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No one is blameless for Giants’ offensive struggles

Except maybe Odell

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A 4.5 yards per play average isn’t how the New York Giants offense was supposed to go. But that’s where they sit — 29th in the NFL — through two weeks of the 2018 season. The Giants are 27th in yards per drive and 30th in points per drive. What’s made this offense feel even more excruciating is that the Giants also rank sixth in plays per drive and seventh in time of possession per drive. These have been long drives that go nowhere.

It’s not even that the Giants are gaining first downs then failing — they’re still 20th in 3-and-outs per drive. They’re just getting minimal gains at a nearly glacial pace — the Giants are 24th in seconds per play in non-garbage time. The only teams that have scored less points than the Giants (28 points) through two weeks are the Buffalo Bills (23) and Arizona Cardinals (6).

The biggest problem with the Giants offense right now is there’s not just one problem. There have been failures across the board.

Line struggles

We can start with the most obvious place — the offensive line. While the line was bad last season, it only ranked fifth in pressure rate allowed per Sports Info Solutions tracking from Football Outsiders because the offense was schemed around getting the ball out quickly and not allowing pressure to get home. It still didn’t lead to a good offense, but there was a way around it. This year, the pressure has been getting home — the Giants rank 25th in pressure rate allowed.

It would be one thing if a player or players were consistently getting beaten one-on-one, but that’s not always the case. Against the Cowboys, the offensive line was beaten by routine stunts that should not be issues for an NFL offensive line. It also wasn’t just one side of the line — the Cowboys were able to take advantage against all five positions.

On this stunt, defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (98) rushed into Patrick Omameh while Demarcus Lawrence looped inside from the edge. Omameh was too committed to Crawford and could not pass the tackle off, which left a wide open gap for Lawrence to get to Eli Manning. With a corner blitz and Saquon Barkley in to pass block, the Cowboys created free pressure with a five-man rush against six blockers.

Other plays featured other troubling lacks of communication and execution. On the Damien Wilson strip sack, the Cowboys again brought five rushers but shifted the line over to the offense’s left. As Demarcus Lawrence dropped into coverage outside the right tackle, linebackers Jaylon Smith (54) and Wilson (57) blitzed against the left. The Giants’ line shifted well to pick up the shifted blitz, except for Will Hernandez, who did not slide to Wilson. Hernandez reacted way too late and Wilson was already at Manning with the ball knocked out.

First down failures

We can keep this section brief because we went into more detail about this last week, but it’s a trend that continued in Week 2. The Giants have continually put themselves in a hole on first down and through two weeks, no offense has gained fewer yards on average — just 2.55. Against the Cowboys, the Giants averaged 1.85 yards on first down.

Play calls with little expectation of success

By now you should know about the perils of running into a stacked box. It’s a bad thing to do. Running a toss to the outside against a stacked box is even worse, needing more time to set up the run and in turn leaving more time for defenders to close in on the ball carrier. That’s what the Giants did on this first down run. The Giants came out in 12 personnel and lined up both receivers and tight ends inside the numbers. That’s an attempt to open up the outside, but while that works in theory, it doesn’t in reality. Multiple defenders were able to cut off Barkley for a 1-yard loss.

Later when the Giants got into the red zone, they ran a second down play that sent only two receivers into routes. It shouldn’t be surprising to hear the success rate for passing plays decreases as the number of receivers running routes decreases and expected points added (EPA) for a two-man route is well below those of three or more.

No matter how good Odell Beckham Jr. and even Sterling Shepard are, they’re not getting open against six defenders in coverage in an enclosed space.

These types of plays aren’t completely derailing the Giant offense, but they are lapses in logic that are concerning to the overall structure of the game plan. They’re little things that could lead to bigger issues.

A gun-shy quarterback

It’s hard to complete passes against pressure and it’s also hard to think pressure is coming on almost every play. That’s where Eli Manning is right now and it’s limiting the ceiling of the offense. Saquon Barkley didn’t get 14 targets against the Cowboys because the Giants wanted to get him more involved in the passing game. It was because he was the safety net on a majority of passes when Manning didn’t think there was another option.

While he was correct on some of those passes, there were other times when Manning left potential big plays on the field. Perhaps the biggest of which was the third and goal play that followed the above two-man route on second down.

Manning got a clean pocket for an acceptable length of time and in that time, there was a window to hit Evan Engram on a corner route. Manning looked like he thought about it, but pulled the ball back. As Manning moved in the pocket, Saquon Barkley was free and wide open right in front of Manning to the post, but again the trigger wasn’t pulled. Manning instead tried to scramble from the 11 with a defender closing in. The result was a 1-yard gain and a massive hit on the quarterback that could have easily been avoided.

The way Manning is handling pressure is also troublesome. On Taco Charlton’s sack early in the second quarter, he was a free rusher but Manning added to the sack by turning right into him. A 24-year-old Eli Manning wouldn’t have gotten away from that sack with a spin away to his left, never mind a 37-year-old one.

With no pressure coming from the right, Manning could have moved in that direction and had either the potential to take advantage of a delayed release from Evan Engram or at least move away from the pressure to throw the ball away.

A lack of creativity

One thing Pat Shurmur was supposed to bring was a more creative offense, one that would scheme open separation. To this point, that hasn’t really been the case. There’s been way more isolation routes than would have been expected with Manning having to sit and wait for someone to get open against man coverage.

That’s taken away from the ways to get Barkley and Odell Beckham in position to truly succeed. Beckham has been productive with the opportunities he’s gotten, but there should be more. He only had four targets in the first half of Sunday night’s game and three of his nine targets didn’t come until the final drive. By expected points added and win probability added, plays to Beckham have by far been the best thing about the Giants offense through two games.

Pass plays to/not to Odell Beckham

2018 Pass Plays Plays EPA (avg) WPA (avg)
2018 Pass Plays Plays EPA (avg) WPA (avg)
to Beckham 27 5.19 (0.19) 15.5% (0.6%)
non-Beckham 41 -1.7 (-0.04) -13.5% (-0.3%)
*includes plays with penalties

When Barkley was drafted, Shurmur talked about how important his ability to succeed in the passing game was going to be for the offene. To an extent that’s been the case. Barkley is tied for the eighth-most receptions through two weeks (16), but as we saw on Sunday night, so many have been dump offs and checkdowns that create little value. Take a look at Barkley’s route chart against Dallas and not one target came from the slot or the outside, a place where he should be able to succeed.

Through two weeks, Barkley has an average depth of target (aDOT) of 0.2 yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s not where you want a high volume pass catching running back to be. Of the seven running backs with at least 15 targets through two weeks, none have an aDOT lower than Barkley’s and only Melvin Gordon is used as a similar checkdown option.

15+ target running backs

Player Targets aDOT
Player Targets aDOT
Alvin Kamara 18 6.1
James White 17 4.9
Christian McCaffrey 24 2.9
Theo Riddick 18 2.3
Chris Thompson 21 2.2
Melvin Gordon 20 0.2
Saquon Barkley 22 0.2

There are ways to get everyone involved in more productive ways, but they will take time and improvement from just about everywhere on the offense. Unfortunately for the Giants, that’s not something that’s going to be a quick fix, either.