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Giants vs. Bills: 5 Storylines to Follow

There is a difference between having a sense of urgency and forcing things, quarterback Eli Manning said Wednesday at his locker. The New York Giants are 0-1, but the only thing that really matters right now is going 1-0 on Sunday when the Buffalo Bills come to town.

“There is always urgency,” Manning said. “You have to understand the difference between stressing and forcing, and urgency. I think it’s still a matter of having great preparation, great work. It starts on the practice field, understanding the game plan, going out there and executing.”

Here are five storylines to follow heading into the Week 2:

1. On to Buffalo for home opener. Two weeks into the 2019 season, the Bills will have played more games in MetLife Stadium than the Giants. That’s right. Buffalo started the year with a comeback victory on the road against the New York Jets, who jumped out to a 16-0 lead only to have the Bills score 17 unanswered points. Sunday will be the first time a road team has played at the same stadium in consecutive weeks since Baltimore did it in 2016, also at MetLife Stadium.

“We’re getting ready to play a good Buffalo team who won a close game,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “They came back and beat the Jets. I know the head coach (Sean McDermott) very well. We got our start together on Andy Reid’s staff. The defensive coordinator (Leslie Frazier), we were on the same staff. I know a lot of people on their staff. They’re well-coached. Tough team. It’ll be a challenge for us.”

2. WR Sterling Shepard in concussion protocol; injury report. Shepard, who caught six passes for 42 yards to start his fourth season, is in the NFL concussion protocol. Linebacker Kareem Martin’s knee sprain will be an “extended deal” and is expected to take weeks rather than days to heal, according to Shurmur. Right guard Kevin Zeitler is dealing with a shoulder injury, but neither he nor Shurmur seemed concerned about it when asked on Wednesday. As for promising rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton, who has been hampered by a hamstring, Shurmur said they are hoping to have him available this week, but he couldn’t guarantee it. “I wouldn’t say he’s fine yet,” Shurmur said. Outside linebacker Markus Golden (hip) and rookie defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (shoulder) were limited in practice to start the week.

3. WR Russell Shepard is on standby. Players in Russell Shepard’s position never know when their number will be called, but they have to stay ready. The reason is for weeks like this. Russell Shepard is prepared to take on a larger role this week with the team down another wide receiver. Meanwhile, Bennie Fowler opened the season with five catches on five targets for 40 yards, and Cody Latimer had 74 yards on just three receptions against the Cowboys.

“You would lose a playmaker and a good player for us,” Manning said of Sterling Shepard. “We will see what happens, but we have other guys that can step up and make plays. … Cody, Bennie and Russell Shepard have been in the offense, they all played last year. They know what to do and have made plays for us.”

4. TE Evan Engram looks to continue hot start vs. another elite defense. Engram recorded career highs last week in receptions (11) and receiving yards (116), and caught a touchdown on the opening drive. He did so against 2018’s seventh-ranked defense in yards. On Sunday, the Giants face last year’s second-ranked unit. The Bills held the Jets to just 223 total yards in Week 1.

“That’s just trusting the game plan,” Engram said. “The coaches will draw up a really good game plan for us to learn and attack all week. We’re going to get a lot of different looks. The Bills are a real physical, downhill defense, they send a lot of blitzes, and they were one of the best defenses in the league last year, and they had a pretty good game this past Sunday. So, it’s going to have to be an all-around effort for everybody, and guys are going to have to step up and make plays when the opportunities come.”

5. Bills QB Josh Allen boasts big arm and big legs. Last but certainly not least, a major storyline heading into Week 1 – and coming out of it – was how the Giants defense would perform. All you need to know is that Dak Prescott’s perfect 158.3 passer rating was the first ever against the Giants (minimum 20 passes). The only quarterback with more rushing touchdowns than Prescott since the start of last season is Josh Allen, the Giants’ upcoming opponent. The seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft is also first among quarterbacks in 10-yard runs, second in rush yards and fourth in rush attempts. In the 2019 opener, Allen ran 10 times for 38 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. Allen also had the biggest arm in the 2018 draft class, which produced four top-10 picks at his position.

The good news for the Giants, who did not force a turnover or record a sack in Week 1, is that Allen has the third-highest interception rate (3.9% of pass attempts) in the NFL with a minimum of 224 attempts. Ryan Fitzpatrick (4.7) is first, Jameis Winston (4.1) is second, and Josh Rosen (3.8) is fourth. The Giants have lost their last 11 games in which they did not force a turnover.

“I would never comment on how in the mix anybody was (in past drafts),” Shurmur said. “I think that’s behind the scenes. That doesn’t do anybody any good. But I can comment on what we thought of him. We thought he was a big, strong thrower. A guy that had a chance to be a starter in the NFL, and he has been for them. I think he’s made steady improvements. He’s a very strong-armed guy. He’s helped them win some big games already. Just like any young player, you see where he’ll make mistakes and then correct them.”

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