It’s right back to New Jersey for the Bills in week two of the 2019 NFL season. And it’s a chance for the Bills to start a season 2-0 for the first time since 2014.
Here are the top storylines this week as the Bills get set to face the Giants:
1. HAVE WE MET (LIFE)?
It’s the Bills second straight game at MetLife Stadium. They’re the first NFL team to play back-to-back road games in the same stadium since the Ravens did it three years ago at MetLife (Baltimore lost both). Overall, Buffalo is 4-7 at MetLife since the stadium opened in 2010; 0-1 against the Giants. With a win, the Bills would become the first NFL team to win back-to-back road games in the same facility since Chicago accomplished the feat at MetLife against the Giants and Jets in weeks 9-10 of 2006.
2. THE NEW BILLS OFFENSE OR JUST A PASSING FAD?
Last year, with rookie Josh Allen under center most of the season, the Bills offense was focused on the running game. They ran it 48 percent of the time in 2018, the fourth highest run-pass ratio in the league.
In the opener last Sunday, Buffalo called passes on their first 18 snaps. The Bills finished the game with the emphasis on the pass—with 60 percent passes, 40 percent runs.
A new trend for 2019? Or was it game-plan specific?
“We started out the game in no huddle to spread [the Jets] out,” said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. “Sometimes you start games, you pass to set up the run or you run to set up the pass. Each week is a little bit unique.”
The Bills aren’t likely to broadcast their run/pass intentions on offense, so the only way to find out is to watch each week.
3. BIG PLAYS ARE A BIG PLUS
It’s only one game’s worth of evidence, but the Bills may have found a way to generate big plays offensively based on the Jets game.
Last season, Buffalo was dead last in the league with only 36 total passing plays of 20-yards or more. The Bills produced four this past Sunday added and two more Devin Singletary runs of 20 yards-plus.
And this week’s opponent, the Giants, gave up huge chunks of yardage in their loss to Dallas. The Cowboys had seven passes of 21-or-more yards on Kickoff Weekend against New York. Big plays make a big difference.
4. SLOWING DOWN THE TURNOVER TRAIN
With the big plays came big mistakes last Sunday — four turnovers by the Buffalo offense in the first half. The Bills shut down the giveaways in the second half, but they’ll need to protect the ball much better as the season moves along.
“Well I think there’s always a reason for a turnover,” says Brian Daboll. “Whether it’s ball location, finishing a catch, an arm angle, we’re not about making excuses, but there’s going to be some that take bad bounces and that’s football.”
“We have to get the quarterback-center exchange taken care of,” Daboll continued. “We have to keep two hands on the ball in the pocket. We have to make a play when it comes our way even if it’s a little bit low. So, we can do a better a job of that.”
5. RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE TAKING SHAPE
The Bills provided some evidence this past Sunday of how their running back-by-committee scenario might work. Last Sunday, rookie running back Devin Singletary played 70 percent of the offensive snaps. But he only received four carries – all of them in the second half. Singletary was productive, with 70 yards rushing including two runs of 20 yards-plus, and another one for 15 yards.
Veteran Frank Gore played 28 percent of the snaps, including the critical late game plays when the Bills were protecting their one-point lead. He had 11 carries for 20 yards.
It remains to be seen how the job-share works the rest of the season and how much of a role T.J. Yeldon may have to play.
6. GIANTS HAVE A ONE-MAN COMMITTEE
There’s no question who gets the ball in the New York Giants backfield. Second-year man Saquon Barkley had 11 of New York’s 17 rushing attempts last Sunday and cranked out 120 yards on the ground, half of them on one carry on the second play from scrimmage.
After just 17 games in his NFL career, Barkley is already the league’s top running back.
“You don’t see his type of talent come along that often,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “He is a special running back for sure, and to be so young – as you mentioned only his second year in the league – and he's arguably near the top, if not the top. So, he'll present a lot of problems both as a receiver, 91 catches a season ago, and the ability to run and make people miss, run through tackles and outrun tacklers. He's a rare talent.”
7. SACKS UP?
The Bills finished the 2018 season with only 36 sacks on defense, ranking 26th in that department in the NFL. And while it’s not the only barometer of pass rush pressure, it’s a good one.
Sunday against the Jets, Buffalo produced 4.0 sacks and seemed to throw more pressure packages at the quarterback than they did last year. Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, and others joined the four up front to keep the heat on Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.
Leslie Frazier welcomes the uptick in sacks, but he also thinks the Bills were decent rushing the passer last year.
“Statistically we had a lot of hits on the quarterbacks a season ago, we were in the top 10 in that area,” Frazier said Monday, “but we didn't get them on the ground as often as we needed to and would like to. So, it was good to come away with those four sacks, actually getting the quarterback down. We’ve got to build on that and continue that.”
The Giants have journeymen Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers as new starters on the right side of their offensive line. And Zeitler banged up his shoulder in the loss to the Cowboys.