EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Choosing the most formidable challenge facing the Giants' offensive line against the Buffalo Bills tomorrow requires a multiple-choice question.
- A) Opening holes for the team's thus-far lackluster rushing attack?
- B) Protecting Eli Manning from the defense that led the NFL in sacks each of the previous two seasons?
- C) Playing with poise and at a high level of proficiency in Ralph Wilson Stadium, one of the NFL's loudest venues?
- D) All of the above, because Buffalo has the NFL's most formidable defensive line.
Let's go with D, since the skill and tenacity of the Bill's front – tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, and ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes – encompasses the other issues the Giants will confront.
"They're very talented, so it'll be really good for us," center Weston Richburg said. "We want to be a good offensive line, so it'll be a good test for us to see how we handle their talent, because they're definitely very talented."
"Every single guy on that defensive starting front would be the best player on another line, you know what I mean?" said Justin Pugh, who has started at both left guard and tackle this season. "You have Pro Bowlers all the way across the board, so it's going to be a great competition for us. You have to go and look back on what teams did that were successful against them and try to do some of those things."
Very few teams have had success running on the Bills. They're No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense, allowing an average of just 74.0 yards through three games.
"They are the number one defense against the run," coach Tom Coughlin said. "They're good and they're physical."
The Giants, meanwhile, have not run the ball as well as they would like, gaining 99, 97, and 84 yards on the ground vs. Dallas, Atlanta and Washington. They are averaging only 3.6 yards a carry and just seven of their 78 carries have gained 10 or more yards.
"We're working hard to block the run and to block the run consistently," Coughlin said. "Sometimes, it's not as well-defined as you'd like it to be. Quite frankly, we had two balls that should have come out a week ago. You've got to step through some arms or run through some arms on occasion as well. I think it's a combination of things."
"Especially on the road against a good defensive line, I think you need to run the ball to keep them out of what they want to do, which is rush the passer, bring pressure, and try to confuse you," guard Geoff Schwartz said. "So it's definitely going to be paramount to try and establish the run game early on. I think we just need to do it. We've got to stop talking about it, and we need to go out and be able to do it."
Schwartz and his fellow linemen are confident they can do that.
"I think there's definitely positives," Schwartz said. "We need to finish better, we need to understand sometimes who we've got, where we're going. And we're close. We're close to breaking that 100-yard mark."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face the Bills
"I think we've progressed in areas and it's just up to us to keep going," Richburg said. "There's like 20 games left, so we've got to keep chopping at the wood. It's a process, we're still working on the process. We're never going to be content, we always want to be better. We've just got to keep going, keep practicing, keep playing hard and it'll come."
Rashad Jennings leads the Giants in rushing, but he is averaging only 32 yards a game and 2.9 yards an attempt. But like his teammates, he believes the Giants can dent the formidable Bills defense.
"They're a good defense, strong up front, obviously," Jennings said. "We've seen the damage that they can do, but I think, with that being said, we don't pay attention to how active the linebackers are, how good their secondary is, too. They're a good defense all the way around. We're going to have a good challenge. We've got a good game plan, we just need to execute."
The front four combined for 40 of Buffalo's 54 sacks last season, and they have half of the team's six thus far this year. They'd love to add to that total by making Manning's afternoon miserable.
"Their strength is up front, and because of that, they'll try to pressure the quarterback and make him commit some errors," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "When you do that, you may give up some plays downfield."
"They're good," Manning said. "They're talented on defense, they've got good players, they've got a good scheme, they've done a good job. I guess the Patriots (the only team to beat Buffalo) had a good game plan against them; (they) made some plays, did some good things, but they still got pressure on Tom (Brady). But versus Indianapolis and versus Miami, they got after them pretty good. We've got to be sharp up front and on all their different looks and their players. We've got to do a good job on third down and take care of the football, can't turn the ball over against them."
Sound like a multiple-choice pathway toward a chance to win the game.