COMMENTARY | The AFC East rivalry between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets has a new look as they prepare to meet for the first of two times in 2013 in Week 3. Not only will both teams be starting rookie quarterbacks, but both coaching staffs will look remarkably different than the last time the two teams met.
The Bills have a new head coach in Doug Marrone and new coordinators Nathaniel Hackett and Mike Pettine on offense and defense, respectively. While Rex Ryan is still around for the Jets, the team has replaced both of its coordinators as well, as Marty Mornhinwig is now in charge of the offense and Dennis Thurman is in charge of the defense (with heavy influence from Ryan).
At first glance, it would seem like neither team should know quite what to expect when the they take the field on Sunday. However, the Bills' changes have put them in a position to gain an edge in strategy, in addition to their likely advantage when it comes to actual talent on the field.
For starters, head coach Marrone is intimately familiar with Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith from Marrone's past job. As the head coach of the Syracuse Orange, Marrone teams faced the Smith-led West Virginia Mountaineers three times and defeated them on each occasion. The feat is made even more impressive considering the state of the Syracuse and West Virginia programs at the time, as Marrone's Orange generally considered it a great season to merely make it to a bowl game.
What is really telling is the fact that Smith's will often appeared broken by Marrone's Orange teams, especially in their third and final meeting in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. In that game, Smith was brought down for two safeties and managed less than 200 yards passing. By the end of the game, he was extremely frustrated by the intense Syracuse pressure and was left looking like he didn't have an answer.
Speaking of bringing defensive pressure, Pettine was the former defensive coordinator for the Jets before leaving for Buffalo to take the same job this offseason. Pettine became an established defensive coach in the NFL under the tutelage of Ryan, to the point where Ryan says that it will be like coaching against his brother on Sunday afternoon. It shows on the field, where Pettine, like Ryan, seeks to employ a defense that puts constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus and Alex Carrington, Pettine has the elite defensive line to implement such a pressure-heavy scheme in Buffalo. Last week, the scheme worked to perfection against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, and that was without the added intelligence that Pettine brings to the table about the Jets. It stands to reason that Pettine has as much knowledge of how the Jets and Ryan like to operate as anyone not wearing green, and he will be able to utilize this knowledge when preparing the Bills.
Between Marrone's past mastery of Smith and Pettine's intimate knowledge about the Jets, it is easy to see the Bills flirting with a shutout this weekend. This is especially the case when you consider that Smith struggled in the past against Syracuse's pressure, and what he will face on Sunday against the Bills is an entirely other degree of pressure. To be sure, the Bills offense will still need to get points on the board against a solid Jets defense, but the task is much less imposing with the knowledge that it will likely only take a couple of touchdowns to get the job done.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Bills fan from Upstate New York. He has been attending games since childhood and idolizes Jim Kelly. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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