It’s one of those seasons for the New York Giants. Nothing’s been going particularly well and even games that end with a close score don’t feel all that close when they happen. That was the case with the 20-13 loss to Washington on Sunday. While neither team played great, Washington had the game in hand for the majority of the game, at least according to win probability.
These are some of the most important plays of the game by Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA), per data provided by nflscrapR. Explainers here (WPA) and here (EPA).
Both WPA and EPA presented from the perspective of the offense.
Going deep to Beckham - 1:19 remaining, first quarter
EPA: 5.35 | WPA: 16.6 percent
At the end of the first quarter, the Giants were already down 7-0 and the offense wasn’t doing much. It took a 3rd and 17 deep in their own territory for the Giants to throw their first deep pass to Odell Beckham Jr. Even though it took a bad situation to get there, the play worked out. Eli Manning was able to step up in the pocket and fire a pass to Beckham down the left sideline, who was covered one-on-one by rookie Greg Stroman. Beckham drew pass interference and was taken to the ground, but still made the catch for a gain of 44 yards. The pass was followed by a Saquon Barkley run for no gain, a sack on second down, and a 4-yard pass to Barkley on third-and-15. The Giants did not have a bigger win probability swing or expected points gain on offense for the remainder of the game.
A bad read intercepted - 6:40 remaining, second quarter
EPA: minus-3.79 | WPA: minus-12.3 percent
There was a threat of a score in the middle of the second quarter. The Giants faced a second-and 11 from the Washington 12-yard line. They had a trips look to the left with Barkley also offset to that side. Manning faked a handoff to Barkley and fired to Beckham, who ran a quick dig route from the middle of the three-man side. The problem was safety D.J. Swearinger, who looked like he was going to be in man coverage on Evan Engram, did not drop back and instead made an easy play on the ball for an interception.
Manning was locked on Beckham through the play-fake and even had the chance to see Swearinger break back to Beckham before the ball was released. When the safety stayed with Beckham, there was a brief opening to hit Evan Engram in the end zone, but Beckham was the only read. Also, if you’re wondering why the Giants struggle in the end zone — aside for the interception — a 3-yard dig on second-and-11 tells some of that story.
One sack of many - 12:41 remaining, third quarter
EPA: minus-2.63 | WPA: minus-9.2 percent
Manning was under consistent pressure throughout the game. Per Next Gen Stats, he averaged 2.52 seconds to throw, third-lowest among quarterbacks in Week 8. That led to seven sacks — however, the fastest Washington sack was only 3.3 seconds after the snap, so it’s not as if those sacks were coming impossibly fast, like, say, some of J.J. Watt’s in the Houston game. But still, there was a lot of pressure and the biggest sack from a win probability standpoint came at the start of the third quarter.
The Giants had a third-and-5 from the Washington 48. Preston Smith (94) blew past Nate Solder, almost caused a strip-sack, and forced Manning to step up in the pocket. Linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (40) came on a blitz and while Saquon Barkley and Will Hernandez got him to the ground, Harvey-Clemons was able to reach out and take Manning down when he stepped away from Smith.
What really made the sack so big wasn’t just a bad third down play, it was the loss of yards at midfield and the potential for fourth down. Even if the Giants had gained no yards, a fourth-and-5 from around midfield warrants a shot at going for it. But with the loss of 7 yards, the Giants were not going to try to convert a fourth-and-12.
Richardson levels up - 11:02 remaining, third quarter
EPA: 3.69 | WPA: 13.3 percent
On the following drive, Washington faced a third-and-6 from its own 19. With a stop, the Giants could have forced a punt with good field position. It did not go that way. Washington created separation out of a trips bunch to the right and Paul Richardson was wide open for a 25-yard gain. It was a well-schemed levels concept, which runs a similar route to different levels of the defense.
Richardson (the inside man in the bunch) and Josh Doctson (the middle) both ran corner routes with Doctson going deep and Richardson going intermediate. Cornerback Grant Haley followed Doctson deep, which left a big hole for Richardson behind linebacker Tae Davis.
Another long field goal - 4:56 remaining, third quarter
EPA: 2.12 | WPA: 7.9 percent
Washington put the margin up to a touchdown with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Dustin Hopkins kicked a 53-yard field goal to put Washington up 10-3, which at that time felt insurmountable given how the Giants’ offense had been playing. It was the fifth field goal of 50 or more yards hit against the Giants this season, which ties the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins for most in the league.
Collins knocks it out - 0:55 remaining, third quarter
EPA: minus-8,21 | WPA: minus-22.6 percent
In the closing minute of the third quarter, the Giants got a gift in the form of a turnover. Washington was in scoring range with a first-and-10 on the Giants’ 17. Adrian Peterson took a handoff and was immediately met by Olivier Vernon, but Peterson was able to spin away. But Landon Collins charged downhill and knocked the ball out of Peterson’s hands. Vernon picked the ball up and ran 43 yards before being caught by Alex Smith.
By WPA and EPA, there was no bigger play in the game.
Engram comes up empty - 14:23 remaining, fourth quarter
EPA: minus-3.44 | WPA: minus-8.5 percent
The next Giants drive ended with no points on a failed fourth down attempt. On a fourth-and-3 from the Washington 32, the play worked out just as the Giants would have hoped. With Evan Engram on the outside and a stacked release with Beckham, the tight end found a hole in the zone right at the first down marker. The pass went right through Engram’s hands and the Giants turned the ball over on downs.
Deep to Barkley, DPI - 5:12 remaining, fourth quarter
EPA: 2.99 | WPA: 8.1 percent
One of the benefits of going deep is the possibility of a pass interference penalty. It may not be the main goal, but it gets the job done. Joe Flacco has gotten through the past couple seasons on the underthrown deep ball DPI.
The Giants’ longest play of the game on offense turned out to be a DPI call on a deep pass to … checks notes … Saquon Barkley? On a first-and-10 from the Giants 14, the offense came out in an empty look with Barkley out wide to the right. Barkley ran a go route and after some maneuvering in the pocket, Manning ripped a deep attempt down the field. The pass was a little short, but safety Montae Nicholson (35) was in no position to make a play on the ball and interfered with Barkley. It was a 46-yard penalty and got the Giants out from deep in their own territory.
Barkley’s average air yards per target was still just 1.6 in this game, but outside of this deep attempt he had targets that came eight and nine yards past the line of scrimmage.
Get the ball to Beckham - 4:59 remaining, fourth quarter
EPA: 2.44 | WPA: 9.5 percent
Throughout the season, the Giants have struggled with the balance of getting Odell Beckham the ball with room to run after the catch and getting Beckham the ball down the field. Sometimes both can be attained. On the same drive as the Barkley DPI, the Giants had a second-and-10 from Washington 40. Beckham ran a route that broke in at the first down marker and put him in a hole in Washington’s zone coverage. Manning threw the pass past the sticks — a rarity for him in this game, per Next Gen Stats his average pass was 2.8 yards behind the sticks — and Beckham was able to take it 21 yards after the catch for a gain of 32 down to the Washington 8.
The Giants got down to the 4 and peaked with a 28.2 percent chance to win thanks to another pass interference penalty, but a one-yard run from Barkley and incomplete passes to Barkley and Bennie Fowler brought up fourth down. Instead of going for a touchdown to bring the score within a field goal, the Giants kicked a field goal from the 3 to go down seven.
Peterson clinches it - 3:16 remaining, fourth quarter
EPA: 5.94 | WPA: 7.8 percent
Washington basically clinched the game on the next drive with a 64-yard touchdown run from Adrian Peterson. The play was perfectly designed and executed. Both center Chase Roullier (73) and right guard Brandon Scherrf (75) pulled to take out Tae Davis and Landon Collins. Those blocks and a big hole gave Peterson just Curtis Riley to beat in route to the end zone. He scored.
The Giants did drive for a touchdown on the next drive, but it took 13 plays and just under three minutes and the team still trailed by a touchdown after the score. When the Giants started that drive, they had just a 2.4 percent chance of winning the game.