Rex Ryan (left) will look to beat Todd Bowles (right) and the Jets in his return to the Meadowlands.
Ronald C. Modra (Sports Imagery)
Rex Ryan is making his highly-anticipated return to the Meadowlands on Thursday night to take on the New York Jets for the first time since being fired. Trash talking has been a huge storyline this week ahead of what’s sure to be a hard-fought divisional battle, with Ryan naming IK Enemkpali a captain for the game.
Second place in the AFC East is on the line for both teams, and while neither team is likely to catch the Patriots, a playoff berth remains a strong possibility. Thursday night’s game will have huge playoff implications in the AFC.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Bills and the Jets.
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1. Target Sammy Watkins in one-on-one coverage
There’s little doubt that Watkins is the team’s best playmaker on the outside. Robert Woods hasn’t emerged as a true No. 2 receiver, and with Percy Harvin out for the year, the Bills don’t have many options aside from Watkins. He erupted for a career-best day against Brent Grimes and the Dolphins, and in order for the Bills to have success through the air once again, Tyrod Taylor will need to target Watkins whenever he gets single coverage.
2. Keep Chris Ivory on a cold streak
Ivory has rushed for a grand total of 84 yards over the past three games and has slowed down significantly after an incredibly hot start. He’s what makes the Jets offense go and if the Bills can shut him down once again, they’ll have a great deal of success on defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing with a torn ligament in his thumb, and Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore can certainly hold their own against Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall on the outside.
3. Utilize Karlos Williams to rest LeSean McCoy
Rex Ryan said on Tuesday that McCoy may not be 100-percent healthy for Thursday night and isn’t exactly sure what his role will be due to a shoulder injury. With that said, the Bills need to utilize rookie Karlos Williams if McCoy isn’t capable of carrying the load. The rookie rushed for 110 yards on just nine carries Sunday and is averaging a whopping 6.6 yards per carry. Additionally, he’s a touchdown machine, finding the end zone six times in just five games.
1. Get Chris Ivory going with screen passes
The Jets have lost two of their last three games, and it’s no coincidence that Ivory has struggled in each of those contests. When he doesn’t have success running the ball, the Jets struggle to move it on offense. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey needs to dial up screen passes to Ivory to get him going in the open field. Though he’s struggled on the ground, Ivory is averaging 8.6 yards per catch this season and can have an impact in the passing game.
2. Win the battle between Darrelle Revis and Sammy Watkins
As mentioned above, the Bills don’t have much at wide receiver outside of Watkins. He was the only receiver to record a catch on Sunday, and there’s a reason for that. If Revis can take away Watkins for the most part, it will force Taylor to go elsewhere with the ball where the Bills aren’t nearly as talented. The Jets’ secondary needs to rebound after three consecutive outings allowing 300-plus passing yards.
3. Defend against the wheel route
One route in particular continues to plague the Jets: the wheel route. Running backs have repeatedly burned Jets linebackers with routes up the sidelines and this week will likely be much of the same from Williams and McCoy. The Jets are depleted at safety with Calvin Pryor injured, so the linebackers will need to step up and contain the Bills’ running backs in the open field.