How the New York Jets pulled off the upset over the Buffalo Bills

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By: Rivka Boord

Much of how the Jets won this game was close to predicted

The New York Jets just pulled off their biggest victory in 12 years.

That’s how monumental their win over the Buffalo Bills feels for the Jets’ fanbase.

The Bills are the NFL’s highest standard in 2022, widely picked to win the Super Bowl before the year and showing every sign of doing the same eight games in.

But on this given Sunday, the Jets outplayed and outcoached their mighty Western New York rivals.

Yes, the Bills were beset by injuries. But so are the Jets. Just because Buffalo’s injuries are largely short-term rather than season-ending, let’s not forget that this team lost its two best offensive players for the season, has had four tackles spend time on IR, and was missing its quarterback’s favorite receiving target. So if the Bills were missing the league’s top safety tandem, perhaps the best coverage linebacker in the league, and their right tackle, that only served to even the playing field injury-wise.

Earlier in the week, I wrote that the Jets had to do several things to beat the Bills: win the turnover battle by at least +2, disguise coverages, limit the number of Buffalo drives, hit the Bills’ skill position players hard, and target Taron Johnson in coverage.

Let’s review: how did the Jets actually pull off the upset?

They confused Josh Allen

Without access to the All-22, it’s difficult to know if the Jets did disguise coverages. (Thank you, CBS, for showing absolutely no angles that could give us any clues.) However, on both picks that Josh Allen threw, it was clear that he was not expecting the defender to be where he was.

On Allen’s first pick to Jordan Whitehead, John Franklin-Myers‘s pressure obscured the fact that Whitehead had dropped into coverage to replace the defender that came down on the rollout. Allen threw it right to Whitehead, thinking that he’d have a wide-open tight end once the linebacker came down. Instead, it was an easy interception.

On Allen’s second interception, the Jets were playing a Cover-2 zone. Allen was clearly not expecting Sauce Gardner to be there and once again threw it right to him.

There was a third near-pick, also to Whitehead, that appeared to be a misread coverage by Allen once more.

How the Jets confused Allen will take more film breakdown to determine, but the Bills’ quarterback looked mortal against New York’s ascending defense.

They won the turnover battle

No, the Jets didn’t win the turnover battle by +2 thanks to a dropped pick by Whitehead, the Bills’ recovery of Allen’s two fumbles, and Von Miller’s forced fumble on Zach Wilson. But the Jets picked Allen off twice, the second coming two plays after Wilson’s fumble. Unlike last week, when Michael Carter II’s momentum-swinging pick-six was called back by penalty, Sauce Gardner’s pick wiped out the negativity from Wilson’s red zone fumble and gave the Jets a second chance to score. A few plays later, it was 17-14 Jets.

Let’s not discount the first pick, either. Although the Jets couldn’t capitalize off it, it took sure Buffalo points off the board. The game started poorly for the Jets, with Braden Mann slipping on the opening kickoff and giving the Bills field position at their own 45. On the first play from scrimmage, Stefon Diggs beat Sauce Gardner on a double move for a 42-yard reception. Buffalo had the ball deep in Jets’ territory, and it looked like the game was setting up to be a long day for the Jets’ defense. Instead, the worst was averted.

The Jets now have 11 interceptions on the season and have had at least one takeaway in every single game. When you win the turnover battle, good things happen.

Let Garrett Cook

It’s a different Wilson who’s cooking right now, as Garrett Wilson had eight receptions for 92 yards and came close to his third 100-yard game this season. The exact numbers of how often Wilson lined up in the slot vs. outside will come out tomorrow, but it was basically a one-man show for the Jets in the passing game.

I highlighted Taron Johnson in my article because he’s the Bills’ slot corner. Whether he covered Wilson or not, the Jets went to their rookie WR and No. 1 playmaker with Breece Hall out for the season. The No. 10 overall pick is continuing to show that he’s the real deal. Even better were his stats against press-man coverage.

Limit the Bills’ drives

The Jets and Bills each had nine drives in this game. The Bills did score two touchdowns in the first half, but both were long, drawn-out drives. Other than the 42-yard pass to Diggs, the Jets did an excellent job limiting chunk plays in the passing game. Allen did have his 37-yard TD run and some other big runs on third down, but overall, the Jets forced the Bills to keep dinking and dunking. In the long run, they were able to force Allen into some mistakes and keep the game close.

The Jets blitzed Allen just twice the entire game, the second-fewest times in Allen’s career. They played to keep everything in front of them, as they often do, and played good enough coverage to sack Allen five times and hit him eight total times despite the Bills’ consistent use of an extra blocker.

Meanwhile, the Jets also did run the ball effectively, unlike against the Patriots. Michael Carter and James Robinson combined for 124 yards rushing on 25 carries, and the Jets rushed for 174 yards on 34 carries for a 5.1 yards-per-carry average. This also kept the ball in the Jets’ hands and ran down the clock, most notably on the game-winning drive that went 13 plays and 86 yards, beginning from the Jets’ four. On that drive, the Jets rushed the ball 10 times for 77 yards and chewed 6:10 of clock.

Although Josh Allen did have one final chance to drive down to tie or win the game, the Jets kept his drive opportunities limited.

Quick throws to neutralize the pass rush

In a different article earlier in the week, I wrote that the Jets should utilize Zach Wilson as a game manager to help him to get back to basics. Mike LaFleur clearly got the memo that this was Wilson’s biggest strength this season, as we saw numerous three-step drops and quick releases. As a result, Wilson was able to pick up rhythm and keep his throws out of harm’s way. In fact, Wilson’s average release time was the quickest of his career.

As a result of these quick throws, the Jets were able to largely neutralize the Bills’ pass rush. Von Miller did have a strip sack, and Wilson was taken down on third-and-goal to limit the Jets to a go-ahead field goal on their final drive. However, the Jets’ battered offensive line held up well today, buoyed by the short periods of time that they were blocking.

The Jets eagerly await the returns of George Fant and Max Mitchell, which, they hope, will come against the Patriots in Week 11 after the bye. But after a rough stretch over the last few games, the offensive line bounced back against the Bills.

Furthermore, Wilson showed an increased willingness to take off and run. It appeared that he left several run plays on the table against the Patriots. In this game, he converted two critical third downs with his legs, one on which he ducked around the pass rush and ran through the B-gap, and the second where he rolled out and then took the yards in front of him when his receivers were covered.

I don’t know whether the QB running was a point of emphasis for LaFleur or if Wilson himself just went back to his form from the second half of last season. Wilson had his own scare with an ankle injury today, holding his ankle after he got walloped on a third down and heading off the field. But it didn’t appear to hold him back from taking off when he needed to.

If the Jets get this game-manager version of Zach Wilson this season, then, like the Giants with Daniel Jones, they will be in good shape in most games. Those Jets fans who were maligning Wilson after his similar performance against Miami should recognize that this is the young QB’s best path forward for now.

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Staying in their lane

In the first half, Josh Allen mostly ran all over the Jets at will. Fans were wondering why the Jets didn’t play with a spy as Allen gashed them to the tune of six rushes for 61 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including an untouched 36-yard scamper for a score on third and short.

At halftime, the Jets made a simple adjustment: rather than a game plan change, it was a return to their approach for Josh Allen. Stay with your assignment, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich told them.

In the second half, Allen had four rushes for 25 yards, including a pair of nine-yard runs and a two-yard QB sneak on 3rd and 1. However, the Jets caught up to Allen trying to run and sacked him several times in the second half, including a containing play on which Vinny Curry pushed his man back near Allen as he was trying to run. Allen did not have the same running lanes. Jermaine Johnson had a great tackle in the open field for a five-yard sack.

The Jets by no means shut down Allen’s rushing ability, but they kept it to a minimum in the second half and forced him to throw into the teeth of their coverage. It’s still an issue for them to monitor, as they face several quarterbacks with running ability down the stretch, including Mac Jones (who took off several times against the Jets in the first matchup with success), Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Josh Allen again, and Geno Smith.

But for one game, the Jets did enough to hold Allen back.

The crux of the Jets’ defensive turnaround: cornerbacks

Sauce Gardner, when asked if he and D.J. Reed are the best cornerback duo in the NFL, said yes. Reed echoed the sentiment. Robert Saleh commented that while Sauce is getting all the recognition, and deservedly so, Reed is playing as an under-the-radar Pro Bowler. Meanwhile, Michael Carter II may be the most underrated of the bunch, as he’s quietly turned himself into one of the better slot corners in the game.

The game started ominously for Gardner on the aforementioned 42-yard pass to Stefon Diggs. However, the Jets then shifted Sauce to cover Gabe Davis, a better matchup for the tall, lanky Sauce. D.J. Reed drew the tough assignment of Diggs.

While Diggs was not shut out—he put up five receptions for 93 yards—he was shut out in the second half (his one seeming reception was negated by a holding penalty on the Bills’ final drive). Gabe Davis, on the other hand, was limited to just two receptions for 33 yards. Sauce and Reed picked it up in the second half, each making a critical pass breakup deep downfield to stall Buffalo Drives. Sauce had the game-sealing play on 4th and 21 when he got his hand in between Gabe Davis and Josh Allen’s heave downfield.

The Bills keep a sixth blocker in more often than most other teams, confident that Josh Allen will find his playmakers or make something happen with his legs. In this game, the Bills sure could have used an extra player in the pattern to attempt to beat the Jets’ downfield coverage. D.J. Reed may well be the best free-agent signing the Jets have had this millennium; ditto for Sauce Gardner as a high first-round pick.

Beating the Buffalo Bills sure tastes sweet. Now the Jets have two weeks to savor it, welcoming their bye at 6-3 before they enter another revenge game against the hated Patriots.

Next Article: Defense, improved Zach Wilson lead Jets to upset over Bills, 20-17 

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