Behind Enemy Lines: A New York Jets Fan, University at Buffalo Alum, on the Buffalo Bills

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The guy pictured above is this New York Jets fan’s favorite Buffalo Bills player.

Wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, number #18 in your program, represents Buffalo football perhaps better than anybody.

Born and raised in Buffalo, Roosevelt was a high school sensation as a quarterback before making the switch to receiver at the University at Buffalo, where he was the first recruit under head coach Turner Gill.

In four seasons as a UB Bull (yes, Buffalo has the Bulls and the Bills), Roosevelt had an prolific career, and is arguably the best wideout in school history.

I was there as an undergrad all four years, including the magical 2008 season in which Buffalo won their first MAC Championship.

I was even in attendance for the Bulls stunning upset of undefeated Ball State in the MAC Championship game that year.

So you can understand how a Jets fan from New York City could have a soft spot for a Buffalo Bills player.

I’ve got a lot of love for all the former UB players in the NFL, including Naaman Roosevelt and Packers running back James Starks, both Western New York natives and record-breaking, championship winning UB alumni.

Roosevelt made it to the NFL after going undrafted in the 2010 draft, and he’s gotten the opportunity to play for his hometown team.

Like many of his current Bills teammates, (and quite frankly the team itself) Roosevelt has made the most of his opportunities this season, as the Bills enter Week 9 leading the AFC East.

Buffalo is ranked 10th in the NFL in total offense (yards wise), and lead the AFC in points per game, (30.1 PPG) behind only the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints.

I’ve been residing in Buffalo for school now for the past six years, so I’ve always had my eye on the Bills. It’s truly stunning to see how quickly they’ve turned around under new general manager Buddy Nix.

Nix was hired prior to the 2010 season, and his hiring of head coach Chan Gailey has been the perfect move for the Bills. Gailey, an offensive coach, has gotten the most out of his players in Buffalo.

A former 7th-round pick who was previously let go by two teams, Harvard educated quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick just signed a monster contract extension and has blossomed into a star in Orchard Park.

His top target in the passing game is fourth-year man Stevie Johnson, a receiver also picked in the 7th round who has become a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

Feature back Fred Jackson has been a tremendous story of perseverance since coming to Buffalo in 2006. He came from a Division III team and was playing in the United Indoor Football League as recently as 2005.

Jackson earned more and more playing time since getting his shot, even after the Bills spent 1st-round picks on running backs in both 2007 and 2010.

I’ve watched the Bills play nearly every week, especially when the Jets aren’t on, and I personally believe Jackson is playing at an All-Pro level here in 2011.

Jackson is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, second to only LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles (5.6 ypc).

The Bills running back also ranks 4th in the NFL with 721 rushing yards in just seven games, and also has 27 receptions averaging an eye-popping 13.1 yards per catch.

The rest of the Bills offense is full of undrafted free agent wide receivers like Roosevelt, Donald Jones, and David Nelson. Tight end Scott Chandler has been a touchdown machine since coming to Buffalo.

But the biggest reason for the Bills dramatic climb to one of the league’s top offenses is the amazing turnaround of their offensive line.

According to Football Outsiders, Buffalo has the most effective pass blocking unit in the NFL this season, and left guard Andy Levitre especially has been tremendous.

The Bills have allowed a league-low 8 sacks in 7 games for an adjusted sack rate on FO of 3.2%. They’re also in the top half of the league in run blocking, although Fred Jackson doesn’t need the help.

I’ve seen enough of the Bills offense to know they’re for real. It’ll be a great battle of strength versus strength as Rex Ryan’s defense goes up against Chan Gailey’s offense on Sunday.

Nobody makes better defensive adjustments over the course of a game and the season than Ryan and his coaching staff. Fitzpatrick is good, but he’s not unbeatable, especially with the pass defense the Jets have.

The Bills defense is interesting though. I can’t quite get a good read on that unit just yet. They’ve played dramatically better this year, but I’m not convinced that they’re really for real.

They lead the NFL with 14 interceptions and 18 total takeaways, but they’re only 26th in total defense, allowing over 385 yards per game.

A lot of their interceptions have been created off of deflections and aren’t really a reliable indicator of future success.

With their powerful offense though, the turnovers kill you when you play Buffalo, so it’s imperative for the Jets to win the turnover battle.

Although they came alive with 9 sacks against the Washington Redskins last week, the Bills pass rush doesn’t really scare me. They’re without DT Kyle Williams as well, which is a huge loss.

Rookie DL Marcell Dareus has really turned it on lately, but he’s never faced a player like Jets center Nick Mangold yet. That will be a fun matchup to watch.

Listening to local sports radio station WGR 550 the past few years, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the vibe is like here in Buffalo with Bills fans and Buffalo radio hosts.

They’re cautious, but optimistic for the most part. They know how enormous this game is, they know what’s at stake, and they damn sure aren’t taking the Jets lightly.

And that’s good. Because the Jets aren’t treating Buffalo like the same team they blew out by a combined score of 76-21 last season, either.

For the first time in years, the Buffalo Bills have a target on their back. Let’s see if they can handle that pressure when the Jets come to town.

It should be the most entertaining Jets/Bills game in a long, long time. That’s for sure.

At least until their second matchup down at MetLife Stadium three weeks later, of course.

The one thing I do know about Bills fans is that they’re always passionate about their team. But a little bit of early season success shouldn’t go to their heads. 5-2 doesn’t guarantee you anything.

The Bills have a damn good football team, but they have to prove they can beat the big boys on a regular basis before they talk about playoff games and division titles.

Yes, I know they beat New England a few weeks ago, and I’m glad that they did. But you can’t expect to get tipped balls intercepted and returned for touchdowns every game.

You are what your record says you are, of course. The Bills are a legitimate 5-2, the Patriots are also 5-2, and the Jets are 4-3. But we’ll see where everybody is come January. There’s a lot of football left to play.


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