This is not the matchup we were expecting. Just two weeks ago Washington was running away with the division and the Giants were in line for a top-3 pick. That is not the case in Week 14. The Giants’ offense has been better in some parts of the game over the past few weeks and will go against a Washington defense that’s been bend but don’t break for much of the season.
Numbers that matter
More than tricks
The Giants scored 30 points against the Chicago Bears last week, but seven came from an Alec Ogletree pick-six and another seven came from an Odell Beckham pass. That leaves 16 points to the actual offense — one touchdown and three field goals. That’s not going to be good enough on a weekly basis.
Aldrick Rosas is having a great season, but he almost has to for the Giants to be a functional offense. Through 13 weeks, the Giants rank 24th in touchdowns per drive, but second in field goals per drive. They’re one of three teams with more field goals than offensive touchdowns, along with the New York Jets and Houston Texans.
Much of this has to do with inefficiencies in the red zone. The Giants rank 23rd in points per red zone trip and 30th in touchdowns per red zone trip among offenses. Part of that is the quality of plays being called in that area. Against the Bears, the Giants got to a first-and-goal from the 1 in the third quarter. On first and second down, the Giants ran identical plays that saw a tight end motion from the backfield, Elijhaa Penny motion from left to right, and a Saquon Barkley run up the middle into an 11-man box for no gain (I promise there are separate plays in the video below).
Third down used the same pre-snap motion but with the tight end releasing out into the flat. Chicago was not caught by surprise and the play was an incomplete pass thrown short of the goal line.
Then the Giants decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. They brought the wide receivers back on the field, bunched Barkley, Odell Beckham, and Sterling Shepard to the right, created actual misdirection and schemed Beckham wide open for a touchdown.
So if the Giants had a creative play like the one on fourth down as an option the entire time, why wait until fourth down? At least that sequence was better than late in the fourth quarter after the Giants got the ball at the Chicago 13 following a B.W. Webb forced fumble and eventually kicked a field goal from the Chicago 19.
Despite being a below average defense overall, Washington has been one of the league’s best red zone defenses in 2018. Typically the other 80 yards of the field are more predictive than the 20 in the red zone, but when it’s a good red zone defense against a bad red zone offense, that can hold off some regression.
Find a run balance
This doesn’t mean run more to balance out the pass-run ratio. This is more about the Giants needing to find out the correct balance of big and minimal runs they can stand and continue to run a functional offense. A lot of this does go to the running style of Saquon Barkley.
When I talked to Barkley about it back in October, the Giants led the league in open field yards, which are runs of 10 or more yards, with an offensive line that ranked 32nd in Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders. Individually Barkley was great — second in FO’s DYAR (a counting stat) and third in DVOA (efficiency). Now, the Giants still rank first in open field yards and the offensive line has gotten a little better — 24th in Adjusted Line Yards. However, Barkley’s efficiency is not among the best in the league anymore — he’s 11th in DYAR and 13th in DVOA — which comes as his rushing volume per game has increased.
Against the Bears, Barkley finished with minus-1.41 Expected Points Added (EPA) on his 24 rushing attempts. Only seven of his 24 carries had positive EPA for a 29.2 percent success rate. His four best runs totaled 5.94 EPA and while that’s great and some of them were important in the Giants moving the ball, that also means his 20 other runs were worth minus-7.35 EPA with just a 15 percent success rate.
That’s not going to be a sustainable way to keep the offense moving. The Giants are going to need to figure out how often they want to get Barkley the ball on the ground and how many minimal or negative gains they can withstand as an offense. An alternative is the short pass to Barkley that will still put the ball in his hands, but limited the chance of a negative or minimal gain. With a high completion probability, the Giants wouldn’t be risking an incompletion by calling a pass.
The more Moreau
Naturally, the focus on the passing game is going to be whenever Odell Beckham lines up against Josh Norman. But, Washington’s best cornerback this season has been Fabian Moreau. Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, Moreau ranks 21st in success rate among 72 qualified cornerbacks. Norman is 40th. With Quinton Dunbar on injured reserve, Moreau will get more time outside and with Washington allowing Norman to shadow opposing No. 1 wide receivers more often, Moreau will likely get a lot of Sterling Shepard. The Giants shouldn’t allow the name of Norman to dissuade them from challenging him in coverage because targeting Beckham against him is actually a better matchup than looking to Shepard against Moreau.