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Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 8, 2019)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Buffalo Bills at New York Giants, September 15, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
It’s usually unwise to make dramatic pronouncements after one game, especially the season opener. There are too many variables. Look no further than the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants – eventual NFL Champions despite being embarrassed in their respective season openers by division rivals.

That all said, there are some serious warnings signs coming out of the ass-whipping the Giants experience last Sunday. Once again, Pat Shurmur’s offensive play-calling came into question. But more importantly, the defense played at a level far worse than expected by many. The pass rush was virtually non-existent and the back seven looked completely lost in coverage. When you can’t rush the passer or cover, your team is going to be in deep, deep trouble.

In terms of the big picture, the Giants’ overall, long-term situation doesn’t look good. For much of the past decade, very ordinary teams in Dallas and Philadelphia have owned the Giants. But now the Cowboys and Eagles have actually morphed into two of the better teams in the conference. The Cowboys and Eagles have good, young quarterbacks; good offensive lines and running games; strong defenses; and solid coaching staffs. Unless the Giants dramatically start closing the talent (and coaching?) gap between themselves and these two division rivals, the Giants won’t have a chance at making a serious playoff run in the foreseeable future. The Giants had better pray Daniel Jones is the real deal. And they’ve got to fix this defense.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (concussion – out)
  • WR Cody Latimer (calf – questionable)
  • WR Darius Slayton (hamstring – out)
  • TE Garrett Dickerson (quad – out)
  • RG Kevin Zeitler (shoulder – probable)
  • DE Dexter Lawrence (shoulder – probable)
  • LB Markus Golden (hip – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Last week’s opening drive was beautiful. But the team didn’t score another touchdown until garbage time in the 4th quarter. That’s not good enough. The Giants did move the football, accruing 470 yards and 25 first downs. Almost unbelievably, the Giants actually ran more offensive plays (66) than the Cowboys (62). But the Giants were 2-of-11 on 3rd down (18 percent) and 1-of-3 (33 percent) on 4th down. The bottom line is 17 points isn’t going to get it done. Not with current state of the Giants’ defense. Pat Shurmur knows it. “Yardage is one thing,” said Shurmur this week. “Scoring is another. It’s important that when we get our opportunities to score, we score.”

Eli Manning threw for over 300 yards, completed 68 percent of his passes, didn’t throw an interception, and was sacked only once against the Cowboys. Saquon Barkley averaged almost 11 yards per carry and the Giants dramatically out-gained the Cowboys on the ground (151 to 89). Evan Engram caught 11 passes for 116 yards. Those are winning numbers. But you’ve got to get the ball into the end zone. Pat Shurmur continues to get a bit too cute. Run (or throw) to Saquon. He’s your money player – especially in the clutch on 3rd and 4th down. Eli’s strength is NOT having him move around too much… you’re going to have to wait until Daniel Jones is in the line-up for those plays.

The good news is against a VERY tough Dallas Cowboys defense, the Giants clearly demonstrated this can be a very effective offensive football team, even with the wide receiving corps as it is currently constituted. Nevertheless, the Giants are going to be very short-handed at wide receiver against the Bills with Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, and Darius Slayton ailing. The Giants were forced to re-sign T.J. Jones this week as insurance.

The Bills are a very good defensive football team. They are stingy and well-coached defensively. Head Coach Sean McDermott is a former Eagles and Panthers defensive coach. Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier is also highly respected. In 2018, the Bills had the NFL’s second-ranked defense, including #1 overall pass defense. They were also #9 in terms of yards-per-carry run defense. As expected with a #1 pass defense, the secondary is very strong at both corner and safety. And defensive end Jerry Hughes can get after the quarterback. Amazingly, Buffalo has held nine consecutive opponents to less than 210 passing yards.

Bottom line is this is going to be one of the toughest defenses the Giants will face in 2019. Protect the football, emphasize your money players in Barkley and Engram, and score touchdowns in the red zone.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
What the hell was that against the Cowboys? Yeah we knew there would be issues with the pass rush and growing pains with the secondary, but that was absurd. Despite their strengths, the Cowboys are not known for being a high-scoring offense, yet Dallas could have hung 50 on Giants had they not called off the dogs in the 4th quarter. The worst part was the supposedly “experienced and savvy” veterans such as Antoine Bethea and Alec Ogletree looked like chickens running around with their heads cut off.

The good news is the run defense was very good against one of the toughest running team’s in the NFL. But if the Giants can’t stop the pass, this season will be over again by October. Regardless of how you feel about second-year QB Josh Allen and the revamped Bills’ offensive football team, no Giants fan should feel comfortable that this defense can stop anyone until they prove it.

Allen completed only 53 percent of his passes as a rookie. He increased that to 65 percent against the Jets but his 24 completions only went for 254 yards. To date, his hasn’t thrown for a lot of yardage per game in his short career. However, he is very dangerous when running the football, rushing for 631 yards as a rookie and 38 yards last week. Of his targets, the guy who makes me the most nervous is former Cowboy and Giant-killer Cole Beasley. WR Josh Brown also caught seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Jets in the opener. Running back Frank Gore is nearing the end, but rookie Devin Singletary impressed both as a runner and receiver.

We are going to get a much better read on the true state of the team’s defense this week. The Buffalo offensive line is far weaker than the Dallas line. If Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, et al. can’t get to Allen, be scared. But also be cognizant of the fact that the Giants must maintain disciplined pass rush lanes against Allen in order to prevent him from scrambling. That will constrain the pass rush somewhat. Antonio Hamilton should be benched. Deandre Baker is behind because of the two weeks he missed in the summer due to his knee injury, but he needs to play. It will be interesting to see if he rebounds this week. More is expected from Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea at safety. And if Alec Ogletree can’t get the job done at linebacker, the coaching staff should move onto Ryan Connelly sooner than later.

Aside from their performance against the run, the defense was abysmal last week. No sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, and only a few tackles for losses and pass defenses. Dallas scored touchdowns on five straight drives. Make plays, force turnovers, get off of the damn field!

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Much depends on if Andre Roberts (quad) plays for the Bills this week. He is one of the most dangerous kick returners in football. Lost in last week’s disaster against Dallas is the fact that the Giants did not allow a single return yard. Interestingly, the coaching staff has entrusted rookie Corey Ballentine with the kickoff returns. If T.J. Jones is activated, does he replaced Jabrill Peppers as the punt returner?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on the anemic pass rush: “When it comes down to whether you pressure or you four-man rush, it comes down to winning one-on-ones. We have to do a better job of winning one-on-ones.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Given the state of the division and the New York Giants defense, it’s difficult to see this team being in the playoff hunt. But in the big picture, some important questions still need to be answered. Is this the right coaching staff to rebuild this team? If the Giants fall to 0-2, there is a serious risk of yet another Giants season being over by October with only meaningless football in front of half-empty home stadiums being played in the last two months of the season. As discussed in The Forum, the October 20th game against the Cardinals looks like the most obvious place to start Daniel Jones (this would be after a Thursday night game against the Patriots, giving Jones 10 days to prepare).

I actually think this offense is capable of being quite good, but the Bills are going to make it tough on the Giants this week. I can’t over-emphasize how well-coached they are on that side of the football. Buffalo just doesn’t give up a lot of yardage or points. Can the Giants’ defense hold the Bills to under 20 points?

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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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