Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride both held the same positions with the Buffalo Bills immediately prior to joining the Giants to work under Tom Coughlin.
Gilbride commanded the Bills’ offense in 2002-03, and only four players remain in Buffalo from his tenure there: punter Brian Moorman, kicker Rian Lindell, cornerback Terrence McGee and linebacker Chris Kelsay (who is not expected to play). It’s safe to say that as the Giants have prepared this week for their Sunday home game against the Bills, Gilbride hasn’t been able to draw on his experience in Buffalo.
But Fewell has been able to use his. He was the defensive coordinator there from 2006-09. Fewell coached many of the Bills’ defensive players, including cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence and safety Jairus Byrd. Perhaps more significantly, as the team’s interim coach for the final seven games of the 2009 season, he became very familiar with Buffalo’s offensive players, notably quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who leads the team with 28 catches.
“I can definitely give them my insight on how their players play, what I think their strengths and weaknesses are,” Fewell said. “I’ve tried to do that and share that with them. Does that help our team? I hope it does from a preparation standpoint, but we have to play the game.”
Fewell’s most significant personnel move continues to help the Bills and will have a huge influence on the game Sunday. One of his first decisions as head coach was to install Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Bills’ starting quarterback in place of Trent Edwards. This season, Fitzpatrick has completed 113 of 172 passes (65.7 percent) for 1,233 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. In consecutive weeks, he led Buffalo to victories after trailing by 18 points against Oakland and 21 vs. New England.
“I thought Ryan was an excellent quarterback when we had him there and I thought that he was the better quarterback,” Fewell said. “That’s why I played him and he was the starter. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s doing what he’s doing.
“He looks very comfortable in this offense. He’s making quick decisions. He’s getting the ball out extremely fast. His receivers and he are on the same page. He just looks like he’s in total control and he knows exactly what they want to do with this offense.”
The Bills, who are third in the NFL with an average of 32.8 points a game, challenge opposing defenses with their unconventional offense. Fitzpatrick lines up exclusively in a shotgun and they like to spread the field using four or five receivers. But they don’t always pass out of that formation. The Bills keep defenses honest by running frequently.
“You have to defend 53? yards (the width of the field) and they make you do that the whole entire ballgame,” Fewell said. “And they have good skill with (C.J.) Spiller and Fred Jackson. They can spread you out and they can create some mismatches. That’s what they’ve done.”
“It’s not difficult, just different,” safety Deon Grant said. “The good thing about it is we’ve got guys on our side that can match up with them, we know exactly what’s coming, just play our techniques, I think we’ll be alright.”
Jackson is third in the NFL in both rushing yards (480) and yards from scrimmage (712).
“He’s a very elusive runner,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “He’s a powerful runner. He doesn’t go down with first contact. He’s a guy who you can tell studies the game. He picks his holes very well. At the end of the day we just have to play assignment football and play fast.”
“We have to limit the options of where he has to go and make it easier on the guys in the back end,” defensive lineman Dave Tollefson said. “It’s kind of a step-by-step process. The first step is the D-line gets in their gaps and sets the edge. Second step, linebackers fill the gaps. Third step, safety and corners press up. We have yet to get all three, one-two-three. It’s been one-three, or two-three, or just three. So let’s get everybody on the same accord when it comes to that.”
The same statement can be made about the defense’s overall performance. The Giants defenders were not happy with what they considered to be a subpar performance vs. the Seahawks. Seattle gained 424 yards and backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst completed 11 of 19 passes, including the game-winning throw to rookie Doug Baldwin.
“It’s in baby steps,” Fewell said of the unit’s progress. “What you see is we have some youth back there in our linebacker corps. Then with some of the guys moving in and out, we’re not consistent. I said that to you last week. We’re not a consistent defense. We’ve been forced to do that a little bit because of some injuries. But we will become more consistent. We will get better. I think we’ll push and we’re striving to be a more consistent defense.”
“If you look at the film, we were playing hard, just making dumb mistakes,” Grant said. “(We were) making some of the dumbest mistakes. We just didn’t bring our ‘A’ game and they took advantage of it.”
Fewell said the issue is not the players understanding the schemes.
“The system they know,” Fewell said. “It’s being together. It’s working together. You’re missing five guys out of our defense right now. That’s a little bit more different.
“I don’t think I’ve added more. I’ve challenged them more from a schematic standpoint than I did a year ago because I think we have smart football players. I’ve challenged them more mentally than I did a year ago, I think.”
“I think we’ve been slotted into something we’re not,” Tollefson said. “We’re physical, we’re fast, we can tackle, but we haven’t shown it yet. And it’s kind of like that whole deal, there’s a reason there are stereotypes because some of them might be true, so we definitely have something to show. We haven’t left everything out on the field and we’re going to do that this week.”
*Fewell said he is no more emotional for a game against the Bills than any other.
“It’s just a game that we have to win,” he said. “I just happen to know those guys on the other side, though.”
*The Giants and Bills last met on Dec. 23, 2007, a wild weather day in Buffalo. The Giants won, 38-21, to clinch the playoff berth they rode all the way to victory in Super Bowl XLII. Gilbride and Fewell matched game plans and strategies that day as opposing coordinators.
“I think we had all the elements in that ballgame,” Fewell said. “The sun was out for a minute, then it rained and it was cold as crap and then it snowed and it was windy. I remember (Ahmad) Bradshaw hit the power off tackle (for an 88-yard touchdown) and he was running so fast he blew the ‘ny’ off his head.
“We were in control of that game in the first half. I remember Eli (Manning) beat the blitz on the Giant sideline for about 20 yards (to Amani Toomer, when the rain was at its heaviest). We thought we had them intact for the most part, but then the run game got going. They sent three running backs at us that day – (Brandon) Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Bradshaw. That was very tough to deal with, with three different styles of runners coming at you.”
Fewell easily recalls a couple of Gilbride’s play calls from that game.
“I can remember him running the toss sweep on me to the offensive left, the defensive right. We were in man coverage. It was a third-and-two or third-and-three situation and he caught us twice and gained some valuable yards to keep the clock moving.
“Coach out-coached us in that particular ballgame. But I thought it was a hard-fought contest that could have gone either way. The Giants prevailed and it obviously propelled them onto the Super Bowl.”
Fewell’s defense was not responsible for all 38 Giants points in that game. Corey Webster and linebacker Kawika Mitchell both returned interceptions for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Not coincidentally, Mitchell played the next season for Buffalo in Fewell’s defense.
“That’s when I noticed Kawika Mitchell,” Fewell said.
*The only change in the injury report the Giants released yesterday and the one issued today is that Osi Umenyiora practiced on a limited basis today after sitting out the workout yesterday. Linebacker Michael Boley (knee) and center David Baas (burner) were also limited.
Six players did not practice: guard Chris Snee (concussion), defensive end Justin Tuck (neck/groin), running back Brandon Jacobs (knee), fullback Henry Hynoski (neck), long snapper Zak DeOssie (concussion) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot).
Tuck has missed the last two games and three of the Giants’ first five games.
“This process is frustrating, no question,” Tuck said. “You definitely want to be out there helping your teammates win. Being around the guys and seeing them go out and battle from the sideline is tough. It is hard, but I have a lot of support from my teammates telling me when you are ready to come back and healthy, then come back. Don’t rush back and that is the uplifting part. As far as me just wanting to be out there on the football field, it is frustrating for me not to be out there.”
Tuck said his condition is evaluated regularly by the team’s medical staff.
“We went through some stuff today,” he said. “We did some running today just to see where we are. We are still day-to-day, but we are testing it every day to see where we are. It is kind of up and down.”
Jacobs did not play last week vs. Seattle and has not practiced this week.
“Obviously, in the beginning I was not thinking it would be an issue like this,” Coughlin said. “He had swelling, so they tried to keep him off his feet so he doesn’t swell. He gets treatment all day long, but so far it hasn’t really taken care of the swelling.”
*The Bills and Giants are the NFL’s top two teams scoring inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. In 20 red zone opportunities, the Bills have 15 touchdowns (plus five field goals), an NFL-best success rate of 75 percent. The Giants have 10 touchdowns in 14 red zone chances and are second at 71.4 percent.