Buffalo Bills 28 – New York Giants 14
It was a warm, sunny, end-of-summer type day at MetLife Stadium as the 0-1 Giants took on the 1-0 Buffalo Bills. The Bills were playing their second straight game at MetLife, as they defeated the New York Jets there in week 1. The Giants were without Sterling Shepard because of a concussion suffered last week, while the Bills nickel cornerback situation entered the game with their third stringer in the starting lineup.
Much like week 1 in Dallas, NYG came firing out of the gate. Starting at their own 25, they seamlessly marched down the field. Chunk gains of 6, 20, 14, and 8 led to a 27-yard touchdown run by Saquon Barkley. A week after we discussed that #26 wasn’t getting enough action in key moments, the team gave him the ball 4 times on this opening drive. The quick 7-0 lead confirmed that approach was the only way this team was going to consistently be a threat.
NYG forced a three-and-out highlighted by a Markus Golden and Lorenzo Carter combined sack, the first sack of the 2019 season for NYG. With the lead at 7-0 and Barkley having just owned the BUF defense on all levels, they gave him the ball right away on the second drive he gained 5 yards. They then proceeded to take him off the field for Wayne Gallman. Three plays later, NYG was punting the ball back to BUF.
BUF then went on to score touchdowns on three straight drives. Quarterback Josh Allen and rookie running back Devin Singletary rushed for scores respectively and Allen hit receiver Isaiah McKenzie on a shovel pass for a 14-yard score to put the visitors up by 14. Two things about this run that really set the tone for the rest of the contest: (1) BUF obviously came into this game wanting to challenge rookie cornerback Deandre Baker. They torched him on all three levels of the route tree and the 1st-round pick who was traded up for in last April’s draft looked absolutely lost. (2) The third scoring drive deflated the stadium to a point where it just never quite fully came back from. The drive began on the BUF 2-yard line after an amazing special teams coverage play by Antonio Hamilton. The stadium was very loud and the fans got behind the Giants. How did the defense respond? A 7-play drive that took just 4:26 to reach the end zone. The NYG defense didn’t even look competitive. “Here we go again” was the only thought one could muster at this point.
NYG actually put together a solid drive as the end of the half was approaching. Manning spread the ball out in the passing game and Barkley picked up a couple more chunk gains. Aldrick Rosas, the 2018 second-team All Pro, came out for a 48-yard field goal attempt but it sailed wide left. Again, the fans got their hopes up but Big Blue just couldn’t seal the deal. The defense forced a quick stop and the newly-signed, preseason-star T.J. Jones returned the punt 60 yards all the way to the BUF 33-yard line. NYG was going to get another crack at a score with just over a minute left.
Manning hit Bennie Fowler for a 12-yard gain but had his next pass tipped at the line by rookie Ed Oliver that luckily fell into the arm of BUF defensive end Trent Murphy. BUF took a knee and their 14-point lead into the half.
In this week’s version of “Hey at least….” in the world of moral victories (the majority of any positive thought NYG has had in recent years), the NYG defense stepped up in the second half. Three consecutive scoreless drives for the defense didn’t seem as impressive as it could have been because the Giants offense continued to sputter. They showed some hope with their opening drive of the second half, reaching the BUF 41, but a holding penalty by Nate Solder and a sack allowed by Kevin Zeitler and Jon Halapio reminded us all that these are still the New York Giants, one of the most-oft losing teams in the NFL over the past 6 years.
NYG did not give up or mail it in. With Cody Latimer out after a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit (that wasn’t called a penalty), Manning was back in the all-too-familiar position of dealing with street free agent-caliber receivers running routes. He found Jones in the back of the end zone, who made an impressive play on the ball considering he was mere inches away from being out of bounds as he double toe-tapped the blue paint. NYG was all of the sudden down 21-14 with momentum on their side for the first time since the opening drive of the game.
BUF responded with chunk gains to receiver John Brown and the rookie Singletary, who averaged 9.5 yards per carry by the way. NYG came up with a stop to force a BUF field goal attempt from the 3-yard line. The ball went through the uprights but a (very) questionable personal foul call on rookie Dexter Lawrence for grazing the snapper’s helmet gave BUF a fresh slate of downs from the NYG 2-yard line. Two plays later, Frank Gore, the 4th all time rushing leader, crossed the goal line for his first touchdown since 2017.
It was 28-14 with just under 6 minutes left and NYG was without their top 3 wide receivers. Manning threw a couple of desperate deep balls over the course of the next two drives, one of which landed in the hands of BUF safety Jordan Poyer.
Giants lose, 28-14.
-Eli Manning: 26/45 – 250 yards – 1 TD/2 INT – 62.3 QBR. Manning didn’t leave as much out there as he did in Dallas in relation to missed opportunities. Those opportunities were few and far between as he entered the game without his two top receivers and then lost his number three late in game with an injury. Excuses can be made, but at the end of the day, to make this as simple as possible, he didn’t make plays. He had multiple balls batted at the line that stemmed from him staring down his targets, having a slow release beginning with his footwork all the way up to his arm-action, and playing a predictable game altogether. Manning didn’t do enough to make things happen when the Bills started to slow down the NYG running game.
-Saquon Barkley: 18 att / 107 yards / 1 TD – 3 rec / 28 yards. The game could not have started better for the second-year back out of Penn State. Barkley touched the ball on 4 out of 5 plays, gaining 55 yards via the ground, and scored a touchdown on a 27-yard run. That was the peak of his game, however. Barkley struggled to find a consistent flow because of poor inside blocking, poor tight end blocking, and an overly stacked box. Taking him off the field during their second series of the game didn’t make sense to me at all. He is the kind of player who changes the entire approach to the game on both sidelines when he is on the field and nobody can convince me he needed a break that early, scheduled or not.
-Bennie Fowler: 5 rec / 51 yards. Fowler led the team with 10 targets. He appeared to be the guy Manning was most often looking toward in important situations. As expected, he was underwhelming in this one. As he struggled to get any separation on any level of the route tree, but especially on deep passes. His biggest miss was a ball that he dropped after contact that would have been a first down inside the BUF 15-yard line. The next play, Rosas missed the field goal. It was an enormous play.
-T.J. Jones: 3 rec / 38 yards / 1 TD. Jones also handled the punts and returned one for 60 yards, but it didn’t end up in points because of a Manning interception. Jones was the surprise of camp and the team still opted to cut him. Because of the injuries to the position, Jones was brought back and he made things happen in his regular season debut with Big Blue. He caught a 4th-quarter touchdown to get the team within 7, and it was a high-skill play as he leapt, got the ball at its apex, and tip-toed his feet in the blue paint with a defensive back right there. He earned another week here, especially if Latimer is going to miss time.
-Cody Latimer caught 3 passes for 30 yards, and Cody Core, most known for his ability as a special teams gunner, also added 3 catches for 28 yards. Russell Shepard rounded out the group with 2 catches for 19 yards.
-Evan Engram: 6 rec / 48 yards. The Bills were the best defense in the NFL last year when it came to limiting tight end production. They are carrying that over in 2019 it seems, as Engram was contained. Engram’s biggest gain of the day – 33 yards – came in garbage time when the BUF defense was in prevent. Besides that, Engram was held to 5 rec / 15 yards.
-Both Engram and Ellison struggled on the edge blocking in this one. The BUF defense was collapsing the edge against the run over and over, making it near-impossible for Barkley to improvise when things weren’t there inside. Those two aren’t expected to get a ton of pus against defensive ends, but they were just getting walked into the inside gaps too often.
-Tackles Nate Solder and Mike Remmers were inconsistent. Solder had a key holding penalty on a 17-yard gain that got NYG to the BUF 24-yard line. It was the opening drive of the third quarter, often a major tone setter for the rest of the game, and three plays later the NYG drive was over at midfield. Remmers allowed 2 pressures, with Solder allowing one.
-Inside, it was a rough day for center Jon Halapio after he played arguably his best game of his career at DAL. The BUF defensive line is one of the most underrated in the league, and they performed well in this one. Halapio allowed a sack, a TFL, and rolled a snap back to Manning. He also was losing out on the ground battle on inside runs, getting pushed around and not creating the running lanes we saw in DAL.
-Kevin Zeitler is fighting a shoulder injury. I’m not sure how public it will become but upon re-watching the group, it was obvious he is favoring it. Zeitler is usually heavy-handed and very controlling with his upper body, but he just didn’t have it in this one. He allowed sack with Halapio. Will Hernandez got off to a rough start, allowing 2 pressures but his play leveled off from there on out.
-Markus Golden had an active game after a dismal performance week 1 in DAL. He had 6 tackles, 1 sack (on two separate half-sack plays), and a pressure. It was an encouraging sign for one of the worst pass rushes in football to see Golden disrupt the BUF passing game. The pessimistic would say he was up against a struggling rookie in Cody Ford and Allen is a QB that holds onto the ball way too long at times.
-Lorenzo Carter saw an increase in snaps with the injury to Kareem Martin. I stated he would be one of the most important players on the entire team back during my Training Camp reports, and now he has the real full-time opportunity for the first time. He had 4 tackles, a half-sack, and a pressure. Not a bad game, but too often he disappears for stretches. He needs to get more effective in traffic and not be overly reliant on space-pursuits. This will come down to power development and technique refinement, most notably from his hands.
-Oshane Ximines has 2 tackles and a shared sack with Golden. He is now the third pass rusher who will see more and more snaps as the season progresses. What he does with his hands, already in his young career, is exactly what I want to see out of Carter. The issue I see is the lack of athletic ability to beat guys off the snap or at least pose as a speed-rush threat.
-Rookie Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill were active in this one. Lawrence seemed to be more aggressive than we saw in week 1, an encouraging sign as these kids have to process so much information pre-snap and post-snap compared to what they did in college. Lawrence finished with 4 tackles and 2 pressures, showing the ability we know he has to push the pocket. Hill had 3 tackles and pressure but what impressed me the most with him was how often he was around the action away from the ball. He is a keeper.
-Olsen Pierre had a sack and it could have been a major impact play had the refs not blown it dead too quickly. Because Josh Allen is so big and strong, it is tough for defenders to get him down quickly. Pierre got a hold of Allen and just before the play was whistled dead, his foot jarred the ball loose. This could have, maybe even should have, resulted in a defensive touchdown for NYG, but it was not reviewable. Even though BUF ended up punting soon after, that could have been a game-altering play.
-Rookie Ryan Connelly got the start next to Alex Ogletree. He finished with 6 tackles, while Ogletree finished with 5 of his own, a pressure, and a pass break up. These two are the ones I expect to see in the middle for the rest of the season. The one issue that both seem to have right now is a lack of range and instincts in coverage. The middle of the field was still a weak point and while more can be attributed to the safeties than linebackers there, it is going to get exposed all year if these two don’t improve.
-I watch a lot of pro football, especially over the last 6 years. This is not a pat on the back or a search for credibility. I state that because I am not exaggerating nor am I blindly saying that the performance we saw out of rookie Deandre Baker in the first half may have very well been the worst I have ever seen from the position. He was picked on over and over again with a variety of receivers and routes. He was lost out there. Baker is afraid of getting beat deep after what happened to him in week 1. There is so much hesitation in his game right now and it is allowing for too much space, a receiver’s best friend. The “bust” label isn’t even a thought of right now, as rookie CBs have it as tough as any position in football other than QB. He can take his lumps and NYG fans will have to accept that. But when simply analyzing the game, Baker just didn’t know what to do out there and it showed. Now he has something to work off of and we will see how he responds.
-Janoris Jenkins, as volatile as the position is around the league, played a solid game. He did get called for a hold at an important moment, though. With NYG just having gotten within 7 in the fourth quarter, Allen threw an incomplete pass to make it 3rd-and-9. Jenkins was called for the penalty, however, giving BUF a first down. They proceeded to march down the field and score a touchdown.
-Grant Haley was on the field for 47 plays. He made 1 tackle, didn’t break up any passes, and missed 2 tackles in space. The nickel corner is a legitimate starting position these days and the best defenses have a guy there who makes plays. Haley is a good story, he tries hard, he cares, but he isn’t making an impact.
-Antoine Bethea, whom has a starting job by default, played better than what we saw in week 1 but he wasn’t tested nearly as much. He is still getting baited by play-action more than a veteran should and the athleticism isn’t there to make up for it. He did lead the team with 10 tackles.
-Jabrill Peppers, albeit just two games into the season and in a new scheme, hasn’t yet to prove he is capable of making plays. We can talk about the physical package all we want when it comes to the impressive strength and speed, but the football player in him hasn’t shown up yet. He was simply ineffective against the outside run, stemming from the inability to get off blocks. Too much fluff with him so far, not enough play-making.
-K Aldrick Rosas: 0/1 (missed 48). It was a big missed attempt for Rosas, as BUF had just scored three straight touchdowns to make the score 21-7 and NYG put together a solid drive.
-P Riley Dixon: 5 punts / 48.4 avg / 47.2 net.
-As previously stated, T.J. Jones returned one of his 3 attempts for 60 yards. NYG didn’t capitalize on it. Corey Ballentine handled kick returns, one for 23 yards and one for 17.
-RB Saquon Barkley, WR T.J. Jones, EDGE Markus Golden
-CB Deandre Baker, S Jabrill Peppers, OT Nate Solder
3 THOUGHTS ON BUF
- I have a strong appreciation for BUF, and not just because they are off to a 2-0 start. I was asked a few times during the week what I thought about the NYG vs BUF matchup and I said I wasn’t optimistic because of how well BUF is coached. The jury is still out on how well NYG is coached but things aren’t looking positive at the moment. BUF doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, especially on defense. Almost 10 years ago, I was told Sean McDermott was going to be a big time head coach someday. They have something here, just wait and watch.
- We don’t know what Josh Allen is yet. Personally, I had him graded out as a day 2 pick and I wasn’t impressed by his rookie season. With that said, I think Allen has some swagger and more than enough talent to be a dangerous player. I think he will be a guy who will go on stretches that make him look like a top 10 QB in the league, just to be followed by stretches where he looks like a questionable starter.
- How come BUF went from perennial loser (11 losing seasons since 2005) to a 2-0 team that is knocking on the door of being a legit contender? They have drafted exceptionally well. They have 4 solid starters from the 2017 and 2018 classes respectively, and 6 picks from the 2019 class who are already making positive impacts. Also to prove their strong drafting beyond their own roster, the following players were drafted by BUF since 2012: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Ronald Darby, OT Cordy Glenn, LB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin, LB Nigel Bradham, WR Robert Woods, OT Seantrel Henderson, LB Preston Brown, WR Sammy Watkins, TE Nick O’Leary, and LB Reggie Ragland. That is some good stuff and if you want to go and count how many players NYG has drafted who became solid starters since 2012, don’t let it ruin your Monday.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- On purpose, I didn’t make the Eli Manning vs. Daniel Jones debate a thing last week. I don’t think it needs to be beat to death week in, week out. However here we are, 0-2 for the fifth time in six years, with a 1st-round rookie on the bench who looked fantastic in preseason. Once you take Manning out, you aren’t putting him back in. My plan would be to let Manning play the next 2 weeks (@ TB, vs. WAS), and if NYG still looks like they are stuck in the mud, turn it over to Jones and let him start 12 games.
- The NFC East has 2-0 DAL, 1-1 PHI, and 0-2 WAS. Because I have been around for long enough, I know it is foolish to give up this early in the season for any team. The positive remains this: the NYG schedule has very winnable games coming up. TB and WAS are the next 2 with ARI and DET on the horizon (after MIN and NE). NYG isn’t done yet, guys.
- My biggest coaching complaint in week 1 was the lack of devotion to Barkley in 3rd-and-short/4th-and-short situations in key moments of the game. NYG had just one 3rd-and-1, and then a 3rd-and-2, and a 4th-and-2. Barkley didn’t get a touch in any of those situations, although they did convert two of those for a first down. I won’t criticize that because of the results, but I still scratch my head here. I also think this team needs to get him split out more often, as this WR group is depleted. 13 running backs have more carries than Barkley. 10 running backs have more catches than Barkley. 8 running backs have more touches than Barkley. Food for thought.