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When the Giants have the ball: Can the offense turn it around against the Houston defense?

Sputtering offense needs to start putting points on the board

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Not much is going right for the Giants offense this season. There’s a lot of blame to go around. But there are a few ways it can be fixed. Where they’ll try to fix it this week is in Houston against the Texans, who are also an 0-2 and struggling a bit on defense. If that turnaround is going to happen, here’s some things to look for this week against the Texans.

The defensive line is nasty

There’s the names you know — J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus — and some you might not, like D.J. Reader. Whether they are at full health or not (Clowney is expected to play after missing Week 2, Watt is still working his way back from an injury that cost him almost all of 2017), these are dangerous players who could flip a game in an instant.

Reader can be a dominant player on his own, but when he’s getting blocked one-on-one while the rest of the offensive line is worried about Watt and Clowney, he can take advantage. He had two sacks against the Patriots in Week 1, both of which were aided by attention paid to Watt.

Another takeaway from those plays is how close Watt is to being the dominant Watt we’ve seen in the past. He’s working his way back to the J.J. Watt of old and he’s on the verge of getting there. He’s yet to record a sack, but he’s oh so close, which doesn’t bode well for the Giants offensive line.

The sack and pressure numbers aren’t great at the moment, but that’s not likely to last for long.

Quick hitters

The offensive line has clearly struggled and given up pressure, but there are ways to combat that. Per Next Gen Stats, Eli Manning has an average of 2.7 seconds to throw this season. That’s almost exactly league average (2.72) among 32 qualified quarterbacks. Since Manning obviously isn’t behind a league average offensive line, it would make some sense to mix in some throws that allow him to get the ball out quickly.

There’s an argument to be made that getting the ball out quickly lowers the ceiling of an offense or limits the amount of downfield shots — both true to an extent — but Manning already has the eighth-shortest throws on average among those qualified quarterbacks. Setting up Manning with more easily defined throws will also help an offense more than running around and relying on a check down to a running back, even if those throws are the correct read at the time.

Slants to Odell Beckham became a running joke as the only workable part of the Ben McAdoo offense, but there’s a reason they were relied on so often — they had the greatest potential to work. Beckham slants shouldn’t account for the majority of the passing offense like it had in the past, but getting a few more in there isn’t a bad idea for anyone involved.

More movement and creativity

One of the biggest disappointments in the offense has been the lack of movement and creativity in the offensive personnel and play calls. When I talked to Evan Engram during training camp, he said he was excited for this offense because everybody’s everywhere. Through two weeks, that hasn’t been the case, especially with Engram and Saquon Barkley.

Engram had seven targets last week against the Cowboys and only one came when he was lined up in the slot. All 16 of Barkley’s targets against Dallas originated from the backfield. These are supposed to be two versatile, dynamic playmakers who can be moved around the formation to create mismatches, but they have yet to be used that way. Engram’s 3.8 intended air yards are the lowest among 97 wide receivers and running backs with at least eight targets on the season.

You could say the lack of protection from the offensive line hasn’t allow the Giants to be more creative. But on the other side, stretching the field horizontally with a tight end or running back in the slot or outside puts stress on the defense, lessens the amount of players in the middle of the field, and can decrease the amount of pass rushers available. And if there’s still a pass rush close to getting home, there are more receivers in better positions to serve as hot routes or outlet passes instead of check downs with little room to run.

Per Sharp Football Stats, the Giants are still using 11 personnel (three wide receivers) at an above average rate (66 percent), but they aren’t doing many creative things with it. The Giants’ use of 12 personnel (two tight ends, 22 percent) has often seen Engram and Rhett Ellison as traditional in-line tight ends.

This should be the week to try to unleash Engram down the field more often. Through two weeks, the Texans are 30th in DVOA against opposing tight ends.

Attacking the corners

Houston currently ranks 24th in defensive DVOA against the pass, but it comes with a crazy split. The Texans rank first in DVOA against opposing No. 1 receivers, but rank 25th against No. 2’s and 24th against “others.” That comes with some caveats, though, since Houston has played New England, which doesn’t really have a “No. 1” receiver and Tennessee, which had Blaine Gabbert “throwing” passes to Corey Davis.

So, if Odell Beckham can take more advantage of Jonathan Joseph and the other parts of the secondary are already weak, there could be openings in the passing game.

Kareem Jackson has already bounced between starting at safety and moving back to cornerback after Kevin Johnson was was put on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in Week 1, which followed a concussion suffered in the preseason. The depth behind Joseph and Jackson is not ideal, so it could be a big day for Sterling Shepard and possibly Cody Latimer if the Giants choose to go that way.