The New York Giants do not have an easy offensive task ahead of them. They head west this weekend to face the Denver Broncos, who are 3-1 and coming off a bye. There’s good news for the Giants, if you want to call it that. The dominant Broncos defense hasn’t been quite as dominant through the first quarter of the season. They *only* rank seventh in defensive DVOA per Football Outsiders and sitting 13th in pass defense DVOA is falling off a cliff for this secondary. The Broncos, however, have tightened up their biggest weakness from last season, the run defense. Despite finishing first in defensive DVOA last season, the run defense was just 21st and opponents were able to impose their will on the ground. This year the Broncos are No. 1 against the run, which includes allowing just 203 rushing yards total over their first four games.
This would not be an easy defense to break at full strength, and the Giants certainly are not that.
By the numbers
Rush Yards: 77.8 yards per game (30th), 3.9 yards per carry (22nd)
Pass Yards: 248.6 yards per game (10th), 6.6 yards per attempt (23rd)
Total Yards: 326.4 yards per game (19th), 28.21 yards per drive (21st)
Points: 16.4 points per game (28th), 1.41 points per drive (27th)
Rush Yards: 50.8 yards per game (first), 2.4 yards per carry (first)
Pass Yards: 210.0 yards per game (11th), 62 yards per attempt (fifth)
Total Yards: 260.8 yards per game (first), 22.0 yards per drive (first)
Points: 18.5 points per game (seventh), 1.57 points per drive (eighth)
Figuring out the wide receivers
One of the complaints about the Giants offense is how predictable it’s become. But it’s going to be hard to be predictable when no one knows who’s even going to be playing.
Roger Lewis is the one healthy holdover at wide receiver from last week. Just think about that. One receiver who played last week will be healthy going into Sunday. It’s been talked about a lot, but it doesn’t make it any less insane.
Sterling Shepard is also still around, but he didn’t practice on Wednesday and his status for Sunday is up in the air. Travis Rudolph and Ed Eagan were promoted from the practice squad and Tavarres King was re-signed. Lewis and King rotated as the fourth and fifth receivers last season, but will need to play much bigger roles now. Rudolph impressed during the preseason and there’s a reason the Giants wanted to keep him on the practice squad, but there’s also a reason he didn’t make the team initially.
It might take a few games to know who should be playing what roles, especially once Shepard can come back to take over as the No. 1. The Giants will have less than a week of practice to get the roles and rotations before heading out against one of the league’s best secondaries, that’s not ideal.
There’s also the possibility the Giants don’t rely so much on 11 personnel. Out of necessity against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Giants had three tight ends on the field for the final drive. That’s not something they’ll do a lot of, but maybe there’s a few opportunities to go big and heavy and that situation doesn’t have to rule out a pass. Shane Vereen could also see some time in the slot and there could be more two-back sets with Vereen and Orleans Darkwa or Wayne Gallman on the field at the same time.
Getting more creative
Ben McAdoo’s offense is execution-based, something he took from Mike McCarthy in Green Bay. When it works, it looks like a well-oiled machine, but when it doesn’t, it feels like a slogging, predictable offense. Execution-based schemes are easier to run when there’s good players who can execute. The Giants were questionable in that department before all the injuries and they’re certainly not there now. It’s hard to imagine any of the current skill players beating Broncos defenders one-on-one.
Instead of hoping these players can win on their own, the Giants need to help them out and scheme them open. This doesn’t even need to be complex. In Week 3, the Buffalo Bills found success through the air against the Broncos without a lot of talent at receiver. They did that by putting their receivers in easy positions to win.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Bills gained 28 yards on a simple pick play. Buffalo was in 11 personnel -- good start -- with the two wide receivers on the tight end side. The important players here are tight end Charles Clay and slot receiver Jordan Matthews. At the snap, Clay runs up the field and takes out both his defender and the slot corner across from Matthews. As Matthews runs a crossing route, he has half of the field open as the receiver on the left ran a go route to clear out the corner.
All of it comes from just a little manufactured separation off the line and it took under three seconds for Tyrod Taylor to release the ball.
Two plays later the Bills gained another 28 yards on a switch release. Buffalo was again in 11 personnel, this time with Matthews stacked with Kaelin Clay on the left (bottom of screen). At the snap, Matthews ran up the seam while Clay started his route underneath Matthews before a long-developing route that ends down field on the opposite side’s numbers. The switch at the release and the play action with Taylor and LeSean McCoy causes all of Denver’s defenders to pass of Clay as ran across the field. It’s another wide open throw for a big gain.
Another key to the play is the isolated receiver, Zay Jones, running down the field, which drew the single-high safety over his way and past Clay’s route.
Both of these are plays simple enough to add into a gameplan within a week and complex enough to create big open spaces for receivers. The Giants are going to need some type of that, not just for this game, but for the rest of the season.
Unleashing Evan Engram
Evan Engram was only targeted four times against the Chargers. Two of those on the final drive after Odell Beckham’s injury and one of those resulted in the interception to officially end the game. On those four targets, Engram had no receptions -- a first for him this season. Engram had at least four receptions in each of the first four games.
To this point in the season, most of his work has been done as a traditional tight end. Per Sports Info Solutions, among the top-10 most targeted tight ends in the league, only Buffalo’s Charley Clay lines up as a traditional tight end more often than Engram and none line up in the slot less often. Though Engram is just one of four who have lined up wide more than 10 percent of the time.
Alignment % among top-10 most targeted Tight Ends pic.twitter.com/THlNarydk8— SportsInfo Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) October 11, 2017
Engram also hasn’t been targeted that often when he does line up in the slot. Only in Week 2 did he see more than half his targets from the lot. During his 11 target game in Week 4, just one came from the slot.
Evan Engram Weekly Slot Target%— SportsInfo Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) October 11, 2017
Week 1: 40% (2/5)
Week 2: 57% (4/7)
Week 3: 0% (0/7)
Week 4: 9% (1/11)
Week 5: 0% (0/4)
There was a concern when Engram entered the league that he was more of a big wide receiver than a tight end. While he’s been productive in the passing game, the Giants have tried so hard to make Engram a tight end, they’ve suppressed some of what him such a great prospect in college.
With a need at receiver, the Giants should move Engram around more to the slot, the outside, and don’t forget his best play of the year -- and possibly the Giants’ best play of the year -- came with Engram in the backfield. Right now, Engram is the Giants’ best playmaker and he’s going to have to start getting treated like it.
A second edge
We’ve spent so much time on what the Giants might do on offense, we haven’t really gotten to touch on the Denver defense. Well, it’s good. The secondary is one of the best in the league and they’ve figured out how to stop the run this season. But of course the scariest thing about this defense is the pass rush. As a whole, Denver hasn’t gotten a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They’re only 24th in defensive pressure rate, per Football Outsiders. But a lot like the Giants’ offensive line, when that pressure does come, it makes an impact.
The Broncos have two of the top 14 defenders in individual pass pressures. While much of the focus will be around Von Miller, he’s the one in 14th with 11 pressures. Shaquil Barrett is eighth with 12.5, though he has just one sack. Still, Barrett has been the complementary edge piece across from Miller the Broncos needed to replace DeMarcus Ware. It also insures if the Giants give too much attention and help to whoever is blocking Miller, there’s still a threat on the other side of the line.