Thursday Night Football Preview: Will Bills Keep Up Surprising Start vs. Jets?

The Bills have gotten out to a surprising 5-2 start, can Buffalo keep rolling against the Jets on Thursday night?
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Previewing Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network) on Week 9 Thursday Night Football...

UPDATE: Bills wideout Kelvin Benjamin has been ruled out for Thursday night's game against the Jets.

Yes, the Bills certainly needed a boost at wide receiver. Second-round rookie Zay Jones’s development has been slow, and “slow” is a good word to describe the rest of Buffalo’s receiving corps. Benjamin, far from a speedster, doesn’t change that—he’s a big-bodied possession target, effective on slant patterns but not quick enough in his throttle-down and direction-changing to beat defenders with a full route tree. Also, he’s the type of receiver a quarterback must be willing to target when he’s covered, but Tyrod Taylor is not a tight-window anticipation thrower. What the Bills really need is a wide receiver who can win on crossing routes. That’s where almost all of Buffalo’s aerial success has come this year.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles knows that Buffalo is dangerous on play-action crossing routes, so he’ll likely have the defense play straight zone coverages Thursday night, just like he did last year against Taylor. In return, that will force Taylor to decipher through more bodies when reading the field, plus it ensures that more defenders have eyes on him. Taylor can burn defenses with his legs.

The question is, what type of zone will Bowles play? Single-high zone (aka Cover 3) can be especially vulnerable against play-action crossing routes. But playing two-high, which the Jets did often last week against Atlanta (Cover 4, not Cover 2), can be dicey against a running game as strong as Buffalo’s. New York’s imposing front seven has been better in run defense the last three weeks, but it hasn’t faced a team whose quarterback is part of the rushing attack.

Looking at the Bills’ defense, no safety in football is playing better than Buffalo’s Micah Hyde. He has five interceptions, mostly off deflections, which is more a sign of “good” than “lucky” in a run-to-the-ball scheme like head coach Sean McDermott’s. Hyde can also win in matchup coverage, though that’ll be less of a factor Thursday, given that New York’s passing attack is thin on talent and reliant on play designs.

Bold Prediction:The Bills will force at least three turnovers, mostly by generating pressure against a mediocre Jets O-line.

Score Prediction: Bills 24, Jets 16