The 1-4 New York Giants travel to Orchard Park, N.Y. to play the 3-2 Buffalo Bills, who were defeated 25-20 by the Jacksonville Jaguars during their Week 5 game in London. The game is on Sunday Night Football and is the Giants’ fourth primetime game in six weeks.
Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen return to Buffalo, where they spent the previous four and five years, respectively, before arriving with the Giants. Daboll was the offensive coordinator for Josh Allen under head coach Sean McDermott, while Schoen was the assistant general manager under Brandon Beane.
In primetime this season, the Giants have gone 0-3 and been outscored 94-15. On the season, New York has scored 62 points and has surrendered 153 points. The current state of the offensive line is untenable. Still, it’s not only the Giants’ offensive line that is dealing with injuries.
Both the Giants’ offense and the Bills defense are plagued by injuries. New York’s played musical chairs along their offensive line. Andrew Thomas (hamstring) and John Michael Schmitz (shoulder) aren’t certainties for Week 6. Quarterback Daniel Jones exited Week 5 with a neck injury, but there’s a chance he can play on Sunday night.
New York is hoping Saquon Barkley can return for the primetime game. This would be his fourth missed game if he can’t dress. If he’s inactive, expect Matt Breida and rookie Eric Gray to split carries, as Gary Brightwell didn’t receive an offensive snap in Week 5.
Buffalo’s defense was rife with injuries through the last two games. Star cornerback Tre White tore his achilles in Week 4 vs. the Miami Dolphins. McDermott, who is also the team’s defensive coordinator, lost elite linebacker Matt Milano to a fractured leg, and dominant defensive lineman DaQuan Jones to a torn pectoral against Jacksonville.
The loss of White, Milano, and Jones are massive injuries for Buffalo to overcome. Defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau missed the Jaguars game with a foot injury and is questionable. In positive news for the Bills, Von Miller made his season debut and played 20 snaps. The future Hall of Famer tore his ACL during the Bills’ 28-25 victory on Thanksgiving against the Lions.
The Buffalo Bills allow just 16 points per game on the season, which is tied for fifth best in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs. Only the 49ers, Ravens, Browns, and Saints are ahead of them. The Jaguars and Dolphins both scored 20 points on Buffalo, which is tied for their highest surrendered. The Raiders scored 10 in Week 2, and the Commanders 3 in Week 4.
Buffalo allows 325.2 yards per game (12th best). The Bills do allow 134 rushing yards per game (25th in the league) while allowing just 191 passing yards per game (8th best).
Exploiting the Bills’ run defense that conceded 172 total rushing yards to the Jets, 142 against Miami, and 196 last week against the Jaguars is the method to success for the Giants - if there is a clear method. The defense lost two of its better interior defenders in Jones and Milano, which can impact the continuity of Buffalo’s run fits.
A dressed Saquon Barkley would help the Giants run the ball. For several reasons, the Giants have been dreadful in their attempts to establish the run since Barkley’s injury.
The Giants are tied with the Carolina Panthers for the least amount of rushing yards over the last three weeks. Both teams average 75.3 rushing yards. Establishing the run would be wise.
The Bills pressure the quarterback on 26.4% of his dropbacks while blitzing at a league-low rate of 12.9%. Right now, no team in the NFL gets more pressure with four rushers than Buffalo. The Bills also lead the league with 21 sacks and are tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight.
Losing DaQuon Jones hurts their ability to generate pressure and force turnovers; he had 15 pressures and three sacks through 80 pass-rushing snaps. Still, gaining a healthy Von Miller helps.
Giants’ game plan
The Giants must avoid third-and-long situations. New York’s protection is too poor to hold up in obvious pass-rushing situations, especially with a team that can drop seven and get ample pressure. Whether it’s inefficiency on offense, silly penalties, or negative plays, the Giants’ self-inflicted blunders have worked against them all season.
On the Up And Adams Show with Kay Adams, Daniel Jones was asked about Darren Waller. Here’s his response:
On the @UpAndAdamsShow show, Gronk posed a question to Kay, who relayed it to Daniel Jones. The question was...— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 10, 2023
"How do you continue to get Darren Waller more involved in this offense?" pic.twitter.com/rJdpLov4Oo
Jones discussed the quick passing game and how New York found a rhythm by varying Waller’s alignment. A lot of those successful passes were simple in breaking routes. Here are Waller’s 11 targets:
Sean McDermott marries his pass rush well with his coverage. He’s great at disguising creepers and forcing indecisiveness on simulated pressures, which are just four-man rushes. McDermott picks and chooses when to blitzes in timely situations.
With the Giants’ current protection issues, I expect Buffalo to blitz more than just 12.9%. Buffalo’s defense does a great job of baiting quarterbacks into poor decisions.
Don’t take the bait
To start the second quarter against Miami, the Bills ran a simulated pressure bail to Tampa-2. Buffalo showed pressure to the boundary (top of the screen), and Tua Tagovailoa turned his attention to that side after seeing the linebacker and safety bail. Raheem Mostert (31) made a miraculous catch on the wheel, which was fortuitous for Tagovailoa.
Pay attention to the bottom of the screen. Miami used Tyreek Hill (10) in orbit to that side, with Jaylen Waddle (17) running a quick choice sit in front of the flat defender. Terrel Bernard (43) - a young, talented linebacker - was sent on the simulated pressure, and fullback Alec Ingold (30) was wide open on the slant.
Ingold is hardly a threat, but Mike McDaniel and his coaching staff saw how Buffalo bailed on the second-and-9 and how Miami had a numbers advantage to the field.
This is a different formation and play, but a similar concept. Fast forward to the second quarter with 2:25 left on this second-and-1. Buffalo bailed to quarters coverage and dropped the apex defender (over the No. 2 to the field). The coverage is tight, and the outside cornerback was tasked to aggressively fire down on an in-breaking route from Tyreek Hill (10).
Miami wanted to throw to Hill at the top of the screen underneath the clear-out routes, but the CB driving down deterred Tagovailoa, and the quarterback nearly threw an interception to Tre White (27).
In the third quarter, with 5:15 left on second-and-10 against Cover-2, Miami runs that same No. 1 slant underneath two clearout routes. Tagovailoa, who typically does a great job manipulating defenders with his eyes, looked to his right and saw a safety over the top of Hill. He quickly transitioned left, hoping Bernard wouldn’t carry Robbie Chosen (3), but the Bills are so fast and quick that the football lands right in the hands of Micah Hyde (23).
The in-breaking route on this play was of little consequence. The outside cornerback took De’Von Achane (28) on the outside route.
Both Hyde and Jordan Poyer are two instinctive safeties who are difficult to fool. And, with the speed of Bernard at linebacker, even without Milano, these middle-of-the-field shots are very difficult against McDermott’s zone coverage.
Daniel Jones has thrown ill-advised passes into trap coverage in the past. He’s done it a few times early this season, and Buffalo will run trap to the field side against the Giants. This is a beautifully executed trap coverage. Watch how Hyde reads the release of Braxton Berrios (0) and quickly works to the numbers.
Before the injuries, this defense was a cohesive nightmare for offenses to pass against. On second-and-6 with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter, Miami had a chance to make this game interesting. The Bills are known for their zone coverage concepts, but their defensive backs are sticky man-covering players. Buffalo kept two zone defenders - Milano and Hyde - in the middle of the field. Waddle had a one-on-one matchup, but Christian Benford locked down the star receiver.
Two plays later, on fourth down, the Bills send an extra rusher against a five-man protection. Bernard is aligned like he’s blitzing to the right of the Dolphins’ offense, so Miami slid protection, but it was Milano who came on the blitz. This is a different play than what Evan Neal experienced on the sack heard around Giants’ Twitter, but the double-reading is the same.
Since the protection slides toward Bernard, Kendall Lamm (70) is reading Milano to Gregory Rousseau (50). Milano, along with Hyde, did a fantastic job disguising the blitz and the assignment; at the snap, Hyde aggressively closed width on Achane, and Milano, who the Dolphins thought was on Achane, forced Lamm to secure the B-Gap on the blitz, leaving Rousseau unblocked. When they do blitz, McDermott’s unit understands how to maximize the manipulation.
Back to the Giants
Establishing the run while attempting to find cracks in a defense with a lot of new faces is a goal that New York should strive to achieve. That is, of course, easier said than done. Whether it’s Tyrod Taylor or Daniel Jones, this offensive line can’t protect the quarterback, especially against the best statistical pass-rushing team in the NFL.
Running the football will slow down the defense, and the pass-rush, and keep Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen off the field. Buffalo’s defense has displayed vulnerabilities against the run; Jacksonville successfully ran the football and did well working the play-action passing attack. However, Buffalo will likely expect this approach from New York, so efficiency and limiting mistakes is crucial for New York to stay in this game.
I also expect to see creative run designs to Wan’Dale Robinson, as well as passes to the flat - that hopefully will be adequately blocked in this game. If the Bills remain aggressive with driving down on short routes, running a fake flare pass up the sideline over the head of an eager outside cornerback could be a solid way to keep the defense honest.
The Giants have to get Waller involved like last week, but the continuity of Buffalo’s zone defense will pose a problem. Quick precision and efficiency in five and six-man protection is one way to attack Buffalo. However, it’s difficult to find voids against this team.
Similar to Robinson’s employment, I would love to see the Giants get Jalin Hyatt the football behind or near the line of scrimmage while setting up deep shots off play action to him or Darius Slayton. At the end of the day, though, if the Giants' blocking doesn’t improve, earning yards on offense will remain difficult.
Maybe less blitzing will ease the mental side of the assignments for the young players on the offensive line, or maybe Justin Pugh will be activated, and that can stabilize the interior a bit, but the current state of affairs on the offensive line for New York is a tough one for the coaching staff to overcome.
We are in the abyss of Brian Daboll’s short tenure here as the Giants’ head coach. It’s dank, cold, and seems hopeless on the offensive side of the football. Starting fast with running the football and play action passes could establish a rhythm and ease the burden on an overmatched offensive line. That’s much easier said than done against any defense, let alone the Bills’ unit.
New York has suffered 18 sacks over the last two games and has surrendered the most sacks in the league. Buffalo leads the league in sacks and put Sam Howell on his back nine times while coming away with four interceptions in Week 3. This is a dangerous defensive unit, even though it is missing some key players due to injury. Still, it’s a home prime-time game against a hapless offense that is also injured. New York must seize on every mistake Buffalo makes, which is something the Giants couldn’t do against Miami last week.