The eastern seaboard could potentially be hit with a heavy rain storm over the weekend. And while Hurricane Joaquin will begin in the Bahamas and its remnants quite possibly reaching as high as upstate New York, the Giants are only concerned with one natural disaster – the Buffalo Bills defense.
New York (1-2) is coming off an emotional Thursday night win, and will have had 10 days of preparation for the Bills (2-1), but that doesn’t mean they’ll have all the answers for a Buffalo defense that is as good as any in the league.
“They’re the number one rush defense in the NFL. They’re a very good defensive football team [with] multiple personnel, [and] multiple challenges in pass protection,” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “They give a lot of different looks to try and create the one-on-one situations for their outstanding pass rushers.”
The Bills have racked up six sacks (from six different players) and are a plus-five in the turnover department, with eight takeaways, good for third in the league. Its strength, though, is a run-stopping corps that minimizes the long gains and puts opponents in third-and-long situations.
Coughlin has lamented the rough start for his team’s rushing attack and the long down-and-distances for his offense. That trend could likely continue versus a Bills’ defense that is tops in the NFL in yielding just 74 yards per game on the ground (tied with the Giants).
The coach said while he knows the offensive line has struggled to consistently open holes, some of their ills also fall at the feet of the running backs.
”We’re working hard to block. Sometimes it’s not as well defined as you’d like it to be ... But you also got to run through things, run through arm tackles,” Coughlin said.
Lineman Justin Pugh also acknowledged the deficiencies and said they’re just going to have to find a way to get the running backs to the second level of Buffalo’s defense.
“There’s definitely room for improvement. There’s times we get into third and shorts where we have to pick up. I know we need to do a better job in some of the run blocking areas. We need to finish stronger in those areas,” Pugh said, adding it’s tougher when defenses add an extra run defender. “It’s tough for them [Giants running backs] to fit. There are not enough gaps. It’s about stopping [Buffalo’s] movement at the line of scrimmage. We have to get our running backs through the line of scrimmage. We have to do a better job of handling movement up front, getting the running back through, and making them cause a mental error.”
New York’s rushing triumvirate of Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen has not made opponents fear that aspect of the offense. Jennings leads the way with 96 yards, but has a paltry 2.9 yards per carry average. Williams has 86 yards on the ground and a 3.3 per carry average. While Vereen, who is mainly used on third downs as a receiving option, has tallied just 56 yards on a 3.7 per carry average.
Vereen is most dangerous out of the backfield (12 receptions for 122 yards), but nobody in this trio will make Rex Ryan and Co. stay up late at night trying to figure out how to stop them on the ground.
If there’s one aspect the Giants can exploit, however, it’s a Buffalo secondary that’s allowing an average of 327 yards per game through the air, 31st in the league. It’ll be imperative for Pugh and Co. to get the running game going early, so Eli Manning can use play-action for big chunks down the field.
But should the rushing attack get stymied early, it’ll put Manning in harm’s way, as the defense will be able to simply focusing on getting after the passer.
That’s something that makes Coughlin cringe at the thought.
“It’s a significant challenge [to slow down their pass rush] because you've got a team who’s led the NFL in sacks for two years in a row. And they’ve also worked very hard [at being] the number one defense against the run,” Coughlin reasoned. “They’re good. They’re physical, they’ve got good size, they can rush the passer, they can defend the run, and the linebacking corps has done an outstanding job ... The middle ‘backer [Preston Brown] had two interceptions the other day, one for a touchdown, that’s a pretty good day’s work.”
Manning gave a nod towards the opportunistic Bills defense.
“They’re good. We have to protect the football because they’re good at getting it back,” Manning said, adding even when the Bills allowed 507 total yards to the Patriots two weeks ago, they still managed to apply pressure. “Even when they lost, the defense got two [turnovers] ... We can’t give them short fields.”
Big Blue notes:
- The Giants’ injury list included: defensive ends Robert Ayers Jr. (hamstring) and Owa Odighizuwa (foot), wideout Victor Cruz (calf), tight ends Jerome Cunningham (knee) and Daniel Fells (ankle), left tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee), running back Orleans Darkwa (knee), and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (concussion).
- Cruz left practice following the individual portion of the session, as he appeared to have a setback with the calf. His status will likely go from questionable to out, according to sources.
- Wideout Odell Beckham Jr. will complete his first full season on Sunday when he plays in his 16th game. His 15-game totals are 110 receptions for 1,574 yards and 14 touchdowns. He already owns the record for most catches in the first 16 games of a career, and he will almost certainly be the yardage record-holder, and he has a shot to at least tie the touchdown mark. He’s second on the receiving yards list, behind Bill Groman, and fourth on the touchdowns list, behind Randy Moss, Bob Hayes, and Billy Howton.
- The Giants did sign a receiver to their roster -- just not Wes Welker or Hakeem Nicks. The team inked wideout Tavarres King, as well as quarterback C.J. Kinne, to their 10-man practice squad. To make room for the two, the team terminated the practice squad contracts of wide receiver Julian Talley and guard Vinston Painter.