By Paul Dottino
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EAST RUTHERFORD - So the Giants are limping into the bye week with only the Buffalo Bills standing in the way of the team going into the break with a winning record.
Only the Buffalo Bills? A team which is third in the NFL with 32.8 points per game, has allowed just four sacks this season, incurred only 30 penalties, turned over the ball just five times and leads the league with 16 takeaways (including an NFL-high 12 interceptions)? Yes, those Buffalo Bills and they are NOT in a charitable mood.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin must look at Buffalo’s films and shake his head. The Bills (4-1) are the anti-Giants: they play smart, they play sound technique, they play through the whistle, they find a way to dodge bullets and – most of all, they don’t give away games.
The Giants (3-2) already have made charitable contributions to the Redskins and Seahawks. Isn’t that enough? If not, how about the fact that they are at MetLife Stadium this week and Coughlin’s club has yet to establish itself as a strong home team in the 2-year-old building?
Here are the Giants’ three matchups to watch:
1. Giants nickel package vs. Bills spread offense. Buffalo often uses a four-receiver set, which they are more than willing to run out of via a draw with Fred Jackson or the speedy C.J. Spiller (who also may line up in the slot). QB Ryan Fitzpatrick operates out of the shotgun and utilizes a three-step drop.
In short, the offense is designed for him to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible while he dinks and dunks the team down the field, mixing in runs along the way. Buffalo only averages 5.3 yards per completion. The Bills, due to injuries, are not bringing a significant deep threat into this game – in fact, they’ve only thrown four deep post passes all season.
The Giants’ rush defense, in particular, has suffered in the sub package because FS Antrel Rolle (strong in run support) has been handcuffed by his responsibilities as the slot corner. It is imperative for the defensive backs to get physical at the line, for the front seven to close down rushing lanes and for the front four to get their hands in Fitzpatrick’s passing lanes. These instructions are particularly important on first down – the Bills are fourth in the NFL by averaging 6.9 yards on first-down snaps, allowing them to keep defenses off balance.
2. Bills RB Fred Jackson vs. Giants front seven. Jackson has become a multi-dimensional threat, much in the same way Thurman Thomas was during the days of Jim Kelly’s Red Gun Attack. He’s third in the NFL with 480 rushing yards and averaging 5.3 yards per carry (with five TDs) to go with 19 receptions for a 12.2-yard average. He is a hard, quick runner who can break tackles and prefers to run between the guards.
Even in their standard set, the Giants have done a poor job of closing down rushing lanes. Should they leave gaps this weekend, Jackson will slice them even worse than the Cards’ Beanie Wells or the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch.
3. Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Bills front seven. Could this be the week the Giants have their first 100-yard rusher of the season?
Buffalo’s best defensive player, NT Kyle Williams (foot), will be a game-time decision. He is critical to their rush defense, which has allowed at least 450 yards of total offense in each of the past four games. Why? because the linebackers are less than imposing and the Bills’ secondary usually plays a lot of man coverage, meaning Bradshaw should be able to juke his way into the open field – provided he gets through the initial line of defense. But this requires the Giants’ struggling offensive line to give him a crease, which has been hard to come by this season.
A big day by Bradshaw means the Giants can avoid having to rely on throwing the ball and, as Eli Manning and his receivers will tell you, the Bills almost always have a defender around every tipped ball and every errant pass. In other words, the more the Giants pass, the more they risk turnovers to Buffalo’s ball-hawking group.
PREDICTION: Bills 31, Giants 27
PREDICTION RECORD VS THE SPREAD: 2-3