By Curt Macysyn
The New York Giants (1-2) were able to get off the mat and into the victory column on Thursday night against the Washington Redskins. With a single victory, the G-men thrust themselves into contention in the nondescript NFC east race.
The Giants’ opponent this week, the Buffalo Bills (2-1), fully realize that the road to the AFC east title runs through Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the world champion New England Patriots. New Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan brings a high level of swagger to any game, but a victory over the Giants would be extra-special for the boisterous head coach. Ryan’s squad played well in a 41-14 dismantling of the Miami Dolphins in south Florida on Sunday, after losing a close contest the previous week to the Patriots at home by a score of 40-32.
Clearly in his first campaign in western New York, Ryan has his work cut out for him, as the Bills currently have the longest playoff drought in the NFL at 16 years. Buffalo has not made the postseason since 1999, and they have not finished better than .500 since 2004.
Ryan took over the Bills after being fired as coach of the New York Jets after the 2014 season. The Bills head coaching job opened up after Doug Marrone curiously opted out of his contract after last season. Buffalo won on opening day at home with a 27-14 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, before losing to the Patriots in Week 2. The Bills bounced back with statement win over divisional rivals, Miami Dolphins, 41-14 in Sun Life Stadium, to run their season record to 2-1.
What would a Rex Ryan team be without a quarterback controversy? Fortunately for Ryan and the Bills, free agent signee Tyrod Taylor has taken the QB competition and run away with it. Last week, Buffalo traded former starter Matt Cassel to the Dallas Cowboys, and another former savior, E.J. Manuel, has only seen garbage time in the win over the Dolphins, so Taylor is the unquestioned leader of the offense.
Taylor has had a stellar start to his campaign, as the former Virginia Hokie has completed 74.4 percent of his passes (58 completions in 78 attempts). He has seven touchdowns on the season and 714 passing yards in three games. In the off season, The Bills jettisoned running back C.J. Spiller and traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire LeSean McCoy to bolster their rushing attack. Ironically, McCoy has been dinged up, but rookie Karlos Williams has stepped up to fill the void and then some.
Williams had a monster game against the Dolphins with 110 rushing yards (9.2 yards per carry average) and a touchdown. In fact, Williams has scored three touchdowns in three contests this year. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was drafted before the Giants’ Odell Beckham, Jr. in 2014, but the former Clemson star has not had the same impact as his draft classmate. On the season, Watkins has seven catches and 99 receiving yards with one touchdown for the Bills in 2015. That production amounts to an okay game for the dynamic OBJ. Watkins is battling a calf injury, so his status for Sunday is in doubt.
Percy Harvin reunited with Rex Ryan in the off season, and he leads Buffalo with 16 receptions and 192 receiving yards. The Giants need to be wary of Harvin on the ground as well as through the air, as he has 32 yards on four carries. Wide receiver Chris Hogan (Monmouth University) got an opportunity against the Dolphins because of the calf injury to Watkins and scored a touchdown for the Bills. Finally, Charles Clay adds a nice receiving dimension at tight end and had a beautiful 25-yard touchdown grab against his former team on Sunday.
Rex Ryan always places a high priority on defense, and his transition in Buffalo has been no different. The Bills’ blitz packages caused major problems for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday. Tannehill threw three interceptions, including two on defensive back blitzes. Bills’ DBs blitzed only five time against Miami.
Linebacker Preston Brown is having a great start to his 2015 season. Brown leads the team in total tackles with 25, and he also has two interceptions, including a pick six. Rookie Ronald Darby (Florida State) has been a force on defense, already having two interceptions.
The defensive front is led by Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus, who will be difficult for the Big Blue’s offensive line to control. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore will be challenged by the Giants’ Odell Beckham, Jr., but the former first-round draft pick from South Carolina, should be up to the task.
Bacarri Rambo may have the most appropriate name for a safety in the NFL. With 17 tackles on the season, Rambo is also a defensive force and not just a cool name.
Bill’s Players to Watch
Typically, LeSean McCoy circled games against the New York Giants when he was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, but his hamstring problem will likely keep him out of this contest, which would be a big break for the Giants. Instead, New York would like to challenge Tyrod Taylor to beat them in the passing game, but mobile quarterbacks always seem to give the Big Blue problems, so as Taylor goes, the Bills will likely follow suit.
Mario Williams has had a slow start to his 2015 campaign, notching only one sack in three games. But Williams has accumulated double-digit sack campaigns since he has been in Buffalo, and he will be a major challenge for the Giants’ offensive line to handle.
It is hard to like this match-up for the Giants, as the Bills have a stout defense that will create physical mismatches for the Giants offensive line. The Buffalo secondary also has quality players, who will try and press both Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham, Jr. Both Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings need too much of a runway in order to take off, so Shane Vereen may be the player most likely to get his number called frequently.
Defensively, the Giants contained Alfred Morris and Matt Jones on the ground against the Redskins. This week, priority one should be to stop running back Karlos Williams in order to force Tyrod Taylor to beat them. Big Blue should be wary of tight end Charles Clay down the seam, as well as Percy Harvin in the slot. Harvin, in particular, can be a multi-faceted game breaker on offense and special teams. On balance, the Bills roster contains too many weapons, offensively and defensively, with whom the Giants will have to contend. Even without McCoy, and possibly Watkins, look for Buffalo to handle the New York on Sunday.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.