The second half of the season is going to be an important one for the New York Giants. They’re not pushing for a playoff spot, but these next eight games will help give a glimpse into what the Giants have heading into the 2019 season. While the defensive side of the ball will have a focus on what players will be there next year, the offense has the players (for the most part) and needs to focus on how to use the talent at hand better than it has been during the 1-7 start. Let’s look at some steps the Giants can take to get the offense on track in the second half.
Figure out the offensive line
There’s no other place an offensive breakdown can start than where the offense most often breaks down. The left side of the offensive line has not and likely will not change. Nate Solder is financially locked in as the left tackle and Will Hernandez is the legitimate bright spot on the line. Outside of those two spots, though, nothing has been good or consistent. Ereck Flowers was benched. Patrick Omameh was benched. Jon Greco might be on his way back to the bench.
The Giants claimed guard Jamon Brown off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams last week. Brown is just 25 years old and started all 16 games from the Rams in 2017, but a suspension to start the season and good play from fill-in Austin Blythe made Brown expendable. Last season Brown played the most snaps (1,077), had the second-fewest blown blocks (18, three behind Andrew Whitworth’s 15 on 155 more snaps), and allowed just one sack, per the Football Outsiders Almanac. He might be in line to start for the Giants as early as Monday night against the 49ers. If that’s the case, it will be the the fourth different starting combination the Giants have used this season. It will also have three different starters than the Week 1 lineup. For a unit where continuity and communication are important, that’s not great turnover to have.
2018 Giants OL starters
Brown is on the last year of his rookie deal, so if he does play well and the Giants want to keep him, they’ll have to re-sign him. If that’s not the case, the Giants might still be looking for three new starters on the offensive line come the offseason. That won’t be an easier task than it was this past offseason.
Any complaints about the running game also fall into this category.
Get in motion, pick up the pace
Last season with the Minnesota Vikings, Pat Shurmur used pre-snap motion to create mismatches with the defense. This season, that’s gone away. Per Sports Info Solutions charting, the Giants use pre-snap motion on the ninth-lowest percentage of plays in the league.
But they also have the sixth-biggest difference between yards per play with motion and yards per play without it. This should be an easy element to add to the offense since it’s something they have used at times already and it’s something Shurmur used way more often in his last stop.
If the Giants aren’t going to use motion to make defenses uncomfortable, then maybe they can start to use pace. As it stands right now, the Giants are one of the slowest teams in the league when it comes to the pace of the offense, per Football Outsiders. On situation neutral plays — basically non-garbage time — the Giants run the 28th quickest offense in the league. At any point in the game when the score is within six points either way, the Giants are the 32nd-fastest offense.
When the deficit gets to seven points or more, the Giants turn into the league’s fifth-fastest offense and that is when the unit has been the most dangerous and done its most damage. Since the Giants don’t change personnel as much as expected, getting to the line quicker and using pace to create mismatches for the likes of Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley would help.
The Giants don’t have to turn into the Chip Kelly Eagles (though, Shurmur was that team’s offensive coordinator), but a combination of limited misdirection, whether it be play-action or pre-snap motion, and a slow pace is the exact opposite of what’s happening with the evolution of modern offenses.
Reinvent the wheel
Saquon Barkley’s role in the passing game has been underwhelming at best over the first half of the season. He’s still been more productive as a receiver than a runner (minus-3.78 Expected Points Added on the ground and 13.1 EPA on pass targets), but his receiving production could be even better. He’s consistently targeted as a check down option and only recently has he gotten more work past the line of scrimmage.
The easiest way to get Barkley involved past the line of scrimmage and limit the time needed to pass block is the wheel route. By EPA, the wheel route is one of the most efficient routes in football and when done correctly out of the backfield it sets the running back up with a matchup that’s nearly impossible for the defense to win.
What makes the wheel route so hard to defend is that the defense usually has a linebacker on the running back when it’s man coverage. The route starts like it’s going to be a flat route, which gets the opposing defender moving horizontally, and then the running back turns up the field. There aren’t going to be many linebackers who can go from lateral movement to chasing a back on a vertical route. There are fewer who would be able to keep up with an athlete like Barkley.
On this play, the Rams used it inside the 10-yard line and got Todd Gurley on linebacker Anthony Barr. When Gurley got out of the backfield, Barr had to stop and try to read Gurley’s break, but there was none and Gurley was able to run past him up the seam for an easy touchdown.
The wheel can work on its own at any part of the field, but it can be opened up even more when there’s a route combination with it from the receiver on the same side. Typically that’s a slant or hitch that creates a natural pick that adds an extra element the defender needs to get through on his path to the running back. The Carolina Panthers used this on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Devin Funchess ran a quick slant and turned to get in the way of the linebacker while Christian McCaffrey ran an uncontested wheel out of the same side and had a clear path to the end zone.
Opposing defenses against the Giants will already be focused on the slant potential from Odell Beckham, so adding a layer to that with a Barkley wheel outside of it creates a dangerous combination that shouldn’t be able to be defended. On this note, the Giants should use more combinations with Beckham and Barkley on the same side of the formation, wheel or not.
Getting Barkley more efficient targets will help open up the passing game for others (more than a good running game would). The ability to gain yards on quick passes is something the Giants have tried to accomplish, but getting those routes open past the line of scrimmage will be significantly more useful than the high volume of dump offs Barkley has seen in the passing game so far.