5 Adjustments New York Giants Must Make in Week 4 Matchup with Buffalo Bills
The New York Giants notched their first win of the 2015 season last week against Washington, so that monkey is off their backs.
Having figured out what it takes to win, the goal now is to even out their win-loss record, a task that won’t come easy at all against Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills team.
The good news is that with the anticipated return of receiver Victor Cruz and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and the possible returns of defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. and left tackle Ereck Flowers from injury, the Giants should have a fuller complement of pieces available to be competitive against the Bills.
With that said, there are still a few things that head coach Tom Coughlin, his staff and his players need to clean up in the coming week of preparation. Here is a look at those adjustments that might just behoove them to make.
Learn How to Finish Games
Of all the things that annoyed Coughlin the most from last week’s game, it was his team allowing Washington to score 15 points to make what should have been a blowout win a much closer 32-21 win.
The problems, as have been the case in the first two games, were on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter.
Washington dominated the time of possession, launching two four-minute-plus drives and finishing the game with the ball in its hands, while the Giants had two drives in the game’s final 11 minutes that barely cracked the four-minute mark combined.
“That fourth quarter was not indicative of the way that the game went,” said linebacker Jon Beason. “We still, for some reason, collectively have this problem with finishing. We all realize we all have a hand in this, and it’s bad.
“You always want to be a team that’s known to finish strong, and I don’t want other opposing teams to think, ‘Hey, we’re playing the Giants. Whether they have a big lead or we keep it close, we know in the fourth quarter they’re going to give us this and that.’ That’s something we have to put more emphasis on, and we have to figure out what the issue is because you just can’t be consistent in this league and try to win games if you’re doing that.”
No, they cannot win if they don’t finish, and if they want to be in the thick of the playoff hunt, this is something the Giants better figure out a solution to, and quickly.
Demote Starting TE Larry Donnell
Last week, Coughlin sent a message to his team when he cut receiver Preston Parker for two poor performances in a row: Poor performances in this "win, or else" season will not be tolerated.
Well, don’t expect the Giants to do the same with starting tight end Larry Donnell, who, per Pro Football Focus, has graded negatively in each of his first three games.
Donnell, who in this last game was credited with two dropped passes and a rather curious-looking mid-air somersault just moments before a tackle, isn't going anywhere thanks to the hobbled nature of Jerome Cunningham (knee) and Daniel Fells (foot).
However, given his lackluster play thus far—in addition to his pass-receiving issues, his run blocking has been putrid—he should go somewhere, and that somewhere is to the bench if Fells and/or Cunningham is healthy.
Do a Better Job on Kickoffs
Kicker Josh Brown has been Mr. Automatic for the Giants, converting all nine of his field-goal attempts (four of which have been 40 or more yards) and all seven of his PAT attempts for some quality kicking.
His kickoffs, though, have been another story. The 101-yard kickoff return last week aside, Brown’s late-game kickoffs have hardly resembled the high and deep characteristics that he is known for achieving.
This past week, he hit a high, directional mortar kick, barely reached the 10-yard line and was thus ineffective because it didn’t pin the returner against the sideline.
Then, on the 101-yard kickoff return by Washington's Rashad Ross, Brown managed some decent height on the kickoff, but no depth, as Ross fielded it one yard deep in the end zone before bringing it out and meeting zero resistance from Brown, by the way, as Ross scampered up the Giants sideline for the score.
The good news is that Brown and the rest of the Giants have a 10-day rest period, which should make everyone as fresh as a daisy come next weekend in Buffalo.
Given how stingy the Bills defense has shown itself to be, starting field position is going to be more critical than ever for the Giants, which means they’re going to need their 36-year-old kicker to do his part by knocking as many of his kickoffs as possible out of the end zone.
Get Nikita Whitlock More Involved in the Running Game
According to Pro Football Focus, fullback Nikita Whitlock has been on the field for rushing plays 31 times—that’s less than half of the 78 rushes the Giants have attempted through three games.
With the run blocking by the tight ends being so inconsistent, what would it hurt to maybe give Whitlock, the Giants’ version of the Swiss Army knife, a few extra reps at the position?
According to NFL Game Statistics and Information System, the Giants, whose rushing game is averaging 3.6 yards per carry, are averaging 3.76 yards per rush with Whitlock on the field.
That might not sound like a huge difference, but if you zero in on first down in particular, you can see the impact that Whitlock’s presence has made.
When he is on the field, New York is averaging almost five yards per carry, as opposed to a hair under four yards per carry when he is not there for that critical first down.
Yes, it’s only one yard, but that one yard, in this instance, means the difference between 2nd-and-short and 2nd-and-long.
Increase Jon Beason’s Workload
Last week, inside linebacker Jon Beason made his 2015 debut, taking 28 snaps, according to the official game book.
While no one is going to mistake the 2015 Beason for the player he was in 2013 for this Giants team, hobbled or not, he is still New York's best option at middle linebacker.
Per NFL Game Statistics and Information System, Washington’s feared rushing attack averaged 1.83 rushing yards with Beason on the field and 3.19 yards per rush with him off the field.
Even on those handful of coverage snaps that the 30-year-old defensive captain played saw a difference. Washington averaged 4.23 average passing yards with Beason on the field and 6.59 yards with him off the field.
By contrast, Uani’ Unga, a promising but still inexperienced player who has filled in for Beason, saw a rushing differential of 0.14 yards per rush and a passing differential of 6.55 yards per pass.
Coughlin said last week that he wasn’t sure how he would work the rotation assuming Beason’s knee, which the linebacker admitted was sore the day after the game, holds up another week.
If Beason has made any kind of progress in shortening his recovery time, he should get a few more snaps this week where his experience can most definitely help, especially in coverage.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.