Last Sunday’s performance by the New York Giants was far from ideal, as the offense had a hard time staying on the field, and the defense had a hard time getting off the field in their 27-13 loss to the Denver Broncos.
But the Giants don’t have a lot of time to dwell on the past, as they look to record their first win of the 2021 season against the Washington Football Team on Thursday night.
Last year, the Giants were quite fortunate to secure two very close wins against Washington, in Week 6 (20-19) and Week 9 (23-20). With that said, a lot has changed for both teams, as both have improved and reinforced several key areas.
In this installment, we look at the offensive side of the ball.
Giants (Daniel Jones): If there’s a more frustrating player on the Giants right now than Daniel Jones, we’d like to know who it is. Jones has a big arm, mobility, and more than acceptable accuracy to succeed in this league, but for all the good he brings to the table, the turnovers are a big problem.
Jones recorded his 30th career fumble in 28 games last week, and why? Because he feels he has something to prove with his toughness by lowering his shoulder and picking up an extra yard because he treats every play like it’s a last-ditch effort?
Until Jones learns that it’s okay to live to see another down, and until he learns to slide—one of these days, he’s going to dive headfirst on the run, and he’s going to get dinged, which is going to hurt the team worse than these fumbles—the frustrating cycle of Jones continuing to hurt the team with his noble intentions is not going to go away anytime soon.
Washington (Taylor Heinicke): Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip subluxation three minutes into the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers and is now on injured reserve. That means that Taylor Heinicke, whom the Giants also saw last year in the second meeting with the Football Team, will be at the offense’s helm.
Heinicke delivered a stout performance in relief of Fitzpatrick, finishing his night with 122 yards and one touchdown pass while completing 73.3 percent of his pass attempts. Heinicke isn’t just another backup quarterback in this league; he gives the WFT an advantage because he was with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Carolina, so he knows this system inside and out.
Although Heinicke’s experience has been limited, the one edge he brings over Fitzpatrick is better athleticism, which potentially offers Turner more options on offense and more things the Giants defense will have to look out for.
Edge – Washington: It’s easy to go with Jones here given that he’s yet to lose against Washington, but remember, it takes all-11 on offense, defense, and special teams to put together a win.
Heinicke appears to be a little less of a gambler than Jones. If we go based on last week’s performances alone, not only does Heinicke have the edge in completion percentage (73.3% to Jones’s 59.9 %), but he only threw three bad passes to Jones’s seven.
Giants (Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell, Eli Penny): The good news is that Saquon Barkley returned and suffered no setbacks. But numbers aside—and to be fair, the entire Giants running game last week had its struggles—Barkley still doesn’t look all the way back as there was very little power in his game. He didn’t have any broken tackles last week in his ten carries (in his rookie season, he finished with 30). But again, to expect Barkley to go from zero to 100 mph isn’t fair nor realistic.
It didn’t help that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett appears to be still trying to figure out how to get the most out of Barkley. It's also fair to give him a little more time considering how little actual on-field time Garrett has had to work with Barkley. Meanwhile, Devontae Booker also struggled to find daylight, rushing for seven yards on four carries.
Washington (Anthony Gibson, J.D. McKissic): Outside of coughing up a bad fumble inside their own five at the beginning of the fourth quarter against the Chargers, lead running back Antonio Gibson ran for 90 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average. Gibson did injure his shoulder late in the game, but he’s expected to be active for the game.
Edge - Giants: Interestingly, Barkley and Gibson have the same career average yards per rush attempt (4.7). Barkley, however, is more of an all-around weapon given his receiving ability, where despite the head-scratching usage by the Giants' last two offensive coordinators, he’s averaged 8.1 yards per route run to Gibson’s 6.8. He’s contributed an average of 38.1 receiving yards to Gibson’s 17.7. Barkley may or may not look just yet like his old self, but as long as he continues to not have any setbacks, he'll get there eventually.
Giants (Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Kadarius Toney, Collin Johnson): The Giants’ top three receivers—Golladay, Shepard, and Slayton—all had respectable showings in terms of yardage, with Shepard leading the way with 113 yards on seven receptions and one touchdown.
Golladay faced some double teams early in the game against the Broncos, a strategy that subsided as the game entered garbage time. But one can’t help but wonder if his hamstring was still a factor because out of the Giants receivers last week, Golladay had the lowest average separation rate (0.93 yards per NFL NextGen Stats).
Slayton had two dropped passes last week, bring his 2+ year career total to 11. Not good.
Washington (Terry McLaurin, Adam Humphries, Dyami Brown, Cam Sims, DeAndre Carter, Dax Milne): Outside of McLaurin, who caught all four of his targets for 62 yards, the rest of the Washington receivers were otherwise quiet, combining for 25 receiving yards. (To be fair, Washington did lean a little more on its running game after the Fitzpatrick injury.) Brown, the rookie, saw most of his work in the slot, coming up with one catch on four targets and a goose egg in the contested catch department (two opportunities).
Edge - Giants: The Giants receivers had a little better luck last week in the contested catch department, coming up with five out of six of those passes, whereas Washington’s receivers were one of three. But a problem with the Giants receivers continues to be separation.
According to NFL NextGenStats, except for rookie Kadarius Toney, who in limited snaps had an average separation of 6.59 yards, no other Giants receiver could separate for more than 2.26 yards (that being Shepard), which was well below the league average of 2.87 yards.
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Olivier Dumont takes a deep dive into the numbers, personnel and matchups between the New York Giants offense (running and passing) and the Atlanta Falcons defense to see which team has the competitive edge.
Washington’s main receivers—McLaurin and Humphries—easily topped the league average in separation, and it wasn’t even close. But the hidden factor here is that the Giants receivers were targeted 36 times to Washington’s 27, so in evaluating these numbers, one must look at that on a bit of a curve.
The Giants get the slight edge here, but again, Golladay’s average separation in the first game is something to keep an eye on going forward.
Giants (Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith): Giants head coach Joe Judge said he was “hopeful” of having Evan Engram back this week from his calf injury, but that isn't happening as Engram was ruled out Wednesday. Interestingly the Giants didn’t call up another tight end with Engram out last week. Instead, they rolled with Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith. Not surprisingly, the Giants were in 12-personnel (which we think might have helped the running game a bit more) on only 24% of their offensive snaps last week.
But let’s stick with Smith and Rudolph. Smith was deployed primarily as a blocker.
Rudolph only caught two out of five pass targets and didn’t come down with his one contested-catch opportunity. Freshly healed from his off-season foot surgery, Rudolph’s 2.03 average separation was just behind Shepard’s 2.26 yards but still below the league average (2.87 yards).
Also of note is that Rudolph’s average depth of target last week was 1.6 yards, as perhaps the Giants didn’t want to overtax him in his first live-action since last year.
Washington (Logan Thomas, Rickey Seals-Jones, John Bates): Both Seals-Jones and Bates were held to very low snap counts against the Chargers, with Bates only receiving two inline and Seals-Jones logging in 10 total from both the slot and the inline position (neither received a single target).
However, when you have a tight end that’s as consistent and as talented as Thomas is, it’s understandable why both Bates and Seals-Jones didn’t see a lot of reps.
Thomas's stock has risen in the league following a big breakout season in 2020, where he collected 670 yards on 72 receptions with six touchdowns and only five drops. He made his presence felt last Sunday with a big touchdown snag, Washington’s only touchdown of the game. Thomas proved to be a huge mismatch in the slot for Washington, and although he was only targeted three times, he came up with all his pass targets for a team-best 147.9 NFL rating.
Edge - Washington: A healthy Evan Engram might sway things over to the Giants side, but until such time when Rudolph’s employment more closely resembles his hey-day, Washington gets the edge here.
Giants (Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux, Will Hernandez, Nate Solder, Ben Bredeson, Billy Price): Despite all the unit's scrutiny, the Giants' offensive line wasn't horrible against the Broncos. The unit finished 12th league-wide with an 86.9 pass-blocking efficiency rating.
Standing out from the pack was the center Gates, who did not allow a single sack, hit, or hurry over 61 snaps on the day, per Pro Football Focus.
The run blocking was another story. The Giants had most of their run-game success outside the tackles and struggled to open creases inside.
“We’ve got to run the ball better, which is the main point,” said center Nick Gates. “You’re not going to win too many games if you can’t run the ball on the ground and be able to pound the rock. I felt pass-pro was a lot better than it was this time last year and we’ve got to keep excelling on that and keep moving forward when it comes to that.”
There were also some issues in the interior with picking up stunts, something to keep an eye on against Washington as their defensive front does that so well and who figures to deploy quite a bit of against this still young Giants offensive line.
Did we also mention that this offensive line has to block a Washington pass rush that features edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat? According to NextGenStats, the Washington pass rushers pretty much hovered around the league average for separation from the quarterback (4.52), with Sweat averaging 4.8 yards and Young at 4.55 yards.
Washington (Chase Roullier, Charles Leno Jr., Wes Sweitzer, Brandon Scherff, Sam Cosmi, Ereck Flowers, Cornelius Lucas, Saahdiq Charles, Tyler Larsen): Coming into the season, Washington had some questions on their offensive line (who didn’t?). And although they held the Chargers to only one sack, their overall pass-blocking efficiency last week was worse than the Giants’, finishing with an 80.9 pass-blocking efficiency, 24th in the league.
If there is a spot where the Giants might be able to exploit, it would be at right tackle where Cosmi, who allowed the one sack and two hurries for a 90.4 pass-blocking efficiency rating, struggled to contain his opponents.
Edge - Giants: The Giants offensive line displayed plenty of growth on Sunday. Losing Lemieux to a knee injury after only being on the field for 17 snaps doesn’t help their case against a terrifying Washington pass rush led by Chase Young.
That said, their pass protection was solid—a lot more solid than Washington’s as the Football Team will have to deal with a Giants pass rush in which the front of Leonard Williams, Azeez Ojulari, Dexter Lawrence, and Lorenzo Carter all averaged less than the league rate of 4.52 yards separation from the quarterback.
The Giants won the tally--barely at that--on offense, 3-2 , but in Week 1, neither team set the stage on fire with its performance, as at the end of the day, Washington outscored the Giants by three points despite being able to run the ball more efficiently.
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