This weekend, the training wheels come off the New York Giants’ bicycle, as they begin a string of four games in a row against teams with winning records starting with a visit out west to face the Seattle Seahawks.
A win against the Seahawks will certainly go a long way toward quieting critics down who have been snickering about the quality of football being played in the NFC East, but for Giants head coach Joe Judge, the objective this weekend is no different than the objective in the weeks prior.
“Our intention is always to just keep improving as a team every week,” Judge said. “I know it looks like we’re down in the home stretch, but we still have five games to go. Right now, there is a third of the season pretty much that still has to be played. There’s a lot of football left to be played, and we have to keep that in mind.
“Over the course of the next five weeks, we have to make tremendous improvement as a team. That being said, we’re going to always do everything we can to give our players a chance to be successful out there.”
Their playoff hopes, even if they claim they’re not focused on that, depend on it. So let's break it all down and see what the Giants are up against this weekend
Giants on Offense: How Much Will Things Change if Daniel Jones Can’t Play?
There is good news and bad news concerning quarterback Daniel Jones.
The good news is that he’s definitely showing signs of progress in his rehab from a hamstring strain. Although he didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday (that’s the bad news by the way), he was able to come out on the field to get some work in on the side, which is something he wasn’t able to do Wednesday.
So while all signs are pointing to Jones not playing this week—next week against Arizona is more realistic—that means the offense will likely be in the hands of backup Colt McCoy.
Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was asked about what changes with the offense if Daniel Jones can’t play, and his response was to make things as comfortable for Colt McCoy as possible.
When asked if he meant to scale back or cut down the offense, Garrett said, “I don’t know that it’s scale back or cut down. There’s nothing mentally or physically that Colt is not capable of doing. I wouldn’t look at it that way. You’re always trying to create an environment where your players are comfortable with what they’re doing.”
Let’s get something out of the way. Colt McCoy is not Daniel Jones. Not even close. So to figure out what changes we might expect on offense, let’s look at what Jones does well and what McCoy does well.
Jones’s skillset has fit in nicely with the Giants vertical passing concepts this year, showing the arm strength to push the ball down the field on select shots. Jones’s 63% adjusted completion percentage on the deep ball is the best among NFL quarterbacks with 25 or more pass attempts of 20+ yards.
He also has a 158.3 NFL passer rating on pass attempts of 20+ yards thanks to a combination of his strong arm and some speed at receiver in Darius Slayton (who, by the way, is on this week’s injury report with shoulder and toe ailments) and tight end Evan Engram. Engram (53) and Slayton (41, touchdown) have both been the recipients of Jones’ two deepest passes this year.
McCoy doesn’t have that kind of arm strength, but what he does well is throw the shorter to intermediate-range passes, which of course are more of a staple of the West Coast offense. Thus, one change on offense that is likely to come about if Jones is indeed sidelined is fewer vertical routes and more of the shorter, crossing patterns in which the onus will be on the receiver and tight ends to gain the yardage.
The Seahawks are no doubt aware that the strength of the Giants offense has been its running game, which this weekend will be looking for its seventh consecutive game with 100+ yards rushing. Thus objective No. 1 for the Seahawks defense no doubt is to shut down the Giants running game and make McCoy beat them with his arm.
Seattle has the league’s third-best run defense which has given up 89.3 rushing yards per game and an average of 3.7 yards per carry, third-best in the league. Their run defense features linebacker Bobby Wagner, the very underrated Poona Ford and Jarran Reed in the defensive interior, and old friend Damon Harrison, who gets sprinkled into the mix.
The Giants run blocking has been much better of late, which is a big reason why the running game has been successful. But another reason why the Giants running game has been so impressive has been Jones, who has been solid in executing designed runs like boots and rollouts, RPOs, and zone reads to keep defenses honest.
McCoy, as head coach Joe Judge said earlier this week, has some mobility, but we’re not talking on the same level as the more athletic Jones. If the Giants are to get the running game cranked up, they could go with more heavy packages that include two blocking tight ends (or an extra offensive lineman) and the use of fullback Eli Penny, who last week played a season-high 14 snaps.
Giants on Defense: Do They Have Enough Firepower to Slow Down the ‘Hawks?
The Seahawks are among the few teams the Giants face this season with a legitimate three-pronged attack.
The offense starts with “the Chef,” quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson has been on fire the last two weeks, going 46 out of 59 (79.9%) for 427 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions over that span.
Since shifting the focus of the offense around Wilson, it’s paid off for the Seahawks. They rank third in points scored per game (31.0), fourth in passing yards per game (273.8), and fifth in average total yards per game (391).
Individually, Wilson is third in total passing yards (3,216), and his 70.7% completion rate is second, just behind Drew Brees of the Saints (73.5%). He throws a unique type of deep ball on an arc that Giants defensive back James Bradberry said can be tricky to defend.
“When you compare it to a rainbow, the thing about a rainbow is when it comes down and the receiver has the basket, it kind of falls right on top of it,” Bradberry explained.
“It’s hard for a cornerback that’s either on the side of the receiver or behind him to make a play because it drops in over their head. Versus if he had a guy who threw a ball short and it came at a different angle straight down. I’m able to get my hand up and knock it down. If it comes over top, even if you’re tall, it’s hard for you to make a play on that.”
Wilson is also capable of hurting a defense with his legs, and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said that the question of assigning a spy isn’t necessarily cut-and-dried.
“In terms of just talking football, as the line of scrimmage changes, certain people have the philosophy that the spy or mirror player has to close the line of scrimmage. Some people stay back there.
"To me, you have to pick your poison. Are you going to have more space so he can have vision, or do you want to close so he can get to him quickly when it declares?”
The Giants run defense has, for the most part, done well to contain mobile quarterbacks this year by playing a discipline contain game. There’s certainly no reason to expect that to change this weekend.
And look for the Giants to try to exploit that Seahawks offensive line, which has given up 34 sacks this year (11 in the last three games), tied for third-most (with the Washington Football Team) in the league.
Much talk has been made about the Seahawks receiving duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and with good reason. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been moving the two around more in the formation to create advantageous mismatches, and that has paid off for both the team and the players.
Metcalf, the NFL’s receiving leader with 1,039 yards, already has topped the century mark. He is also the second most frequently targeted receiver on the deep ball (20+ yards) with 24 pass attempts, trailing Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill (26).
Metcalf is tied with Adam Thielen of the Viking for the most deep-ball touchdown (4), but he also leads the nine receivers with at least 20 deep ball targets in drops with two.
At 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, Metcalf is a big, physical, and fast player who is hard to jam off the line of scrimmage. But Metcalf does have weaknesses in his game, specifically his hands.
He’s dropped eight balls this year, three in the last two games alone. His yards after the catch average (4.9 yards/reception) don’t look all that impressive and puts him toward the middle of the pack. Still, his ability to separate—he’s averaging 2.7 yards of separation—makes it clear why he can be a nightmare to cover.
If we learned nothing else from watching the Eagles trying to cover Metcalf last week, it’s that assigning one man to cover him might not necessarily be the best way to go. The Eagles put Darius Slay, their best cornerback, on Metcalf for most of the evening, and Metcalf still caught eight out of 11 passes for 158 yards.
While Bradberry is no stranger to covering big, physical receivers from his NFC South days, perhaps a better option, given Lockett's presence, would be bracketing Metcalf and having Bradberry try to minimize Lockett’s contributions.
Surprisingly, not much is being said about Seahawks running back Chris Carson. Carson returned to action last week against the Eagles after missing time from a foot injury.
Carson is a dual-threat as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. He is averaging nearly 5.0 yards a pop and 3.47 yards after contact on his rushing attempts this season, and 7.1 yards per reception. When Wilson gets into trouble, Carson is the guy to watch for, as his skillset can allow for the Seahawks to dink and dunk their way down the field.
As a runner, he’s been more productive running to the left side and is a tough, physical runner who can wear down a defense. He’s averaging 3.47 yards after contact and has 15 broken tackles in seven games played this year. The 5-foot-11, 222-pound Carson, projected to see increased action this weekend, is a punishing runner who seeks contact and seems to relish running guys over.
He’s especially dangerous in the red zone. Last season Carson scored seven rushing touchdowns on 39 red zone attempts, where he was called upon on 56.6% of the Seahawks’ red-zone plays.
Due to his injury, he hasn’t had as many carries this year, but that hasn’t stopped him from being just as productive, scoring three red-zone touchdowns on 13 rushing attempts.
As a receiver, Carson has caught four out of five red-zone pass targets for 45 yards and three touchdowns this year. The Giants have been mostly solid with tackling this season and will need to keep that up to keep Carson from bailing out the Seahawks offense if no other options are available.
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