Then last Sunday the turnover-prone Manning returned in a 36-25 loss to Seattle. He lost a fumble and threw three interceptions, including one that went for a 94-yard touchdown with a little more than a minute left.
The result could have simply been an aberration. Brandon Browner’s long return, for example, came after the ball bounced off the hands of wide receiver Victor Cruz. Take that away and the Giants might have scored and Manning could have finished with four touchdown passes and two interceptions.
But that did not happen, and now, in the , the Giants will face the league’s best ball-hawking defense.
The Bills enter Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium leading the league in takeaways (16), interceptions (12) and turnover margin (11). Their opportunistic defense, which has returned a league-leading three interceptions for touchdowns, picked off both Tom Brady and Michael Vick four times, propelling Buffalo to a 4-1 record and a tie atop the A.F.C. East with the New England Patriots, whom they defeated earlier this season.
Last season, Buffalo was 28th in the N.F.L. with only 11 interceptions. This season, playing out of a base 3-4 defense, the Bills have blitzed only 22 percent of the time. Rather than apply overwhelming pressure, they tend to drop players back into coverage, anticipating mistakes by the offense. The tradeoff is that the Bills give up long drives. They rank 30th in total defense, allowing an average of 421.8 yards per game.
“Pressure teams want to go three-and-out, and these guys are saying, ‘We’ll force a 15-play drive and somewhere in there you’re going to make a mistake,’ ” Giants guard Mitch Petrus said.
According to the Web site Football Outsiders, seven of the Bills’ interceptions have been “unusual circumstance” — deflected passes, passes tipped or bobbled by receivers, or, in one case, a pass thrown in desperation as time expired. In other words, the total could very well be lower.
But the Giants have been susceptible to interceptions off deflections. Coach said Friday that it was important that Manning communicate with his receivers.
“It’s got to be decisive,” he said. “So you work very hard to put yourselves in position where you’re not so contested that the ball ends up being tipped.”
The Bills’ defensive philosophy does not pivot on reaching the quarterback. The defense has only four sacks, last in the league. But the Giants maintain that the Bills’ front, led by nose tackle Kyle Williams and the rookie end Marcell Dareus, is tough to handle.
“They may not get the sack, but they get enough pressure on the quarterback and they force quarterbacks into errors,” tackle Kareem McKenzie said.
Expecting opposing quarterbacks to make mistakes is a high-risk strategy. If the offensive line can handle the pressure, the quarterback should have time to pick apart the defense. But two of the league’s best — Brady and Vick — had trouble doing so against a secondary led by safety George Wilson. Now it’s Manning’s turn.
“They’re just aggressive,” Cruz said. “They get to the ball well, they hunt the ball down, they’re trying to strip it, they’re trying to disrupt routes, they’re trying to disrupt timing. When you’re aggressive as much as they are, a lot of big plays will fall into your hands.”
Defensive end Justin Tuck (groin/neck), running back Brandon Jacobs (knee), guard Chris Snee (concussion) and fullback Henry Hynoski (neck) have been ruled out for Sunday. Snee had played in 108 consecutive games, including seven in the playoffs. … Center David Baas (neck) and long-snapper Zak DeOssie (concussion) are questionable.