Oct 212011
 
 October 21, 2011  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 27 (4-2) – Buffalo Bills 24 (4-2)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary

The New York Giants rebounded nicely from their home loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week by weathering an early storm against the Buffalo Bills and pulling out a 27-24 win.  Coupled with the Redskins loss to Philadelphia, the win propelled the Giants into sole possession of the NFC East for the first time this season.

The Giants gained the early lead with a touchdown on their second drive only to see it disappear on the very next play from scrimmage and then found themselves behind after another quick strike play on Buffalo’s next series.  It was quite the first quarter for the Giants, and it looked like it might be a very long day in the Meadowlands after Buffalo’s second lightning quick touchdown.

The Giants again had to mix in players at new positions, particularly on offense where RG Chris Snee and FB Henry Hynoski were out of action with concussions.  The Giants were also still without the services of HB Brandon Jacobs, nursing a knee injury.  Ironically, the Giants had one of their best days on the ground with OL Kevin Boothe filling in for Snee and TE/FB Bear Pascoe filling in for Hynoski.  On the defensive side of the line, the Giants were again without DE Justin Tuck.

The Giants held the time of possession edge in each of the first 3 quarters of the game but were only up by a touchdown going into the 4th quarter.  Buffalo dominated possession in the 4th, and after scoring the game tying touchdown, committed a costly interception on their next drive after driving 47 yards to the Giants 27.  At that point, Buffalo had gained 107 yards in the quarter and the Giants were having all kinds of trouble stopping them.   Frankly, things looked pretty grim but the interception led to a 9 play 76 yard drive aided by 2 Buffalo pass interference penalties in which the Giants converted a short field goal for the final margin of victory.

At the end of the first quarter, the Bills held a 178 – 84 advantage in yards gained from scrimmage thanks to basically two plays.  The first was an 80 yard touchdown run by HB Fred Jackson and a 60 yard catch and run by WR Naaman Roosevelt which also went for a touchdown.  On their other 10 plays from scrimmage in the first quarter, Buffalo gained just 38 yards.

The Giants started to turn the game around in the second quarter with two long drives of their own and retook the lead, only to see the game tied on a late field goal drive by Buffalo. Amazingly, New York outgained Buffalo in the second quarter by a 183 – 89 margin.  A tale of two quarters, indeed.

It appeared that the Giants were taking over the game in the 3rd quarter, allowing Buffalo just two drives that resulted in a mere 37 yards gained and 2 first downs.  On offense, the Giants took the lead on their first drive of the half and had an opportunity to extend it but were unable to capitalize when a long field goal attempt was blocked after WR Mario Manningham wasn’t able to hold on to a perfectly thrown ball as he went to the ground in the end zone.

With just under a minute left in the 3rd, Buffalo mounted their best drive of the half and tied the score with 9:06 to go.  After only the second true 3 and out by the offense, Buffalo took over with 6:49 left and once again started methodically down the field until CB Corey Webster made his second interception of the day, setting up the Giants for the winning drive.

Statistically, the game evolved to be quite evenly matched.  The Giants held an edge in first downs (24-17) and total offensive plays (65-56) but both teams committed 7 penalties, had identical 3rd down conversion rate of 45%, and similar total yardage numbers.  The big difference was turnovers, where the Giants committed none and Buffalo had two.  Additionally, the Giants were 3 of 5 converting from the green zone while Buffalo was 1 of 1.  Buffalo scored their other touchdowns from their own side of the field.

The turnovers by Buffalo were the great equalizer to the 4 missed opportunities the Giants had to add more than 3 points to the board.  First, the Giants were held to a field goal after having a 1st and goal from the 9. Then on the same drive Manningham couldn’t hold on to the touchdown, they had the 51 yard field goal attempt blocked. And finally had to settle for another field goal after having a 2nd and goal from the 1 in the fourth quarter.  Had Buffalo not turned the ball over, those failures may very well have cost New York the game.

Offense

The offense clicked with more rhythm and consistency than in any other game they’ve played this year, but there were still some fits and starts.  Other than not converting on 2 first and goal situations, however, they were able to put up a well balanced attack.  The Giants rushed 33 times and passed 32.

Two drives, the first of the game and the one after the Bills tied the game in the fourth quarter, were thwarted from the start by offensive holding penalties on 1st down.  The Giants didn’t recover from either and resulted in quickly punting the ball back to Buffalo.  It appeared that the third penalty on the offense, a false start on a 3rd and 1 play at the Buffalo 17 on the drive that resulted in the winning field goal would also come back to haunt them but on  the next play, Buffalo was called for pass interference.

Other than those two drives, the Giants had at least some success on every other save one, another 3 and out late in the first quarter.   The Giants were determined to stay out of 2nd or 3rd and long and that’s exactly what they did on every drive except the two that started in penalties.  The Giants had longer than 3rd and 5 only 3 times (other than the two drive mentioned).  A 3rd and 6 was converted by penalty, a 3rd and 8 wasn’t converted nor was a 3rd and 10.

One thing to keep in mind is that Buffalo has fed off of turnovers this year and their front 7 isn’t the most feared in the league.  On Sunday, Buffalo was without arguably their best defensive lineman, NT Kyle Williams.  They were also without the services of linebackers Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman.  If you read Eric from BBI’s game preview, you saw his keys to victory on offense materialize on Sunday:  “Protect the football.  Run the football.  Protect the quarterback.  Make the big plays in the passing game.  Win.”

Quarterback

On the first somewhat windy day of the year in the Meadowlands, Eli Manning had one of his finest afternoons ever.  Manning was on fire in the first half, completing 13 of 20 passes for 211 yards.  Manning only attempted 12 passes in the second half, completing 8 of them for 81 yards.  Most impressive was his movement in and out of the pocket.  Rarely was he under any intense pressure, but when he was he was able to maneuver out of it and either get rid of the ball out of harm’s way or complete the play.  Manning wasn’t sacked and only suffered one QB hit on the day.

Manning only threw one pass into danger, his final attempt of the day.  Originally it looked like it was close to being intercepted, but upon closer inspection it was simply knocked away.  Other than that, Manning probably only wanted one pass back.

Although Manning had no touchdown passes, he nearly had two.  The first was originally called a touchdown but was overturned when replays showed his shin was down with the ball just short of the goal line.  The second was a beautifully thrown ball that Manningham caught but lost as he went to the ground in the end zone.

On the day, Manning’s passer rating stood at 94.8 and his total QBR was 91.4, good for fourth in the league this week.  Overall, Manning is rated 10th in the NFL with a 62.5 rating.  Remember, the scale is 1-100 with 50 being the median score.  Manning is 5th in the league with 1,778 yards and 3rd in the league in QBR, standing at 101.1.  Manning is behind only  Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Running Backs

New York finally got their running game untracked on Sunday, rushing 33 times for 122 total yards, a serviceable 3.7 ypc average.  Keeping with the running attack, the Giants were able to stay out of 2nd or 3rd and long situations which keeps the defense honest.  The other benefit is that they won the time of possession battle for much of the day and give the defense a rest.

HB Ahmad Bradshaw had a very good day carrying the brunt of the running game again on Sunday, finishing with 26 carries for 104 yards (4.0 ypc average) and 3 rushing touchdowns.  Bradshaw also caught 2 passes for 26 yards.  Following the interception late in the 4th quarter, Ahmad put the Giants on his back carrying the ball 5 times for 47 yards (he lost 4 yards on 2nd and goal from the 1).  The key play on the drive was his 30 yard run on 2nd and 7 from the Giants 33 yard line.  The Giants were in an offset I formation with Nicks and Manningham split wide and Jake Ballard as the TE to Eli Manning’s left.  The Bills countered with 5 down linemen and just 7 in the box with a safety lined up about 8 yards off Pascoe.  The corners were lined up tight to the outside receivers and the second safety was not in the picture.  Manningham started in motion towards the line and on the snap, the Giants ran a counter to his side.  The middle offensive line completely bottled up the middle as Ballard influenced the DE to the outside, then washed him completely out of the play.  Pascoe’s lead to the right brought both linebackers to that side, leaving a gaping hole to Bradshaw’s left.  Manningham ignored the CB and kept coming across the field and leveled the safety, leaving Bradshaw one on one with the CB in open field.  A quick shake and bake and cut to the left with a stiff arm and Bradshaw was free down the left sideline.  When the lone safety left to make a play tried to go low, Bradshaw hurdled him and was finally caught by the SAM linebacker after a 30 yard gain.  It was possibly the best executed running play the Giants made all year.

What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet was the incredible job Bradshaw did in blitz pickups and pass protection this week.  It’s been mentioned in published reports and also in Tom Coughlin’s press conferences that the backs and linemen haven’t always been on the same page when it comes to protection assignments.  On Sunday, they were, and Bradshaw stoned the blitz several times.

HB D.J. Ware saw limited action gaining 19 yards on 5 carries, but did have an important 5 yard run on a first down from the Buffalo 25 yard line.  HB Da’Rel Scott didn’t get any carries in the game but caught one ball out of the backfield for 4 yards.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Of the 32 passes attempted by Manning on the day, 20 of them targeted wide receivers.  Of those 20, Manning completed 11 of them.

WR Mario Manningham caught 5 of 8 for 56 yards and nearly had two touchdowns.  Had he held on to the 37 yarder in the end zone, it would have been an outstanding day for the 4th year receiver.  There was some debate in The Corner Forum regarding Manningham’s blocking skills.  Some feel that he’s soft and doesn’t work hard enough in the running game, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Manningham blocked very, very well on Sunday, as he usually does.  The example above is just one of many from Sunday.  Manningham also drew an interference call in the 2nd quarter setting the Giants up with a first and goal from the 9 yard line that they eventually turned into a field goal.

WR Hakeem Nicks had another solid day, catching 4 balls for 96 yards.  Nicks nearly had a 65 yard touchdown but was caught from behind at the Buffalo 5 yard line.  Nicks’ two most important plays of the day, however, were the two interference penalties he drew on the 4th quarter field goal drive that provided the final margin of victory.

WR Victor Cruz came back to earth a little on Sunday, catching just 2 balls for 12 yards.  He was targeted 4 times.

You may have noticed that Manning was just over 50% completing passes to his wideouts.  Manning was almost perfect to the backs and tight ends, completing 10 of 11 passes to them.

TE Jake Ballard has emerged as a huge weapon in the middle of the field.  It’s uncanny how this rather slow, rather stiff guy can get downfield and find the soft spots in the defense and catch everything thrown his way.  On the day, Ballard caught all 5 passes thrown to him for 81 yards.  It may be that schematically defenses aren’t worried about him and he’s getting obscenely free releases.  That will change after these last few weeks.  No matter the outcome, it’s a positive for the offense because if he is covered from here on out, it will open other areas for the receivers.  Ballard also did well blocking, as noted in the long run by Bradshaw.

Bear Pascoe also caught a couple passes, but he was lackluster at best in the passing game.  He was responsible for one of the pressures on Eli and was about 50/50 on his effectiveness blocking in the run game from the fullback position.  He also had two holding critical holding calls that put the Giants in 1st and 20 holes that they never got out of.

Travis Beckum was thrown to once, but the route he ran was horrid, as he backpeddled for about five yards and never got to the spot of the ball.

Offensive Line

The line had a solid day.  Having David Baas back at center certainly seemed to be a tonic, as the run blocking was the best it’s been virtually all season.  OL Kevin Boothe was very solid filling in for Chris Snee at right guard.  Watching him on playback, he was constantly getting to the second level and putting a hit on a linebacker.  Boothe has truly progressed into a very solid lineman.  LT William Beatty was solid as well.  Bear Pascoe again had trouble in pass protection, allowing a couple pressures off the left side, one causing Eli to miss an open Hakeem Nicks in the end zone that he still nearly corralled.  LG David Diehl, who’s been much maligned but maybe not deservedly so according to HC Tom Coughlin, also had a good day.  Again, much has been said to indicate that communication has been off and assignments have been missed that Diehl may have been trying to cover up.  On Sunday, the Giants didn’t seem to have much trouble keeping Eli upright or opening holes for the backs.

Defense

It didn’t look too good for the Giants defense early.  Buffalo came out throwing on their first series, and completed 3 passes for a first down on 4 drop backs on their first 5 plays.  The Giants were not beaten over the top at all during this game, but they were nickeled and dimed with the slants, curls, stop routes and screens.  Buffalo likes to get the ball out quickly and make plays down the field off the short passing game and that’s been the Giants’ weakness all year.  Fortunately, the Giants were able to get off the field on that first drive but the signs were there that the soft zone was going to get to them again.  Interestingly, Buffalo didn’t attempt to use any type of hurry up, which has also been hard for New York to stop.

On the second drive, however, Buffalo ran into the teeth of the Giants defense and when the right side of the line was collapsed, Fred Jackson quickly got into the secondary and won a foot race with CB Aaron Ross to the endzone.  On the play, the Giants were in a single high safety look with three linebackers on the field.  SAM Michael Boley was near the line of scrimmage in the gap between RDE Dave Tollefson and RDT Chris Canty.  The Buffalo LT crashed down on Canty and the LDE ran Tollefson out of the play wide to the right.  DT Rocky Bernard was pushed off to the right by the Buffalo center, and Boley was caught in the wash.  The fullback quickly got to the left edge and drilled WIL Mathais Kiwanuka, and at the same time got in the way of S Kenny Phillips who was blizing from the left and got enough of him to slow him down so he couldn’t make a play on Jackson at the line of scrimmage.  That left MIKE Jacquian Williams the only man left in the front 7 with any chance to make a play.  He reacted to the fullback heading to his left, and moved up towards the line of scrimmage, vacating his gap and was engaged by the left DT, leaving a hole that a truck could have driven through.  S Deon Grant was caught flat footed after seemingly taking a bad angle and Jackson was off to the races for an 80 yard touchdown, nearly untouched on the play.

On their next drive, the Giants were caught by the short pass that turned into a huge play.  The Giants seemed to be playing some sort of reverse zone blitz, and when Michael Boley got caught at the line of scrimmage with his head turned toward the secondary and pointing to a defensive back at the snap, he was unable to react and get into his drop.  Buffalo exploited it perfectly, and executed a 60 yard catch and run in which the Giants seemed to try to triangulate the receiver and get him but no one did.  Interestingly, that play should never have happened.  Buffalo should have been flagged for a 5 yard delay of game penalty as the play clock was at zero for a full second before the ball was snapped but it wasn’t called.

I never check the game threads in The Corner Forum anymore, but I can only imagine the gloom and doom and calls for heads that was going on.  Frankly, it looked like the Giants were about to get blown out of the building.

To their credit, the Giants only relinquished one long touchdown drive after that, although they never got the Bills to go 3 and out and allowed at least 1 first down on every drive until the final drive of the day, when Buffalo was forced to go for it on 4th down and were stopped.  Interestingly, the Bills didn’t have an offensive play on the Giants side of the field until 8:05 was left in the 2nd quarter.

Front 7

The Giants again spent most of the day sending just four down linemen in on the pass rush, but were very effective against a team that likes to get rid of the ball quickly.  The run defense, other than the 80 yarder, was solid.  The stats show that the Giants gave up a very skewed 6.7 ypc average.  To be fair, Buffalo ran the wild cat with QB Brad Smith 4 times and he gained big yardage on each of them.  The Giants are not used to defending that look, and Buffalo took advantage.  As for Fred Jackson, on his 15 other carries on the day, he gained just 41 yards for a 2.7 ypc average.

The Giants got good pressure on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, sacking him 3 times and registering 4 more QB hits.  The Giants again rotated their front four with varied looks, bringing Dave Tollefson inside at DT with Mathais Kiwanuka lining up at DE several times.  One key series was in the second quarter with the Bills leading 14-10 and driving.  With a 1st and 10 and already in field goal range at the Giants 22, Mathais Kiwanuka got a great jump and strip sacked Fitzgerald.  Unfortunately, Buffalo recovered but the loss was 6 yards.  After an incomplete pass on 2nd down, Jason Pierre-Paul with help got after Fitzgerald and knocked the Bills out of field goal range.   JPP had a tough roughing the quarterback penalty called on him that helped to set up a 49-yard field goal, but he redeemed himself with the sack.  On the last drive of the game, it was also JPP who got his hands up to tip the ball away on 4th down.  Osi Umenyiora had the 3rd Giants sack on the day.

Other than the two plays mentioned above, the Giants’ linebacking corps had a solid afternoon.  Kiwanuka was around the ball all day and ended up with 6 solo tackles.   Boley made up for his error by making 7 solo tackles on the day, one behind the line of scrimmage.  He did have an interference call against him.  On the play, he was running with with the WR down the middle of the field and never turned around to make a play on the ball and ran through the receiver.  It was a good call.  If Boley had turned however, he’d have had an easy interception.

Secondary

It can be argued that CB Corey Webster is putting together a Pro Bowl caliber season.  He’s been charged with taking the opponents #1 receiver out of each game this year and once again he did a great job against WR Stevie Johnson on Sunday.  Johnson beat him on a stop and go for a touchdown, but that’s going to happen from time to time.

On the day, Webster had 4 solo tackles, 3 passes defensed and 2 absolutely critical interceptions.  I don’t know how he even caught the first one.  It looked as though he might be called for interference, and then the ball seemed to magically stick to him.  It was an amazing catch.  His second interception which came deep in their own territory, may very well have saved the game. It was amazing that he was able to hold on to the ball as he was also face-masked on the play.

Antrel Rolle continued his solid play at the line of scrimmage against the run.  On Sunday he wasn’t a liability in the nickel, either.  He ended the day with 6 solo tackles.  S Kenny Phillips was also active and had 5 solo tackles.

The rest of the secondary was solid, again keeping the ball in front of them and limiting Buffalo’s short passing game.  The only blemishes were the bad angle taken by Grant and the shoddy attempt to corral WR Naaman Roosevelt on his 60 yard catch and run.

Special Teams

Last week, the Giants started an average of 20 yards further from the goal line on each of their drives that the Seattle Seahawks did.  This week, they reversed that.  After starting their drives, on average at their own 19 yard line, this week they averaged starting at their own 30 and held Buffalo to an average starting field position at their 23.  That’s a huge difference in one week.

The Giants only punted 3 times on Sunday, resulting in 1 touchback and only allowing 11 return yards on the other 2.  That’s outstanding and hopefully the start of a new trend.  As for punt returns, Aaron Ross only got one opportunity and had a 17 yard return.

K Lawrence Tynes made 5 touchbacks and the only return that Buffalo attempted resulted in just a 21 yard return.  Devin Thomas ran 4 back for a 22 yard average, his longest was 28.  There was nothing spectacular, but steady play is better than what’s been seen in the recent past.

The only negative on specials was the blocked 51 yard field goal attempt that was a result of penetration rather than a low kick.

Coaching

HC Tom Coughlin lost a rare challenge on the Manningham drop in the end zone, but he can’t really be faulted for trying at that point.  It’s a tough situation, because in a 1 score game if you don’t get the call you do lose a potentially needed time out.  Thankfully that didn’t become a factor in the game.

DC Perry Fewell seemed to change up the defense and go with a little more press man coverage than the soft zone, but it’s hard to tell definitively from the TV feed.  Without a doubt, CB Corey Webster had 1 on 1 coverage with Stevie Johnson on both of his interceptions.

Final Thoughts

The Giants go into the bye assured that they’ll be coming out of it with at least a tie for first place in the NFC East.  This was a big, big game and once again with their backs seemingly against the wall, fighting even more injuries, the Giants came out and won when many didn’t give them much of a chance.

Next on the docket is Miami, and then the schedule gets much tougher.  If Jacobs, Tuck, Snee, Amukamara and Hynoski can come back after the bye and contribute, they’ll make a team that seems to be getting into sync that much better and anything is possible.

(Box Score – Buffalo Bills at New York Giants, October 16, 2011)
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