Welcome to Week 12 of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ 11th game of the 2018 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here’s what to watch for:
BILLS’ DEFENSE AND OFFENSE BOTH ON SAME PAGE
In Buffalo’s last game against the New York Jets, the Bills scored a season-high 41 points and racked up 451 yards of total offense and 212 rushing yards behind a stellar performance from Matt Barkley and a slightly re-shuffled offensive line. It was the Bills’ best offensive performance of the season, and they did it all without rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who will return this week after dealing with an elbow injury.
Allen is going to be working with a wide receiver corps that is in flux. Since his injury, the Bills have promoted Robert Foster off of their practice squad, claimed Isaiah McKenzie off waivers from the Denver Broncos and brought back Deonte Thompson, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys.
It was a performance that finally matched that of the Bills’ defense. That side of the ball is ranked second in the league and first against the pass, and has been stellar all season long.
JAGS’ OFFENSE AN OLD-SCHOOL, YET INCONSISTENT UNIT
Jacksonville is coming off of a six-game losing streak, with their sixth occurring during a meltdown against Pittsburgh in which they blew a 16-point lead with 17 minutes to go. The AFC’s runner-up last season, the Jaguars have fallen on hard times and currently have the same record as Buffalo. Not helping matters is that Jaguars coach Doug Marrone decided last spring to not only roll the dice on the maligned Blake Bortles as the Jags’ starting quarterback again, but doubled down, as he backed the front office’s decision to curiously sign him to an extension.
Bortles is the definition of mediocre. Despite possessing a strong arm and some mobility, his mechanics release point, accuracy and decision-making are questionable at best and he also has a very long and slow throwing motion – which defenders can exploit by jumping routes.
To help Bortles, the Jaguars like to compensate for his slow throwing motion with slower-developing vertical pass routes, with a lot of play-action to help set up those downfield throws. While Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief and Dede Westbrook are decent wide receivers who can get open deep, none of them will be confused for being the next Jerry Rice.
The Jags have an offensive line that isn’t very athletic or powerful – save for guard Andrew Norwell and the injured Cam Robinson. Hence why Marrone has built his offense around inside zone runs from running back Leonard Fournette, a bruiser who had a good rookie season a year ago, but has played just four games in 2018 due to injury and has suffered through a sophomore slump.
The best way for the Bills’ defense to stop Bortles, Fournette and company should be to play with eight men in the box on early running downs to counter the Jags’ ground game, and force Jacksonville into third-and-long situations. Once in those scenarios, the Bills can retreat into looks with two-deep safeties, which Bortles has struggled against – particularly versus Cover Two zone defenses.
DEFENSE AN UBER-TALENTED GROUP FOR JAGUARS
While the Bills had a field day against the Jets, they will face a far more daunting challenge in the Jaguars’ defense. Fourth in yards allowed and third against the pass, it may be the most talented defensive unit in the league.
Like Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier, Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash believes in getting after the quarterback through a four-man pass rush, but uses different types of zone coverages behind it (Wash is a disciple of Gus Bradley’s Seattle-style Cover Three, while McDermott and Frazier prefer Cover Two and Cover 4). Each are also different in their willingness to blitz. McDermott and Frazier will sometimes bring a safety off the edge or threaten to rush their linebackers up the middle, aka the A gaps, while Wash rarely sends extra rushers beyond his four defensive linemen.
Many teams have attempted to imitate the Seahawks’ scheme, with the ability to rush four and play a single-high safety with zone coverage dividing the field into thirds behind it along with lanky, physical cornerbacks and speed at linebacker – Atlanta, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Chargers come to mind in particular. But the Jaguars are so similar to Seattle that they could be mistaken for an identical twin.
Former Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue are a stout defensive line against the run and can get after the quarterback. Telvin Smith and Myles Jack may be the fastest linebacker tandem in the NFL. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the prototypical tall, lanky cornerbacks you want to have in a Cover-Three defense, and safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church are very good themselves on the back end.
Ramsey made noise during the offseason about certain quarterbacks in the NFL, and his remarks on Josh Allen were none too complimentary (To read his comments on Allen, go here: (https://www.gq.com/story/jalen-ramsey-trash-talk-nfl-interview?fbclid=IwAR1FlL0oj_RDJ4UZYOqGgUYBNKoyZGvkuL9TJ6S-s3v1uI0naox2yUgMFk0). It wouldn’t be surprising to see Allen motivated to play at his absolute best on Sunday to perhaps prove a point.
While speed and talent are aplenty on the Jaguars’ defense, the one place it isn’t is at nickel corner. With last year’s breakout Aaron Colvin having departed to Houston in the spring, Jacksonville replaced him with former Raiders bust D.J. Hayden. Watch for the Bills to attack him in their passing game.
THIS AND THAT
- Not only does this game mark Marrone’s return to Buffalo, but it is also a homecoming for Nate Hackett, Tyrone Wheatley and Jason Rebrovich, who all served under Marrone in Buffalo. Tony Sparano Jr., Jacksonville’s assistant offensive line coach, worked for Rex Ryan in 2015 and ’16, and defensive backs coach Perry Fewell was interim coach in 2009 after serving three and a half years for Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator.
- Dareus, a Pro Bowler in 2013 and ’14, will also make his return to the 716. His contract is still on the Bills’ salary cap, in which he takes up $13.5 million.
- The Jags’ executive vice president of football operations, Tom Coughlin, was the Jaguars’ head coach when the team won the first playoff game in franchise history – in Buffalo, during the final playoff game for Marv Levy and Jim Kelly in 1996. A game that also featured future Bills coach Jauron, then the Jags’ defensive coordinator. Additionally, before he led the New York Giants to Super Bowl rings in 2007 and ’11, Coughlin was the Giants’ wide receivers coach under Bills Parcells when they defeated the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
- Rebrovich and Jaguars general manager David Caldwell are both Buffalo natives. Caldwell was a college teammate of former Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Nevada head coach Brian Polian at John Carroll University.
- Jaguars director of player personnel Chris Polian is the son of Hall of Fame executive and former Bills general manager Bill Polian.
- Former New York Jets general manager John Idzik, a special assistant to Caldwell, coached wide receivers at the University at Buffalo in 1982.
BUFFALO AND JACKSONVILLE HAVE A HISTORY TOGETHER
Given that the Bills and Jaguars play in different divisions, the two teams have a surprisingly large amount of memorable games between them. Some of the standouts are:
- October 1998: Bills 17, Jaguars 16 – This game is most remembered for Doug Flutie capping off a late-game drive with a naked bootleg inside the five-yard line for the game-winning touchdown with seconds left to play. According to Flutie, Thurman Thomas was supposed to receive a handoff on the play, but that season’s Comeback Player of the Year decided to keep it while at the line of scrimmage.
- January 2018: Jaguars 10, Bills 3 – After the Bills snapped their 17-year playoff drought the previous week, Bills Mafia was delirious – as evidenced by them taking over the city of Jacksonville for a week. The game, meanwhile, was an old-school defensive slugfest, with the only touchdown coming on a one-yard pass from Blake Bortles to Ben Koyack, and the contest wasn’t decided until the last drive of the game when Jalen Ramsey –predictably – intercepted Nathan Peterman with seconds to spare.
- December 1996: Jaguars 30, Bills 27 – Buffalo’s dominance during the 90’s began to come to a close in a painful way in this AFC wild-card game. The upstart Jags – only in their second year of existence – came into then-Rich Stadium (where the Bills had been undefeated in postseason play) and not only narrowly upset the veteran Bills, but also ended the careers of both Kelly and Kent Hull, who retired shortly thereafter.
- September 2003: Bills 38, Jaguars 17 – The Bills followed up their 31-0 win over the New England Patriots in the season opener with a drubbing in Jacksonville. Drew Bledsoe threw for 314 yards, Eric Moulds had 133 receiving yards on seven catches and Travis Henry added three touchdowns in Byron Leftwich’s NFL debut.
- September 2004: Jaguars 13, Bills 10 – A year later, the Bills started the Mike Mularkey era in an indelible way – but not for the right reasons. The Bills carried a 10-6 lead with a little more than two minutes to go, but Leftwich drove the Jags 78 yards down the field on the final possession of the game and found Ernest Wilford in the back of the end zone to win as time expired.
- October 2015: Jaguars 34, Bills 31 – By this point, E.J. Manuel had lost his starting quarterback job to Tyrod Taylor and had lived up to his reputation as a bust. But he solidified his ineptitude with poor play throughout Buffalo’s first game in London, and horrific play-calling by Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman allowed the Jags to sneak away with a win.
- November 2009: Jaguars 18, Bills 15 – Jags signal caller David Garrard ran for a game-winning touchdown with 56 seconds remaining, but Bills fans remember this game for two reasons – one for being Perry Fewell’s debut as interim coach following the long-overdue firing of Dick Jauron a week earlier and two for Ryan Fitzpatrick connecting with Terrell Owens on a 98-yard scoring strike – the longest in franchise history.
- October 2001: Bills 13, Jaguars 10 – After opening the season with four straight losses under new head coach Gregg Williams, Buffalo would record the first of just three wins on the campaign thanks to a touchdown pass from Rob Johnson to Moulds and a pair of field goals by Jake Arians. It would be the Bills’ last appearance on a Thursday night until 2009.
- December 2012: Bills 34, Jaguars 18 – On a rainy Sunday in Orchard Park, the Bills won by 16 in Mularkey’s return to Buffalo.