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Giants vs. Falcons: Plays that changed the game in Giants’ strange 23-20 loss

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New York Giants v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The New York Giants have tallied up the losses so far this season, but the 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night might be the most memorable. There weren’t as many big swing plays as there were the past couple weeks, but there were more than a few that felt like it.

These are some of the most important plays of the game by Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA). Explainers here (WPA) and here (EPA).

Both WPA and EPA presented from the perspective of the offense.

Ridley gets free - 6:37, first quarter

EPA: 2.8 | WPA: 8.3 percent

The first quarter ended 0-0, something that wasn’t expected. But the Giants had a chance to stop the Falcons pretty early on deep in their own territory. Atlanta faced a second-and-15 from its own 10-yard line. Calvin Ridley lined up to the outside left and broke a slant in front of Janoris Jenkins, who was lined up way off the line. After the catch, Ridley was able to move around a charging Curtis Riley to gain 19 yards on the play. Instead of facing a third down deep in their own territory, the Falcons had a new set of downs at a safer part of the field.

Sanu in the zone - 4:39, first quarter

EPA: 3.3 | WPA: 9.7 percent

Later in the same drive, the Giants had another chance to stop the Falcons. Atlanta had a third-and-13 from its own 26 thanks to a first down sack of Matt Ryan by B.W. Webb. Mohamed Sanu was split to the right with Ridley. At the snap, Sanu ran a crossing route straight through the Giants zone. Alec Ogletree was focused on running back Ito Smith, even though fellow linebacker Tae Davis had him picked up. With his eyes elsewhere, Ogletree allowed Sanu to run right by him and pick up a first down.

Atlanta didn’t score on the drive, but they eventually reached midfield. This third down conversion helped flip field position and the Giants started their next drive at their own 11 after forcing a punt after having two opportunities to stop the Falcons early and deep in their own zone.

Deep to Marvin Hall - 5:00, second quarter

EPA: 4.33 | WPA: 15.1 percent

One of the concerns coming into the game was whether the Giants had enough depth in the secondary to deal with the Falcons’ weapons. Even when considering that, Marvin Hall wasn’t what came to mind with those concerns. But he scored the first touchdown of the game. He was lined up wide against Janoris Jenkins, whose technique makes it look like he thought he would have safety help over the top, but once Curtis Riley broke to cover tight end Austin Hooper, Jenkins had little chance to catch up to Hall in the open field.

A Sterling grab - 13:46, third quarter

EPA: 4.74 | WPA: 16.1 percent

The Giants’ longest play of the game came at the start of the third quarter. Sterling Shepard was the inside man in a trips bunch to the right. He released downfield and beat cornerback Robert Alford across the middle. Shepard ran for 37 yards after the catch and ended up with a 53-yard gain on a third-and-8.

On that drive, the Giants would get down to the 1-yard line but failed on an incomplete pass to Scott Simonson on a play designed for Odell Beckham that also had Rhett Ellison wide open in the back of the end zone.

Ito on empty - 8:23, third quarter

EPA: 3.45 | WPA: 11.3 percent

From their own 20, the Falcons went empty on a third-and-8. The Giants sent a blitz and that allowed running back Ito Smith to have a wide open middle of the field from the outside for a catch and run and 20-yard gain to the 40.

This is a good example of the ability to draw up third and long plays that get a running back into space when pressure is absolutely going to come that don’t involve a crackdown behind the line of scrimmage. It also helped the Falcons continue to drive down the field until...

Jenkins forced a fumble - 5:48, third quarter

EPA: minus-4.5 | WPA: minus-9.8 percent

Janoris Jenkins didn’t have a great night — he hasn’t had a great season — but his recovery and aggressiveness on this play should be commended. Julio Jones caught a ball in front on Jenkins, but the cornerback got his hands in and eventually knocked the ball loose.

The play was originally called incomplete on the field — which still would have been a good play by Jenkins — but Pat Shurmur challenged and the play was overturned to a catch and fumble. This was a perfect high-upside challenge for Shurmur. The potential loss of a timeout in a close game was well worth the opportunity at a turnover to keep the Falcons out of the red zone.

A deep shot to Beckham? - 5:39, third quarter

EPA: 3.64 | WPA: 12.7 percent

On the first play of the next drive, the Giants took a shot downfield to Odell Beckham — and it worked. The Giants ran play-action, Eli Manning was able to step up in the pocket, and Beckham fought through an early defensive hold to get open down the sideline for a 51-yard gain.

We should also note that at this point in the game Saquon Barkley had 11 carries for 22 yards and play-action still worked quite well.

The Giants’ drive stalled when it got to the Atlanta 18 and they settled for a field goal to make the score 10-6 Falcons.

Blah to Barkley - 13:45, fourth quarter

EPA: minus-3.1 | WPA: minus-9.4 percent

On the surface, this play was another gross third down throw to Barkley behind the line of scrimmage — an 8-yard loss on third-and-2. While that is true, there was a full comedy of errors to make this play so disastrous. First, Chad Wheeler whiffed on a cut block against Brooks Reed (50), who eventually becomes the first person to meet Barkley in the backfield. But also, new center Spencer Pulley stumbled off the snap and then ran into Sterling Shepard, which prevented the center from getting into the open field and making a block. So, instead of Barkley having to potentially make one defender miss, there were three waiting for him as soon as he caught the ball.

Coleman has a hole - 7:55, fourth quarter

EPA: 3.4 | WPA: 5.2 percent

Atlanta took a two-score lead in the middle of the fourth quarter and it came on an aggressive defensive play from the Giants. The Falcons faced a third-and-1 from the Giants’ 30 and the Giants lined up with an 8-man box. Landon Collins rushed off what would be the backside on the run play and the two linebackers overpursued with the movement of the offensive line, which created an open cutback lane for Tevin Coleman. Curtis Riley, the last line of defense as a single-high safety, had stepped over to the other side of the field where Julio Jones lined up. That made him a step behind to catch up with Coleman and a bad angle on top of that left no chance to take down the running back before he got in the end zone.

Atlanta had a 93.2 percent win probability with the score.

Ellison gets close - 1:11, fourth quarter

EPA: 2.8 | WPA: 0.9 percent

The Giants tried to make it close at the end. With just over a minute left, down by 11, the Giants got the ball to the 1-yard line on a 7-yard pass to Rhett Ellison on a third-and-4. With no timeouts left the Giants had to hurry up and they rushed to the line but got stuffed on two straight sneak attempts. They eventually scored on third down but by then too much time had already come off the clock.

As poor as the sneak attempts were, the Giants were already facing long odds to score and get the ball back. After Ellison’s reception, Atlanta still had a 96.7 percent win probability.