It has been a busy week for the New York Giants.
The team has traded defensive starters Eli Apple and Damon Harrison, which has sent waves throughout Giants-land. And while they have given every indication of the season being over, there are still games to play, including one this week against the Washington Redskins.
The Giants’ offense finally took advantage of an opponent’s weakness against the secondary of the Atlanta Falcons. But while Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. had big games, the running game was thoroughly suffocated. Will the Giants’ find a run game against Washington? Will they be able to build on their good passing performance in Atlanta before the bye week?
Let’s take a closer look.
Which passing game will show up?
So far this season, the Giants have played two distinct styles of offense. The first sees them attacking every level of the defense, sending Beckham and Shepard on deep routes, intermediate routes, and quick passes with the chance for run after the catch.
The other style of offense has been a ball control offense which was heavy on quick timing passes. The vast majority of targets coming inside of 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, with many coming at or behind the line of scrimmage. Those plays were designed to chase completions and try to supplement a nonexistent running game.
The oddest part of the Giants’ offense through the first seven weeks of the season has been how they have swung wildly between philosophies on a weekly basis. The team fielded their most conservative offense in their week 6 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, then their most aggressive against the Atlanta Falcons.
The difference in game plan is perfectly captured in how Beckham was used in those two weeks:
The question now becomes the one we have asked each week for the last month: Which offense will we see Sunday? We have seen that the Giants’ offense is at its best when it has a vertical element and forces opposing teams to defend the whole field. Will the Giants break from their pattern of going back to a horizontal offense in weeks after using a more vertical passing game?
There is also the Giants’ Red Zone woes to consider. With less room with which to work, the speed of the game increased, and mistakes compounded inside the 20-yard line, the Giants have been wholly ineffective in the Red Zone. They have found explosive plays when looking deeper down the field, and while scoring from beyond the 20-yard line isn’t a sustainable way to play offense, neither is settling for field goals whenever the offense is in scoring position.
Can Shurmur figure out how to use Barkley?
When the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the reasoning was that thanks to his well-rounded skill set and incredible athleticism, not only would they be getting a potentially elite running back, but an elite receiver as well.
So far the Giants have not used him as such.
Barkley has proven his worth as a runner. He has been criticized for not taking 2-3 yard gains more often, but any success in the run game rests almost entirely at Barkley’s feet. Per Football Outsiders, the Giants’ offensive line is last in the league in Adjusted Line Yards (yards gained by the offensive line) and 29th in runs stuffed. Meanwhile, the GIants are 11th in running back yards (yards gained by the back, independent of the offensive line) and are first in the league in “open field” yardage, which is the yards gained past 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
In the passing game, however, Barkley has rarely been allowed to get the ball in space. He has been used as either a check-down option or on swing passes almost exclusively. That means that he usually catches the ball behind the line of scrimmage with the defense converging on him. He has had highlight reel plays on screen passes or on down-field plays, but those have been few and far between. The Washington defensive line is young, athletic, powerful, and very stout against the run.
Their defense hasn’t been as spectacular as some around the league, but they thoroughly solid football, lead by the trio of Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen, and Da’Ron Payne. With Washington’s defense giving up just 87.3 rushing yards per game, the Giants are unlike to find any consistent success on the ground.
If the offensive line can’t open any holes for Barkley, the Giants should try getting him past the line of scrimmage before getting him the ball. There are few running backs — or players at any position — who can do what Barkley can with a bit of space. The Giants should try to put him in position to get as much space as possible and be the playmaker they drafted him to be.
Will the big plays continue to come?
Speaking of big plays, the Giants field one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. With players like Odell Beckham Jr. Sterling Shepard, and Barkley, that is to be expected.
Unfortunately, the explosiveness doesn’t translate into consistent production — it just means that a big play could come at any time. This doesn’t always mean a seven step drop and a deep bomb from Manning to Beckham, it could be on a screen pass to Barkley, or Sterling Shepard catching the short slant on a tosser concept and turning upfield for a big gain.
The problem is that the Redskins don’t give up big plays, ranking fifth in the league in giving up plays of 20 yards or more.
The Giants are built to be a big-play offense, and ball control has proven unsuccessful. Whether they want to or not, the Giants depend on them for the bulk of their offensive production. If they can’t get them, the offense has its work cut out for it.