A week after manhandling the Miami Dolphins by a score of 41-14, the Buffalo Bills returned home to host the New York Giants in a game many fans, analysts and bettors saw as an easy win.
Without starting RB LeSean McCoy, WR Sammy Watkins, RG John Miller and S Aaron Williams—all major contributors to the team—the Giants were able to play an attacking style of defense that caused the Bills to struggle mightily.
Watkins had only caught six passes for 60 yards on the year, but his mere presence on the field forced opposing defenses to respect his ability as a deep threat, often drawing double coverage that freed up a lot of space for Buffalo’s secondary receiving options in Percy Harvin and Robert Woods.
With Watkins sidelined, the Giants played their safeties at a shallow depth, daring Tyrod Taylor to beat them with his arm, while also committing an extra man to defend the run. And it worked.
Penalties a Major Cause For Concern
The Bills committed 17 (!!!) penalties on Sunday, bringing their season total to 57 and 470 yards- the most by any NFL team through their first four games since 2005. For perspective, the Seattle Seahawks led the league with 151 penalties last season and the Bills are on pace for 228.
Against the Giants, two touchdowns were called back due to penalties- a hold by Kraig Urbik on a Tyrod Taylor run, and a “chop block” by Richie Incognito on a would-be touchdown pass to Charles Clay. Additionally, the Bills were flagged for an illegal formation when the Giants were attempting a field goal, giving them a first down. Ronald Darby was flagged for defensive holding shortly after, and the Giants were in the endzone two plays later celebrating a touchdown that should’ve been avoided.
Now, calls like holding, some pass interference, false starts, etc. come with the territory but Jerry Hughes and Preston Brown were each given flags for unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness—personal fouls that result in a 15-yard penalty.
Later in the drive, Brown decides that it’s a good idea to take a swing at Odell Beckham Jr., while Nigel Bradham exchanges some words with the Giants’ offensive linemen. Jerry Hughes must’ve said something as well, as he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct here.
After the game, Rex Ryan stated that he’d fix the penalty issue, but then contradicted himself by saying he supported the guys “that have fight in them.” Here’s the direct quote as told to WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia.
“Well I’m gonna tell you something, I’m proud of the way this team played. Can we play a lot smarter? Absolutely, but I’ll take a team that will fight over a team that won’t. I’ll sit back and take it any day of the week and bring on the next team. So that’s how I look at it. Give me a team that’s got some fight and will compete to the very end… right, wrong, or indifferent no matter how good the officiating is, or whatever. Makes no difference to me.”
Bills Rushing Attack Comes To a Half
Entering the game, Karlos Williams was the hot topic of discussion among national analysts, as the rookie fifth-round pick had rushed for 186 yards on 26 carries, scoring three touchdowns and averaging a league-high 7.8 yards-per-carry during his first three games.
Yesterday, Williams gained just 40 yards on 18 carries. He was stopped for a loss on four attempts (-12 yards) while seven of his carries gained three or fewer yards.
The Giants’ defense played well, but the Bills’ offensive line—particularly Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik and even Seantrel Henderson to an extent, were disastrous. Urbik, who was filling in at right guard for the injured rookie John Miller, proved why he wasn’t a capable starter. He consistently failed to engage opposing defensive linemen, allowing them to get under his pads and explode past him, resulting in several blown plays.
Henderson had similar issues, struggling to kick outside quickly enough to pick up edge rushers and was responsible for a seven-yard loss.
Offensive Line Didn’t Help Tyrod Taylor
While the offensive line’s run blocking was atrocious they didn’t provide Tyrod Taylor with much assistance in pass protection either.
By my charting, the unit surrendered two sacks, six QB Hits, and nine hurries, making it difficult for Taylor to let routes develop downfield. ProFootballFocus charged Buffalo’s offensive line with two QB hits and seven QB Hurries.
Charles Clay Has Monster Day
Facing two of the worst safeties in the National Football League in Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather, Charles Clay was featured in the Bills’ passing game on Sunday. Despite struggling with drops early in the game, Clay finished with nine receptions for 111 yards, and would’ve added a 30-yard touchdown had it not been for a questionable penalty called on a Richie incognito chop block. Another 20+ yard gain was lost when Giants’ linebacker Devon Kennard ripped the ball out of Clay’s hands mid-catch for an interception on the sideline.
Despite the rocky start, Clay exploited the lack of speed in the back-end of New York’s defense, picking up huge chunks of yards on deep crossers, as shown in the clip below.
His quick change-of-direction ability allowed him to feast on quick outs and corner routes as well.
Ronald Darby Continues to Shine
The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Month had yet another tough task in the fourth game of his professional career, facing off against Odell Beckham Jr. several times in Sunday’s contest. Heading into the game Darby had allowed the lowest passer rating against among all cornerbacks (31.8) and a 44.1% completion percentage.
He continued to look impressive, allowing just two receptions for six yards on seven targets, breaking up two passes in difficult situations against the superstar wideout. The first came on a slant route—where Beckham Jr. has made a living by creating yards after the catch.
The second came on a fade route in the endzone. It was a 50-50 ball that we’ve seen OBJ come down with numerous times, but Darby did a good job of positioning his body, locating the ball and breaking up the pass.
Is the Book out on Buffalo’s Pass Defense?
When Rex Ryan was hired as Head Coach of the Bills he said that he truly believed that this defense had the potential to be one of the greatest in NFL history. Considering his track record of top pass defense units throughout his career, it was believable. However, through the first quarter of the season, Buffalo’s allowed 1,191 yards (29th) through the air, 10 passing touchdowns (31st) and 14 explosive plays of 20+ yards (23rd).
Giants’ offensive lineman Justin Pugh told The Buffalo News; Tyler Dunne that they watched how the Patriots beat the Bills—by getting the ball out quickly—and that’s what Eli Manning did.
#Giants Justin Pugh: “We saw what the Patriots did and tried to get the ball out quick.”
— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) October 4, 2015
By utilizing spread formations and getting the ball out quickly, it negates the ferocious pass rush and forces Buffalo’s linebackers to cover a lot of ground, playing in space to defend crossers, hitches and quick slants. These small chunks of yardage add up and allowed the Giants to move the chains eight times through the air on Sunday.