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Lions At Giants, Week 2: When The Giants Have The Ball

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New York Giants vs Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It was a slow start to the 2017 regular season for the New York Giants in Week 1. But they get a long week and open at home against the Detroit Lions on Monday night. The offense struggled against the Cowboys defense, so let’s look at some keys for turning it around against the Lions.

By The Numbers:

Giants Offense (2017, one game)

Rushing Yards: 35 per game (t-29th), 2.9 per carry (t-21st)
Passing Yards: 198 per game (17th), 5.8 per attempt (23rd)
Total Yards: 233 per game (24th), 4.4 per play (t-23rd)
Points: 3 per game (28th), 0.33 per drive (28th)

Lions Defense (2017, one game)

Rushing Yards: 45 per game (fourth), 2.5 per carry (t-fifth)
Passing Yards: 264 per game (22nd), 5.6 per attempt (sixth)
Total Yards: 309 per game (16th), 4.6 per play (t-10th)
Points: 23 per game (19th), 1.42 per drive (10th)

Will Odell Beckham Play?

Of course this is the big question and any analysis of the offense starts here. When Beckham is not on the field, the potential of the offense changes drastically, as evidenced by Sunday night’s game in Dallas. Beckham presents a threat on offense that can’t be replicated when he’s not on the field. No defense is constructing coverages to stop Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, or Evan Engram.

Eli Manning is also a different quarterback without Beckham in the fold. He tends to make more mistakes and the upside isn’t there to counteract it. Here’s Manning’s per-game splits since 2014 in games Beckham plays and when he doesn’t:

Eli With/Without Odell Beckham

Stat With Beckham Without Beckham
Stat With Beckham Without Beckham
Games 43 6
Attempts 38.42 34.33
Completions 24.07 22.83
TDs 1.88 1.67
INTs 0.84 1.5
Y/A 7.1 6.99
Pass Yards 270.74 238

The good news is there seems to be optimism that Beckham will suit up against the Lions. It helps that this game will be played on Monday night. Beckham ran routes before the game against Dallas and looked good enough doing it, but not exactly 100 percent. Him being on the field completely changes the offense and it’s a dynamic desperately needed.

Figuring Out The Running Back Rotation

With the offense struggling against the Cowboys, the Giants abandoned the run pretty early on. Now “establishing the run” is a little overrated as a philosophy, but being able to run the ball well is not. Paul Perkins, the No. 1 running back heading into the season, played just 18 snaps (32 percent) against Dallas. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen saw 31 snaps (54 percent) and led the Giants with 10 targets despite not having a rushing attempt. Orleans Darkwa also saw eight snaps (14 percent) and nearly matched Perkins’s rushing production (seven carries, 16 yards) on less than half the attempts (three carries, 14 yards).

The Giants faced 22 first downs against Dallas and weren’t very successful on those plays. There was a nearly even split on first down -- 12 passes to 10 runs -- but because those 22 plays averaged just 3.86 yards, the Giants were frequently in second-and-long situations. Of the Giants’ 22 first-down plays, three were incomplete passes and seven others gained two or fewer yards.

That set up 18 second down plays for the Giants and the pass-run ratio there was 17-1. Vereen came in often on second down and saw four targets, which went for four catches, 26 yards, and a first down.

While no team should ever rely on the run-run-pass tendency teams used to have in the past, the Giants’ inability to gain chunks of yards on first down didn’t allow them the option. They felt the need to bring in Vereen and resort to passes on those plays in order to get into manageable third downs.

Now if the Giants want to use Vereen more, there’s going to need to be a run threat. They had no rushing attempts when Vereen was on the field. The offense can’t have that type of tell for a defense, especially one that’s been struggling.

Detroit D-line vs. New York O-line

In Week 1, the Lions were able to hold Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson to 23 yards on 11 carries before he left the game with a wrist injury. It’s not completely clear if that was because the offensive line of the Cardinals was bad or the defensive line of the Lions is better than expected. Either way, it’s not great news for the Giants who do clearly have a bad offensive line.

It wasn’t just the offensive line that struggled for the Giants in Week 1, either. Former Giants offensive lineman and now SBNation contributor Geoff Schwartz pointed out a run play where both Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram struggle to hold a block, which led to the tackle:

Against the pass, the line for the Lions only recorded one sack on Carson Palmer but, like Manning, Palmer has enough pocket awareness to avoid sacks and get the ball away even though he wouldn’t be considered a mobile quarterback. But even with just the one sack, Detroit was able to get pressure on Palmer. Detroit recorded seven quarterback hits despite the lone sack and per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, three Detroit defenders finished plays closer to the quarterback than the league average:

Pushing The Ball Downfield

All of the above contributes to whether the Giants can push the ball downfield or not. Against Dallas, it was a not. Among the 30 quarterbacks who threw at least 15 passes in Week 1, Manning had the fourth-lowest air yards per attempt. That means Eli’s passes were going short and going short often. All but four of Manning’s 38 pass attempts came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, though three of those were completed.

The Giants don’t need to be a vertical offense, but an occasional shot down the field should help open everything else up on the offense. Just the threat of a big play -- much of that comes with Beckham, though it shouldn’t completely disappear without him -- could keep the defense on its heels enough to get the passing game going.