Oct 022015
 
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Mark Herzlich (58) and Jay Bromley (96), New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Mark Herzlich and Jay Bromley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Buffalo Bills, October 4, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
At the very least, the New York Giants temporarily saved their season with their 32-21 victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 3. But the 1-win G-Men are obviously not out of the woods yet and a loss to the Buffalo Bills would once again significantly reduce their margin for error, especially if the Cowboys defeat the Saints on Sunday night.

The Giants also received another kick to the nuts this past week when Victor Cruz suffered an injury setback. The addition of a healthy Cruz would have emotionally lifted the team and possibly taken the offense to a different level. Now the Giants will have to get by with what they have for the foreseeable future, not knowing if Cruz will even be a factor in 2015. “Next man up” remains the mantra. As Tom Coughlin said on Thursday, “It is what it is” and the Giants will have to get by with what they have. Will it be enough?

The Bills are clearly an up-and-coming team that leads the NFL in rushing (152.7 yards per game) and run defense (74 yards per game). Teams like that are very difficult to beat. Throw in an exceptionally mobile quarterback who is completing over 74 percent of his passes, and this will be a tough game.

Tom Coughlin said something very interesting this week. “The fact of the matter is, in our league, 75 percent of the games are decided in the fourth quarter,” said Coughlin. “They either end up with a two-minute drill on offense or a two-minute drill on defense, and we’ve got to get better in those areas to expect to be able to finish these games against very good people we’re playing.”

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (knee – probable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • TE Daniel Fells (ankle – questionable)
  • TE Jerome Cunningham (knee – out)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – questionable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – out)
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (foot – probable)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties (concussion – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
For the second game in a row, the Giants will be playing a top-5 run defense. But what makes the Bills defense even more dangerous than the Redskins defense is their ability to rush the passer. And can do so with just their front four up front as well as Rex Ryan’s complicated blitz packages.

The conventional wisdom for this game is that the Giants should not even bother trying to run the football against the NFL’s #1-ranked run defense, and the team should focus on the quick, 3-step passing game. It’s hard to argue with that approach other than the fact that is probably what Rex Ryan is expecting the Giants to do. Also, there is worry about the Giants offensive tackles, the gimpy Ereck Flowers and the journeyman Marshall Newhouse, being able to hold up against defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams, two of the most dangerous pass rushers in football. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are also two of the best defensive tackles in the game. It’s an line full of Pro Bowlers.

I am going to go against conventional wisdom and argue that the Giants should attempt to run the football against the Bills, especially running behind Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh in the direction of the undersized Hughes, if for no other reason to prevent him from teeing off on Flowers on the pass rush. I also don’t want Newhouse having to fend off Williams on play after play. I would mix in the short passing game with quick throws to Shane Vereen, Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, and the tight ends. The counter-argument would be to do what the Patriots did and that is pass 50 times, eschewing the ground game completely. I don’t think that strategy fits New York. I also think it is one that is prone to mistakes and turnovers.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but despite New York’s poor yards-per-rush stats against the tough Redskins run defense, I felt the commitment to the run in that game had an impact on the contest and wore down Washington. The Giants need to keep the down-and-distance situations manageable. That doesn’t mean don’t pass on first down, but I would run the football, including on third down. What you don’t want are holding penalties, sacks, and turnovers coming out of the passing game.

Vereen and Beckham could be match-up problems for the Bills, but someone else needs to step up too as Buffalo’s weaker linebackers and defensive backs will likely concentrate on these two. New York needs another strong game out of Randle with solid contributions from Larry Donnell and the gimpy Daniel Fells as well. Will Dwayne Harris finally make a big play in the passing game? Like against the Redskins, the Giants will have to selectively pick their deep shots as Manning will not have much time set up deep in the pocket and wing the ball down the field. I think a real key here will be the ability or inability of the interior trio on the offensive line to keep Dareus and Williams out of Manning’s face.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Again, this is a bit similar to Washington in that the Bills are one of the top rushing attacks in football. That bodes somewhat well for New York in that the Giants are currently #2 in the NFL in run defense. But why Buffalo appears more dangerous is the mobility of their surprise quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who can hurt teams with designed running plays as well as improvisation when a play breaks down. New York has yet to face a dangerous mobile quarterback, and the Bills will likely test the young defensive line’s discipline with misdirection. This was always a problem under Perry Fewell’s defense and we’ll get our first feedback on whether it will improve under Steve Spagnuolo.

“(Taylor) doesn’t play like this is his first time being a full-time starter,” said DE Robert Ayers, who unfortunately will not play on Sunday. “He’s smart. He’s not just running, he’s not just doing one read, not seeing it and taking off running like a lot of mobile quarterbacks do. He’s going through progressions and making smart decisions. He impressed me.”

And Taylor is not just mobile. He’s a legit 4.5 athlete who can make a huge play with his feet. More startling is he is completing almost 75 percent of his passes. But Taylor is still inexperienced. He has only started three NFL games despite being in the NFL for four season with Baltimore. Clearly, the game plan is to keep the shorter (6’1”), mobile QB in the pocket with a disciplined rush that is more interested in containment than generating immediate pass pressure. The rushers must stay in their pass rush lanes. This will make it tough to sack Taylor, but it is necessary. Spagnuolo will mix and match coverages, using zone-blitz schemes, to confuse Taylor and encourage him to make an ill-advised throw. The Giants probably can’t play too much man coverage, however, as that style of defense is always vulnerable to the quarterback-turned-runner.

The Bills will be severely limited by the absence of two of their most dangerous play-makers: wide receiver Sammy Watkins and ex-Eagle and Giant-killer running back LeSean McCoy. The main weapons now become deep-threat wide receiver Percy Harvin and receiving tight end Charles Clay. The Giants have to particularly careful of Clay off of play-action, including bootlegs, and Harvin on end arounds.

But the primary area of focus must be stopping rookie running back sensation Karlos Williams, who is averaging almost eight yards per carry. Williams is a big, physical north-south, down-hill runner who can break the big play with fine speed. The Giants must play stout at the point-of-attack and limit the ground game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Marcus Thigpen has two career punt returns for touchdowns. Percy Harvin has five career kickoff returns for touchdowns. Obviously, both are dangerous. Place kicker Dan Carpenter has been shaky recently. The Bills employ a kickoff specialist (already 12 touchbacks) so don’t anticipate much help from Dwayne Harris on kickoff returns.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Buffalo Bills Offense: “They’re going to run the ball. They’re going to run. They want to run, they want to play action pass, they want to move the quarterback, they want to bootleg. They started the game last week with two bootlegs for good plays. That’s what they want to do. They’re going to try and pound it. What they do is they pop up and throw the deep ball, (QB Tyrod Taylor) is good at the deep ball. If it’s a rhythmic throw, he’s right on the money. That’s where they balance it off.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I must admit I got foolish caught up in the Victor “Return” hoopla and had visions of him tearing Rex Ryan’s heart out again. Now this game becomes harder to gauge. Defensively, if the Giants can stop the run and contain Taylor in the pocket, they should be alright. But those are two big “ifs”. Look for the Bills to use misdirection and play-action to confuse the young defenders of the Giants. Offensively, the line of scrimmage looks like a big mismatch with a huge advantage for Buffalo. Do the Giants try to run the ball? Or are those simply wasted plays? Fans may get upset with the short passing attack and being more conservative, but this may be one of those games where the team that makes the fewer mistakes comes out on top.

As Tom Coughlin pointed out, the Giants are going to have to learn how to win tight football games in the fourth quarter by either driving the football in the final minutes or stopping the opposing drive in the final minutes. This could be one of those games.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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