The New York Giants will again be short-handed this week. Without Odell Beckham on the field against the Tennessee Titans last week, the Giants struggled to move the ball, and failed to score. They’ll again be without Beckham and will need to find some other ways to get the offense moving against the Indianapolis Colts.
Numbers that matter
Slotting in Shepard
Sterling Shepard is a useful piece of the Giants’ passing game. One of the traits that made him a value pick in the second round was his versatility and ability to play both in the slot and the outside. That has been true this season. Shepard has spent most of his time in the slot, but his overall production has not been much different on plays when he’s outside. The biggest difference is his air yards and yards after the catch, but they average out to almost exactly the same yards per reception.
Sterling Shepard, 2018
|Air Yards (AY/R)
|Air Yards (AY/R)
What makes that transition easier, though, is the presence of Beckham on the field. Without Beckham on the field over the past two weeks, the entire passing game has struggled, including Shepard, and his production split from the slot and outside has grown.
Sterling Shepard, Weeks 14 & 15
|Air Yards (AY/R)
|Air Yards (AY/R)
Beckham will be out again and so will Russell Shepard. That will leave Sterling Shepard, Corey Coleman, and some combination of Bennie Fowler, Jawill Davis, and Cody Latimer in three-receiver sets. That could force the Giants to play a little more in 12 personnel with two tight ends on the field, but that will likely force Shepard back to the outside. Though even without Beckham last week, the Giants used 11 personnel with three receivers on 73 percent of offensive snaps.
If the Giants want to get the passing game going, those three-receiver sets could be the key with Shepard in the slot.
Don’t force the run
The biggest strength of the Indianapolis defense is the defensive line, especially against the run. The Colts are fourth in the league with runs stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Giants are 21st in stuffed rate on offense. It’s a problem the Giants have faced since the start of the season and while it’s gotten better lately, it derailed the run game against the Titans last week.
Indianapolis also has limited the number of big runs against them, ranked seventh in second level yards (runs between 5-10 yards) and ninth in open field yards (10-plus-yard runs). A big part of that second-level success is rookie linebacker, Darius Leonard. Against the run, Leonard leads the league in tackles per game and he’s 10th among all defenders per Sports Info Solutions’s Points Saved metric.
Leonard is tied for seventh with 17 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage against the run, but his teammate Anthony Walker is third among all defenders with 20.
Overall, the Colts are fourth in DVOA against the run and have not allowed many big runs, which is what the Giants have lived on. But those minimal to no gains are detrimental to the offense and trying to pound the ball while waiting for the big gain to happen is a dangerous way scheme an offense.
Stick with play-action
Even if the run doesn’t work, the Giants should stick with play-action on offense. You should know by now run success or volume does not impact play-action. That’s especially true against the Colts, who have one of the league’s best run defenses, but fall victim to play-action.
Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, opponents run play-action on 25 percent of drop backs against the Colts, which is tied for the ninth-highest rate in the league. They also allowed the 12th-highest yards per play on passes with play-action at 8.1 yards. It’s also a significant difference from the 6.2 yards per play Indianapolis allows on just straight drop backs, which is the 12th-best in the league.
Unfortunately for the Giants, when they go away from the run, they also typically go away from play-action. The Giants use play-action on just 21 percent of their drop backs, which is 21st in the league. But they average 7.8 yards on those plays, which is almost a yard and a half better than the 6.4 yards per play they average without it.
In the absence of Beckham last week, Evan Engram became the team’s top target. 12 passes were thrown his way, which resulted in eight catches for 75 yards. His usage still wasn’t incredibly efficient and he was on the intended end of a few poorly placed passes. Still, it was good to see the Giants go his way more often after his usage had been scattered over the previous weeks. There are still ways to get more out of Engram and the unique skill set he can bring as a mismatch against any defender.
More slot usage
Modern tight ends routinely line up in the slot and that is supposed to be one of Engram’s strengths. But just over half (52 percent) of Engram’s pass targets have come with him in the slot. Top pass-catching tight ends like Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce line up in the slot for 64 percent of their targets, per Sports Info Solutions.
It’s also not just getting Engram into the slot more often, it’s finding him better routes from that alignment. Engram only averages 9.5 yards per reception from the slot this season opposed to 14.3 when lined up as a traditional tight end. If there was a team to get this going against, it’s the Colts who have allowed the sixth-most yards to tight ends from the slot this season, per SIS.
Up the seam
One place the Giants have completely ignored Engram is up the seam. Per Sports Info Solutions, Engram has been targeted on one seam route this season. Thirty-six tight ends have been targeted on that more often, a list that includes three Colts and Rhett Ellison. It’s not even like that one play was unsuccessful — it went for 54 yards.
What a drag
It might not be surprising that Engram leads all tight ends in targets on drag routes. He has 12 targets and nine receptions and while he averages an impressive 7.2 YAC per reception on those plays, they have only resulted in two first downs, which highlights the inefficiencies of when and where Engram is targeted on these plays.
The Colts are 23rd against tight ends by DVOA, so giving Engram more efficient opportunities could be the best way to get the offense moving.