Two teams meet each other in Week 13 with completely different attitudes on Sunday in Buffalo. The 4-7 Bills are desperate coming off a loss in Indianapolis. They need to win out the last 5 games to have a chance at making the playoffs. Head Coach Chan Gailey’s position is looking iffy for ’13, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has been struggling lately. Meanwhile the 2-9 Jaguars just won their first home game of the season. QB Chad Henne has resurrected the Jaguars offense the last 2 games, and the team just boosted it’s chances mightily, revitalizing the struggling pass rush with All-Pro DE Jason Babin from waivers. Although this game is not looking sexy at all on first sight, if we dig a little deeper, this could be a pretty interesting game. Let me explain why.
The Jaguars are starting their 4 game AFC East tour in Buffalo, where things haven’t looked good lately. The team is 1-3 in the last 4 games, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is struggling, head coach Chan Gailey’s seat is getting warmer and warmer, the game has been blacked out with 15,000 tickets remaining to be sold and some players (to be exact, WR Stevie Johnson) expressing criticism toward the coaching staff. But because the Bills are fairly loaded with talent and desperation, the Jaguars could find this to be a tough game.
Chad Henne and his offense need to play the way they have in the last 2 weeks. The big problem is that the Bills, thanks to their defensive line and secondary, are really good against the pass. In the past, with a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew the offensive game planning would have been easy; run the ball, and then let loose the passing game. But since he is injured and Jalen Parmele is on IR, this is not a realistic scenario. Rashad Jennings gets a 3rd (most likely his last) opportunity to prove he is worthy of a new contract in the offseason. His chances got a bit of a boost because it looks like FB Greg Jones might be back from his injury. If the Jaguars could establish the running game early that would be a huge relief for Henne and especially the offensive line. Because other than CJ Spiller, the Bills defensive line is the calling card of the the team right now. Everybody is focusing on Mario Williams, who finally had an excellent game against the Colts, racking up 3 sacks (8.5 on the year). If he was facing Eugene Monroe I’d be much more confident about keeping him away from Henne, but Williams will face RT Cameron Bradfield who has had 2 bad games against the Texans and the Titans, and if he plays like that this Sunday, Henne will be in serious danger. I don’t know how Eben Britton is practicing lately (He is pretty much MIA at this point), but I’d consider him as an extra tackle to help out Bradfield.
The big problem is, there are more dangerous players in that defensive line than just Williams. The DT duo of Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus will present a huge problem for the Jaguars’ interior line, which has struggled lately. Dareus and Kyle Williams have produced 8.5 sacks combined which is pretty impressive from DTs. I guess in pass plays Greg Jones and the other FB, Will Ta’ufo’ou will be used to give better protection for Henne. At the other end, Eugene Monroe will face Shawne Merriman, and quite frankly he must make him an absolute non-factor all by himself. Even if Henne can get decent protection, he needs to be as sharp as he was in Hosuton or against Tennessee. The Bills have one of the best FS in the game in Jairus Bryd who currently leads the the team with 4 picks. Looks like CB Aaron Williams can play in this game, so he will be the partner of 1st round pick Stephon Gilmore. The South Carolina product had a very good game against Reggie Wayne last week – he allowed only 2 catches to one of the best WRs this season. Still his costly pass interference penalty sealed the deal for Indianapolis. Nonetheless, Gilmore e is still the most consistent corner on Buffalo’s defense. If Williams returns, Leodis McKelvin will return to the nickel corner spot, he is a dangerous returner, but he can be vulnerable in coverage, just like George Wilson. Also other than Nick Barnett and Bryan Scott (he has recorded 3 interceptions) the linebacker unit is where the Jaguars’ receivers and backs will make most of their big plays.
Let’s turn our attention to the Bills offense and C.J. Spiller. After Arian Foster and Chris Johnson the Jaguars face another premier back. Spiller has had a breakout season, with 830 rushing yards and a stunning 6.7 yards/carry average. Let me put this in context. In his first 2 seasons in 30 games Spiller rushed for 844 yards. This season he has run only 14 yards less in 11 games. Jeff Lageman said he is a mismatch for everybody. Well Paul Posluszny (who’ll play against his former team for the 1st time) must limit Spiller’s effectiveness as much as possible. His backup, Fred Jackson, is also available, and he is still a pretty decent back., who can do harm easily.
Despite a strong running game, the Buffalo’s pass offense is still fr from being great . The Bills rank just one spot ahead of the Jaguars and Ryan Fitzpatrick had his worst game this year last week against the Colts. Part of the reason is that Chan Gailey will not let Fitzpatrick call some plays. WR Stevie Jackson openly disagreed with this, and he’s probably right. It’s certainly doesn’t help the QB, that Chan Gailey is not just the head coach of the Bills but he is basically the offensive coordinator and QB coach as well. The Bills pass offense uses a lot of screen passes, so the Jaguars defense must get ready for those. They involve their backs a lot as well. With WR Donald Jones out, Stevie Johnson and TE Scott Chandler must elevate their game a little more. Chandler has 5 TDs so far, but with the return of Dwight Lowery the secondary can handle him and his teammates even without Derek Cox. It will be very interesting to see how Jason Babin’s arrival will affect the Jaguars’ pass rush and this game in general. He will face rookie LT Cordy Glenn who is an up and coming player, but he had a rough day last week against the Colts. If Babin can force the Bills to place their attention on him, Jeremy Mincey can make the life of 2nd year RT Chris Hairston miserable as well. But I must note, although both players are very young they have allowed only 3 sacks combined.
Don’t sleep about Fitzpatrick though.. He has played well against the Jaguars in the past. He led the then winless Bengals to victory against Jacksonville in ’08. In ’09 and ’10 Fitzpatrick played really well when the Bills and the Jaguars played each other. He threw 3 TDs and 0 interceptions in the last meeting of the Jaguars and the Bills. I must admit since this is the division Chad Henne played for most of the time as pro, he knows this team, with the exception of Paul Posluszny, more than anybody else on the Jaguars. Alternatively, the Bills also know Henne quite well.
Special teams will be a big factor in this game. Leodis McKelvin has 2 punt return TDs and a whopping 20.8 yard average in that area. Bryan Anger as well as fellow rookie gunners Kevin Elliott and Antwan Blake must bring their A game against him. Also, the Bills have Brad Smith, who can run some tricky plays. Meanwhile the Jaguars will feature new faces as returners. With Michael Spurlock being released (picked up by the San Diego Chargers) and Jennings starting at RB again, the Jaguars will ask newcomer RB Jordan Todman and WR/KR Quan Cosby to return kicks. The Bills allowed a punt return TD last week against the Colts by rookie T. Y. Hilton and another against the Jets on opening day. Also they allowed a kickoff return TD against Miami 2 weeks ago. So the Jaguars might have a chance to get a real special play from the new returners.
This game is really hard to pick. If the Bills lose, they are out of the playoff picture. If that happens, it’s possible that some heads will roll (Gailey, maybe Fitzpatrick) in the offseason. The Jaguars are on a roll with 2 really good offensive performances, and they been outperforming on the road thus far in ’12 (3 OT losses, a win against the Colts and a very decent showing in Green Bay). I think the two teams’ talent levels are almost similar, but Buffalo has (much) more playmakers on defense. However, if the Jaguars offense can continue to play the way they have since Chad Henne took over, it will be a close game until the final whistle. Quite frankly I think this could be another game with an overtime ending. Let’s hope that the jaguars finally win one if that happens.
Prediction: Bills 21 – Jaguars 24 in OT
– Zoltan Paksa