It seemed as though the Giants had turned a corner against the Houston Texans and were moving in the direction of competing with the rest of the NFL. Instead, the game had a sickeningly familiar feel to it, with the offense seeming like an ineffective exercise in futility. In many ways, this game reminded of the Giants’ week two loss to the Dallas Cowboys, particularly on offense.
But how similar was it, really?
Let’s take a closer look at the stats from the game and see what they have to say.
At first blush, Eli Manning had an efficient day against a poor Saints defense. He completed 31 of 41 attempts, good for a completion rate of 75.6 percent, for 255 yards and a touchdown. This marks the third time this season he has completed at least three quarters of his passes and thrown a touchdown pass.
However, a closer look at the stats reveal that the Giants were playing “keep away” with their passing game, rather than actively trying to attack a defense which had given up just over 34 points per game and the most passing yards in the NFL through the first three weeks.
Per Next Gen Stats, Manning was tied for the third fewest intended air yards among quarterbacks Sunday, with averaging just 6.1 yards through the air. His average completion was the shortest in the NFL, at just 3.6 yards per completion. Finally, Manning also threw the ball the second furthest from the first-down marker, averaging 2.9 yards behind the sticks.
“Short,” “quick,” and “safe” are the words to describe the Giants’ passing game against the Saints, but like with a similar game plan against the Dallas Cowboys, “ineffective” comes to mind. An offense featuring Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and Saquon Barkley simply is not built to play it safe and chip away at a defense.
All told, the Giants played 62 snaps on offense, and the entire offensive line of Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, John Greco, Patrick Omameh, and Chad Wheeler played all of them.
It might be assumed based on Manning’s passing stats that they failed in protecting him. While saying that they ‘failed’ to protect him is a bit strong, Manning was sacked three times and each of the Saints’ top rushers came closer than league average to Manning on their average rush. However, he did have time to throw, averaging 2.66 seconds from snap to throw, which was only about two hundredths of a second less than league average.
The Giants didn’t run the ball much as the game slipped away. But even so, Barkley (54 snaps, 87 percent) only had two carries further than five yards. Given what we have seen of Barkley’s ability to pick up extra yards with a quick cut or powering through an arm tackle, the line did not block for many of the rookie’s yards. Considering he only saw an eight (or more) man box on just 20 percent of his runs — per Next Gen Stats — that does not reflect well on the line. Barkley did rate as the NFL’s fourth-fastest ball carrier, topping 20 miles an hour on his breakaway run.
He was once again successful as a receiver, catching six of eight targets for 56 yards.
Odell Beckham played 59 of 62 snaps, catching 7 of 11 targets for 60 yards. As indicated by Manning’s average of 3.6 yards per completion, Beckham caught most of his passes short, and did what he could against a defense which was allowed to play downhill all game.
Sterling Shepard, who also played 59 of 62 snaps was the Giants’ leading receiver, catching each of his 10 targets for 77 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants spent almost all of the game in their 11-personnel set, with TE Rhett Ellison playing 54 of 62 snaps, and WR Russell Shepard playing 51 of 62 snaps.
The Giants receivers were getting open, per Next Gen Stats, with four of the Giants’ top five receivers getting much more than league-average separation. Manning just wasn’t finding them down the field.
After that primary personnel set, TE Scott Simonson got the most snaps at 14 of 62. The Giants clearly came in with the plan to spread the Saints out.
Once again, true defensive linemen Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson lead the way in the snap count, getting 37 of the defense’s 70 snaps. Per Next Gen Stats, Tomlinson was the Giants’ best pass rusher, and the only one to come closer than league-average on his average rush.
Rookie defensive tackle B.J. Hill saw an uptick in his snap count, from 14 to 24 snaps, after an effective day against the Houston Texans.
EDGE players Kareem Martin and Connor Barwin played the most snaps, between outside linebacker and defensive end. Martin played 56 of 70 snaps, while Barwin played 45 snaps, coming up with three tackles and a pass defensed. Both players were among the Giants’ top pass rushers, but both were only about league average in terms of their average distance to the quarterback.
Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Ray-Ray Armstrong played the most snaps among the front seven, with Ogletree playing all of the defense’s 70 snaps, notching 12 total tackles. Meanwhile Armstrong played 57 snaps, and came up with 7 tackles.
Each member of the Giants’ starting secondary played all of the defensive snaps, with Janoris Jenkins, B.W. Webb, Landon Collins, and Curtis Riley each playing 70 snaps.
The Giants’ secondary played well overall, limiting Drew Brees to just 18 of 32 for 215 yards and no touchdowns. That is impressive work for the defense, considering Brees had been on a historic run to start the game, completing well over 80 percent of his passes and dissecting every defense he saw.
Nickel corner Donte Deayon was the final member of the secondary to see a major share of the snaps, with 53 of 70.
The Giants were largely suffocating in coverage, with four of the Saints top five receivers averaging about half a yard less separation than league average. Particularly impressive was the work of Jenkins on wide receiver Micheal Thomas. Thomas had been having an excellent season to date, and Jenkins held him to just four catches for 47 yards. He only allowed Thomas, who is quickly becoming one of the NFL’s best receivers, an average just 2.38 yards of separation — four tenths of a yard less than the average NFL receiver.
The stats suggest that the Giants should have won against the Saints. Instead they lost in an ugly landslide. The Saints were showing looks which should have allowed the Giants to run the ball — yet they didn’t. The Giants’ receivers were getting wide open, yet the passing game made no effort to look down the field.
The defense played far better than the lopsided 15-point loss would have suggested, and if a team holds a quarterback the caliber of Drew Brees to the day he had, they should expect to win. The problem was with the Giants’ offense and an ineffective game plan.
The question going forward is whether the Giants coaching staff will open up the offense as they did against Houston, or continue to play the ineffective horizontal scheme which lost against Dallas and now New New Orleans.