Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bills-Giants Preview

The Bills tour through the NFC East continues this week as they travel to New Jersey to face the New Giants. The Giants are fresh off of a disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, one in which they turned the ball five times.

- Don't expect the Giants to turn the ball over five times again this week. Thus far this year the Giants have been fairly careful with the ball and even after last week's terrible performance are +2 in turnovers for the year. The turnover hungry Bills defense has made a living off of turnovers this year, but I don't expect them to be able to fall back on that this week.

The good news for the Bills defense, is that the Giants have managed to find other ways of getting themselves off of the field. The Giants are 29th in the NFL on third down, converting just 29% of their chances. The Bills defense is 15th in the league on third down conversions, keeping opponents to a 38% conversion rate.

- This will be a game of weakness against weakness. The Giants are 31st in yards per carry in the NFL (3.2) and the Bills are 31st in yards per surrendered per carry (5.5). Something has to give. The pessimist in me tells me it will be the Bills defense, but the critical observer in me says otherwise.

A cursory look at the Bills first five opponents reveals some very impressive running games. The Bills have faced four of the top ten rushing offenses (per carry) in the NFL in the first five weeks (Eagles- 1st, Raiders- 3rd, Patriots- 7th and Chiefs- 8th). And don't go thinking that these teams are all in the top ten because they faced the Bills. The only game that the Bills truly were gashed in the run game was against the Eagles. Even then, a lot of those yards came on two plays, Vick's 53 yard scramble and McCoy's 32 yard run.

Which brings us to the point of the conversation. While last year, teams continually ripped off five to seven yard runs against an overwhelmed front seven, this year the problem is much more with big plays. The Bills have surrendered eight runs of 20+ yards this year, which is tied for 2nd worst in the NFL right now. Its the occasional mental lapses which are sinking this defense, and thats what they need to fix.

Easier said than done admittedly. The good news is that the Giants have been particularly good at creating big plays in the run game. They've managed only one rush of 20+ yards all year. If there is a better opportunity for the Bills defense to get a handle on the running game, we haven't seen it.

- I've been beating the drum about this for the last couple weeks, and I say again: CJ Spiller needs more touches. I understand the difficulty faced in getting Spiller touches- its hard to find a place to put him. He can't quite do all that the wide receivers are asked to do, and you obviously want to get Fred Jackson as many touches as you can, but you have to believe there are opportunities to be had for him. Maybe play more split backs, which would get both Jackson and Spiller on the field. Maybe he should get more reps as on the outside, where his speed could be a big advantage vertically (something we're currently missing with the injuries to Jones and Parrish). Gailey has earned my trust with this offense, so I'm hopeful he'll find a way to make it happen, but I think its need sooner than later.

- This could easily turn into another shootout. Like the Bills, the Giants have been soft against the run this year. After strong outings against the Redskins and the Rams, the Giants have let up 177, 156 and 145 yards in successive weeks. They're 21st in yards, 17th in yards per attempt and most troubling, 28th in touchdowns surrendered. While better against the pass, they still give up 250 yards a game.

Don't get me wrong- the Giants still possess an excellent pass rush. Jason Pierre-Paul has quietly been a revelation with 7 sacks, and the Giants lead the NFL with 18 overall. The Bills however, have been down this road several times thus far this year. They played the NFL's best pass rushing team from a year ago in the Oakland Raiders and only surrendered one sack. Last week, the faced the league leading Eagles and only surrendered two. Whether by virtue of the Bills quick passing game, the play of its line, Fitzy's decision making or a combination of all three, Fitzy has kept a fairly clean jersey this year. We may very well see a lot of scoring.

- I suppose it probably doesn't have to be said, but I'd just like to stop and point out just how well Fred Jackson is playing. He's averaging 142.2 yards per game this year, third in the league behind Matt Forte and Wes Welker. His 480 rushing yards is third in the league, and 48 more yards than the Giants have collectively managed. Jackson has seven 20+ yard runs, tied for best in the league, but has yet to fumble. On top of all this, he's arguably the best pass blocking running back in the league.

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