Not many expected this showdown between the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers to be between two winless teams. The battle of 2004 quarterbacks traded for each other was expected to be one last battle — they have only played each other twice — to get a leg up on a playoff spot. Philip Rivers has kept up his end of the bargain he’s eighth by Football Outsiders’ DVOA — but some of his teammates haven’t been able to keep up. Here are a few things to look for when Rivers and the Chargers have the ball on Sunday.
By The Numbers
Passing Yards: 216.5 yards per game (14th), 7.0 yards per attempt (14th)
Rushing Yards: 142.8 per game (29th), 4.6 yards per attempt (25th)
Total Yards: 359.3 yards per game (25th), 33.07 yards per drive (21st)
Points: 23.8 points per game (25th), 2.05 points per drive (20th)
Passing Yards: 269 yards per game (sixth), 7.4 yards per attempt (11th)
Rushing Yards: 67.5 yards per game (29th), 3.6 yards per attempt (t-22nd)
Total Yards: 336.5 yards per game (15th), 36.08 yards per drive (fifth)
Points: 18 points per game (24th), 1.8 points per drive (20th)
The Chargers and Giants are alike in many ways and one is how the offense has functioned on a pass-run level. Through four weeks the Giants have the second-highest pass to run ratio in the league. The Chargers are fourth. Both have thrown the ball more than twice as often as than they’ve run it. There’s plenty of factors that go into this, one of which being the score. On average, the Chargers have started their offensive drives with a six-point deficit, which ranks 28th in the league -- the Giants are 29th at minus-7.11.
Something is going to have to give because both teams can’t be down big during the game. But like the Giants, the Chargers haven’t been great -- or good, or ok -- running the ball when they keep it on the ground. Los Angeles has the 11th-best offense by DVOA, but that comes from being sixth for the pass, but just 27th on the ground.
Making the Chargers abandon the run would force them to rely on what they do best more — Rivers can still sling it — but it would also make them more predictable -- something we know is not good. But making the Chargers try to force the run would put that offense at a disadvantage. What the Giants can’t do is let the Chargers get going on the ground like they have with some other opponents this season -- the Giants rank 31st in DVOA against the run this season.
Covering Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen is one of the best receivers in the NFL. He’s been hurt and he’s not flashy, which keeps him out of the typical national discussion. But there’s really no weakness in his game -- he can win anywhere on the field. One of the things that make him so hard to defend is how good of a route runner he is, especially on the small details that create major separation.
Here’s a play from last week against the Philadelphia, where Allen used a simple false step and head fake to create separation from rookie corner Rasul Douglas (bottom of screen). Allen worked him inside, which opened up the sideline for the receiver. This type of play is not unusual for him.
His route-running ability also makes him one of the best receivers in the league against zone coverage. The Chargers love sending him on crossing routes of differing lengths and if there’s a hole in the middle of the field, Allen will find it to create an easy throwing lane.
Allen is ninth in receptions, fourth in targets, and fifth in passing yards. He’s been Philip Rivers’s favorite target whenever he’s healthy and he’s already back to himself after missing 15 and a half games last season. He doesn’t have one dominant trait, but he’s just as dangerous as any receiver the Giants will face this season.
Generating a Pass Rush
The Giants rely almost exclusively on Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon to create a pass rush on the edge. This year Pierre-Paul has played on 94.2 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps and Vernon has been in on 77.6 percent. Both are taking some ailments into Sunday. Pierre-Paul has a shoulder injury, but has said he’ll take the field against the Chargers. Vernon has been dealing with an ankle injury. He has not practiced this week and his status for Sunday is more uncertain.
Regardless of the injuries -- or maybe because of them -- the Giants haven’t been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. Per charting from Football Outsiders, the Giants are 26th among all teams in defensive pressure rate after finishing eighth last season. An absence of pressure has obviously led to a lack of sacks as the Giants rank 27th among defenses in sack rate.
Los Angeles hasn’t run out the offensive line it imagined to start the season, but it’s been effective enough. The Chargers have allowed the 11th-lowest pressure rate on offense per Football Outsiders and while offensive pressure rate can sometimes be misleading -- the Giants rank fourth-best in that category -- those along the Chargers’ line aren’t getting embarrassingly beat by defenders when they do allow pressure. Philip Rivers has gotten sacked on just 3.8 percent of hs drop backs, which would be a career-low if it holds.
Forcing Field Goals
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Chargers have been able to move the ball down the field without much of a problem. They’re fifth in the league by yards per drive and have the fewest three-and-outs per drive of any offense. A lot of this comes in chunk plays, too, since they average just the 17th-most plays per drive and are 23rd in time of possession per drive.
Where the Chargers have struggled so far this season is ending those drives with points. Despite the top-five yardage average, Los Angeles is just 20th in points per drive. The question will be if that’s going to be a continuing problem for the Chargers. Much of the scoring struggles so far have come from not being able to convert field goals. Los Angeles has been 30th in field goals per drive and while that could be good if every scoring drive is a touchdown, but the Chargers had been ailed by a rookie kicker who was wildly inconsistent on his attempts. While Younghoe Koo was a great story, he converted just three of his six field goal attempts this season, a 50 percent rate that tied for the worst in the league. One of those attempts could have sent a Week 1 game against the Denver Broncos to overtime and another could have beaten the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.
Los Angeles just cut Koo and signed Nick Novak, who served as the Chargers’ kicker from 2011-2014. He spent last year with the Houston Texans and converted 85.4 percent of his field goals, which ranked 14th.