To complement their traditional spread, aerial offense of the recent past, the Buffalo Bills have added one of the league's top rushing attacks to generate a multipronged scoring juggernaut. No team in the AFC has scored more points. And RB Fred Jackson is the fourth-leading rusher in the NFL and at 5.5 yards per carry is averaging more yards per rush than any other starting AFC tailback.
"He's playing at a high level," said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. "It's as good as he's played in his career. It's like he's born again."
Coming into 2011, Jackson had averaged 4.4 yards per carry over his first four NFL seasons. He has improved that number by more than a full yard through seven games this season, emerging as one of the league's elite backs.
"He's found an extra gear," said Pettine. "He breaks a lot of tackles, he rarely goes backwards, knows how to finish off a run, and is a legitimate receiving threat."
The veteran back from tiny Coe College in Iowa has caught 27 passes already this season, racking up 353 yards. Among tailbacks, he ranks fourth in receiving yards and second in yards per reception.
The Jets are not new to the problem of stopping tailbacks who pose multiple threats. Already this season, the Jets have had to deal with the likes of Oakland RB Darren McFadden, Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew, and Baltimore RB Ray Rice.
Having already faced some of the league's best, Pettine has an idea how to stop Jackson on Sunday.
"It's kind of a deceiving offense because you get lulled into the spread," he said. "But we have to be at our best up front to stop the run. That sets up everything they do."
While the running game has been a boon to the Bills, the passing game is also working at an extremely efficient level. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is sporting the AFC's top completion percentage at 67.7.
"He's very intelligent and has a bigger arm than you think," said Pettine. "They don't take many shots down the field, but when they do, they're very accurate."
Fitzpatrick has benefitted from having ample time to read defenses and make his throws, having been sacked only nine times all season. As a group, the Buffalo offensive linemen have been the team's unsung heroes.
"You wouldn't recognize the offensive line as one of the better groups in the league, but some of the credit goes to them," said Pettine. "We have to be more edge-conscious in the pass rush than we have been with a [Philip] Rivers or a [Tom] Brady. If he sees an opening, he'll take off."
The Jets will bring their top-five pass defense into Buffalo with eyes on slowing down Fitzpatrick and his corps of receivers. While the defense has struggled at times in stopping the run, especially on the outside, Pettine and his staff worked through the bye in hopes of correcting those problems. He called it "self-scouting."
"Instead of looking ahead to the next opponent, we treat ourselves as the next opponent," he said. "A lot of times you have a feeling for where you are, but it's always good to see it through somebody else's eyes."