Author: DAVID WYATT-HUPTON
We’ve waited a long time, but finally, it’s game week. The quest for the playoffs starts on Monday against the Buffalo Bills, with the atmosphere set to be electric inside Metlife Stadium. The Bills have won the AFC East each of the last three years, and it’ll be up to the Jets to displace one of the highest-ranked teams in the NFL.
If you want to beat a team like the Bills, a lot of things need to go right. All three facets of the game need to work in unison, but within each unit, there are key matchups to watch, and in today's column I wanted to highlight three of them.
I’m going to try and avoid the obvious. If Aaron Rodgers plays how Aaron Rodgers can play and Garrett Wilson plays how Garrett Wilson can play, good things are going to happen. But are there some under-the-radar matchups that could be the key to victory? That’s what we’re trying to identify here.
Cobb is entering his 13th year in the league, and he’ll have spent 11 of those years catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. That’s 130 games, 764 targets, 532 receptions, 6,316 yards and 47 touchdowns, most of which were played alongside Aaron. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of chemistry.
Most of the focus will be on Garrett Wilson and his budding relationship with Rodgers, but Cobb could be key to unlocking the Bills' defence.
The Bills had one of the best defences in football last year, ranking second in the league in terms of points allowed (286); only the San Francisco 49ers were stingier (277).
Over the course of his entire career, Cobb has spent 83.1% of his snaps in the slot and there’s a good chance that continues with the Jets. This means he’ll draw the majority of his coverage from Taron Johnson, an incredibly talented player, but an area the Jets can exploit.
Johnson allowed 623 yards and 7 touchdowns into his coverage last year according to PFF, with 376 yards coming after the catch. QBs had a 107.9 passer rating when throwing into his coverage, and with the chemistry between Rodgers and Cobb, this is a matchup that on paper looks favourable.
A big part of stopping the Bills is stopping Josh Allen, one of the most dangerous multidimensional quarterbacks in football. If he’s not hurting you through the air, then he’s hurting you on the ground.
Jermaine Johnson showed his ability to contain Josh Allen last year with his sideline shoestring tackle, and now he’ll be looking to do even more in the 2023 curtain raiser.
Johnson has been praised this preseason for both his physical and mental progress in terms of his game, and the Bills offer a stern initial test.
Considering he spent the majority of his rookie season on the left side of the line, he’ll be drawing the matchup against Buffalo RT Spencer Brown, a player who was tagged with 4 sacks and 42 pressures allowed last year. Brown is a towering 6’8 and has the potential to overwhelm the best pass-rushers, but Jermaine Johnson has the speed/power combination to cause problems.
I’d expect to see the Bills counter with extra blockers, doubles and chips from the running backs. But JJ could be the key to unsettling Josh Allen. The Bills QB doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but his turnover-worthy play rate of 6.1% when pressured was ranked 23rd out of 32 qualified QBs (minimum 100 dropbacks).
One of the real feel-good stories of the offseason, Adams fought his way onto the roster last year as a UDFA out of Illinois and will now enter the 2023 season as a starter.
Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed will draw the outside assignments against superstar Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, although the Bills could move Diggs into the slot to avoid Sauce as much as possible (Diggs was used in the slot on 34.1% of his snaps last year).
With the coverage outside, there’s a chance that Buffalo uses more tight-end heavy personnel to get Dawson Knox and rookie Dalton Kincaid on the field together; this will put a lot of pressure on the Jets safeties.
Knox is coming off a fine year where he caught 48 balls for 517 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s now joined by Kincaid who enjoyed a stellar final year in Utah. The rookie caught 66 passes for 850 yards and 8 touchdowns in Salt Lake City last year.
Tony Adams has all the athleticism you could want in a safety, and his ability to lock down or limit the production from the tight ends will go a long way to determining the result in this game.