The Buffalo Bills host the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football this week, the fourth meeting in primetime between these two teams in the regular season. The Giants beat Buffalo on Monday Night Football all the way back in 1975, but the Bills defeated the Giants both times they met on a Sunday night — once in 1993 and then again to open the 1996 season.
For me, this Sunday’s matchup has something in common with that season-opening game from 1996. I was in attendance as a ten-year old Bills fan at Giants Stadium on that September night, and I’ll be in attendance as a, well, older Bills fan this week at Highmark Stadium. Perhaps my view from the upper-deck will give me a better perspective on the game than the broadcast angle (and if you’re in the 300-level, maybe we can have a beverage of our choosing should we meet!).
Personal anecdotes aside, this is a game that Buffalo needs to come out and win. After a disappointing 25-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, a game where multiple defensive starters were lost to long-term injury, the Bills need to bounce back in a big way. In order to do that, they’ll need big performances from their top play makers, but they’ll also need contributions for some newer faces. Here are five players we’ll be watching this week.
RB James Cook
Last week, the Jaguars’ excellent run defense was able to bottle Cook for the entire game, limiting him to minus-four yards rushing on the day. That can’t happen again this week against a Giants run defense ranked No. 30 in yards allowed, No. 29 in touchdowns allowed, and No. 31 in yards per carry allowed. Cook has been very hit-or-miss this year, totaling big numbers against the Las Vegas Raiders and Washington Commanders (32 carries, 221 yards combined in the two games) and underwhelming totals in the other three contests (29 carries, 51 yards, one touchdown). A more varied play selection on Cook’s runs would help, as the continued shotgun draw, shotgun counter, and shotgun toss plays limit what he can do in terms of following blocks. That would mean that quarterback Josh Allen needs to be under center more, which is something we’ll address below.
C Mitch Morse
I’m not focused on Morse because I think he’s playing poorly, nor do I think that the Giants can exploit some sort of mismatch here with Morse in the middle. Instead, I’m focused more on Morse because I want to see Allen lined up directly behind him rather than seven yards deep in a shotgun so often. Allen has been the league’s best passer out of play-action this year, and from under center, he has been damn near unstoppable. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was asked in his press conference this week why Allen hasn’t been under center more, and Dorsey responded that it was a matter of Allen’s comfort in the shotgun. As coaches, it’s our job to help our players become comfortable with the uncomfortable, and Dorsey needs to ask Allen if the added success he’s had from under center might possibly make him more comfortable. Allen and Morse have worked together for long enough now where the veteran center might be able to weigh in to help Allen become more comfortable. With each successful play from under center, I’d hope that Allen’s comfort level with that particular action grows, as well.
DT Poona Ford
With DaQuan Jones out indefinitely thanks to a torn pectoral muscle, it’s the next man up at defensive tackle. Ford, who was signed this offseason to serve as the primary reserve one-tech defensive tackle, has been a healthy scratch this year in three of Buffalo’s first five games. He has appeared on just 23 snaps between Buffalo’s loss to the New York Jets and win over the Las Vegas Raiders, but that snap share is sure to grow a bit this weekend. With Jordan Phillips and Tim Settle each playing very well, and each being capable of holding down that one-tech spot, I don’t expect that Ford will approach the number of snaps Jones saw; however, I assume that he’ll take on at least a 40% snap share.
LB Dorian Williams
With All-Pro Matt Milano out indefinitely thanks to a leg injury, it’s the next man up at linebacker, as well. Williams came in and did some good things, showing great instincts and speed in coverage, as well as a quick trigger in the run game. He also showed some areas of weakness, namely consistency in wrapping and tackling. That’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s also not something the Bills aren’t used to at linebacker, as Milano has always been a guy who misses a high percentage of tackles (his missed tackle percentage has been at least 11% in every season of his pro career, according to Pro Football Reference). Williams was benched for Tyrel Dodson last week, and head coach Sean McDermott may even feel more comfortable giving veteran A.J. Klein, whom the team added to the active roster from its practice squad this week, more snaps so that there’s a veteran presence next to Terrel Bernard. However, I think that this week might be a good one to give Williams a chance to acclimate a bit to the speed of the game, especially in the early going. I hope that he has a chance to play this week, and I also hope that he shows off the positive traits the team saw when they picked him in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft.
CB Kaiir Elam
Elam’s first test was a date with Calvin Ridley last week, and he absolutely flunked it. Hard. Now, we can look at this one of two ways: We can say, rightly, that Elam was burned all day in coverage, so it doesn’t matter the caliber of wideout he was playing against — meaning that, if the excuse is that Ridley is too good for him to cover, then how is Elam going to be expected to perform at all when the Bills play against the kind of teams they’ll need to beat for a Super Bowl run? Or, we can say that, despite how poorly he played, head coach Sean McDermott still left Elam on an island against someone of Ridley’s caliber, which suggests that the Bills must have some faith in him. One of those statements feels like an overreaction, and the other feels like a reach, so the truth is probably somewhere in between. This week is going to be a big one for Elam, especially as Dane Jackson logged a DNP at Wednesday’s practice thanks to a foot injury. Christian Benford participated in full, however, so it’s looking good for him to return this week. Either way, we’re probably going to see a healthy dose of Elam on Sunday night.