AFC EAST GAME DAY NEWS & NOTES:
Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills:
The Buffalo Bills will host the Miami Dolphins in the home opener at the newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium today. The game will be the 97th regular season meeting between Buffalo and Miami, with the Dolphins holding a 56-39-1 advantage in the series. With a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the Bills will start 2-0 for the first time since 2011 and win their third straight game at home and overall against Miami.
Buffalo defeated the Chicago Bears in overtime by a score of 23-20 in their 2014 regular season. The Bills improved to 1-0 for the season with the win. QB EJ Manuel proved prepared in his sophomore campaign. He went 16-for-22 for 173 yards and one touchdown, while adding another score on the ground. Leading the way on the ground was RB Fred Jackson with seven rushes for 61 yards. His 38-yard run in overtime set up Dan Carpenter for the 27-yard game-winning field goal.
However, Jackson gained only 18 rushing yards over the first 60 minutes with 38 of them coming on the run in overtime that set up Carpenter’s field goal OT winner. Two other running backs, Anthony Dixon (60 yards) and C.J. Spiller (53 yards), kept the Bills’ ground game moving in regulation. The balanced attack marked the first time in 27 years, and only the fourth time in team history, that three different Bills players ran for at least 50 yards each in the same game. Cookie Gilchrist was among the trio in 1964, as was O.J. Simpson in 1975. The last group to do it was Robb Riddick, Jamie Mueller, and Ronnie Harmon in 1987.
The Bills defense picked up where they left off last year, recording two sacks and three turnovers. CB Leodis McKelvin led all players with 13 tackles, while DT Kyle Williams recorded his first career interception. Veteran CB Corey Graham had a tremendous game against his former team, recording three passes defensed and interceptions Jay Cutler in the second quarter.
Last week, the Dolphins beat the New England Patriots as the defense stepped up in the second half vs Tom Brady. The Fins registered 4 sacks in Week 1, tied for 3rd in NFL. AFC Defensive player of the week, DE Cameron Wake had 2 sacks & two forced fumbles in the contest. He now ranks 4th in club history with 53.5 sacks & needs 3.5 to surpass Trace Armstrong (56.5) for 3rd in team history. Since entering the NFL in 2009, Wake ranks a quiet third in the AFC in sacks. LB Oliver Vernon had a sack vs. NE and now has six sacks in past seven contests vs. AFC East. Undrafted rookie LB Chris McCain had sack & blocked punt in his NFL debut.
On offense for Miami, new RB Knowshon Moreno ran for 134 yards in the Dolphins’ 33-20 win over the Patriots. That was the highest rushing total for a Miami player in its season opener since Lamar Smith ran for 145 yards against Seattle in 2000. The only players with more rushing yards than Moreno in their Dolphins debuts were Smith and Abner Haynes, who ran for 151 yards against Denver in Miami’s opening game in 1967, Haynes’ final season in the NFL. Moreno was also the first player in 10 years to run for 100-plus yards in an opening-day game against a team coached by Bill Belichick. The last was Edgerrin James of the Colts with 142 yards in 2004.
Despite the strong play from the Dolphins D last week, the Patriots do not possess the rushing threat that Buffalo does and the Fins are hurting where it maters when trying to stop the run. Miami is thin at linebacker and will be in transition. The Dolphins put starting outside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve Monday and starting middle linebacker Koa Misi also missed practice all week with an ankle injury and appears to be a long shot. The Dolphins will be relying on backups such as Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins against the Bills’ strong running game. Miami is hoping starting outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (thumb) can return this week from a thumb injury.
Last season on the Niners and Seahawks ran the football more than they passed it. In Week 1, that trend doesn’t seem to be changing despite the success of those two teams. However, the Bills were one of the NFL’s more run-heavy teams in Week 1. Only four teams — including the Dolphins — had a greater percentage of running plays in their openers. It didn’t work well for the Bills early in Chicago, but they were able to get a pair of big gains — a 47-yarder from Anthony Dixon and a 38-yarder from Fred Jackson — that helped make the difference. Look for the Bills to stick with a run-first approach against Miami, putting the game less on quarterback EJ Manuel’s shoulders. It worked last week, but the Bills will need more consistent results from Jackson and C.J. Spiller to win with a ground-and-pound attack.
When the Bills do throw the ball, who is going to block Cameron Wake? The right side of the offensive line, mainly guard Erik Pears had some ups-and-downs last week, as he transitions from tackle. Seantrel Henderson had issues of his own against the Bears. Henderson, a rookie Miami fans know well, will be tasked with blocking Cameron Wake. According to an interview Coach Doug Marrone gave on Friday, the matchup favors the Dolphins. The Bills aren’t likely to have Lee Smith (doubtful, toe), their best blocking tight end, to help chip Wake at the line. Manuel was given plenty of time to throw in Chicago, but today could be an entirely different story.
Speaking of QB protection, one of the big reasons the Bills swept the Dolphins last season was the Bills’ defensive line dominated the Dolphins’ offensive line in the trenches. Buffalo registered nine sacks in two games against Miami. Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have much time to throw and is 1-3 against the Bills in his career. Pass protection will be key to determining if Tannehill can overcome this week. Last week, according to Pro Football Focus, center Samson Satele had a +3.1 overall rating thanks to a +3.2 run block grade and no pressure allowed. That was his best grade in a game since Week 11 of the 2012 season, when he was a Colt and was playing the Patriots.
The Dolphins will need to have a balanced attack today in order to win in Buffalo. Setting the tone early with Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and Lamar Miller added 59 more on just 11 carries last week will need to keep the high flying Bills defense honest. QB Ryan Tannehill is going to have to make plays today. The Dolphins must contain the Bills rushing attack and force EJ Manuel to beat, which I think he will. Buffalo 24 Miami 20
New York Jets:
Old School Football in New York:
Last week’s game wasn’t as easy as Jets head coach Rex Ryan was hoping or predicting. One big reason the Jets didn’t win by more than the 19-14 margin was the offenses performance in the red zone. They managed one touchdown on four trips. The Jets ran 11 plays inside the 21-yard line, producing a net of minus-39 yards. This week, NY cannot allow the sacks, penalties, missed blocks, and questionable play calling to invade the red area. The focus has to be sharper, and it starts with Geno Smith, who needs to do a better job of managing the game.
The Jets managed a victory thanks in part to their defense who controlled rookie QB Derek Carr. Rex Ryan led teams are now 8-1 against rookie quarterbacks making their first appearance against his Jets defense.
Running back Chris Ivory also had a major contribution. Ivory ran 71 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, tying the second-longest TD run in team history. The Jets’ only other rushing touchdowns of 70 yards or longer were by Bruce Harper (78 yards against the Falcons in 1983) and Thomas Jones (71 yards against the Bills in 2009). Every other team that has been in the NFL as long as the Jets has at least five TD runs of 70 yards or longer.
Jets @ Packers:
The Jets own an 8-3 record in the series, but the Packers won the last matchup, shutting out the Jets on the road in 2010 (9-0). It was the first time the Jets were shut out since 2006. Green Bay lost their opener to Seattle but that was 10 days ago, as the Pack get set to host the Jets in their home opener.
The Packers didn’t look like the Packers in their Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks—much the same way Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or any other QB doesn’t look the same against the L.O.B. They didn’t throw at All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, basically eliminating one-third of the field. Now, in the friendly confines of Lambeau, the Packers are expected to use the full playbook and the full field. Their goal this season is to run 75 plays a game, so look for Rodgers to keep his foot on the gas pedal. Pre-snap communication will be important for the Jets, whose depth also will be tested by the up-tempo attack.
The secondary will be tested early and often today but whether or not the Jets can hold up is the big question. Dee Milliner is expected to play after missing four weeks with a high-ankle sprain, but the 2013 first round pick doesn’t fix the secondary problems. The former Crimson Tide will need a few weeks to get into football shape and he’s the type of player who needs reps to be at the top of his game. Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen will remain the starters, with Milliner rotating with Walls. The Rodgers-Jordy Nelson combination will look to create a ton of headaches for Rex’s defense. They’ve developed great chemistry over the years, especially on sideline routes — the back-shoulder fade, in particular. Nelson, whom Rodgers threw 14 times to in Week 1, could and should cause problems for Allen, who’s still learning the position.
Getting to Rodgers is a must for the Jets front seven. Ryan’s defenses have had success versus the former Super Bowl MVP. In Rodgers’ two games against Rex defenses (2005 at Baltimore and 2010 at the Jets), his passer rating is 52.7, almost half of his 105.5 rating against all other NFL opponents in his regular-season career. Muhammad Wilkerson and the rest of the Jets front seven have the advantage vs. a Packers nicked up offensive line. Rex doesn’t have to get exotic; he just needs to apply pressure.
The best defense is not to play any at all—- The Jets have the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense after one week, thanks to the 1-2 punch of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson that led to 212 yards against the Raiders. The Packers have the next-to-last run defense thanks to Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks’ 207 yards in the Thursday night opener. Do you see where this is going?
TO WIN ON THE ROAD—YOU MUST SCORE ON THE ROAD! This is the first test of the Jets new road resolve. The past three seasons, New York is 7-17 away from New Jersey. They have been outscored by a touchdown per game (25.0-17.5) in the process. You will know fairly early how this may turnout. The Jets haven’t scored a TD on the road in the in first quarter in a season and a half. That is 27 drives and 13 games without an offensive touchdown.
I simply cannot imagine after a 10-day layoff and losing as they did in their road opener, the Packers will lose their home opener. It won’t be easy but it will be.
Packers 24 Jets 14
New England Patriots:
Vikings Prove Tough Test for 0-1 Pats:
The New England Patriots will be on the road for the second straight week when they travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings after opening the season at Miami. It is the ninth time in New England team history that they will open the season with two road games (1964,-1968, 1984, 1996, and 2003) and the first since 2003. There have been 168 weeks on which every team in the AFC East played, with Tom Brady starting for the Patriots. Last week was only the fourth time that Brady and New England lost and each of their division rivals won. It previously happened in October 2001, December 2004, and October 2012.
Last week, Tom Brady was pressured (under duress, hit while throwing or sacked) on 13-of-37 dropbacks in the 2nd half (35 percent). Brady was pressured on 21 percent of dropbacks last year, fourth lowest in the league. The Patriots traded veteran guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers on Aug. 26.
How big was losing Mankins? —- With Mankins now in Tampa Bay, Brady was pressured 16 times last week against the Dolphins, the second-most times he’s been pressured in a game since 2006. On average, Brady has been pressured under 6 times a game during this time frame. No quarterback was pressured more often than Brady was in Week 1.
Patriots @ Vikings:
Whether it is with sweeps with Julian Edelman or a more traditional running attack with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, the Patriots are expected to run more today. Last week, there was just 20 carries to be had. The best way to ease the pressure on an offensive line on the ropes and combat the variety of pressure looks the Vikings utilize is to stick with the run game and make positive gains. This is no longer a maybe for NE; this is becoming a must if Brady is going to stay upright
On Friday night the Vikings deactivated running back Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game after Peterson was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. While this situation is so much bigger and more important than a football game, it will go on, and backup RB Matt Asiata will start in Peterson’s place. With that said, The Pats surrendered 191 rushing yards in the season opener, in part because players were asked to play out of position. The Patriots are expected to alter things from both an alignment and personnel perspective, while getting back to fundamental basics.
New England must get better special teams play. After surrendering a blocked punt in the season-opener, and having a player line up offside on kickoff coverage, the Patriots now face one of the NFL’s best return games with Cordalle Patterson on kickoffs and Marcus Sherels on punts.
Speaking of Patterson, he is a dynamic offensive threat at receiver who moves around the formation so this could be the first time we see the Patriots use cornerback Darrelle Revis as a matchup option, similar to how the club employed Aqib Talib at times last year. While the Vikings have a solid No. 2 receiver in Greg Jennings, Revis was brought in to shut down half the field.
The Patriots are 34-8 following a loss in the Belichick era. As a starter, Brady has only lost two games in a row five times in his career, and lost four games in a row once in 2002. He has also only lost in two season openers. The Pats just have a knack for bouncing back….NO AP NO WIN FOR MINESOTA
Patriots 31 Vikings 20