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Giants at Texans: The plays that changed the game

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NFL: New York Giants at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After two weeks of looking like the 2017 New York Giants, a new team emerged Sunday in Houston. The Giants walked away with a 27-22 victory, one that wasn’t really as close as the final score would indicate. After not getting the lead in the first two games, the Giants had just one drive on each side of the ball without a lead against the Texans. For the first time this season, we’ll have some positive scores to break down. With a win on the ledger, the Giants can have some hope — 1-2 teams finish with an average of 7.2 wins on the season and 25 percent of them make the playoffs, opposed to 4.9 wins and 2 percent at 0-3. Houston was billed as the better 0-2 team heading into the game, but the Giants looked like the better team for most of the way.

These are some of the most important plays of the game by Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA). Explainers here (WPA) and here (EPA).

Both WPA and EPA presented from perspective of the offense.

Another early big play - 11:52, first quarter

WPA: 8.18 percent | EPA: 2.34

For the third straight game, the Giants defense allowed a big play on the opening drive of the game. There was the big pass to Keelan Cole against the Jaguars, then the long Tavon Austin touchdown against the Cowboys. Against the Texans, it was a 39-yard gain to rookie tight end Jordan Thomas. On a first-and-10 from the Giants’ 44, Deshaun Watson ran play-action, avoided pressure from Dalvin Tomlinson, moved to his right, and found Thomas, who had snuck out on a delayed route. With the rest of the action in the middle and to the left, Thomas had a free sideline to run down to the 3-yard line.

Luckily for the Giants, two run plays that netted zero yards and a bad fade to Will Fuller forced the Texans to kick a field goal instead of punching it in for a touchdown. Still, it was the third straight week a Giants opponent had scored to open the game.

Barkley answers - 4:17, first quarter

WPA: 7.57 percent | EPA: 2.42

The Giants came back on the next drive — 10 plays and 75 yards capped off by a 15-yard Saquon Barkley rushing touchdown on first down.

On the play, the Giants came out in shotgun with three receivers to the left, and Evan Engram in-line to the right. For the purposes of the play, Engram acted as the tackle by picking up the defensive end. That allowed Chad Wheeler to slide inside and pick up the defensive tackle, which allowed Patrick Omameh to move up to the second level and seal the hole against the crashing linebacker. It was just enough space for Barkley to get into the open field and that turned into a broken tackle against Kareem Jackson and eventually the touchdown for the Giants’ first lead of the season.

Ellison gets involved - 1:24, second quarter

WPA: 4.56 percent | EPA: 3.58

Field goals capped the next two Giants’ drives, one of which that got into the red zone. But on their fourth drive of the game, just before halftime, the Giants got the ball into the end zone again. While some red zone play-calling had been questionable earlier in the season — and arguably earlier in this game — the Giants ran the perfect play on first-and-10 from the Houston 16.

The Giants came out in an empty formation, but still in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) with the three receivers on the left side. On the right was Saquon Barkley on the outside and Rhett Ellison in the slot. This stretched the defense horizontally and Houston only played a single-high safety, who understandably shaded over to the three receiver side. Once Ellison cleared linebacker Zach Cunningham after a quick false step to the outside, he had a clear path to the end zone.

Two big third-down conversions

28 yards to Will Fuller on third-and-3 - 10:48, third quarter

WPA: 4.9 percent | EPA: 3.07

On a third-and-3 from the Houston 31, the Texans really needed a first down. They were already down 20-6 with a chance of letting the game get away with another punt. Deshaun Watson dropped back and avoided pressure from Kerry Wynn on his blind side. On the left side of the field, Fuller sat against zone coverage right at the first down marker. When Fuller saw Watson leave the pocket, he started the scramble drill and ran across the field with Watson. B.J. Goodson, the linebacker in zone for Fuller’s original route, couldn’t stay with the speedy wide receiver and Fuller was able to turn up the field, break through a Curtis Riley tackle, and get down to the Giants’ 41-yard line. It was a big play to flip the field, but the drive would stall and the Texans kicked a 54-yard field goal to make the score 20-9.

20 yards to DeAndre Hopkins on third-and-8 - 4:55, third quarter

WPA: 6.9 percent | EPA: 2.56

Houston’s next drive saw another need to convert on a third and longer. Fuller and Hopkins lined up stacked to the right — a dangerous combination — and that caused Janoris Jenkins to play well off the receiver. Hopkins got an inside release and broke and easy post route with room to run after the catch. The 20-yard gain brought the Texans from the Houston 47 to the Giants’ 33. However…

Lamar Miller’s fumble - 3:56, third quarter

WPA: minus-8.33 percent | EPA: minus-4.49

...two plays later, the Giants would take the ball away. After a 6-yard gain on a pass to Lamar Miller and a broken Alec Ogletree tackle, Kerry Wynn punched the ball out from behind. Donte Deayon fell on the fumble and the Giants took over. Houston had a 22 percent chance of winning before the fumble, but that dropped to 13.6 percent after the play. What hurt more was expected points of more than a field goal before the play that disappeared with one punch out from Kerry Wynn.

Alec Ogletree’s interception - 14:15, fourth quarter

WPA: minus-8.75 | EPA: minus-4.55

Miller’s fumble wouldn’t be the most costly turnover of the game for Houston. That would go to Deshaun Watson’s interception to Alec Ogletree in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter. But to appreciate the impact of the interception, you should also understand the preceding plays. Houston had a 1st and goal from the 8-yard line, but an illegal block penalty on Miller pushed the ball back to the 18. On the next play, B.J. Hill busted through the line — lined up as a 4-3 defensive end — and sacked Watson for a loss of seven. That set up a second-and-goal from the 25.

Hill again caused pressure off the edge on second down, which forced Watson to flee the pocket. Watson fired the ball into the end zone to Miller, but the pass was underthrown and Ogletree was in position to come down with the ball in the end zone.

Houston’s failed two-point conversion - 7:37, fourth quarter

WPA: minus-5.49 | EPA: minus-0.95

Houston came back to score on their next drive — seven plays and 67 yards in just over three and a half minutes. The touchdown brought the score to 20-15 and a two-point conversion would bring the game to within a field goal. But the conversion would not be successful. The Texans tried a delayed shovel pass that was popularized by the Kansas City Chiefs and some other teams last season, but this version the Texans ran looked like someone who tried to cram for a test the night before and only truly understood maybe 65 to 70 percent of the material. The route was slow to develop, the misdirection didn’t really misdirect anyone, and there was no hole for Lamar Miller to squeeze through after he caught the ball.

Shepard seals it - 2:13, fourth quarter

WPA: 3.1 percent | EPA: 3.18

The Giants put the game away with just over two minutes left in the game. After holding on to the ball for nearly five and a half minutes, they faced a 3rd and 6 from the Houston 7. The play was another perfect route against zone coverage. Sterling Shepard was the slot receiver to the right side on a 2x1 set. His route perfectly wrapped around slot corner Aaron Colvin (22) and sat right in front of Benardrick McKinney (55) in the end zone for a touchdown. The score made it a two possession game and pushed the Giants’ win probability up to 97.9 percent. Shepard’s touchdown would be important because the Texans would come back to score on their next drive, but they didn’t have enough time to get a second possession.