Lichtenstein: 3 Keys To A Jets Victory In Season Opener

Gang Green Hosts Bills Sunday

Steve Lichtenstein
September 06, 2019 - 10:35 am
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After a whirlwind offseason for the Jets, the real fun begins Sunday.

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All the talk about the impact of a new general manager, a new coach and new players acquired with the nearly $100 million in pre-free agency salary cap space will disappear the moment the ball is kicked off shortly after 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium.

Gang Green opens its 2019 slate versus division rival Buffalo, another team building around a quarterback taken in the first round of the 2018 draft. Like the Jets with Sam Darnold, the Bills are true believers in Josh Allen’s potential.

In the sole meeting between the two QBs last season (Darnold and Allen were both injured for the Bills’ 41-10 walloping of the Jets in Week 10), New York eked out a 27-23 Week 14 victory in Buffalo. Here are three keys for the Jets to overcome in order to win Round 2:

1) I Spy ... A Problem

The Jets have to be just as concerned about Allen’s feet as his arm. Jets coach Adam Gase made light of the issues Allen’s mobility created against his Dolphins last season during Wednesday’s press conference.

“Unfortunately, we found that out the hard way,” Gase said. “(Allen) ran for about 400 yards on us.”

In fact, it was 230 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries in the two games versus the Fish.

In the first half against the Jets last season, Allen ripped off 87 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Believe it or not, former coach Todd Bowles made a savvy adjustment (why it didn’t come up in the original game plan, though, is Exhibit 216 as to why Bowles is no longer employed here), using reserve linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, a quicker defender, to spy on Allen. It worked, as Allen ran just twice for 14 yards in the second half. 

Pierre-Louis was not re-signed as a free agent this offseason, so defensive coordinator Gregg Williams needs to have a new solution. It’s not like he has a ton of options. This is by no means a fast defense. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, whom the Jets signed to a monstrous free agent contract this offseason, could be the first man up. He’s got the size and is a solid tackler, ranked 14th in tackling efficiency by ProFootballFocus.com among 59 NFL linebackers who played at least 500 snaps last season. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Jets want Mosley to spy on Allen in lieu of all his other responsibilities. The same goes for Jamal Adams. The Jets need their Pro Bowl safety wreaking havoc all over the field, forcing the Bills to account for him on every play. 

I can see Williams mixing things up Sunday, even giving linebacker Blake Cashman, a rookie fifth-round pick who had an impressive training camp, some snaps as a spy. Whoever gets this assignment will have his hands full.

2) Rusty Bell’s Toll

January 14, 2018.

That’s the last time running back Le’Veon Bell was tackled in a game that mattered. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season due to a contract holdout in Pittsburgh. He didn’t even play a single down this preseason after signing with the Jets as a free agent.

The Jets didn’t pay Bell all that money ($52.5 million, of which $27 million is guaranteed, over four years) on a nonpremium position for him to split the load. Bell led the league in touches from scrimmage in his last season as a Steeler with 406, a good 60 more than the second-place finisher, former Bill LeSean McCoy. He’s also been extremely effective. No one — not Jim Brown or Barry Sanders — who has played more than 50 NFL games has averaged more than Bell’s 129 yards from scrimmage per game in their careers. 

For his part, Bell is reportedly in excellent shape and champing at the bit. Gase said that Bell told him, “Don’t hold back” on Sunday. The prudent path, however, is for the Jets to ease Bell back into game shape. He will need time to shake off any rust and to get in tune with his new blockers, who didn’t play a single snap together during the preseason. The hits Bell took in practices will pale next to the lickings he will take Sunday. 

Gase seemingly grew comfortable during the preseason using Ty Montgomery as a stand-in for Bell — the much less-heralded free agent acquisition (one-year, $895,000) is similarly versatile, though not nearly as dynamic. If limiting Bell’s toll costs the Jets a win in the first week, so be it. The Jets aren’t used to having nice things for very long, so I would be shocked if they didn’t attempt to preserve Bell by managing his workload. Whoever gets the rock, however, must produce. 

3) Just For Kicks

As I noted in my last post, even bad teams like the Jets of recent vintage play more close games than you’d think. Gang Green is a three-point favorite Sunday, which means this football game could very well come down to a foot on a ball.

So, how confident are you that Kaare Vedvik, the Jets’ kicker who was cut by the Vikings just two weeks after they surrendered a fifth-round pick to Baltimore to acquire him, will come through if he is placed under the hot spotlight? 

On the other side, the Bills boast Stephen Hauschka, the 12-year veteran who has the seventh-highest career field goal percentage in NFL history.

It’s a huge mismatch on paper. Fortunately, NFL games aren’t played on paper.

Prediction: Jets 26-24

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.