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Posted: Saturday, 16 November 2013 7:01PM

5 things to watch in Bills - Jets



(WGR 550) -- After their poor showing in Pittsburgh, the Buffalo Bills (3-7) now face a situation where they may have to win the remainder of their games to position themselves for the playoffs in 2013. They get their chance at a minor form of redemption, against a divisional opponent that beat them soundly early on in the year.

This time the Bills will be in the comfy confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium and will attempt to make the New York Jets feel a similar kind of stinging loss. There are some changes since the two teams last met, but are they enough for the Bills to come away with a victory this time around?

Here are five things to watch during Sunday's contest:

1) Bills need a much better EJ
- Anyone that watched the offensive debacle in Pittsburgh knows that the lead-in to this paragraph is obvious, but it can't be stressed enough. Of course, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was playing in his first game in over a month so a little bit of rust was to be expected. However, Manuel was missing on intermediate throws he should be consistently hitting as a starting player in the NFL, which led to a lot of concern and criticism over the course of the past week. Whether it's footwork or a chemistry issue, Manuel has to resolve it quickly for the Bills to have a shot in this game. This is a very important stretch for the young quarterback, too. He's going up against a Jets defense that exposed some of his weaknesses and he has to bounce back from those. Not only that, after last week's game Manuel has to put the Steelers game behind him and show what he did early on in the season as a quarterback with potential in this league. He doesn't need to be a finished product at this point by any means, but signs of life are needed. Some of the Jets cornerbacks have struggled at times this season, so there could be opportunities even in spite of key injuries.

2) Inexperienced wideouts
- The Bills will be going into their contest against the Jets with a total of four receivers on the roster. Their top two targets, Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, have already been ruled out of the game with their respective injuries. That will push second-year player T.J. Graham into the limelight as the team's most experienced wide receiver, and he'll be starting opposite rookie Marquise Goodwin. Without the savvy route running that both Johnson and Woods provides the Bills, Manuel may struggle getting in sync with his receivers with Rex Ryan and his potent pass-rushing schemes coming at the young quarterback. Look for Manuel to try and hit one of his speedy wideouts in a one-on-one matchup down the sideline, because the Jets defense will leave their cornerbacks on an island at times. It's simply on Manuel to put the ball where it needs to be, which is something he hasn't done a lot of on those throws in 2013, and for his receivers to make a play on the ball. Easier written than accomplished.

3) Beware Wilkerson…. again.
- Ahead of the last matchup between the two sides, Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson was highlighted as one of the keys of the game. Going up against Colin Brown during the Week 3 matchup, Wilkerson delivered to the tune of six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble throughout the contest. This time around he won't have Brown to pick on, but he certainly has an advantageous matchup against left guard Doug Legursky for the majority of the game. Legursky has been better than Brown to this point, but against the 6-foot-4, 315 pound Wilkerson the left guard will likely have his troubles throughout. Legursky is a very short-limbed lineman that often makes up for it with his strength, but a long and strong defensive lineman can give him problems. Wherever Wilkerson is on the line, the Bills should employ a double-team strategy.

4) Spiller's "healthy" role still being defined
- A high ankle sprain has chewed into C.J. Spiller's playing time through a few of the contests in 2013, but Spiller's usage has been a bit of a mystery to this point of the season. Even when he was healthy early on, the running back never eclipsed the 60-percent mark of offensive snaps, getting only 59-percent in both Week 1 and Week 2. The injury has to be factored in, but since his Week 4 game against Baltimore (37-percent of snaps), Spiller eclipsed 30-percent of snaps only once in the past six weeks. He's a dynamic player that needs to get out into open space, but his role has been quite difficult to determine. A bonafide threat as a receiver in 2012, Spiller has averaged only 4.5 yards per catch this season as opposed to his 10.7 last year. Without a healthy wide receiver contingent, Spiller could be depended on even more in little dump-offs that could yield higher gains just because of his escapability. However, that's been a popular sentiment of how to get the runner the ball even before this week, too. Whatever the case may be, Spiller just hasn't carved out a niche in this offense yet and the Bills have suffered because of it.

5) Secondary much improved since Week 3
- Justin Rogers, Aaron Williams (at corner), Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard. Once Leodis McKelvin was injured in the first defensive series of the game against the Jets, that quartet just so happened to be the secondary for the overwhelming portion of the game. Geno Smith had an outstanding day, burning Rogers constantly to help New York to the victory. The second time around? All four of those names have been replaced with the secondary getting healthier. Stephon Gilmore is back, Leodis McKelvin is healthy, Jairus Byrd is starting to play at a high level and Aaron Williams is back at safety where he belongs, helping a defense that has played very well in recent weeks. With a rookie quarterback that likes to take some chances sometimes, it could be a big day for Byrd once again when he's the single safety roaming the field in coverage.

Injuries
Buffalo
OUT: WR Stevie Johnson (groin), WR Robert Woods (ankle)
PROBABLE: S Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring), DL Kyle Williams (Achilles)

New York Jets
OUT: LB Garrett McIntyre (knee), WR Jeremy Kerley (elbow)
PROBABLE: WR Joshua Cribbs (knee), CB Antonio Cromartie (hip), S Antonio Allen (concussion), CB Darrin Walls (shoulder), TE Zach Sudfeld (knee), NT Kenrick Ellis (back), HB Alex Green (hamstring), LB Calvin Pace (hip), WR Greg Salas (knee), HB Chris Ivory (knee), TE Jeff Cumberland (concussion), WR Santonio Holmes (foot), G Willie Colon (calf), DE Leger Douzable (illness), TE Kellen Winslow (knee), WR Stephen Hill (foot)

Prediction: Jets over Bills
- In their last game, the Jets gave EJ Manuel many looks from a defense that he had never seen before and the rookie panicked. With the amount of defensive play calls Rex Ryan has up his sleeve, that could be a trend that continues on Sunday as well. Manuel will be shorthanded without both Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, but the defense will surely keep the Bills in the game and maybe even put them in a position to win. However, with the Jets being such a solid run defense and with their offense showing signs of life (in the running game, at least), it might be too much for Buffalo to overcome this weekend. This should be a tight game all the way through.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
Do EJ Manuel's performances at training camp matter at all?
  Yes. If he's going to be better in year 2, it starts now
  No. I wouldn't start evaluating him until the pre-season games
 
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