“A monster,” Coach Rex Ryan called Jackson.
“Born again,” the Jets’ defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, said.
“He’s just playing at another level,” safety Jim Leonhard said.
When the Jets were not praising Jackson last week, they were devising ways to contain him in Sunday’s A.F.C. East showdown on the road against the first-place . Only Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears has amassed more yards from scrimmage than Jackson (1,074), who is as dangerous rushing with the ball (five 100-yard games) as he is catching it (an eye-popping 13.1 yards a catch).
He is big enough, at 6 feet 1 inch and 215 pounds, to and divert onrushing blitzers. He is fast enough to turn the corner and sprint down the sideline. According to the Web site , Jackson has avoided 27 tackles and rushed for 506 yards after contact, best among A.F.C. running backs in those categories.
“I think it’s a disrespectful thing to say that he’s different than he was before, because he’s been that workhorse since I was a member of that team,” said Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin, who played for Buffalo the past two seasons. “He was always the guy that when we needed a big play or when we needed a consistent ground game or even in the passing game, we would look to Fred.”
In seven previous games against Jackson, the Jets have largely handled him, limiting him to 3.2 yards a carry. He is now Buffalo’s feature back, no longer obscured by Marshawn Lynch, and the Bills are concocting ways to get the ball to him more than ever.
Driving that creativity is a spread offense that forces defenses to respect quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown for 14 touchdowns in seven games, as much as Jackson. Many teams that deploy three or four receivers do not run the ball well, Pettine said. The Bills, with Jackson averaging an A.F.C.-best 103 yards a game, are an exception.
“It’s a perfect system for him,” Leonhard said. “Not only is he good in space, but when you get one-on-one with him, you see how many guys he’s making miss. If there are unblocked guys — defensive linemen, linebackers, secondary, whatever — it doesn’t matter. He runs right by them.”
Even though the Bills love spreading opposing defenses, they do so, Leonhard said, to run the ball. As Ryan said several times last week, the Bills actually have more rushing attempts this season — 195 to 177 — than the Jets, who have thwarted some running backs (Ryan Mathews, Felix Jones, Ray Rice) but not others (Darren McFadden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis). When Green-Ellis gained 136 yards against them Oct. 9, the Jets often flooded the field with defensive backs or linebackers, hoping to deter Tom Brady from passing. On Sunday, Pettine said, they will at times take the opposite approach, daring the Bills to throw, so concerned are they about Jackson, 30.
“Our priority coming in is we have to be at our best up front to stop the run,” Pettine said, “because that sets up everything they do.”
At their best, the Jets lean on tackle Mike DeVito, a supreme run stopper, to clog the middle. But a knee injury may sideline him for a second consecutive game, and the availability of his replacement, the rookie Kenrick Ellis (ankle), will also be a game-time decision. Their unavailability could compel Buffalo to run more.
Or, given the Bills’ diversified passing offense, it may not have any effect.
When the Bills throw, Jackson is a critical part of their plans. His pass-catching ability can make him a matchup nightmare for linebackers, and the Bills will almost certainly try to exploit that mismatch, whether by putting him in motion wide before the snap or by lining him up at receiver in an empty backfield.
“He’s a legit receiving threat,” Pettine said, “whereas some guys you know you can put somebody out there, but you really don’t have to worry about them.”
Coming off their bye week, the Jets have had two weeks to prepare for Jackson, and they want to curb him by bottling up the screen pass, a play Buffalo operates with conviction and, often, success. From studying videotape last week, the Jets noticed that Jackson was most effective coming out of the backfield untouched, permitted to run his route without disruption.
“We have to get our hands on him,” linebacker Jamaal Westerman said, emphasizing the word have.
The Jets have no other options — not Sunday, not against Jackson, dismissed and discounted no more.