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Giants at Bills 2015, Week 4: Five things to watch Sunday

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Shane Vereen
Shane Vereen
Al Bello/Getty Images

Contenders or pretenders? Which are the should be 3-0 but are only 1-2 New York Giants? A loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday wouldn't completely squash the Giants' hopes of winning the NFC East. A victory, though, would go a long way toward stamping the Giants as a legitimate threat to make a run at the division crown. Here are five things to watch Sunday that could help determine whether the Giants leave Ralph Wilson Stadium 1-3 or 2-2.

The fourth quarter

This is a rewind of one of the "Five things to watch" from Giants vs. Washington Redskins. It will be a point of emphasis until the Giants get one of these fourth quarters right. They handed away two season-opening games they had won with fourth-quarter implosions. In Week 3 against the Redskins they turned a 25-6 laugher into a closer than it needed to be 32-21 victory with a sloppy final quarter.

The Giants have outscored opponents 54-29 in the first three quarters of games, but been outscored 43-24 in the fourth quarter. The graphic below from Alex's weekly "Blue Data" post is extremely telling.

The Giants have led 65.1 percent of the time through three games, but have only one victory to show for all of that. Ridiculous! They have to get the fourth quarter right to have any chance at having a good season.

Something head coach Tom Coughlin said prior to the game against Washington still applies, and bears repeating:

"Seventy-five percent of the games in the National Football League, 24 out of 32, are seven points or less in the fourth quarter. The game is a fourth quarter game in the National Football League. We've got to be able to be productive when the game is on the line and the pressure is there to perform. That's exactly what it is."

As "Rocky" would say "That's how winnin' is done." The Giants need to figure that out in a hurry. Here's a little "Rocky" clip, just because I can.

Get the ball to Shane Vereen ... please

Vereen had only six carries for 23 yards and zero pass receptions against the Redskins -- although, to be fair, he did have one costly drop.In Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons Vereen caught a team-high eight passes. He had 12 receptions in the first two games.

The Giants will try to get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. as often as possible. They will try not to forget about throwing the ball toward Rueben Randle once in a while. It would be nice if Larry Donnell shows up. It will be critical, though, against the blitz-happy Bills of Rex Ryan that they remember to keep Vereen and even Rashad Jennings involved in the passing attack. There's no better way to neutralize that pressure than with quick dump-offs or screens to an elusive running back in the open field.

Is Tyrod Taylor the real deal?

The numbers are magical for Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor. A 74.4 completion percentage after three games, with seven touchdown passes to three interceptions, 96 rsuhing yards on 17 carries (5.6 per carry) and a passer rating of 116.1. Not bad for a guy who spent the first four seasons of his career caddying for Joe Flacco with the Baltimore Ravens, and had to beat out E.J. Manuel and Matt Cassel to win the job with the Bills.

Coughlin referred to Taylor as "a force to defend" because of his ability to run and pass.

Is Taylor really the answer to Buffalo's quarterback prayers? The Giants would like to find out -- they would like to stuff a Bills rushing attack that is averaging 4.7 yards per carry (second in the league)  and force the Bills, whose 32.3 rushing attempts per game are fourth in the league, to air it out Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Taylor has only thrown 30 passes in one of the Bills' three games -- their loss to the Patriots. He completed 23, but also tossed all three of his interceptions in that game. The Giants would like to try to make Taylor win the game with his arm, not allow him to do so by handing off to rookie running back Karlos Williams or running the ball himself.

"Anytime you have a quarterback that can run and pass, if you're supposed to be outside be outside, if you're supposed to be inside be inside, and just don't let them get the running game going," said Giants cornerback Prince Amukamra. "Once they get the running game going they can play action us, boot us, and then we'll have a big problem."

Can somebody around here defend the pass?

Well, that's not entirely fair. Giants' cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (in the two games he has played) have done a good job. The rest of the Giants' defense? Well, not so much.

Statistically, the Giants are the worst team in the league at defending the pass through three games. They are the only team in the league to have given up more than 1,000 yards passing (1,007 to be precise). Their average of 335.7 yards allowed per game is, obviously 32nd out of 32 teams.

Are they really that bad at covering the pass? Well ... maybe not entirely.

A big part of the problem is they can't rush the passer. They have just three sacks in three games, their sack percentage of 2.10 is 30th in the league and their overall pass rush grade of -13.8 is worst in the league. The Giants are, in fact, the only team in the league with a negative pass rush grade in double digits. The -13.8 is nearly double the -7.0 score of the 31st-ranked San Francisco 49ers.

Thus, without any pass rush help to speak of they are being exposed in coverage.

Rookie safety Landon Collins has a 134.5 passer rating against thus far, and veteran safety Brandon Meriweather a rating of 108.1. Rookie middle linebacker Uani 'Unga has been targeted an absurd 21 times in three games, giving up 16 competions. His passer rating against is only 77.8, helped by his two interceptions. The Giants have given up 7.7 third-down conversions per game, 30th in the league, largely because they have difficulty rushing the passer and defending the short throw. On 36 passing plays in situations of third-and-10 yards or less, the Giants have surrendered 21 first downs.

Whether it's pass rush, coverage, scheme or a combination of all of them this is a problem the Giants have to solve.

Can the Giants control Buffalo's defensive line?

Mario Williams. Kyle Williams. Jerry Hughes. Marcell Dareus. Corbin Bryant. That's quite a group of defensive linemen the Bills possess, and what Coughlin calls "a significant challenge" for the Giants.

Buffalo is first in the league against the run this season, allowing just 74.0 yards per game. The Giants are second at 74.7, but that's for a different discussion. The Bills have, however, given up 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, 24th in the league. Which tells you that teams are throwing against the Bills and not running all that often.

The Bills have six quarterback sacks and are only 26th in the league in sack percentage at 3.68 percent thus far, but after leading the league in sacks last season with 54 and being second in the league in 2013 with 57 you know the pass rush could break out at any time.

"They have a real good front, that's a good defense. We're definitely up for the challenge this week, it's going to be a good game," said Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh. "Big, strong, they work well together, they've played together a while. The two guys on the right side have been in the league for 10 years, they know a thing or two. I think two guys on the D-Line are 100 million dollar guys, so they're expected to play well, and they have played well."

Dareus has a six-year, $96.57 million deal and Mario Williams a six-year, $96 million deal -- just to be exact about it. Dareus has two Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro nod, Mario Williams is a four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro, Kyle Williams has four Pro Bowl nods and Hughes has 21 sacks in his last 35 games.

This would be a good game for the Giants' revamped offensive line to earn its stripes. They hope to be bolstered by the return of rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers. After missing last Thursday's game, Flowers has returned to practice. It will also help the Giants if tight end Daniel Fells, their best blocker at the position, is able to play. Fells missed Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury.

"They're good. They're talented on defense, they've got good players, they've got a good scheme, they've done a good job. I guess the Patriots had a good game plan against them, made some plays, did some good things, but they still got pressure on Tom (Brady)," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning. "But versus Indianapolis and versus Miami, they got after them pretty good. We've got to be sharp up front and on all their different looks and their players. We've got to do a good job on third down and take care of the football, can't turn the ball over against them."

New England seemed to use a lot of quick throws and spread formations in its victory over the Bills.

"We're going to try to do that. Spread them out a little bit. Try to get the ball out of there quick so they can't get as much pressure on Eli as they're going to," said Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle. "It's going to be upon us to make some plays, especially outside the catch."