The New York Giants’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers is disappointing and deflating. It snapped their six-game winning streak the loss also put the team’s playoff hopes in question.
While we saw much of what we have seen all year from the Giants, both on offense and on defense, let’s take a closer look at the snap counts and Pro Football Focus grades to see if there is any new insight to be gained.
Bad Offensive Line?
The feeling throughout the game was that the play of Eli Manning, identifying the rush and getting the ball out quickly, helped to neutralize the poor play of the offensive line.
Pro Football Focus, however, disagrees. Four of their top five offensive grades for the Giants belong to offensive linemen, in order: Marshall Newhouse (81.4), Bobby Hart, (80.2), Weston Richburg, (78.4), and John Jerry, (73.2).
According to PFF, Newhouse and Hart were even the Giants’ third and fourth best players overall as well.
Sterling Shepard, not Odell Beckham Jr.
Rounding out the top five grades for the Giants’ offensive players was Sterling Shepard with a 68.8. Curiously absent from the grade sheet is Odell Beckham, who was largely the Giants’ only offensive weapon Sunday evening. Shepard finished the game with four catches for 21 yards and a touchdown while Beckham finished with 10 catches for 100 yards. He might have added a touchdown except for an uncalled pass interference in the endzone.
The Giants’ next most effective receiver was Rashad Jennings with six receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Tight end Will Tye has emerged as the Giants’ workhorse at Tight End or H-Back with 47 offensive snaps (78 percent). Rookie tight end Jerell Adams is clearly the next off the bench and has a rising role in the offense with 18 snaps (30 percent) on offense. Considering the Giants played an even 60 offensive snaps, some quick math shows that the Giants actually used a two tight end set on three snaps. (Notable because the Giants hardly ever use anything but an “11” personnel grouping with one running back and one tight end).
With the tall (6-foot-6) and athletic Adams getting a bigger role in the offense, it’s curious then why Ben McAdoo would bring Larry Donnell on to the field. Donnell’s lone offensive snap ended in an interception. With Donnell not seeing the field for weeks, it was obvious to 11-year vet Lawrence Timmons to jump his route as Eli was throwing the ball. Giving Adams a 19th snap there might not have made the play so obvious and likely would have kept some uncertainty as to the tight end’s role as Adams is a capable blocker.
While Jennings had the most yards from scrimmage, 43 total in 30 snaps, it was rookie running back Paul Perkins who had the Giants’ best day on the ground. His ankle-breaking running style let him navigate the small holes and trash around the line of scrimmage and lead the Giants in rushing. In 23 snaps, Perkins picked up 38 yards on 7 runs (5.4 yards per carry) while Jennings picked up just 19 yards on 6 carries (3.2 yards per carry).
With Shane Vereen potentially returning next week, this raises the question about who should get Vereen’s snaps. The Giants seem to like Perkins and have a growing confidence in his abilities as a three-down running back. After being out for so long, might find his way back into the offense as a third down or two-minute back at the expense of Rashad Jennings and the seven snaps Bobby Rainey received at the end of the game.
Rookie DBs Lead The Defense
The Giants have been leaning on their rookie class this year, and it’s paid surprising dividends for the Giants’ defense.
According to PFF Eli Apple was the Giants’ best player Sunday. Apple played all 73 defensive snaps, giving up just three catches for 27 yards while recording an interception. He was graded with a team-high 85.5 for his efforts. Predictably, Janoris Jenkins played every snap as well, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played 44 snaps (60 percent). Apple and DRC seem to have switched roles in the second half of the season, which might serve to keep the elder corner fresher at the end of the season while getting the rookie valuable experience — and it helps that he has been playing very well.
Behind the Giants’ corners, safety Andrew Adams checks in with a 77.2 grade in 57 snaps. Adams has been playing remarkably well since he has been the Giants’ primary free safety. It’s even more remarkable considering how well third round pick Darian Thompson was playing before losing his rookie season to a foot injury. The Giants have struggled with the safety position for years, so it is a boon to get an apparent steal from a third round rookie, but also have an undrafted rookie to be a worry-free starter is pretty incredible. While the Giants’ depth might suffer from Thompson’s injury, the upside at the position is heartening.
Defensive Line Shows Up
Since great defensive back play usually results in the play going elsewhere, watching the game it was Olivier Vernon who stood out as the Giants’ best player. Thanks to two tackles, two sacks, four hurries, and great run defense in his 72 snaps, Vernon earned an 83.6 grade from PFF. Interestingly, Jason Pierre-Paul earned the fifth highest defensive grade with a 76.0 despite leaving before the half with a groin injury.
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison continues to be a monster in the middle of the Giants’ defense, recording five run stops and nine total tackles in 51 total snaps (70 percent). Fellow starter John Hankins only played 35 snaps, leaving in the middle of the game with a thigh bruise, though he would return. With Hankins and JPP absent for much of the game, it was a busy night for Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, Jay Bromley, and Robert Thomas. All three saw (perhaps) their most action of the season. With JPP out after the half and Owamagbe Odighizuwa out for the game, Romeo Okwara and Kerry Wynn played 32 and 25 snaps respectively, and both players recorded a pair of tackles.
Inside Bromley played 16 snaps while Thomas played 15 as they not only filled in for the injured Hankins but also giving Harrison a rest.
Busy Game For The Linebackers
Defensive captain Jonathan Casillas lead the way for the linebackers with 57 snaps, racking up 8 tackles and a forced fumble. Next behind Casillas, Keenan Robinson played 50 snaps helping to cover the middle of the field. Robinson has seen his role in the defense increase as the season has worn on thanks to the range provided by his athletic ability. Lining up at both SAM linebacker and along the defensive line, Devon Kennard played 42 (58 percent) defensive snaps, getting four tackles and helping to bring pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. Finally nominal starter Kelvin Sheppard saw his role increase as the Giants sought to shut down Le’Veon Bell on the ground. Shepard played 34 defensive snaps, usually on early downs or in running situations.