It could look like a cocktail party during warmups Sunday midafternoon.
New Bills head coach Doug Marrone was the Jets' OL coach from 2002-05. His DBs coach, Donnie Henderson, was the Jets' D-coordinator in '04-05. Rex Ryan's staff provided Marrone's new DC, Mike Pettine, plus assistant coaches Jim O'Neil, Anthony Weaver and Samson Brown. Buffalo offensive coordinator Nate Hackett is the son of former Jets OC Paul Hackett. Bills players Jim Leonhard, Jamaal Westerman and Marcus Dowtin are ex-Jets, Jets CB Ellis Lankster and OL coach Mike Devlin are former Bills draft choices.
It'll be warm and fuzzy on the MetLife UBU Speed Series S5-M turf ... until these original AFL rivals kick it off one more time around 4:25 p.m. ET. Here are 10 things to look for in the game.
Don't Burp the Baby —** It's been the proverbial rookie roller-coaster for Geno Smith, perhaps captured by his last two quarters vs. the Patriots — his best one-quarter passer rating as a pro in the third quarter, (100.3) followed by his worst in the fourth quarter (6.6). A major focus this week: Getting the ball out of his right hand quicker. "You never want to sit back there and pat it and babysit the ball," Smith said. (Don't burp the baby, as NFL Network's Mike Mayock would say.) "And going up against a defense and a guy like Mario, it's going to be an emphasis to get the ball out." Which leads us to ...
Where Exactly Is Mario? — Be on the lookout for No. 94 of the Bills. Mario Williams' 4.5 sacks of the Panthers' Cam Newton was one of the top 10 sack performances in the new millennium. And Pettine is using Williams all over the formation — he was over left tackle in the opener against New England, over right tackle vs. Carolina, and on the inside on a number of passing downs. So D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Austin Howard and the interior guys all should get shots at trying to slow Mario on his way to Smith in the pocket.
Quinton the Healer — Quinton Coples clearly got a second opinion on his ankle, injured Aug. 17, from his private doctor in Lourdes. As Ryan has said, a month after surgery, Coples is listed as probable for Buffalo, "and that's probably a story in itself. I don't know what to say." What we can say is that the NFL's second overall defense after two weeks should get stronger still if No. 98 is back in the mix.
Three-and-Out Thrills — One of the things that has made Rex's Jets defense so stout over the last five seasons is its ability to get off the field quickly. This season Ryan's and Dennis Thurman's unit has nine 3-and-out drives, tied for fourth in the NFL, and their 3-and-out drive rate of 31.0% is sixth. Since '09, the Jets are the league's No. 1 defense in both 3-and-out drives (243) and drive rate (29.7%). A 3-and-out doesn't trump an INT-return touchdown, of course, but stringing enough of them together will frustrate rookie QB EJ Manuel and his up-tempo offense.
The Corner Office — Who will start at cornerback opposite Antonio Cromartie? It could be first pick of the draft Dee Milliner, who started the first two games but was benched at halftime in Game 2. Or Kyle Wilson, who has 27 starts as a pro. Or dark-horse candidate Darrin Walls. "Whatever the coaching staff decides, I'm fine with," said Milliner. "Dee'll be ready to play and he'll be part of the rotation," said Ryan. And for all who just need to know right now if Milliner will get the start vs. the Bills, coordinator Dennis Thurman had a Parcellsian response: "I guess you'll have to wait till Sunday."
Vlad the Inhaler? — Some players need more time than others, and Thursday night it felt as if LG Vladimir Ducasse's time had come as the fourth-year man neutralized Vince Wilfork and even moved the imposing force around a little, on Bilal Powell's touchdown run and a number of other plays. This week will be another test for the O-line in general and Ducasse in particular, who'll have his hands full with either Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus or Super Mario, depending on the Bills front. Vlad seems upbeat and ready to throw his weight around again.
The All-Hands Team — Our receivers, especially our WRs, spent the entire week focusing mentally and physically on sure-handed pass-catching in between practice periods. The wideouts got a bonus with the return of slotman Jeremy Kerley (concussion), who showed his dexterity on the JUGS machine along with the rest of his brethren. The weather forecast is for a dry sky, so all elements point to a vise-grip kind of game from our pass-catchers.
Clyde's New Day —WR Clyde Gates fought the ball and the ball won at Gillette Stadium. But as Rex Ryan said today, "I believe in Clyde. He catches everything in practice. I know he's going to have a big day. That's how I feel about it." A big day could include not just big catches but also dynamic kickoff returns. Gates hasn't had a return this season, yet new Bills K Dan Carpenter had four of his kickoffs run back by the Panthers last week, three by Ted Ginn for a 26.7-yard average. It's time for Clyde to glide out of the end zone.
Q Factor — Ignoring Coples, whose nickname is "Q," we've never had a player whose name on the back of his jersey began with a Q. That will end Sunday when Ryan Quigley handles his first long snap from Tanner Purdum, whether as the new punter or as Nick Folk's new holder. ST coordinator Ben Kotwica said the issue with Robert Malone was "ball-striking consistency." The thinking in making the switch is that while "Quigs" may not have as big a leg, he should be more directional and consistent with his punts, providing us with a very important commodity: better field position.
Don't Take a Spill — One more number for the defense and our fans to key on is No. 28, not the one on the Ring of Honor facade for Curtis Martin but the one on the white uniform with red and blue trim. C.J. Spiller has become a difficult matchup for us — last season he was the 10th opponent since 1970 and the first RB to have two 50-yard scrimmage plays in the same season against us. "We missed one tackle and he broke it for 60 yards," LB Garrett McIntyre recalled of the middle-screen TD dash at Buffalo. "We can't allow that to happen."
Not if the Jets want to come out of this game 2-1 overall, 1-1 in the AFC East and 1-0 at home in the division.