EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There’s no absence of storylines.
Start with the fact when the Bills face the Jets this afternoon at Met Life Stadium (WIVB-TV, WROC-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM, 4:25), it will match the two rookie quarterbacks taken highest in this year’s draft, Buffalo’s EJ Manuel (first round) and New York’s Geno Smith (second).
Then there’s the student-vs.-teacher square-off of Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan against his former defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, who now holds that position with the Bills. (Related story, this page).
And, finally, there’s the AFC East dynamic.
Both teams are 1-1 and should each have beaten New England (2-0), Buffalo falling 23-21 on a field goal with five seconds to play in Orchard Park and New York falling 13-10 at Foxborough thanks to four giveaways, including three Smith interceptions.
Today’s loser — and the Jets are favored by 2 1/2 points — will be last in the division behind the Pats, Miami (2-0 going into today’s game with Atlanta) and the team that beat it this afternoon.
THE BILLS’ task is complicated by the fact it’s the first road game for Doug Marrone as an NFL head coach and Manuel as a pro.
But the former Jets’ assistant isn’t worried about his QB.
“Obviously he came from the ACC and I used to joke about away games and those types of environments,” Marrone said. “If you play in a place like Florida State (or) you play in the SEC, I think they’re a lot more hostile than what we face.
“It’s just a matter of execution. I don’t perceive any problems he’ll have.”
To which Manuel added, “I’ve played in stadiums where it’s 95,000 people, a hundred (thousand). I know it’s going to be loud ... everybody is going to be against us except the Bills fans that are there.
“I think the biggest thing is early in the game you want to really hush their crowd down. If you can go out and put points on the board or try to get the momentum on your side ... that’s where it matters the most, when you’re away.”
MEANWHILE, Marrone’s Syracuse team was 3-0 against Smith’s West Virginia squad, which some felt contributed to Buffalo taking Manuel over him.
“Having competed against him in college and then working him out and spending some time with him, I had a great appreciation ... what was asked of him, what he did and what he had to do,” Marrone said of Smith. “When I look at him now, I see a player that’s developing. I’ve said before, we made a decision to go with EJ , we thought that was best for our organization. But I thought there were quarterbacks out there that will win in this league. Geno is developing and doing a nice job there.”
BUT THIS game figures to come down to defense where the Jets have an edge.
They lead the AFC and are second in the league in fewest yards surrendered and have been consistent, tied for fourth in the NFL against the rush, sixth against the pass.
The irony is that New York’s scheme is the one Ryan taught to Pettine, who employed it with the Jets and has now brought it to Buffalo.
“The system is good, but the players make it and you focus on what the players can do,” Ryan maintained. “Obviously, Mike knows it. It’s a thing of beauty when it's working, but there's a lot of work involved ... it’s a challenge to the players.
“But any player who plays defense wants to play in this system and (the Bills) have certainly taken to Mike’s defense well.”
However, Ryan was quick to add, “We’re not playing against each other .. it’s two good teams going against each other.”
And while Buffalo’s numbers aren’t nearly as good — 18th in the league in yards surrendered, 30th against the run — it will challenge Smith with defensive end Mario Williams, who had a career game in Sunday’s last-second victory over Carolina.
Williams, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Week, sacked strong and elusive Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton 4 1/2 times, got four quarterback hits and four of his six stops were tackles for loss.
Of the performance, Marrone said, “it was crucial, but if you ask Mario he’d tell you it’s a team effort. When you see players making sacks it’s because you have good coverage on the back end. I think the defensive backs did a nice job of covering, so I look at it as a combination of all that was able to cause success for us.”
And Williams tack was the same as Marrone predicted.
“Yeah, there is,” he said when asked if there was satisfaction entering the Bills’ record book for most sacks in a game. “(But) I think it’s just showing the work that we put in, especially (with) this new coaching staff and new schemes. Eleven guys on defense are playing together, going out there and trying to make it happen.”
MEANWHILE, the Bills are on the road, where they’ve lost 13 of their last 14, and trying to end that streak with a rookie quarterback.
Center Eric Wood conceded, “It’s going to be important for EJ to communicate well. It’ll be loud, especially early. On big third downs he’ll have to do a good job. (But) I’m sure he’ll be prepared, I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
And Manuel has confidence in himself, even though there’s so much at stake.
“We know this is a huge game for us,” he said of the possibility of going 0-2 in the division. “One, it’s on the road and two, it’s a divisional game ... definitely a game we need to win.
“We both lost to the Patriots and early on you don’t want to get behind in the (division). It just adds even more urgency to this game.”