The Giants are in trouble this Sunday if you take head coach Tom Coughlin’s word for it.
True, he’s an expert in coachspeak, but this time Coughlin said he’s genuinely worried about the Bills.
Buffalo is a surprising 4-1 and have done it by defeating three teams with playoff aspirations — the Raiders, Patriots and Eagles. Even though all three were at home, and this is Buffalo’s first real road test, Coughlin said he’s very weary of the high-powered team.
“The Buffalo Bills are an outstanding football team playing very well, and they have a 32 points-a-game average,” Coughlin said. “They only have five giveaways and are plus-11 in the league [turnover ratio]. They lead the league in takeaways and have 12 interceptions. Many of these interceptions have contributed to the opportunity for them to win. They have scored defensive touchdowns in three games, which is tantamount [because] when you do the stats on that, it’s normally between 75 and 85 percent wins if you score on defense. They’re doing all the right things.”
New York’s defense has been under siege in recent weeks, which doesn’t bode well for them, because the Bills are not a one-dimensional offense. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a nice story of perseverance, as the Harvard grad is playing on his third team in his seven-year career. Fitzpatrick has finally found a home in Buffalo and is repaying their faith with a stellar season so far (10 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and 1,233 yards). The real key to the offense, however, is multi-talented running back Fred Jackson.
“They have an outstanding passing game, obviously, but good balance,” Coughlin said. “Jackson is rated very highly in the league, not only in rushing, but in total yardage from scrimmage. He’s ranked second and third in both of those categories.”
Opposing defenses usually try to pick their poison by deciding to either overload against the Bills’ running game or dropping extra guys in coverage to slow down Fitzpatrick. Neither formula has worked yet. While Coughlin didn’t give out the specific gameplan, he hinted that Big Blue may try to squeeze Jackson and force Fitzpatrick to beat them.
The last three weeks have seen mediocre to good running backs gash the Giants’ defense. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora shrugged it off saying “if we give up 300 yards running but still win, it is OK.”
Coughlin wouldn’t go that far, because stopping the run has been his main philosophical belief during his 16-year coaching career.
“We can still win [by giving up a lot of rushing yards], but it doesn’t solve the issue,” Coughlin said. “You want it solved so that other teams don’t think that they can just come in and run the ball.”
Offensively for New York, they have to be cognizant of an opportunistic Bills defense that has made it a habit of returning interceptions for touchdowns. Three different players have taken an errant throw back for touchdowns, with most the team’s 12 total interceptions coming off tipped balls. That doesn’t bode well for Eli Manning, who has become a tipped-ball interception magnet these past two seasons.
Manning said while he doesn’t go into a game overly worried about throwing the ball against a ball-hawking secondary, he’s very aware of not trying to do too much.
“I think it is a matter of the routes being crisp and making sure that we are not tipping anything that would lead them to jumping [pass routes],” Manning said. “They are fast. They run around and make plays by stripping balls from guys or just being around the ball and getting it tipped up. The receivers have to watch it all the way in and myself throwing it in the right spots, being accurate and making sure I am making the right reads.”
Manning didn’t go as far as saying the pick sixes are fluky, but did show a rare air of outward confidence in thinking his unit can move the ball against the Bills. Buffalo has allowed a gaudy 1,417 passing yards in only five games, an average of 283 yards per game.
“I think we are very confident. We are doing a lot of good things, but we just have to keep working,” Manning said. “They give up a lot of yards and a bit of points. We can move the ball on them and there are some plays we can make. When things aren’t there we just have to be smart and don’t give them opportunities … we’ve watched a lot of their film and had a great week of practice. Guys are really confident.”
Big Blue notes
» Coughlin insisted the Seattle game is in the rear view mirror and won’t allow for any finger-pointing from here on out. Following last week’s loss to the Seahawks, a couple of unnamed players griped that the defense wasn’t prepared enough for the no-huddle attack. Coughlin said everyone on defense is accountable, so there should be no excuses, and they must rally together.
“We do a decent job of disguising [schemes], but you have gap responsibilities and you have to maintain that responsibility regardless of what’s called. There can be any number of defenses called, [but] you still are recognizing what personnel are on the field for the opponent offensively and what are your gap responsibilities based on the call.”
» The topic of being an underdog perturbed Coughlin somewhat when asked to explain why his team plays better in that capacity, but seemingly wilts when they’re heavy favorites.
“I wish that wasn’t something that comes up every time [because] I hope we are better than that. Do we play better in that situation, I don’t know [but] we certainly do have a challenge this week.”
» The Giants’ defense has been victimized by the no-huddle attack this year, so defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and a select few of the defensive stalwarts will all be wearing wristbands to efficiently counter the rapid pace.
» Fewell also said look for strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka to get some reps at defensive line whenever they go to a nickel package (five defensive backs). The linebackers usually on the field during nickel are speedsters Michael Boley and Jacquian Williams, but Fewell said not having Kiwanuka on the field in some capacity is “pointless.”
» Reserve defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy was suspended earlier this week for four games for testing positive for illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In a shocking twist, Coughlin said the team knew about Kennedy’s potential suspension, but signed him anyway: “We knew about it. We talked about it when he first came here and we were very much aware of the [appeals] process that took place one day when he wasn’t available to us three weeks ago. That is all I have to say about it … it affects us and we are concerned [but] Jimmy Kennedy, and everything he has done with me, has conducted himself as a pro. He has done things in the best interest of the club and I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt. If it occurred as a one-time thing, let’s get it over and done with.”
» Center David Baas returned to practice but was “limited,” according to Coughlin. Baas, however, believes he’ll play. Defensive end Justin Tuck (neck/groin) and running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) are not as optimistic, as neither practiced Thursday. Tuck is still experiencing pain and Jacobs hasn’t been able to do much more than rest his swelling knee.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.