Chapter One: Darnold vs. Allen
When the Jets and the Bills faced off against each other in Week 10 at MetLife Stadium, Josh McCown and Matt Barkley were the starting quarterbacks. But the long-term success of both franchises depends largely on how rookies Sam Darnold and Josh Allen develop moving forward. They could meet for the first time as pros Sunday in Orchard Park, NY.
Darnold, who practiced full for the first time in more than a month Wednesday, prepared for the elements by going sleeveless.
"I just felt comfortable out there," he told reporters. "I had a little wet suit underneath and I was really warm. I didn't really need long sleeves, so I kind of went with it."
Darnold, selected No. 3 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Green & White, and Allen, taken four picks later by the Bills, have had similar starts to their careers. In nine games, Darnold has completed 55% of his passes for 1,934 yards with 11 touchdowns and a league-high 14 interceptions. Appearing in eight contests, Allen has connected on just 52.9% of his tosses for 1,223 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. But the Wyoming product has become a force on the ground as well, totaling 389 yards while averaging 6.8 yards per carry and scoring four times.
While Allen missed four games with an elbow injury, Darnold has been inactive the past three contests with a strained right foot. But Darnold is nearing a return and should be ready to go if he can shake some off the cobwebs off during the next couple days of workouts.
"It's a cool idea to hopefully be in the same division for a long time and just be able to compete against each other for a long time," Darnold said.
The teams' first meeting was a forgettable one for the Jets as the Bills raced out to a 31-0 lead and coasted to a decisive 41-10 victory.
"Cut to the chase man, it's personal," said S Jamal Adams. "They came in and they whooped us. They don't like us. We don't like them, so it's going be a tough battle."
But look beyond the quarterbacks and this is also a battle of the Bayou Bengals. Adams, a safety selected No. 6 overall in the 2017 Draft, and cornerback Tre'Davious White, taken 21 picks later by the Bills, are the two best players on their respective defenses.
"He's a phenomenal football player as everybody knows," Adams said of White, his collegiate teammate at LSU who is an instrumental piece on the league's top pass defense. "He doesn't get a lot of credit because the ball really doesn't come his way a lot, but he definitely is shutting down the No. 1 receiver. He's a phenomenal player — he can do it all."
Spies Like Us
Will the Jets elect to use a spy or two on Allen? The 6'5", 237-pounder has run for 234 yards the past two games and averaged 10.6 yards per carry in the process. His 48.6 rush yards per game is currently the second-highest single-season average in terms of rookie quarterbacks. Despite using Kiko Alonso as a spy, the Dolphins allowed Allen to gain 135 yards on the ground. The Jets could elect to use a spy or two in order to stop the running Cowboy.
"He's not sliding," said OLB Jordan Jenkins. "He's trying to run everybody over. He reminds me some of the old high school quarterbacks in Georgia, the big cornbread fed big guys who are natural athletes."
Looking for a bright spot in addition to the sterling effort from the Jets' special teams in Nashville? Despite missing a pair of regulars in James Carpenter and Spencer Long, the offense was able to rediscover a run game that had been dormant for a while. With Jonotthan Harrison and Dakota Dozier starting at C and LG respectively, the Jets amassed 156 yards and averaged 4.7 yards a carry against the Titans.
"We said we could get after these guys on the ground," said Dozier, who found out 20 minutes prior to kickoff that he would fill in for a sick Spencer Long. "We laid out a bunch of runs we thought we could get good push on, get good movement on and find some holes and it worked. It's great to be able to move the ball, but we have to figure out ways to move it in that red zone as well."
Top Snapshots from Wednesday's Practice at 1 Jets Drive
Men In the Mirror
It has been difficult to get a read on this Jets defense in 2018. They were pillaging pirates early in the season, but they went into a sixth game without a takeaway before Trumaine Johnson's pick-6 against the Titans. They have been very good in the red zone (T5) and excellent on third down (No. 2), but they've relinquished backbreaking drives and big plays in the passing game while ranking just 26th in rushing defense.
Last week against the Titans, the Jets dominated early and then gave up a touchdown before the half followed by some long passing plays after intermission. And with the game in their hands, they let the Titans march 86 yards in 1:10, committing three penalties along the way before Marcus Mariota hit Corey Davis for an 11-yard game-winning score with just 36 seconds remaining.
"You have to look at yourself in the mirror, man," said Adams, who finished with 10 solo tackles and one forced fumble and continues to stand out weekly. "Either you're part of the problem or you're part of the solution."