Today, the 2-1 Buffalo Bills look to prove that their explosive offense and stymying defense that they’ve shown of late isn’t a fluke, as they host the 1-2 New York Giants. The Giants will be without wide receiver Victor Cruz, defensive ends Robert Ayers and Jason Pierre-Paul, while rookie Ereck Flowers will be a game-time decision with a “gimpy” ankle.
The Bills have injuries of their own, as Sammy Watkins, Lesean McCoy and John Miller have been ruled out for Sunday’s game as well.
Each team will look to take advantage of the missing players on either side of the ball in order to come away with a victory. Here’s a look at some advanced stats that are worth knowing for the game.
Bills’ 31st Passing Defense Ranking Is Misleading.
The Bills currently hold the No. 31 passing defense in the NFL, surrendering 980 yards through the air. However, they’ve faced the most passing attempts in the league (157) while allowing the fourth-lowest completion percentage (57.3), the fifth-fewest yards-per-attempt average (6.4), and allowed the fifth-lowest passer rating-against (78.1). Buffalo’s five interceptions rank third in the league.
While the Bills have given up a lot of passing yards, it’s been mostly a credit to the defense’s ability to shut down opponents’ rushing attacks, forcing them to throw the ball.
Odell Beckham Jr. Must Be Stopped
Odell Beckham Jr. is quickly emerging as one of the premier receiving talents in the National Football League. In 12 games as a rookie, he recorded 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns and his success is carrying over into the 2015 season, in which he’s hauled in 19 passes on 28 targets for 269 yards (14.2 YPC) and two scores.
As talented and athletic as OBJ is, Bills’ cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby not only match up well physically and athletically with him, but have proven to be near-lockdown corners throughout the first three games of the year.
Gilmore is the league’s most targeted cornerback, allowing 17 receptions on 33 targets (57.5%) for 231 yards, while Ronald Darby is the third-most targeted corner, but has allowed just 13 catches on 29 targets (44.1%) for 147 yards. His 31.8 passer rating allowed is the lowest among all corners.
While Beckham is down as a deep threat, he’s made his living working the short-to-intermediate zones, catching eight passes for 97 yards on passes that traveled fewer than nine yards in the air. The Giants move him all over the formation, as noted by his 28.6% usage in the slot, here he’s gained 83 yards on seven catches. With Victor Cruz sidelined, the Bills will need to key in on Beckham in order to win the game.
Bills-Giants Feature Contrasting Rushing Attacks
The Bills’ offense boasts a league-leading rushing attack that’s gained 458 yards on 97 carries, a 4.7 yards-per-carry average that’s good for 2nd-best in the NFL, five touchdowns (2nd), four plays of 20+ yards (1st) and converted 22 first downs (8th).
In contrast, the Giants; running game ranks 23rd in the league, rushing for just 280 yards on 78 attempts (3.6 yards-per-carry) and two touchdowns. If you exclude Andre Williams’ 35-yard run, the team’s average yards-per-carry drops to a measly 3.18.
Rookie phenom Karlos Williams (24 carries, 186 yards, 3 TD, 7.8 yards-per-carry) will carry the load on Sunday with LeSean McCoy injured. Williams has been incredible for the Bills, recording 15+ yard gains three times and forcing five missed tackles on just 26 total touches. His 3.00 yards-after-contract is ninth-best among qualifying running backs, compared to Giants’ tailbacks Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams who’s 2.03 and 1.77 yards-after-contact rank 38th and 45th, respectively. The two have combined for 56 touches and have forced just three missed tackles.
Buffalo’s defense has allowed just 222 yards and 1 touchdowns on the ground this year, without allowing a rush over 20 yards. It could be a long day for the Giants’ rushing attack.
Charles Clay In For a Big Day?
The Giants’ safety duo of Brandon Meriweather and Landon Collins have struggled mightily this season. Collins has allowed 10 receptions (2nd-most among safeties) for 112 yards (8th) and two touchdowns (2nd). The duo has had even more trouble defending the tight end positon, combining to eight catches on 11 targets for 105 yards (51 yards-after-catch) and three touchdowns.
Without Sammy Watkins, it’s like that Clay, who already has 12 receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown for the season could be in line for a big day against a poor New York back-end.
Will More Quick Passing Negate Buffalo’s Fearsome Pass Rush?
A year ago, the Bills racked up 54 sacks, an average of just over three per game. This season, the team has recorded just six, due to opposing passers being efficient with short, quick passes. In week one, Andrew Luck averaged just 2.24 seconds from snap to throw. In week two, Tom Brady averaged 2.06, while Ryan Tannehill averaged 2.49 seconds.
Eli Manning is another quarterback who does a good job getting the ball out quickly, averaging 2.25 seconds to throw, the fifth-fastest time in the league.
Getting rid of the ball so quickly definitely has it’s positives, as it prevents Buffalo’s four All-Pro/Pro Bowl defensive linemen from destroying opposing passers, but the pressure is still there and it’s disrupting the timing and mechanics of the quarterbacks. Jerry Hughes has generated 12 QB pressures, the fourth-highest total among 4-3 defensive ends, while Mario Williams has generated 11, seventh—best at the position.
While the pass rush hasn’t shown up on the stat sheet as it did the last two seasons, the pressure created has resulted in 6 throw aways and five interceptions through three weeks. Manning has struggled when facing pressure this year, completing just 13-of-27 passes (48.1%) for 149 yards and 0 touchdowns, posting a 65.2 passer rating despite being pressured on just over 27-percent of his dropbacks.
Can Bills Create Explosive Plays Without Watkins/McCoy?
Explosive plays (gains of 20+ yards) are huge wins for the offense and can provide a burst of momentum necessary to extend drives. With the amount of explosive playmakers that Buffalo added during the offseason, they’re leading the league in explosive plays with 17 (11 pass, 4 run). Last season, they managed just 59 big plays, an average of 3.6 per game. The 2015 Bills are on pace for 90.6 plays of this sort, with much thanks to players like Percy Harvin, Charles Clay, Karlos Williams, Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy.
However, the Giants have an underrated group of cornerbacks, and their defense as a whole has given up only 11 plays of 20+ yards this season. Without Sammy Watkins, who despite his lackluster stat-line, has drawn coverage away from the Bills’ secondary receiving options, it will be interesting to see if Greg Roman can continue getting his playmakers in space to pick up significant chunks of yards.
Percy Harvin is a moveable chess piece in Roman’s offense, but he’ll likely draw Prince Amukamara for the majority of his offensive snaps. Amukamara has allowed a 61.9-percent completion rate for 152 yards without surrendering a touchdown. He’s intercepted one pass and broke up another four, while allowing a 64.0 passer rating.
With rookie right guard John Miller out with an injury, Kraig Urbik will make the start with the hopes of sustaining the team’s dominant rushing attack. He’ll have his hands full with second-year pro, defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins, who’s graded out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 6 run defender, recording eight tackles and four “stops” against the run this year.
The Bills have more talent and depth across the board than the Giants do, but this definitely isn’t a game to be taken lightly, especially considering the injuries to several key players. The Bills need to focus on winning the matchups and taking advantage of the analytics listed above in order to come out of the game with a 3-1 record. If Buffalo’s defensive line can step up and Rex Ryan finds a way to limit Odell Beckham Jr., the Bills should win this game handedly.
I say Bills-33, Giants 17.