AFC East Spin cycle: Four-way tie at top

Posted Oct. 15, 2012 @ 1:20 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

The AFC East has turned into one of the most intriguing divisions thanks to a wild Sunday in Week Six. All four teams sit at 3-3 through six games. From the performances we’ve seen, the Patriots still appear to be the best team, but their inability to finish, combined with the Jets, Dolphins and Bills taking care of business, has made things tight. 

BILLS

What we learned: The highly touted but mostly unimpressive D-line can take advantage of bad offensive lines. The Bills had five sacks, two for Mario Williams, in their win over Arizona. It wasn’t a pretty game by any stretch, and the Bills still can’t move the ball through the air, but the defense made just enough stops, and FS Jairus Byrd reinforced his value in the back end. Byrd had two interceptions, including one in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. The game also proved that the run game is going to need to be the Bills’ key to success going forward, as QB Ryan Fitzpatrick continued to struggle.

What’s in store next: The Bills face the Titans in what appears to certainly be a winnable game, though Tennessee’s confidence is high after a win over Pittsburgh. The Titans’ run defense is shaky, and the Bills can take advantage. Chris Johnson hasn’t done much of anything this season, but the Bills’ run defense needs to have a stout effort to keep him from breaking a big play. Johnson rushed for 153 yards vs. Buffalo last season.

What the heck? The Bills’ ridiculous play call to have Brad Smith throw out of the “Wildcat” was beyond head-scratching and almost cost them the game. Smith had a big run out of the formation earlier, and clearly the Bills want to show teams that he can pass to keep defenses honest, but could they have picked a worst time to unveil it? With a three-point lead and four minutes to go in the game, the Bills had the ball at the Cardinals’ 36-yard line. Instead of continuing to eat up clock and set up a field goal, Smith heaved a pass toward the endzone, and Patrick Peterson picked it off. The Cardinals tied the game on the ensuing possession.  

DOLPHINS

What we learned: The Dolphins can win without running the football with success. Reggie Bush rushed for only 17 yards on 12 carries, but Miami’s defense and mistake-free football from Ryan Tannehill got the job done. Tannehill had his most efficient day as a pro, completing 21-of-29 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He continues to improve each week, and Miami is 3-0 when he doesn’t throw a pick. The defense had its worst performance against the run (the Rams rushed for 162 yards), but it held the Rams to 3-of-13 on third-down conversions.

What’s in store next: The win was timely, as Miami heads into its bye week with a 3-3 record and a favorable upcoming schedule. After the bye, the Dolphins’ next four opponents: Jets, Colts, Titans and Bills.

What the heck? Thanks to blanket coverage by CB Cortland Finnegan, Dolphins WR Brian Hartline, who entered the game as one of the league leaders in receiving, had zero receptions and, more astonishing, zero targets. Hartline was on the field for 50 snaps, or 93 percent of the time Miami had the ball. Hartline did draw a pass interference penalty that keyed a Dolphins TD drive early in the third quarter.

PATRIOTS

What we learned: This team is lacking a killer instinct in the red zone and at the end of games, and it is the difference between being 6-0 and what the Patriots are, which is 3-3 and in a four-way tie in the division. In the loss to Seattle, the Patriots blew a 13-point lead in the game's final 10 minutes and let a rookie quarterback beat them deep for multiple scores. The defensive backs had blown coverages, and the offense struggled to punch it in and finish off the Seahawks when they had ample opportunities to do so. The Patriots scored one touchdown on six trips to the red zone (netting 16 points), a very poor statistic for any team, but especially an offense as explosive and with as many options as New England. The run game also struggled to get moving, and that has been a common denominator in the Patriots’ three losses.

What’s in store next: You would have never thought it a week ago, but the Patriots will be playing for first place in the division against the Jets, a team that looked hapless as recently as Week Four. The Patriots figure to be big favorites, especially considering their run defense should force Mark Sanchez to make more plays with his arm than the Jets would like. The Jets’ defense has had success against Tom Brady, but without CB Darrelle Revis, the job will be tougher.

What the heck? You don’t expect a team like the Patriots to misuse timeouts. When they got the ball trailing by one with 1:18 to go, Brady had zero timeouts to work with. How did it come to that? They faced a 3rd-and-2 late in the third quarter with a 10-point lead and had to call a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. With a six-point lead and a little less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Brady let the play clock go down and called a timeout on 2nd-and-4. The worst timeout came later in the fourth on defense, when the Patriots had 12 men on the field with 2:06 to play. Having even one timeout would have allowed Brady some breathing room and the ability to use the middle of the field on the final drive.

JETS

What we learned: The Colts were the perfect opponent for the Jets to get back on track, and to do so using their ideal formula to win football games. RB Shonn Greene took advantage of an already weak Colts run defense that was undermanned by rushing for a career-high 161 yards and three touchdowns. He seemed to show an extra gear we haven’t seen this season. Mark Sanchez didn’t turn the ball over and threw two touchdown passes. The run defense, which had been uncharacteristically poor this season, held the Colts to 41 yards rushing, the pass defense picked off Andrew Luck twice and the defensive front notched four sacks. The Jets put together their best all-around effort of the season, and for one week made everyone forget about the drama and that this is a team playing without its best defensive player and best offensive playmaker.

What’s in store next: Good timing for a confidence-boosting win, as the Jets travel to Foxborough to face the rival Patriots in Week Seven. If Sunday against Indianapolis was the Jets’ best performance, they’ll need to play markedly better to beat the Patriots. New England is strong against the run and on offense, the Patriots have a much better rushing attack to test the Jets than the Colts did. It’s usually not a good thing to face the Patriots coming off a loss, but they have lost back-to-back games already this season.

What the heck? The Jets' longest pass completion came on a Tim Tebow fake-punt pass to LB Nick Bellore for 23 yards as QB Mark Sanchez's longest completion on the day was a 12-yarder to WR Chaz Schilens. Sanchez might not like to admit it, but this appeared to be the blueprint for what the Jets should try to do every week to win — even if that means Sanchez throws it only 18 times for 82 yards. He might have the arm to produce big games, and we’ve seen it, but his throwing has been way too inconsistent throughout his career. 

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