The Buffalo Bills will try to prevent Sunday’s game from turning into a horror story titled: “The Defensive Line That Ate Orchard Park.”
The New York Jets’ defensive line was a bad matchup for the Bills in Week Three, and it has terrorized just about every other offense it has faced this season.
Entering Sunday’s rematch at Ralph Wilson Stadium, New York is allowing 73.8 rushing yards a game, a total that not only leads the league this year but would stand as the 10th lowest figure in the last 30 NFL seasons.
“It probably is our biggest challenge to date, going against this group,” said Bills coach Doug Marrone. “They’re extremely athletic, they’re extremely strong at the point of attack. … I think they’re big, they’re athletic, they’re strong, they’re aggressive. It’s a great challenge for our offensive line.”
The Jets have loaded up on elite defensive talents. Defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, and rush linebacker Quinton Coples all are first-round draft picks.
“Talented guys across the board,” said Bills offensive tackle Erik Pears. “Talent and effort, kind of all over the place.”
Wilkerson is the Jets’ most valuable player. He leads all NFL 3-4 defensive ends with eight sacks. He has 13 hits on the quarterback and 10 tackles for loss, second in both categories only to Houston’s J.J. Watt among 3-4 defensive linemen.
In the first meeting with Buffalo, a 27-20 Jets win, Wilkerson had two sacks, five hits on the quarterback and a forced fumble.
New York sacked EJ Manuel eight times overall.
“He’s 315, but he still plays like a 280-pound guy,” Pears said. “Long arms, lots of movement. He’s light on his feet. He’s a great player.”
The Jets drafted Wilkerson 30th overall in 2011 out of Temple.
“It was funny because Mike Pettine was the first guy to see the tape,” Jets coach Rex Ryan told Buffalo reporters Wednesday, referring to the current Bills defensive coordinator. “And he said, ‘Wait till you see this guy.’ Exactly. He’s what you look for. He’s got great length. … He’s an interior guy that can rush the passer, he plays the run, and you can put him all over the place. You can play him over tackle, guard or center, it doesn’t really matter.”
Both of Wilkerson’s sacks in the first meeting came against linemen (Sam Young and Colin Brown) who no longer are on the Bills team. Nevertheless, it was a long day for all of the Bills’ blockers.
Bills running back Fred Jackson ripped off a 59-yard run on a great second-effort play. Aside from that run, Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for 22 yards on 16 carries.
Richardson is 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds. Coples is 6-6 and 290. Nose tackle Damon Harrison, an undrafted free-agent find, is 6-4 and 350. His backup is Kenrick Ellis, a 6-4, 346-pounder.
“Their nose tackles are 340 or 350 and you can’t move them off the ball too well,” said guard Kraig Urbik. “So it’s a big challenge for us up front.”
The Bills know they have to give themselves more chances to succeed. That means converting third-down situations and staying on the field. Buffalo held the ball only 24:44 against Pittsburgh and for just 25:47 against the Jets.
“The big thing is if you can sustain some drives,” said tight end Scott Chandler. “You watch what teams like the Patriots are able to do on offense. They’re able to sustain drives. Then you can mix up the tempo on them, then you’re able to catch them on their heels at times.”
“We have to focus on protecting the ball, converting third downs and red zone offense,” Chandler said. “If we focus on those three things, those are keys to winning in the NFL – situational offense and protecting the ball.”