Another week and the New York Giants have managed to let another winnable game slip through their fingers.
The Giants are once again in the basement of the NFC East after dropping a divisional game to the Dallas Cowboys. The good news is that they are only a game behind the rest of the division, but the bad news is that the way they lost looked entirely too familiar.
The team might have shown some promise in their Week 1 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. At first blush, that promise evaporated in the week since, but let’s take a look at some of the deeper stats and see what we can learn.
The Giants dominated the time of possession on offense, outsnapping the Cowboys offense 68 to 53. However, that overwhelming advantage in plays run didn’t translate into much, as most of the Giants’ offensive efforts were an exercise in futility. Eli Manning had an efficient night, completing 33-of-44 attempts (75 percent) and scoring a touchdown. However, a closer look at his passing chart shows just how conservative the Giants’ offense was.
Manning was nearly perfect on passes inside of ten yards, completing 17 of 18 attempts, a number which ballooned to 28 of 31 when we include passes behind the line of scrimmage. But while the West Coast ethos of “you don’t go broke making a profit” rings true in general, the Giants only rarely seemed to threaten the Cowboys deep. Shurmur’s offense is designed to use vertical elements to clear out coverage underneath, and Manning has always thrived when the has the option to attack a defense deep. The Giants’ game-plan appeared to have neither, and was far too easily boxed in by Dallas’ base defense of man coverage under a Cover 2 shell.
This defensive scheme is nothing new for the Giants as they faced it consistently since 2016, and was exactly the reason why Jerry Reese drafted Evan Engram. The hybrid tight end played 60 snaps (88 percent), and his ability against 2-Man coverage was on display against Dallas, when he was used.
Engram finished a perfect 7 receptions on 7 targets for 67 yards and a touchdown Sunday night, averaging an absurd 6.64 yards of separation per Next Gen Stats. However, of those 7 receptions, only one was run more than 5 yards down the field, his touchdown. It is also important to note that four of Engram’s receptions came after the Giants had fallen behind 20-3.
Saquon Barkley, who played 58 snaps (85 percent) was the Giants’ most prolific receiver, catching 14 of 16 targets (not typos) for 80 yards. But he, too, rarely went down the field, catching 9 of his 14 receptions behind the line of scrimmage.
Barkley also carried the ball 11 times, gaining just 28 yards.
The Giants did send Odell Beckham Jr. — who played 66 of 68 snaps — down the field, having him run more than 10 yards on 6 of his 9 targets. Unfortunately, he only caught 4 of those 9 targets for 51 yards.
Beyond those players, there was a sharp delineation in the players who were in the Giants’ gameplan and those who weren’t.
Other than the starting offensive line, only six Giants played more than 65 percent of the Giants’ snaps, Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley. Rhett Ellison only played 24 snaps, Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Stewart each played 5 snaps, WR Russell Shepard played six snaps, FB Shane Smith played 4 snaps, and TE Scott Simonson played three snaps.
For an offense that promised to use — if not feature — aggression down the field and a robust personnel rotation based in a 12-personnel alignment, the Giants’ offense against the Dallas Cowboys resembled nothing so much as the Giants under Ben McAdoo, and performed similarly.
The Giants’ defense only played 53 snaps, giving up just 20 points for the second week in a row. The defense was lead by Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, and Alec Ogletree who each played all of the defensive snaps. They each also notched six total tackles.
The defensive line was lead by Dalvin Tomlinson, who played 39 snaps, and Damon Harrison who played 34. Rounding out the front seven were EDGE players Kareem Martin, who played 47 snaps, and Connor Barwin, who played 36 snaps.
The Giants mounted no effective pass rush, and Tomlinson was the team’s most effective rusher, and was the only one to approach the league’s average distance from the QB across all his pass rush snaps. Third round rookies B.J. Hill and Lorenzo Carter only played 22 and 21 snaps, respectively. Given the ineffectiveness of the Giants’ pass rush, James Bettcher will want to incorporate the athletic rookies more in future games.
Eli Apple played 33 snaps before leaving the game with a groin injury. That could prove to be a costly injury going forward, as Apple was having a bounce-back season and has been excellent in coverage through the first two games. He was replaced by B.W. Webb, who played a total of 41 snaps, and Donte Deayon who played 13 snaps in the slot, notching a pass defensed in that time.
The team appeared to spend most of their time in a heavy nickel package, with four down linemen and linebackers B.J. Goodson and Ray-Ray Armstrong splitting time next to Ogletree. Goodson played 30 snaps while Armstrong played the remaining 23.
The Giants’ defense got off to a rough start, giving up 10 points in Dallas’ first two drives. However, for the second week in a row they settled down and managed to do enough for the team to win. The lack of a pass rush will be a problem going forward, and the Giants need to figure out a solution independent of Olivier Vernon. The injured EDGE player might not be back for next week’s match-up against the Houston Texans, and having only one viable pass rusher is not a tenable situation. Neither Martin, Wynn, nor Barwin have the speed to scare offenses. Perhaps the team will need to actively look to incorporate Carter and find situations for him to unleash his athleticism.
The team showed some promising things in the first week of the season, but rather than building on them, managed to regress in nearly all areas in Week 2.