Saturday, October 24, 2015

Remaining Ambulatory Bills Face JV Foe

Tyrod Taylor. Sammy Watkins. Percy Harvin. Seantrell Henderson. John Miller. Karlos Williams. Marquise Goodwin.

All are out for Buffalo's Sunday-morning meeting with Jacksonville in London. That's the starting quarterback, the Bills' No. 1 and 2 wide receivers, two starters on an offensive line that has not exactly dominated opposing defenses when fully healthy, their most effective running back through the season's first month and another wide-out, who, though he rarely ever touches the ball, would be a nice deep threat to have around with the other two downfield targets sidelined.

And that's just the offense.

Kyle Williams will also watch from the sidelines or press box at Wembley Stadium, leaving a 303-pound hole in the midst of a defensive line that has rarely approached its anticipated form during Buffalo's 3-3 start.

Meanwhile, the secondary still lacks projected starters Aaron Williams, who is on injured reserve, and Leodis McKelvin, who started practicing again this week, but is not on the active roster (though he is listed as questionable for Sunday, suggesting such a move might be possible).

Aaron Williams' absence means plenty of Duke Williams, who shares little beyond a surname and propensity for stupid penalties with the safety he's trying to replace.

That's eight Buffalo starters in all who will miss Sunday's game, as well as two key (under the circumstances, at least) reserves. Fortunately, the Jaguars represent the National Football League's junior varsity, staggering in at 1-5, their lone win coming against the Joe Philbin-era Miami Dolphins.

As Big Cat Country,'s Jaguars-centric page, puts it in a headline: "Buffalo lists everyone as 'out' and will probably still win."

That assessment is more a function of Jacksonville's ceaseless putrefaction than praise of the Bills' depth chart. It's not like Buffalo has looked like a powerhouse for any extended period of time, either.

Maybe an offense involving E.J. Manuel (who was neither horrid nor good enough to overcome the defensive flaws against Cincinnati) throwing to Robert Woods and Chris Hogan while protected by the oft-replaced Kraig Urbik and Cyrus Kouandjio will thrill the United Kingdom with a series of big plays, giving Rex Ryan's defense a lead with which to work out the schematic issues so glaringly evident in each of Buffalo's three losses.

And maybe Duke Williams will finally figure out where he's supposed to be in pass coverage.

More likely, this one turns out to be a re-run of the Bills' 14-13 win in Tennessee, without Taylor's late-game heroics, with the defense doing enough to compensate for the offense's deficiencies long enough for the Jaguars to find a way to lose.

Which will do little to fuel the sort of overseas fervor for the American version of football that the NFL has been trying to generate for the last few decades, or to slow the steady cooling of Rex Fever back home.

Between sniping from the veteran defenders who were supposed to thrive in Ryan's acclaimed system and the meticulous dissections of same by Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton, the Bills and their coach find themselves in an excuse-free zone against the Jaguars.

Blake Bortles has improved in his second year as Jacksonville's starting quarterback, with 13 touchdown passes and two straight 300-yard performances (following a 298-yarder the week before that). The Jaguars lost all three, though, and Bortles has also thrown seven interceptions, fumbled three times and taken 17 sacks.

He also sprained his throwing shoulder two weeks ago. Ordinarily, that might cause a team to give its young franchise quarterback a chance to rest and recover. But these are the Jaguars.

If Rex's rush -- be it of the three-, four- or 10-man variety -- can't do some damage against Bortles, it's time to start seriously considering if the game's evolving offenses and rule book have antiquated Ryan's tactics.

And if the Bills don't find a way to beat the Jaguars, they limp into their bye week at 3-4, wondering where a season that opened with such optimism all went wrong.


For anyone relying on DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket for live game action, or who lives outside the Buffalo or Jacksonville television markets, the only way to watch the game (legally) will be to stream it live by going to this link by 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

Which does little for anyone who would prefer to DVR the game and watch it at a slightly more reasonable hour, such as expatriate Buffalonian Erik Brady of USA Today:
Matters not to me on what TV channel I watch, only that I can — and that I can record it to watch later, if need be. That’s an option that’d be especially nice for a game that kicks off when much of America is at church.
Brady goes on to explore the league's rationale for limiting the nation's exposure to Bills-Jaguars, which WWM's crack team of corporate-speak translators indicate amounts to "What part of Bills-Jaguars don't you understand?"

For those with technology capable of handling a live stream telecast, here's a quick explanation of how to see the game on a screen bigger than your smartphone or computer.

If you must.

(NOTE: You, too, can follow @DavidStaba on the Twitter. I'll follow you back, and we can all enjoy Sunday's inevitable technical glitches and on-field bumbling together.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Manuel Move Averts RGIII-Like Mess

Despite Rex Ryan's best efforts to make the Cincinnati Bengals think that Tyrod Taylor might start today, despite a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, turning to recent third-stringer E.J. Manuel is the only move that makes sense.

And if Rex has any doubts (or perhaps the past tense works better there, as multiple reports late Saturday and this morning suggest the decision has already been made), he should give Mike Shanahan a call.

Taylor, who was injured by an illegal horse-collar tackle on the improbable third-and-forever scramble that keyed last Sunday's how-did-that-happen 14-13 win against Tennessee, did practice some this week. But Manuel took most of the first-team snaps and, if Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman did not spend much time thinking about Shanahan's experience with Robert Griffin III, they should have.

You might recall that RGIII was once the future of the National Football League, who won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor in 2011 and swept rookie-of-the-year honors the next season, leading Washington's rebound from a 3-6 start to a playoff berth.

But late in the regular season, like Taylor, he had injured a knee ligament. Shanahan sent his prized rookie, whose game relied heavily on his mobility, out to start the playoff game against Seattle in a knee brace.

Griffin threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter, but spent the rest of the day hobbling, falling and finally breaking down, his knee completely blown, as the Seahawks rolled to a 24-14 win. Griffin has never been nearly the same, repeatedly losing his job to the immortal Kirk Cousins.

Shanahan, meanwhile, was fired after going 3-13 in 2013, and Washington spiraled from a franchise with quite possibly the worst owner in modern professional sports history to a mainstream national punchline.

A few hours before the 3-2 Bills host the unbeaten Bengals, it would appear Ryan won't make the same gamble with his promising young quarterback (who, to be fair, has yet to approach RGIII's rookie-year level). If everyone involved is smart, Taylor will be in street clothes today, or at least league-sanctioned sweats, preferably as far from the field and any potential incidental contact as possible.

Which brings us back to Manuel, who, until little more than a year ago, was Buffalo's franchise-quarterback-in-development.

After a promising, if injury-plagued, rookie season, Manuel was yanked a month into his second capaign by a panicky Doug Marrone after a couple iffy performances and one lousy one in Houston.

The revisionist view holds that Manuel was irretrievably terrible, and that his replacement, Kyle Orton, saved the season.

To again quote Eric Cartman, bullcrap.

We're not going to rehash the Orton Era here (though you can do so by following this link), but the Bills could be in much worse shape. Like, for instance, if they were stuck with the smartly exiled Matt Cassel, the supposedly cagey, mistake-free veteran who somehow managed to commit nearly two turnovers a game over the past five seasons, and who will start for Dallas after their bye week because the Cowboys have no other choice.

While in his first two seasons, Manuel was not been as mobile or as accurate as Taylor has been through five weeks, he's put together some decent-or-better games, especially at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo was 3-1 with Manuel starting in Orchard Park in 2013, with the lone loss coming to New England on a last-second field goal in the season opener. He split the pair of 2014 home starts he got before being benched, with a scattered day against San Diego rating as his worst non-road game to date.

Even against the Chargers, though, Manuel didn't turn the ball over. In those six home starts, he committed a total of five giveaways, with three coming in a 23-20 upset of Baltimore in Week 4 of 2013. He completed 63 percent of his throws in those games (compared to 58.6 percent overall), with eight touchdowns and three interceptions (as opposed to an 8-9 split in road outings and one counterfeit "home" contest in the best-forgotten Toronto experiment).

There's the health of the reportedly returning LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, both of whom would provide more explosiveness around Manuel than Taylor has enjoyed the last couple weeks.

And there is Rex's defense, which kept Buffalo in last week's game long enough for Taylor to pull out the late comeback and flattened Indianapolis and Miami, but has yet to bully a quality offense in the fashion promised since Ryan's arrival.

Not to mention the Bengals themselves. Andy Dalton takes justifiable criticism for his annual playoff flops, but is a week removed from a huge comeback win against Seattle, which triggered the sort of "Andy Dalton has finally arrived!" talk that always precedes those yearly January disasters.

Much of Dalton's supposed improvement can be credited to a potent running game in which Giovani Bernard gains most of the yards (377 through five games) and Jeremy Hill scores the touchdowns (five), as well as the emergence of tight end Tyler Eifert and wideouts Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones as complements to the rather brilliant A.J. Green.

The last time the Bengals were in town, Buffalo also operated with a backup quarterback. Filling in for Manuel, who went down with a knee injury against Cleveland 10 days earlier, Thaddeus Lewis threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, nearly pulling off the upset before the Bengals won in overtime.

Two years and five days later, Cincinnati and the Bills are both significantly better. If Ryan's defense can succeed against Dalton where it failed against Tom Brady and Eli Manning, Manuel should be good enough.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Offensive Woes Leave Bills Relying On Rex's D

This is where a proper bully takes the nerd's lunch money.

This afternoon in Nashville, Buffalo may have to find out if it is still possible, given the state of the National Football League, to win purely through force of defensive will. During the Bills' pair of wins in 2015, Rex Ryan's defense delivered on his press-conference promises, effectively ending the competitive portion of the games against Indianapolis and Miami by delivering first-half shutouts.

The offense did its part, too, putting up 17 points on the Colts and 27 against the Dolphins by intermission, highlighted by efficient and at times -- at least by the incredibly low expectations we have for quarterbacks around here -- spectacular performances by first-year starter Tyrod Taylor.

Today, the defense and Taylor can't count on much help. The Bills try to avoid falling below .500 for the first time under Ryan without many of the components intended to make Tyrod's life easier.

They're down to their third-, fourth- and fifth-string running backs, for one. If there is a bright spot to the hamstringing of LeSean McCoy and concussing of Karlos Williams, it is that fans, media and, you would presume, members of the Bills' roster and staff have used, and will continue to use, the word "Boobie" much more often.

Sophomoric delight does not necessarily translate into first downs, however. In little more than a year in Buffalo, Anthony "Boobie" Dixon has shown himself to be a solid special-teamer and imposing-looking short-yardage runner whose personality and experience -- including four seasons, three on a playoff team, in San Francisco -- gives him a larger leadership role than warranted by his on-field production to date.

Dixon scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run in the season opener, but for the year, has netted zero yards on eight carries.

Cierre Wood is neither a new type of chic flooring or a particularly unappetizing craft beer. Nor does he seem like a probable revelation at running back, having been in and out of five organizations before landing in Buffalo, where he occupied a spot on the practice squad until the Friday before last week's demoralizing loss to the New York Giants.

As a rookie with Houston in 2013, the Notre Dame product posted a career-high 9 yards on three carries before getting cut for "unspecified violations of team rules prior to a game in Kansas City."

Then there is Daniel "Boom" Herron, who ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries for Indianapolis during last January's playoffs, but was unemployed when the suddenly desperate Bills called after it was revealed earlier this week that Williams suffered a concussion while struggling for 40 yards on 18 carries against the Giants in his first NFL start.

None of this is good news for Taylor, who in his first month as a starting quarterback has done quite nicely when supported by even the threat of a running game, and looked like a guy win his first month as a starting quarterback when he is not.

With Sammy Watkins expected to miss another game with a calf injury sustained against Miami, Tyrod again lacks his most threatening downfield option, applying pressure to make plays without enough playmakers. And behind an offensive line that looks better than last year's disaster, but not good enough to prop up a gum-and-string running game and short-handed receiving corps operating around a developing quarterback.

All of which leaves the defense, which, like Taylor, has toggled demonstrating its potential with displaying its shortcomings, to live up to its hype.

A failure to communicate has been this week's talking point in trying to explain the ease with which Eli Manning, like Tom Brady two weeks earlier, sliced up the big, bad Buffalo defense. While the return of safety Aaron Williams should help the talking, focusing on carrying out Rex Ryan's schemes would be easier without handing opponents free yardage in maddeningly frequent 15-yard chunks.

The Titans, meanwhile, could be truly terrible. After opening with a blowout of equally questionable Tampa Bay, Tennessee got thumped by Cleveland and surrendered a 13-point lead to gimpy-armed Andrew Luck's Colts, who couldn't manage a single point against Buffalo when it counted.

After opening with a near-perfect day against the Buccaneers, who historically are obliging in that sense, Mariota has often looked like, well, a rookie. In Tennessee's two losses, he has been sacked 10 times, thrown two interceptions and fumbled three times, losing two of them.

This is where the most expensive defensive line in NFL history is supposed to take over, stuffing the league's 10th-ranked running game while forcing Mariota into another flurry of mistakes. That would also set up Buffalo's linebackers and secondary to produce the sort of game-changing plays on which Ryan's philosophy relies and, given the Bills' offensive limitations, even put up some points of their own.

Unleashing the blitzes largely kept in the playbook against the Patriots and Giants seems like a pretty good idea, especially given Mariota's problems dealing with pressure in his last two outings.

As kickoff approaches, the second overall pick in last spring's draft is the undersized, unassuming kid shuffling down the hall, head down and hoping not to wind up stuffed into a locker, like Luck and Ryan Tannehill.

Or ready, like Brady and Manning, to expose Rex's Bills as a lot of bluster compensating for deeply rooted inadequacy.

(NOTE: You, too, can and should follow @DavidStaba on the Twitter.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When Knockouts Don't Materialize, Bullied Bills Need Plan B

As a kid discovering the world of sports, I loved, in no particular order:

--- The Buffalo Bills, because of Jim Braxton and Joe Ferguson (never was a huge O.J. Simpson fan, for some reason -- might have been the Hertz commercials). And growing up around here, the other choices were to be a complete contrarian and root for the Miami Dolphins or a scummy front-runner and align myself with the Pittsburgh Steelers or Dallas Cowboys;

--- The New York Mets, because the skyline in their logo reminded me of old, darkly exotic Batman comics. And growing up around here, the other choice was to be a scummy front-runner and cheer on the Reggie-era Yankees;

--- The Philadelphia 76ers, because of Dr. J and Darryl Dawkins. And growing up around here, the Buffalo Braves’ brief era of Bob McAdoo-led near-glory preceded the development of my sporting consciousness;

--- The New York Rangers, because of Phil Esposito. And they nearly upset Buffalo in a 1978 best-of-three playoff series, and despite growing up around here, I was enough of a contrarian to fall for the underdog in my least favorite of the four major sports; and

--- Earnie Shavers, because, duh.

Shavers was everything a kid could want in a heavyweight boxer – shaved head, great mid-‘70s moustache, slabs of muscle that shook ominously as he bounced in place moments before the opening bell and consciousness-sapping power that threatened to end any fight at any moment thereafter. The intimidation level he projected earned him an audition for the part of Clubber Lang in Rocky III, but Sylvester Stallone opted for the nuanced acting chops of Mr. T over Shavers’ real-life fearsomeness.

I first saw Shavers when he nearly took the championship – and there was just one back then, in my day (I’ve always wanted to write that) – from Muhammad Ali, who I still resented for stealing a decision from Jimmy Young in a title fight my grandfather loudly declared unjust.

“Earnie hit me so hard, he shook my kinfolk back in Africa,” a suitably impressed Ali would say after winning a close, but unanimous, 15-round decision.

One Friday night a couple years later, Shavers won me 50 cents (a quarter each from two friends who did not understand the power of The Acorn, whose vastly superior alternative nickname, “The Black Destroyer,” was apparently not network-friendly in 1979) when he fought Ken Norton to see who would get the next shot at new champ Larry Holmes.

Norton had beaten Ali in one of their three meetings on the judges’ scorecards, and quite probably two in reality, then barely lost to Holmes in the greatest fight I’d seen to that point. None of which meant anything when Shavers came out at the opening bell and did this:

So by the time Shavers’ well-earned title shot came around six months later, I had no doubt he would finally wear the crown. So what if Holmes had nearly shut Earnie out the first time around, losing just one of the 12 rounds, and that only on one judge’s card?

No way could any mortal stand up forever to Shavers’ punches, especially that overhand right.

So I didn’t worry when most of the first seven rounds went like their first go-round – Holmes moving side to side, stopping only to stick his left jab in Earnie’s face, preventing the Acorn from landing anything of substance. Until Shavers did this:

Watching it again, I still have absolutely no idea how Holmes got up from that right, or stayed upright until the bell. Clearly, neither did Shavers, who gassed himself – as was his wont -- while trying to follow up, and resumed eating punches until finally getting stopped in the 11th.

From there, Shavers knocked out some suckers. He also got beaten any time he ran into somebody who could box and move, or, like Raising Arizona star Randall “Tex” Cobb, defy physiology by taking his best shot and punching back.

You might be wondering what all this is doing in a column ostensibly about the Bills. Well, we took the kids to Cleveland on Sunday for the season finale between the Indians and Boston Red Sox, which meant following Buffalo’s visit from the New York Giants online, through the wonders of Gamedaycenter technology, then watching the replay at some later point if necessary.

Turned out to be a great move.

As the three-and-outs mounted, with Tyrod Taylor completing third-down passes well short of the yellow line or misfiring completely, while Buffalo’s nationally acclaimed defense yielded enough of Eli Manning’s underneath throws for the Giants to methodically build a 16-3 halftime lead on the way to a 24-10 crowd-silencing win, I kept thinking of Earnie.

Like The Acorn, Rex Ryan’s Bills have shown the ability to overwhelm lesser opponents with pure force. Also like Shavers, they have demonstrated that when that doesn’t work, there is no Plan B.

On Sunday, Buffalo barely had a Plan A.

Alternately running Karlos Williams again and again into the teeth of a Giants’ defense packed tight to stop him and throwing short passes in the resulting long-yardage situations never came close to working, especially without the downfield threat offered by Sammy Watkins. Not only did Williams, who came in averaging 7.8 yards per carry, only dent New York for a little more than 6 feet per try, the pounding eventually concussed the rookie, leaving the Bills without an obvious lead back heading into Sunday’s game at Tennessee.

Nor did Ryan or defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman ever figure out how to counter Manning’s quick tosses, largely abandoning their trademark blitzes for the same strangely passive tactics that yielded a franchise-worst performance against Tom Brady and New England two weeks earlier.

As columnist Mark Cannizzaro predicted in the New York Post, the “bully” Ryan built crumbled after getting hit in the face. The Bills ultimately lost their composure in a way that short-circuited any hope for a comeback.

While I took some shots at Mr. Cannizzaro's past work in my Bills-Giants preview, I have to admit: When you're right, you're right.

Pretty safe to guess Tennessee has taken note of the schemes that have exploited the flaws in Buffalo’s, and has had the benefit of a bye week to prepare. While most rookie quarterbacks would be raw meat for voracious blitzes, Marcus Mariota made a college career of quick throws and through three weeks as a professional, has completed almost 63 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Another quality Ryan’s Bills share with Shavers – their best performances lose a little luster in restrospect.

Rocking Ali before losing by a couple of rounds on the cards earned Earnie the acclaim of the boxing world, keeping him in the upper half of the heavyweight Top 10 and earning him his big fights with Holmes and Norton. Ali, however, turned out to have been just about thoroughly shot, losing his belt the next time out to Leon Spinks, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist who turned out to be the worst fighter to ever hold the undisputed title.

Norton, likewise, proved to be used up by his war with Holmes and skidding downhill when he faced Shavers, going on to endure an even quicker, more brutal knockout by another one-dimensional slugger, Gerry Cooney before thankfully retiring.

Buffalo’s season-opening thrashing of Indianapolis is also less impressive in light of the Colts’ struggles since. While they have won two straight against fellow members of the NFL’s lamest division, the AFC South, their inability to protect Andrew Luck ultimately led to the presumptive next superstar quarterback missing Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, leaving a cloud over the rest of their year.

Same goes for the beat-down the Bills delivered in South Florida, given that the Jets did basically the same thing Sunday in London, with a raft of stories before and after the subsequent firing of Joe Philbin showing the disarray in which the Dolphins spent the season’s first month.

Which brings us back to the Titans. As good as Mariota has looked, they are 1-2, with the only win coming over feeble Tampa Bay.

Mariota has also been sacked 12 times in his first three starts for the Titans, so the possibility exists for an early, Norton-style obliteration on Sunday in Nashville.

Or another crashing disappointment if those thunderous shots Ryan and the Bills have been promising since he was fired fail to land.

(NOTE: You, too, can follow @DavidStaba on the Twitter. That would be cool.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Trendy Tyrod's Team 'Overrated?'

Everyone around here seems pretty happy with the local football team these days.

Buffalo has also become a chic topic among the national media since last week's 41-14 demolition of the Dolphins in Miami. The Bills reached No. 10 in ESPN's weekly power rankings, while Sports Illustrated puts them at No. 8 and Fox Sports rates them sixth in the National Football League.

Much of the spike stems from Tyrod Taylor's rebound from his struggles for two-and-a-half quarters against New England to go 21-of-29 for 277 yards and three touchdowns in South Florida.

Kurt Warner, who knows a bit about coming out of nowhere to quarterback a playoff contender, ranked him as the league's No. 3 quarterback in Week 3 on, which also featured a sit-down interview with Tyrod at the top of its front page Saturday night and Sunday morning.

All the Tyrod love follows another piece theorizing that his early success after four years watching Joe Flacco in Baltimore could lead teams to have more patience with young quarterbacks, as well as a glowing profile in The New York Times.

Not everyone in the New York City press, though, is as enamored with the Bills as they prepare to host the Giants on Sunday in Orchard Park.

Writes Mark Cannizzaro in the New York Post:
This is a team that was getting waxed by the Patriots at home two weeks ago before a garbage-time rally in the final quarter after New England had lost interest. That rally turned the score into one that was not indicative of how much better the Patriots were. 
The Bills rebounded last week to dominate the Dolphins, but let’s be honest: The Dolphins are an underachieving, dysfunctional bunch with a head coach on the hot seat.
The Bills will face the Giants without their best running back, LeSean McCoy, out with a hamstring injury, and their best receiver, Sammy Watkins, out with a calf injury. Their quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, is a work in progress with the talent to make big plays, but vulnerable to disguised looks on defense.
Ripping Buffalo's current head coach was an integral part of Cannizzaro's beat during Rex Ryan's five season with the Jets, even when it required manipulating quotes to do so. You might remember Cannizzaro for his creation of a nontroversy after Buffalo's 37-14 win over Ryan's Jets in 2013. Seems Rex took his then-team to Dave & Busters, which the columnist cited as a motivating factor in the beat-down. After all, one of the Bills said so!
"Me personally, I feel it was disrespectful. I take my nephew to Dave & Busters,'' Bills defensive end Mario Williams told The Post.
Turns out Williams did not actually say that. So it's not particularly surprising Cannizzaro's column downplaying Buffalo's 2-1 start ran under the headline "How Giants can quickly shut up Rex Ryan's overrated Bills."

The trick, according to Cannizzaro:
Here is the Giants’ formula for success: Smack Ryan’s Bills in the mouth first, before the Bills have a chance to smack them. This is always the best way to neutralize a supposed bully. It also will slow the Bills down, because Ryan is a front-running coach whose teams reflect his personality.
This is not to say the man is necessarily wrong. New England doused the enthusiasm of a Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd ostensibly geared up to be the loudest assemblage in the history of anything with three quick touchdown drives abetted by some of the dumbest special teams penalties in the history of ever.

The Giants, however, are not the Patriots, no matter how many times they beat them in Super Bowls played an NFL lifetime ago.

Key to New England's 40-32 win was a masterful pass rush/coverage combination that led to eight sacks of a flustered Tyrod Taylor. The Giants have shown themselves in possession of neither element through three games.

With just how high Jean-Pierre Paul can count using only his digits still in question, his teammates have blown double-digit second-half leads in both their losses. Even in its win, New York gave up a 316-yard day to Kirk Cousins, best known for not being Robert Griffin III, as well as making throws like this:

The Giants have been better against the run, ranking second (to Buffalo) in yards allowed, in part because they have been so accommodating to throw against. The Bills, however, present a superior ground threat to the Falcons, Cowboys, Redskins or, for that matter, anyone else through three weeks, leading the NFL with 152.7 yards per game.

With LeSean McCoy sidelined, Karlos Williams gets his first start and a prime opportunity to keep his touchdown-a-game streak going.

Williams is averaging an almost-alarming 7.8 yards per carry, while neither Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams has been able to get above 3.3 for New York.

Which leaves any potential mouth-punching by the visitors to Eli Manning. While it feels a little weird to think of a 34-year-old, 12-season veteran with two Super Bowl rings as anyone's kid brother, you know you do, too.

Maybe it's the pictures you invariably see if you get all your sports news from snotty blogs, in which he either looks like he just got grounded ...

... smelled something horrific ...

... or got whacked across the forehead with a two-by-four:

As someone equally as unfortunately unphotogenic, I can appreciate that there's more to Eli than some goofy pictures. There are those two Super Bowl wins, four seasons of more than 4,000 passing yards and his reversal of form after a 2013 campaign in which he threw a career-high 27 interceptions.

Manning has improved his completion percentage and drastically cut his picks since Ben McAdoo (no relation to Bob) took over as offensive coordinator before last season. He still isn't nearly as surgical as Tom Brady, though, and is completing fewer of his attempts (64.8 percent to 74.4) for a shorter average gain (7.1 to 9.2) than Tyrod Taylor. Though he has not thrown an interception in 108 attempts, Manning has not exactly been mistake-free.

So expecting him to make like Brady, which his team's other shortcomings seem to require, and shred Ryan's schemes by spraying quick, short, accurate passes to a variety of receivers against a hyper-aggressive defense, feels like a stretch. Especially since Odell Beckham Jr., spectacular as he can be, is about his only healthy, reliable downfield receiver, with longtime Bills nemesis and former Patriots back Shane Vereen coming out of the backfield .

New York's best chance rests with the possibility that Cannizzaro is correct, and that both the oddsmakers who made the Bills a five-point favorite and the various national power rankings have placed too much emphasis on the routs of Indianapolis and Miami, and not nearly enough on the loss to New England.

The single biggest variable in that assessment remains Taylor. While Ryan's defense and quarterback are getting most of the attention, the Bills -- particularly Williams -- ran effectively in both wins. So if the Giants can keep Buffalo's 240-pound rookie runner in check, Taylor will have to show that he can carry the offense on his own when needed when the game is still close.

However things turn out this afternoon, this much is pretty certain. In the pages of the Post, the Bills will either lose because of Rex, or win despite him.

(Note: For additional pre-, post- and mid-game foolishness, follow @DavidStaba on the Twitter.)