The New York Giants will try to get the offense back on track against the Carolina Panthers. It won’t be an easy task against one of the league’s most athletic defenses, even if it hasn’t exactly been up to its previous standards early in the season. The Giants, meanwhile have some problems that need to be worked out, but at least those problems can be identified. Let’s take a look at what to watch when the Giants have the ball in this matchup:
By the numbers
For more explanation of these numbers, go here.
The deep stuff
It’s been a topic of discussion all week and for most of the season so far — the ball just isn’t going down the field on offense. Per Next Gen Stats, Eli Manning has the fourth-lowest intended air yards among qualified quarterbacks. Two of the quarterbacks below him — Sam Bradford and Blaine Gabbert — are not their current starters on their teams. Among full-time starters, only Blake Bortles than thrown shorter average passes.
We don’t need to get into the reasons why there haven’t been many downfield passes, but we can get into why that needs to change.Without the threat of a deep ball, there’s a ceiling put on the offense. It’s a tough ask for the offense to drive down the field and get into the end zone when the offense is only averaging 5.1 yards per play. Carolina could be a team to exploit here — the Panthers are 30th in big-play rate allowed on defense.
There are some potentially easy fixes to this problem:
Get Odell Beckham involved early
By now you’ve seen the collection of Odell Beckham deep targets from this season. There was a mixture of opinions that came from posting that, but one of the things that struck me about it while putting it together was how late in the game most of them came. Half of them were in the fourth quarter. Only two were in the first quarter. Last week against the New Orleans Saints, the Giants tried to get Beckham involved early but did so by giving him and end-around handoff. Instead of that, letting Beckham go deep or even closer to intermediate on the first drive of the game could get him, Eli Manning, and the offense in better rhythm.
More downfield routes
This isn’t meant to mean a higher volume, but instead more routes on a given play. There have been a number of plays with deep routes called that only have two deep routes with a check down option. That’s limiting the potential to stretch out the defense and will rarely give the offense a numbers advantage deep. Route combinations are built with the purpose of trying to make a defender pick between covering one route or the other. With limited options downfield, that decision doesn’t have to made and it’s easier to cover.
Spread ‘em out
Another way to put stress on the defense is to use spread formations with a tight end and/or running back in the slot or outside. It gives the offense a potential mismatch should the defense stay in base personnel without the offense running out four or five wide receivers. This should open up more possibilities down the field and limit the number of pass rushers coming. And if not, there should be an open outlet receiver. It’s something the Giants have used, but not enough.
Strength vs. strength
Carolina’s defense has been a bit of a disappointment so far this season compared to where it has been in the past — 20th in yards allowed per drive and 15th in points allowed per drive. But there are places where the Panthers defense has been just as good as expected. Carolina is eighth in DVOA defending against No. 1 receivers, sixth against No. 2 receivers, and ninth against running backs in the passing game (hello, Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson). Well, that just happens to be where the Giants’ strengths are on offense. Meanwhile, the Panthers are 22nd in DVOA against “other” wide receivers and 30th against tight ends — but the Giants don’t have legitimate threats at those positions at the moment.
Going back to those numbers against No. 1 receivers — the Panthers have allowed James Bradberry to follow opposing top receivers. Per PFF, Bradberry was on Julio Jones for 70.4 percent of Jones’s routes and allowed four receptions and 46 yards on seven targets. In Week 3, Bradberry was on A.J. Green for 55.6 percent of Green’s routes with two receptions for 12 yards on five targets. Among 71 qualified cornerbacks, Bradberry ranks 28th in yards allowed per pass and 30th in success rate, per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. Those numbers are almost identical to Jalen Ramsey this season
On the other side, rookie Donte Jackson ranks 17th in yards allowed per pass and 37th in success rate.
Stopping opposing pressure is always going to be a key for the Giants’ offensive line. That’s especially true against this Panthers defensive line. Carolina hasn’t been a team that has created a ton of pressure — the Panthers rank just 20th in defensive pressure rate — but the line has been one that converts those pressures into sacks when they do. The Panthers are 11th in raw sack rate and 14th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate.
Kawann Short has been able to penetrate from the interior with two sacks on four quarterback hits and 5.5 pressures. Mario Addison, who was a regression candidate due to his high sack conversion rate last season, is again converting with 2.5 sacks on three quarterback hits and four pressures.
Pace of play
The Giants have been one of the slowest offenses in the league through the first quarter of the season. They rank 31st in seconds per play in neutral situations — basically, non-garbage time plays — per Football Outsiders. A slow offense that doesn’t gain a whole lot of yards is not the greatest way to try to compete in 2018.
Now the Giants don’t need to go full Chip Kelly, but running a little more hurry up and no huddle could be a benefit to creating mismatches against the defense. This slow pace is also not what Shurmur worked with last season in Minnesota when the Vikings were seventh in seconds per play in neutral situations then slowed down to 25th with a lead of seven points or more.