Since taking over the New York Jets in 2009, Rex Ryan is 7-3 against the Buffalo Bills -- the only team in the AFC East he can beat on a fairly consistent basis. Now Ryan and the Jets could be on the verge of losing that.
The Jets (1-6), losers of six straight, are heading nowhere. The Bills (4-3), in their second season under Doug Marrone, still have a chance to make something of their season. They meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak discuss the matchup:
Cimini: Let's start with the quarterbacks. The Kyle Orton-for-EJ Manuel switch has worked out well. Why is that? What does it mean for Manuel's future? It's interesting because the Jets have a similar dynamic with Geno Smith and Michael Vick, yet they decided to ride it out with Smith.
Rodak: I'm not sure if the change has been night and day, but in general, Orton has shown a greater willingness to sling some passes where Manuel may have been more tentative.
Through the first four games, Manuel had a QBR of 19.8, a completion rate of 58 percent and 6.4 yards per attempt. In his three starts, Orton has a QBR of 40.7, a completion rate of 68.5 percent and 7.2 yards per attempt. Orton hasn't played mistake-free football, with an interception in each of his three games, including a pick-six. But unless those mistakes multiply, don't expect Manuel back in the lineup anytime soon. Orton gives the Bills the best shot at the playoffs. If Orton leads the Bills to the postseason, he is likely their full-time starter going forward. If he doesn't, perhaps Manuel gets another shot, but it's no guarantee it's under the current coaching staff.
Why have the Jets decided to ride it out with Smith? What happened to the quarterback who lit up the Bills for a career-high 331 yards at MetLife last September?
Cimini: That quarterback is like a telephone bill; he shows up once a month. Smith is sometimes solid, rarely spectacular and often mistake-prone. Now I will say this: He is coming off his best game of the year, a no-turnover performance in last week's crushing loss to the New England Patriots. Smith is at his best when he uses his legs to get out of trouble, and he ran seven times for 37 yards in the game. The question is, can he sustain it? Unlike the Bills, the Jets decided to endure the weekly growing pains instead of turning to the veteran backup. Two explanations: They are really down on Vick, or they made a predetermination to devote the entire season to Smith's development. Either way, it doesn't cast the organization in a positive light.
With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson injured, who's left at running back, Mike? Can Thurman Thomas still play?
Rodak: Well, Thomas has been out at practice a few times this season and still looks the part. Maybe, with one more injury, he'll get his call. Until then, the Bills are going to roll with Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown in the backfield. When you consider some of the other backup situations around the league, it could be a lot worse. They are both experienced backs who were somewhat phased out of their former teams' offenses. I get the sense both have a chip on their shoulder. Marrone said Wednesday that he wasn't "as concerned about that situation" as some may think. In truth, while Spiller was injured on a 53-yard run, he was one of the NFL's worst running backs from a statistical standpoint over the past month.
I guess the big story in New York is Percy Harvin. How much of a role will he have in this game?
Cimini: The Jets haven't revealed too much, as you'd expect, but I expect him to play a good chunk of the snaps on offense. Will he play 50-plus snaps? I doubt it, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's out there for 20 or 30. They will have a Percy package that will include his signature plays -- jet sweeps, bubble screens, etc. -- but I also think they will give him an opportunity to be a conventional wide receiver. This much we do know: He will return kickoffs and, possibly, punts. Harvin's arrival definitely adds intrigue to the season. Now we'll see if he's worth the hype. My gut tells me he won't make a significant impact. It's hard to integrate a new receiver into the offense without having had the benefit of training camp.
Speaking of fast receivers, Sammy Watkins is coming off his best game. Give us your take on his progression, Mike. Do the Bills have any second thoughts about making the trade for him?
Rodak: Watkins has shown few, if any, limitations that you might expect from a rookie. He had a few quieter games, but generally he has been one of the best players on the field each week. That's what the Bills expected -- a player who can step in right away and perform -- and that's what they're getting. Still, I think time will tell if trading up for him was the right move. The Bills consider him a "generational" talent, but it's debatable whether it was worth giving up two first-round picks for a nonquarterback. The Falcons, who gave up the house to grab Julio Jones, are one example of a team that may have benefited from saving their draft choices and building across the roster.
In particular, the Bills could be hurting next spring when they don't have a first-round pick to use on a quarterback. That's the underlying problem with the Bills' trade; Watkins can be a perennial 1,000-yard receiver, but if the rest of the offense isn't up to snuff, what good does he do you? Consider that Watkins is on pace for 990 yards this season but the Bills still rank near the bottom of the NFL in most offensive categories.
What has happened to the Jets' defense? They ranked 13th in third-down defense last season; they rank 27th this year. They were fourth-best in the red zone in 2013 and are fifth-worst this season. What's to blame for the drop?
Cimini: Oh, man, I could ramble for a long time on this topic. First, let me throw out a couple of other numbers: The defense has allowed a league-high 11 touchdowns on third down and generated only three takeaways -- and one of those was a gift, a botched snap.
What makes the swoon so puzzling is that the Jets are one of the better pass-rushing teams in the league (20 sacks), which should be the foundation to a strong defense -- in theory. The problem is they have no playmakers in the back seven/eight. Their linebackers and defensive backs have combined for one interception and two forced fumbles. The cornerback play is pedestrian. They have been undermined by injuries (Dee Milliner), defections (Dimitri Patterson) and poor personnel decisions. It's so bad that Ryan has resorted to playing more zone coverage than ever before. Somehow the Jets are ranked ninth in total defense, but don't let that fool you. This isn't a top-10 defense.
Rex Ryan called out the New England Patriots' quarterback for a flop in last week's game, an attempt by Brady to draw a penalty flag. It happened after an overthrow by the New York Jets' sideline. Linebacker Antwan Barnes gave Brady a shove out of bounds, and that didn't sit well with Patriots' guard Jordan Devey, who pushed Barnes to the ground and was penalized 15 yards.
Amid the chaos, defensive end Leger Douzable made incidental contact with Brady, who paused a moment or two and fell down. You see better acting in a fourth-grade school play.
The sequence came up Thursday in Ryan's news conference, and he couldn't resist a jab at his longtime nemesis.
"Brady was really shoved hard," Ryan said sarcastically. "He was standing right in front of me, too. I was like, 'Really?' Like, come on. That's Bill Laimbeer right there, you know? But, yeah, I couldn't believe the way they attacked our player."
Barnes wasn't shoved that hard, but he, too, embellished it with a dramatic fall. But it was nothing compared to Brady's flop.
Here's a breakdown:
2014: Remaining base salary from previous contract ($841,000) is now guaranteed. Cap charge: $2.08 million.
2015: A $2 million base salary ($1 million guaranteed for injury only at the time of signing; it becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. Cap charge: $2.6 million.
2016: A $2.5 million base salary. Cap charge: $3.1 million.
2017: A $3.0 million base salary. Cap charge: $3.6 million.
2018: A $3.5 million base salary. Cap charge: $4.1 million.
"Does he have the ability to be more than a gadget guy? Absolutely," receivers coach Sanjay Lal said Thursday.
Harvin's previous employer, the Seattle Seahawks, used him as ... well, a gadget guy -- feeding him the ball mainly on short passes and speed sweeps. His down-the-field opportunities were way down, compared to early in his career with the Minnesota Vikings (2009-2012). Harvin got frustrated with his role in Seattle, probably factoring into the team's decision to trade him to the Jets.
The Jets haven't revealed too much about their specific plans for Harvin, who makes his debut Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, but they clearly don't want to stereotype him as a situational player. They see him as a conventional receiver who can run intermediate and deep routes.
"I don't see why he can't do whatever he puts his mind to," Lal said. "As far as him, ability-wise, I don't see why he couldn't eventually do all of that. ... His natural ability is off the charts. I think the sky's the limit with what this guy can do."
Do the Jets know something the Seahawks didn't? That's unlikely. When it comes to deployment of personnel, teams don't make arbitrary decisions. For instance: The Jets love Chris Ivory as a runner, but they don't play him on third down because he's not a smooth receiver. Looking at Harvin, it's interesting to note how his role as a down-the-field target has diminished over the years.
Check out how his air yards per target have declined over his career, per ESPN Stats & Information:
2014 -- 3.08
2013 -- Injured; played only one game
2012 -- 4.13
2011 -- 5.68
2010 -- 8.94
2009 -- 9.49
Don't expect to see a full arsenal of Harvin plays in his first game. He's learning the Jets' offense on the fly, and they want to be careful not to give him too much. He won't play to his speed if he's thinking too much.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was laughably evasive when fielding questions about Harvin's potential role. In fact, he used the phrase "we'll see" nine times.
"We're going to do what we do and try to integrate him just a little bit there," said Mornhinweg, making Bill Belichick seem like a loose cannon. "We'll see what happens."
“I think they all just play with great effort,” Aboushi said. “I know a lot of their players are coming on for them. It’ll be a good challenge for us.”
That will certainly be true. The 1-6 Jets haven’t won a game since beating the Raiders in the first week of the season. The 4-3 Bills will try to extend that with their defensive front of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes.
“Bills’ front is one of the stoutest in the league, so we know that’s going to be a challenge,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “But it’s not like we’re not going to give it a shot; we’re certainly going to give it a shot. We recognize who we’re up against, but it’s not like we’re just going to make it pass [skeleton]. We’re going to try to run the football and I think we will run the football.”
Johnson said there is a formula to success on Sunday.
“Stay on our assignments and get some hands on those guys and if we can do that, we should be all right,” Johnson said.
The Jets are sixth in the league in rushing yards per game. But still, how easy is it to get Mario Williams out of the way?
“I can’t get him out of my way,” Johnson said with a laugh. “The offensive line has to do that.”
Johnson has faced the Bills before with the Tennessee Titans.
“They always had a good defensive line, always had a fast group,” Johnson said. “This is not a game where we just hand off and we break 10-, 15-, 20-yard runs every time we touch the ball. It’s going to be a grind.”
Creating those gaps will be a challenge for Aboushi, who is learning on the job as he continues to start for the injured Brian Winters. Fellow offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson says it’s the only way to get used to the game.
“Everybody starts in a different way, but when you get in there, that’s how you begin to learn,” Ferguson said. “You learn by doing. Whether it’s the beginning of the season, the middle of the season, it doesn’t matter. When you get in there, that’s when you realize what it is to play in this league.”
Giving a seven-game assessment of Pryor's rookie season, Rex Ryan offered an honest and accurate evaluation of the first-round pick, saying, "He hasn't had the impact necessarily that all of us had expected."
Pryor, in a full-time role, has made no big plays for the New York Jets, fueling the perception that he's falling short of expectations. Two factors have contributed to that, one of which was quickly noted by Ryan.
Ryan being Ryan, he raised the bar (and the pressure) on Pryor by making a far-fetched comparison. A few days after the draft, he said, "He reminds me of Jack Tatum -- an enforcer back there."
Talk about turning up the heat.
Tatum, notorious for his paralyzing wide receiver Darryl Stingley with a vicious hit, was known in the 1970s as "The Assassin." In fact, he wrote a book, entitled, "They Call me Assassin." He was one of the most feared tacklers in NFL history.
Pryor hasn't made an impact -- no interceptions, no forced fumbles, one tackle-for-loss and a half-sack. Ryan attributed the lack of production to the defensive scheme, suggesting Pryor has been victimized by an in-season adjustment. Because of injuries and personnel issues at cornerback, and because of the number of top quarterbacks they've faced, the Jets have played more zone than usual. The grand design was to use Pryor in the box, letting him attack the line of scrimmage, but that hasn't materialized.
"It hasn't gone according to plan, so to speak," Ryan said.
Of course, there's nothing stopping Pryor from making plays in the deep middle. After all, when you're the 18th overall pick, you're expected to be more than a one-dimensional safety. But pass coverage isn't his strength. During the draft process, scouts questioned that aspect of his game.
Pryor said he never expected to play this much free safety, admitting, "It can be frustrating and disappointing at times." But he also acknowledged that he has to play better.
"There have been a lot of moving parts on the back end, but he's definitely right," Pryor said of Ryan. "I look at myself in the mirror and I know I have to step it up."
Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman agreed with Ryan's assessment but defended the rookie, saying he hasn't had many opportunities to make plays. Coincidentally, he mentioned Tatum.
"You guys think he's the second coming of Jack Tatum," said Thurman, apparently not aware that Ryan started the comparison several months ago. "Go find a tape of Jack Tatum's rookie year. I promise you, he was dealing with the same issues playing the deep middle. You don't get a lot of opportunities to get blow-up hits playing the middle."
As rookie with the Oakland Raiders, back in 1971, Tatum had four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets' novel two-day gag order on controversial, newly acquired receiver Percy Harvin doesn't end 'til Friday, which has prevented Harvin from better explaining his alleged gripes about the Seattle Seahawks not fulfilling his wish to be more of a downfield receiving threat, same as the Minnesota Vikings failed to do for him before that, punching his ticket out of town.
But apparently nobody in general manager John Idzik's bunker at One Jets Drive was policing former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington. He turned up on the team's own website Thursday for his weekly video spot, questioning if Harvin puts enough work into his "craft" -- "He could learn a lot from Eric Decker," Pennington said -- and suggested Harvin's past combativeness with teammates could hurt second-year quarterback Geno Smith rather than help him.
Last week against the Patriots, Allen allowed two touchdowns, including one on third-and-19. It was a rough game for Allen, who played in 75 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps that game.
Coach Rex Ryan pointed out that Allen has had a difficult role to play. Starting cornerback Dee Milliner suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against Denver, and rookie Dexter McDougle was out with a knee injury before the season even started.
"It's kind of tough, especially when you have an injury and you're trying to make in-game adjustments. It's kind of difficult," Ryan said of the situation at cornerback. "But we've placed a lot on (Allen) and I think overall he's done pretty well. Everybody has some moments that they wish they had back, there were a couple of things, probably he could have played better, we could've played better, everybody across the board. But I'm happy he's on our team and he's playing well."
Allen has played all over the secondary this season. He said he knows the entire defensive playbook, but joked that he hasn't been asked to play on the defensive line.
"D-Line's doing a good job, so I [don't] think they're going to have me in that spot," Allen said. "But you never know, I might get in the nine technique."
Dawan Landry and rookie Calvin Pryor are the starting safeties, and Ryan said Pryor hasn't been quite what the team hoped for in his first year, so they have had to alter the defense a bit to compensate. This week, they have the Bills and rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to contend with.
"It's going to be a tough challenge," Allen said. "Every week is going to be tough because we haven't been playing up to par. But hopefully we can come out this weekend and show up a little bit."
“Trevor Reilly, I would think it’s a stretch to see him go,” Ryan said. “Greg Salas, that’s probably not going to happen.”
Ryan said he was confident that the rest of the roster would be ready to go.
Limited: LB Trevor Reilly (knee), G Oday Aboushi (shoulder), CB Phillip Adams (groin), G Willie Colon (knee), WR Eric Decker (hamstring), LB David Harris (shoulder) and WR Greg Salas (wrist, ankle).
Full: LB Antwan Barnes (knee), RB Chris Johnson (ankle), C Nick Mangold (shoulder), RB Bilal Powell (foot) and CB Darrin Walls (knee).
Did not participate: WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), LB Ty Powell (ankle), RB Fred Jackson (groin).
Limited participation: WR Marcus Easley (knee), S Aaron Williams (neck).
Full participation: DE Mario Williams (thumb), WR Sammy Watkins (groin), LB Brandon Spikes (ribs).
The Vikings traded the talented yet mercurial Harvin to Seattle in March 2013 after a season in which he screamed at Frazier on the sideline in November and reportedly had an altercation with the coach before the Vikings put him on injured reserve with a sprained ankle during the middle of their playoff push.
Peterson, on the other hand, was the Vikings' most vocal player in support of Frazier when the coach's job was on the line last December; Peterson said after the Vikings' final two games of the season that he wanted Frazier back, at one point adding he wanted to play for the coach for the rest of his career and saying he planned to share his thoughts with ownership. After the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30, Peterson said there was a time where "I wasn't happy. I wasn't feeling good about being in Minnesota at the end of last season."
The circumstances for both players, of course, have changed significantly in recent weeks. Peterson is awaiting a Dec. 1 trial after pleading not guilty to child abuse charges, and Harvin is preparing for his first game with the New York Jets after the Seahawks traded him last week.
For the second straight day, the Jets practiced indoors because of the rain. Once again, every player on the 53-man roster was in uniform. Rookie linebacker Trevor Reilly, recovering from a sprained knee, likely will sit out team drills again. He was the only player who didn't practice Wednesday.
Wide receiver Greg Salas (wrist, ankle) participated in positional drills with a heavy wrap on his wrist.
It'll be interesting to see how they handle the wide-receiver position for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets, who have eight receivers on the roster, usually dress six. Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and Percy Harvin are definites. Walter Powell (punt returner) and Saalim Hakim are active because of special teams. The sixth spot (if they take six to the game) will come down to T.J. Graham or Salas.
I don't think that was the primary reason for the trade. If it was, my question is this: Why didn't they take that approach in the offseason? Why didn't they try to sign another wide receiver to go along with Eric Decker? Bringing Harvin into the fold at this point in the season, asking him to learn an offense on the fly and develop a rapport with Smith, is a too-little, too-late move. It may provide some help to Smith, but it won't elevate him to a new level.
Harvin won't save Smith. The only person who can save Geno is Geno. He has nine games to convince the brass he's their long-term answer. Let's be honest, it'll have to be one whale of a nine-game run to erase the first 23 games.
"Receivers don't make quarterbacks; quarterbacks make receivers," a longtime personnel executive said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I don't think Geno can play, I don't care who you put around him. Yeah, [Harvin] will make him a little better, but I've seen enough of Geno. You can't saddle the next coach with another year of Geno."
Smith played one of his best all-around games in last week's loss to the New England Patriots, managing to go a full game without an interception -- only the fifth time he's done that in 23 starts. There were some positives (an 88.6 passer rating), but the question is whether he can sustain it. This is hard to believe, but only once has he posted an 80 rating or better in back-to-back games -- the final two games last season.
Starting Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (4-3), Smith needs to put together a string of feel-good performances. He dismissed the idea that last week was a building block, saying, "No, we lost the game. That's that."
Smith has made slight improvements from last season in most of the major statistical categories, but as Bill Parcells always used to say, the quarterback's job is to get his team into the end zone. Smith isn't doing that. The Jets are averaging only 17 points per game, tied for 28th in the league. That's not good enough. Not even close.
Decker believes Harvin's presence will take some pressure off Smith, because he can take a short, high-percentage throw and break it for 40 or 50 yards. That's a fine theory. The Seattle Seahawks felt the same way, except the longest of Harvin's 22 receptions was only 33 yards. The Seahawks didn't know how to use Harvin and gave up. Why should we believe the Jets will be any different?
Smith spoke highly of Harvin's "dynamic" ability -- that's the new favorite word in the Jets' locker room -- but he stopped short of making any bold predictions. "This isn't video games," he said, meaning that integrating Harvin into the offense will take longer than popping a disc into a Play Station.
It's funny how general manager John Idzik and Rex Ryan have tried to remove Smith from the Harvin equation, insisting their young quarterback's development wasn't the impetus for the trade. "No, I don't see that," Ryan said. Of course, if he acknowledged that, he'd basically be calling out his GM for doing a lousy job of stocking the receiver position in the offseason.
Which he did. Stephen Hill was hopeless, Jalen Saunders was a bust, Jacoby Ford was an inexpensive flyer who couldn't fly (at least not with the ball in his hands) and David Nelson was a possession receiver who didn't excite the brass. And yet Idzik said Monday, "I think we have some weapons, I really do."
If the Jets have weapons, they're dormant. The reason is Smith. The quarterback makes everybody better -- or worse. Maybe Harvin can provide a spark, but a spark won't ignite a damp firecracker.
The New York Jets' coach popped his head into an interview room Wednesday during a conference call between the media and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Ryan joined the group and fired away.
Watkins laughed, but never really answered the questions.
The back story: Ryan's son, Seth, is a wide receiver at Clemson. Seth Ryan and Watkins were teammates last season, so it was only natural for the elder Ryan to pay close attention.
Earlier on the conference call, Watkins was asked by a reporter -- a real reporter -- about his relationship with Rex Ryan.
"I know Rex, I have seen him down there at Clemson a couple of times," Watkins said. "He’s a great guy, great coach, great dad and he’s always been funny with me at times, but he’s a great coach."
Ryan has a high regard for Watkins, comparing him to A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
"He's like he’s one of those guys that doesn’t come around very often," Ryan said.
You may recall Ryan pulled a role reversal in training camp. In mid-August, during the dog days of camp, Ryan sat with the reporters one day and fired questions at a grizzled beat reporter.
He loves coaching, but it sure seems like he has a hidden desire to be a sports writer.