the foot throughout the game. When a team makes that many mistakes, they should never win the game. They did, however, because the Bills didn’t make the plays to capitalize on many of the Jets’ mistakes.
Had the Jets not made as many mistakes as they did, this game would have been a blowout. Their mistakes were about the only thing that could spark the Bills’ stagnant offense, which struggled to finish drives with touchdowns for the third consecutive week.
The Bills made it opposing territory eight times, but scored only one touchdown.
Two of those drives started in opposing territory: a Jim Leonhard interception and subsequent Vladimir Ducasse penalty on the return set up the Bills at the 26-yard line, while a Kiko Alonso interception return set the Bills up at the 13-yard line. Those are opportunities that winning teams turn into touchdowns, but the Bills settled for field goals on both of them.
The Bills’ only touchdown came on their first drive of the fourth quarter. That touchdown drive was gift-wrapped to them by cornerback Kyle Wilson, who was flagged for penalties on four consecutive plays.
That drive that ended with a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback EJ Manuel to tight end Scott Chandler, however, perhaps never should have happened. On the second play of the drive, Manuel appeared to fumble at the end of a 21-yard scramble, but was ruled down by contact. The Jets had already lost their coach’s challenges, so because the play was not ruled a turnover, it was not reviewed.
Manuel showed his rookie youth on Sunday, having his worst performance thus far of his just-beginning NFL quarterback. He completed just 19 of 42 passing attempts. He threw for 243 yards and one touchdown, but his accuracy was erratic throughout the game, and although he escaped the game with no interceptions, he threw at least four or five passes that could have been intercepted.
Manuel also took eight sacks Sunday. Much of that burden falls upon the offensive line, which was overwhelmed by the pressure-heavy Jets defense throughout the game, but some of the sacks should be pinned on Manuel. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the game and held onto the ball too long, taking numerous sacks when he should have been able to throw the ball away.
Another player who performed horribly Sunday was running back C.J. Spiller. The breakout season that has been expected of Spiller simply isn’t happening through the first three games. He was at his worst Sunday, finishing the game with just 10 yards on 11 touches before leaving with a knee injury.
If Spiller is going to consistently make plays, he is going to run the ball more aggressively north and south. He danced around in the backfield hesitantly Sunday, waiting for holes to open up for him rather than attacking running lanes.
Penalties aside, the Jets’ defense deserves a lot of credit for their performance Sunday. While Mike Pettine was the defensive coordinator getting all the attention going into Sunday’s game, it was Jets coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman whose game plan shined Sunday.
They took advantage of a rookie quarterback and his shaky offensive line by bringing pressure throughout the game, and Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett never changed his game plan to adapt. Against Spiller, the Jets did a great job of closing off the edges, knowing that Spiller would look to run to the outside consistently and not allowing him to do so.
The Bills offense, however, has to play better. They have consistently left points on the table and have only scored five touchdowns in three games. Buffalo isn’t going to win many games if the offense does not find its rhythm, because their defense isn’t strong enough to win games.
Defense Struggles as Injuries Take Their Toll
While it’s hard to win games when the offense fails to take advantage of big plays by the defense, the Buffalo Bills defense also deserves to take blame for Sunday’s loss after giving up a whopping 513 yards.
Through the air, the Bills allowed Jets quarterback Geno Smith to throw for 331 yards against their defense. When it comes to the Bills’ pass defense, however, it is hard to ignore the long list of injuries affecting that unit, especially in the secondary.
By the second quarter of Sunday’s game, the Bills had no starting defensive backs playing in their regular positions. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore and free safety Jairus Byrd were inactive due to injury for the third consecutive week, while cornerback Leodis McKelvin suffered a hamstring injury on the game’s first series and did not return. With cornerback Ron Brooks also out due to injury, the team was forced to move Aaron Williams out to cornerback from strong safety.
That left the Bills with a pieced-together secondary of Justin Rogers and Williams as their starting cornerbacks, Jim Leonhard and Da’Norris Searcy as their starting safeties, Nickell Robey as the nickel slot cornerback and Duke Williams as the dime defensive back. Predictably, the unit struggled.
It is quite evident that secondary play is going to continue to be a problem until at least a couple of their injured players return to the lineup. Most importantly, the Bills need to get two of their cornerbacks back to take on starting roles. Rogers has been a major liability in coverage, especially on Sunday when he was beaten twice in one-on-one man coverage for touchdowns of 51 and 69 yards.
It wasn’t just the back end of the Bills’ defense who struggled Sunday, however. After coming up with six sacks versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, the Bills did not sack the quarterback once Sunday. Meanwhile, the run defense was gashed by Jets running back Bilal Powell, who gained 149 yards on 27 carries.
Injuries began taking their toll on the Bills’ defensive front Sunday as well. Three defensive linemen — Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Alex Carrington — all left the game early with injuries. Carrington was carted off the field and was clearly emotional, a bad sign for his injury, though Bills coach Doug Marrone did not provide any postgame updates on injuries.
While teams may not often win games with 20 penalties against them, teams also usually don’t win games when they give up 513 yards. Regardless of when their injured players return, the Bills must do a better job bringing pressure up front, avoiding blown coverages on the back end and closing running lanes to get back on the winning track.
Few Bright Spots
There weren’t many positives in Sunday’s loss, a poor effort on both sides of the ball. That said, there are a few players who deserve credit for their individual performances, even in defeat.
Scott Chandler: Chandler emerged significantly for the first time this season as a receiving weapon in the Bills offense, catching five passes for 79 yards including the 33-yard touchdown. He did a nice job finding openings in the Jets’ defense, caught the ball consistently (on the one target he did not catch, Manuel’s throw was low) and looked good running in the open field, just nine months removed from a torn ACL.
Manny Lawson: Lawson has consistently been one of the best players on the Bills defense this season and he continued to be Sunday. He led the team with a whopping 14 total tackles, including a tackle for loss on the first play from scrimmage, and he made nine total tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage. He did a very solid job setting the edge in run defense.
Kiko Alonso: Alonso was the Bills’ best rookie Sunday. He patrolled the middle of the defense effectively. He finished the game with eight total tackles and for the second straight game, an interception.
Dan Carpenter: Because the Bills’ offense couldn’t finish offensive drives Sunday, they relied heavily on Dan Carpenter. Carpenter delivered by making all four of his field goal attempts.