The Buffalo Bills return back to Orchard Park this weekend after destroying their AFC East rival Miami Dolphins in a 41-14 beat-down in South Florida. This weekend, Buffalo will host Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants. The storylines heading into this game will undoubtedly be focusing on second-year wideouts Sammy Watkins and Beckham Jr., who were taken eight slots apart during the 2014 NFL Draft.
OBJ is already a superstar in the league, gaining 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 91 catches in his rookie season, despite starting only 11 games. Watkins, the first receiver taken in the draft after the Bills traded two firsts and a fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns to move up for him, caught 65 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season.
Now, Eli Manning certainly made things easier for Odell Beckham Jr. than EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton did for Sammy, but this is going to be something that follows Watkins for his entire career, no matter how talented and rich with potential the 22-year old is.
Let’s take a look at a few key matchups on both sides of the ball that will likely have a big impact on the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Bills CB’s Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby vs Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.
The Bills are ranked 31st (above the Giants) in pass defense, having allowed 980 yards to be gained through the air. However, they’ve faced a league-high 157 pass attempts and the 57.3 completion percentage allowed and 79.2 passer rating against are fourth-best in the league.
This week, Odell Beckham Jr. will be the primary focus of Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman. He’s an explosive route runner that plays bigger than his size, and consistently wins in jump-ball situations. He’s a tough matchup for anyone, but the Bills think they have not one, but two cornerbacks that can contain him.
Prior to the season, it was mentioned that Stephon Gilmore would be “shadowing” opponents’ No. 1 wideout, but throughout the first three games, he’s played exclusively on the right side with rookie Ronald Darby on the left. We’ll see if that continues this week against a team with only one legitimate threat at wideout.
Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby are two of the league’s three most targeted cornerbacks, seeing 33 and 29 targets respectively. Gilmore has allowed 17 receptions (51.5%) for 231 yards and one touchdown, while breaking up four passes.
Darby has allowed 13 receptions (44.8&) for 147 yards and hasn’t allowed a touchdown. He’s intercepted two passes and defended eight, the most in the NFL. Quarterbacks are posting a 31.8 passer rating when targeting the rookie, the lowest of any corner in the league.
This season, OBJ has caught 19 passes on 29 targets for 269 yards (14.2 yards-per-catch) and two touchdowns. 99 yards have came after the catch and he’s dropped just one ball.
No matter who Beckham Jr. lines up across from, it will be a tough matchup for both sides. OBJ is going to see his 8+ targets, so the Bills’ defensive backs need to be ready to compete.
Bills RE Jerry Hughes vs Giants LT Ereck Flowers/Justin Pugh
Bills’ defensive end Jerry Hughes had a field day against Miami Dolphins backup left tackle, Jason Fox last week, recording a sack, a QB hit and 6 QB hurries, and would’ve added another sack and forced fumble had it not been for a Manny Lawson defensive holding call that negated the play.
This week he’ll face a rookie in Ereck Flowers, who was the Giants’ first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s a big, strong kid but struggles with speed on the edge and is susceptible to inside moves—two aspects of pass rushing that Hughes is dominant at.
Flowers missed Week 3 due to injury, but returned to practice today. If he’s ruled out, Justin Pugh will likely make the start, kicking out from left guard as he did last week, with right guard John Jerry filling in on the left side.
Regardless of who starts, Jerry Hughes has wreaked havoc on offensive linemen this season, not only as a pass rusher, but when setting the edge against the run as well. He’ll be a key factor on Sunday as the Bills look to pressure Eli Manning and force him into poor decisions.
Bills TE Charles Clay vs Giants S Landon Collins
Charles Clay has been a big piece of Greg Roman’s offensive attack and with Sammy Watkins doubtful to play on Sunday, he could see an even larger load against the Giants. The Giants are starting two hard-hitting, but unathletic safeties in Brandon Meriweather and Landon Collins, who are largely to blame for the team’s 32nd ranked pass defense.
Collins ranks as ProFootballFocus’ lowest graded of 80 qualifying safeties with a -7.3 grade. He’s allowed 10 receptions on 14 targets (71.4%) for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks are posting a 134.5 passer rating when throwing at Collins.
Charles Clay has caught 12 passes on 16 targets throughout the first three games of the season, gaining 144 yards and scoring two touchdowns. He’s a threat at each level of the field and he could be in for a big game on Sunday.