-Tyrod Taylor: 24/36 – 200 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 80.8 RAT
Taylor added 24 yards on 5 carries. The 180th pick (round 6) from Virginia Tech was drafted by the Ravens in 2011. He was later signed by Buffalo in 2015. At the time, Buffalo was ready to give up on 2013 first rounder E.J. Manuel and they had traded for New England backup Matt Cassel to add more intra-squad competition. Taylor won the job in preseason, earned a Pro Bowl nod, and was re-signed to a 5-year deal the following offseason. He was their guy. Taylor had an up-and-down three-year stint with team, but did lead them to 22-20 record over three seasons as the starter, including a playoff birth in 2017 before being let go as new management settled in.
This was Taylor’s first game back in Buffalo as the starter. The 34-year-old arrived as a Giant playing behind the league’s worst offensive line against a team that was top five defensively up front. A 15.5-point underdog. All these chips stacked against him, and I admire how well he played. He did not turn it over, he got it out on time, he knew where to go with the ball and when, and he took some shots downfield. The bar was not set high for Taylor, a guy I have always thought deserved another shot at a starting job. But there is no question his mental gaffe of checking to a run with :14 left and no timeouts from the BUF-1 yard line was a game-altering mistake. Experience or no experience, starter or backup, that was a juvenile error. I walked away with a positive vibe when it comes to Taylor, and Daniel Jones should learn a thing or two from him, but that mistake left a cloud over his performance.
-Saquon Barkley: 24 att – 93 yards / 4 rec – 5 yards
After missing weeks three through five games with an ankle injury, Barkley was back on the field after a week of uncertainty. I expected him to be eased back in, but as I said last week, this offense absolutely needs to be run-heavy. Even more run-heavy than you think. He was not eased back in. Barkley played 60 out of 77 snaps, which comes out to 78% and that is right where his career average is on a per game basis. He had 24 out of the team’s 29 rushing attempts from the backfield. He’s touched that number in one game just five times over his pro career. Barkley ran hard, put his head down, stayed decisive, and create a lot on his own. This was the hungry version of 26 that we have seen sporadically, and it makes everything else better. Without looking too far into the future and getting ahead of ourselves, this is the version of Barkley this team needs to be competitive. The one negative was an allowed sack in pass protection.
-Matt Breida and Eric Gray added 15 yards on 5 carries and nothing in the passing game.
-Subtly, this has been a tough group to study and write about over the first third of the season. The offense is broken, making it tough for them to get consistent looks. The most talented player, Jalin Hyatt, is rarely even looked at in the passing game; the offensive minds spent too much time force feeding Parris Campbell; and Daniel Jones has struggled to get them clean looks when the rare opportunities were there. In this game, their top three of Darius Slayton, Wan’Dale Robinson, and Hyatt combined for 18 targets, 15 catches, and 152 yards.
-Hyatt being involved (and the play-calling going run-heavy) made this offense feel different. While his box score stats do not jump off the screen, just the mere fact they were trying to go his way and he did come down with a 43-yard gain (called back by a bogus penalty on Evan Neal) changed how Buffalo played the receivers. Add in a 31-yard gain to Slayton and another shot downfield to him later (that he dropped), we now have proof this offense can make explosive plays happen in the passing game. Hopefully Jones took that in.
-Robinson is picking up steam. He was targeted 8 times, catching all 8. In fact, he has caught 22 of 25 targets this season. Out of the 95 receivers in the NFL with 14+ targets, Robinson has the highest catch percentage. While it is not anything to go crazy about (his 3.4 average depth of target ranks 93rd), I like how reliable he is becoming for an offense that will need a guy to be a 3rd-and-manageable weapon to keep moving the chains. His game is getting cleaner weekly.
-Darren Waller caught 5 passes for 42 yards, 3 of which went for a first down. He was targeted on the final two plays of the game. The original plan of this offense was going to be very much about Waller and the impact he had on the passing game in the red zone. I liked the play call, I liked the ball placement, I liked the effort to go up and get it. He was clearly held by BUF nickel Taron Johnson and it prevented him from another few inches on his leap toward the ball. That could have and should have been his first touchdown of the season. Waller had a positive impact on the passing game but was a huge liability in the running game. He allowed 2 TFL and was constantly blown up by linebackers and defensive linemen. This is a tricky situation if NYG stays run-heavy. While I have seen worse from some of the receiving threats at the position in the trenches, Waller will be a major speed bump to the offensive progress if he is asked to block often.
-Daniel Bellinger played 41 snaps and was not looked at in the passing game. He was average as a run blocker, but they did use him for pass blocking support, and he did well in that role.
-In a comedy of errors, the offensive line hits kept on coming soon after the start of the game. Justin Pugh, “signed off the couch” as he put it, was the starting left guard and Josh Ezeudu started another game at left tackle as Andrew Thomas remains out with a hamstring injury. On the tenth offensive play of the game for NYG, Ezeudu went out with a toe injury and Pugh was now playing left tackle against future Hall of Famer Von Miller. He allowed 2 sacks and was flagged for 2 false starts. In a normal situation, Pugh would be on a fast track to the Dud List. But considering the circumstances, I’m not going to come down on a guy who likely was not supposed to see the field for another week or two, and certainly not left tackle (a spot he played 5 snaps at in 2021, and zero between then and 2015). It was fun watching the Giants’ 2013 first round pick. Physically, it is easy to tell he is a shell of what he was (an average offensive lineman). However, the know-how and quickness in his feet combined with accurate hands show what the basics can do for an offensive lineman. Hold the horses on considering him a savior to the offensive line; he is still going to see his fair share of losses up front. But tip of the cap to him and he feels safer than a Jalen Mayfield, Markus McKethan-type.
-The team helped Evan Neal out by rolling away from him, getting the ball out fast, and providing help. While he did have a few wins on an island, there are still too many whiffs and too many instances of poor footwork. He allowed 3 TFL on plays where he needed to be faster laterally and/or to the second level. His best snaps were straight ahead run blocking where spacing was not as hard to manage. Overall, still a negative game grade and this is not including the phantom illegal blocking downfield penalty he was called for.
-Mark Glowinski ended positive, as he played both guard spots. Ben Bredeson finished with an average grade. They each allowed one TFL and one pressure. The negatives for them occurred on second-level blocks. They were both slow off the defensive lineman to peel up to the second level and BUF linebacker Terrel Bernard ran right by them multiple times. In relation to what we have seen this season, however, they were not bad.
-Markus McKethan lost his starting job to Pugh. However, following the injury to Ezeudu, he played nearly every snap. NYG did have more success running right than left and McKethan was a part of that. Like Neal, he is effective when run blocking because he can move guys off the ball and create some space. He allowed 2 pressures and graded out below average overall.
-Kayvon Thibodeaux finished with 4 pressures, which led the team, and just 1 tackle. He had a missed tackle, which would have been a sack. Nearly all his pass rush wins were initial victories that stem from his get off and outside rushing ability. Once stonewalled, he had a hard time breaking free from contact.
-Jihad Ward played 41 snaps, second most of this season, as Azeez Ojulari was out with an ankle injury. He had 2 tackles and 1 pressure. Fellow ex-Buffalo Bill Boogie Basham had another quiet, ineffective night on 9 snaps.
-The Dexter Lawrence / Leonard Williams duo has not yet been what we saw last season, but both played 80+% of the defensive snaps for the first time in 2023. Williams was more active against the run, finishing with 6 tackles while Lawrence played more into the block-eater and pass rusher roles. He had 3 pressures. Both were flagged for personal fouls on a fight in the third quarter that I will discuss below.
-The backup trio Rakeem Nunez-Roches, A’Shawn Robinson, and rookie Jordon Riley saw limited snaps and we did not see much other than assists from any of them. Nunez-Roches saw the most snaps and had two plays where he was stout and slippery against the BUF double team. His upside is not high, but I do like the energy and attitude he brings.
-Bobby Okereke is on a hot streak. He has been on a steady ascent for three weeks with his best performance as a Giant coming in this game. He led the team with 11 tackles, 2 TFL, and 2 PD. He also forced a fumble that Micah McFadden recovered and tipped a pass that McFadden intercepted. He is making high-difficulty tackles in space and he also delivered a violent downhill blow to BUF running back Damien Harris that sent him to the hospital with a neck injury. I never, ever want to see a player taken off the field on a stretcher and I am glad to report it looks like everything checked out. But the impact Okereke made in this game was all over the field and as elite as you are going to find in this game. McFadden finished second with 7 tackles and added 2 pressures in addition to the two turnovers. Excellent and impactful game by these two.
-Isaiah Simmons saw his playing time regress to the mean (11 snaps vs. 54 a week ago). He spied Josh Allen, one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the game, a couple of times and added 1 tackle, 1 pressure.
-Rookie first rounder Deonte Banks is an ascending player. I track all rookies for Ourlads and he is playing the best among rookies at the position over the past two weeks (now that Christian Gonzalez is on IR). His coverage against Stefon Diggs showed elite movement and improved feel. He still gets a little grabby, as he was flagged for illegal contact (it was declined), but the route anticipation and trust in his speed has come a long way. He looks like best corner on this team already.
-Another young corner who is showing encouraging signs is Cor’Dale Flott. There were a couple of negative plays but when looking at him from snap to snap from the slot, he gives this team the best shot to defend passes. His movement is clean and crisp, but he is late to find the ball at times and he is good for a missed tackle each week (he had one in the game). Nevertheless, the combination of him and Banks looks positive when projecting long term.
-Adoree’ Jackson was also flagged (yes, all three corners were) and missed some time with a neck injury. He did come back on the field though. His reliability in coverage seems to be dropping. He allowed all 4 targets thrown his way to be completed for 63 yards and he missed a tackle. He is trending in the wrong direction.
-Jason Pinnock and Xavier McKinney played every snap once again. If nothing else, these two are consistent and available this season when it comes to staying on the field. It is rare to see a starting safety duo six games into a season not miss a single snap, which they have done. They combined for 10 tackles (more importantly zero misses), 1 pressure, and just one reception allowed. McKinney was close on a couple of errant Allen passes. I smell a big play from him coming.
-Dane Belton played 14 snaps and left the game early with an injury. He allowed 2 of 3 targets in his direction to be completed and he finished with 2 tackles. He was mistake-free against the run in contrast to his multiple blunders last week in Miami.
-K Graham Gano: 3/3 (Made 29, 43, 29)
-P Jamie Gillan: 4 punts / 50.2 avg – 49.8 net
-LB Bobby Okereke, CB Deonte Banks, WR Wan’Dale Robinson
-CB Adoree’ Jackson, DL Jihad Ward, TE Darren Waller
3 THOUGHTS ON BUF
1. The Bills are an extremely volatile team. It should not surprise anyone because their quarterback is an extremely volatile player. He near single-handedly lost them the game in Week 1 against the Jets and we have seen this several time before out of him. In such a jam-packed AFC, they can beat anyone any given Sunday, but it seems so unlikely they will be able to string a bunch of positive performances together. Last year, they barely beat a Dolphins team in the postseason (by 3 points) with rookie 7th rounder Skylar Thompson playing quarterback. Allen turned the ball over three times in that game. They lost a week later by 17 at home to CIN in Allen’s lowest QB rating game of his career. Their defense had one of the most epic collapses in NFL history the year prior at Kansas City that ended their season. Buffalo is a good squad, but I do not trust them or their quarterback.
2. Defensive Tackle Ed Oliver is one of the most volatile players in the league. The ninth overall pick from the 2019 Draft flashes dominant performances every year. But when looking at the week-to-week, season-to-season contribution, he is very up-and-down. My scouting report on him coming out of Houston in 2019 read “…one of the more polarizing prospects in the class…I have never seen a DT move like him…won’t be able to handle NFL linemen…needs to improve his staying power and stay at home defense…” The Bills signed him to a big, 4-year extension this past offseason and I thought it was a terrible move considering they’re no longer in the cheap-quarterback tier. This team will need to spend on the offensive and defensive lines soon, but the money tied up into Oliver is going to make that a struggle. There is a reason why BUF can be run on up the middle. It’s him.
3. What is the barometer for coaching success in today’s NFL? Consistent production? Or a Super Bowl win? Or a Super Bowl appearance? How long does one get? Giants fans would likely sign on for a Sean McDermott run. He took over in 2017. Since then, they’ve won 70 games (third best), made the playoffs five times (missed once), and finished first place in the division three times. They’re extremely balanced offensively / defensively and they’re dominant at home (40-16). All of that and yet I do not see a team that can rise above their volatile play. Would BUF ever consider a move at head coach? It seems wild and I know the grass is not always greener on the other side, but their window is going to shrink yearly now that they’re paying a quarterback. I do think it is a fair question. Is McDermott the guy who will bring a Lombardi Trophy to Buffalo? Does it matter? I think it does.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
1. Daniel Jones had a front row seat to Taylor’s return to Buffalo. What did I see that Jones can try and learn from? Two things stand out. Taylor was MUCH better at getting the ball out. There was no hesitation, no fear in his game. Jones, on multiple occasions since that win in ARI, failed to do this consistently. Taylor was playing against a top-tier pass rush matched up against horrid offensive line, too. The OL did play a notch better than in previous weeks, but they were still getting beat almost every snap. We did not hear about it nearly as much and that was a result of who was playing quarterback. Two, Taylor keeping eyes downfield and throwing it deep (even on broken plays) changed the perception of the offensive threats. It did create explosive plays. It did soften the safeties against the run. It did keep some aggression by the defense at bay. Jones is the starter and should be the starter. But Taylor did a couple things better than what I have seen from Jones this season. Time to step up.
2. On one play, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Kayvon Thibodeaux all received personal fouls for their involvement in a fight against a trio of Buffalo offensive players. All penalties were offset, thus no negative result ensued. I think there is a time and place for actions like this. I also think certain players have more allowance for actions like this. Last year I spoke about the nucleus of this defense being those three (and Ojulari). And I’ll tell you what, I applaud all three for their action in that situation. They chose the right time and place, it was a result of Thibodeaux taking a late hit. BUF scored two plays later, though. They also scored on their next offensive drive. NYG held this team to 0 points through three quarters. The fight happened, BUF then scored 14 points in just over 10 minutes of game clock. I am all about a personal foul to show you have a teammate’s back. But the next step is to prevent the other team from getting the last laugh and stuffing it back in their face with a real game-altering result. Another sign this defense just isn’t there.
3. The rough patch of this schedule is over. Seven of their next eight games are against teams either .500 or worse. While that looks easier (as of now) on paper than what they’ve been up against over the first 6 weeks, it is no cake walk. And these are playoff contenders that view their matchup against NYG as an “easy” win. NYG put themselves in a tough spot by going 1-5 and this next stretch needs to produce at least five wins for them to enter the end of the year with a shot at contention. I’m not in the “fold your cards, start trading everyone” mode right now. But this start has made the middle third of their schedule a stretch where they have no margin for error. And it starts at home against the team Daniel Jones has had a ton of success against, if he plays.