The New York Giants finally came away with their first win of the 2018 season.
The team, both offense and defense, looked different from the versions we saw of them in the first two weeks of the season. The offense, with a reshuffled offensive line, came out and played more aggressively than we saw in the first two weeks of the season. The results were immediate, as the team marched down the field and scored a touchdown on their opening possession, and went on to score on each of their possessions in the first half.
The defense, on the other hand, played in a manner we wouldn’t have expected from James Bettcher. Instead of the 3-4 defense many expect from him, they predominantly played out of a four-man front while calling more zone coverages than we had seen from a team built for man coverage.
As is our tradition, let’s take a closer look at who played, how much, and some of the in-depth stats from the game and see what we can learn about the Giants’ first win of the Pat Shurmur era.
The Giants dominated the time of possession battle over the run-first Texans, holding the ball for 35 minutes, 30 seconds to the Texans’ 24 minutes 30 seconds. Never trailing after their first possession, the Giants were able to switch to a more methodical brand of offense in the second half, contributing to their advantage in time of possession, though they ran fewer plays than the Texans with 62 offensive snaps.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard each played 59 of the 62 snaps, and provided most of the team’s offensive production through the air. Beckham caught 9 of 10 targets for 109 yards. As we have come to expect from Beckham, the superstar wide receiver did most of his damage with the ball in his hands, catching only one pass more than 10 yards down the field, and all but two passes traveled more than 7 yards in the air.
The Giants also did a great job of moving Beckham around the offensive formation, catching passes from the left and right receiver positions, as well as both slot positions.
Meanwhile, Shepard caught six of seven for 80 yards and a touchdown. The Giants moved Shepard around the formation as well, though they kept him in the sots.
Shepard primarily did his damage over the middle of the field, though his two deeper crossing routes were notable.
As has been noted many times before, Eli Manning was exceptionally efficient and precise with the football. He completed an impressive 25 of 29 passes, averaging better than 10 yards per reception. He spread the ball around well, hitting receivers all over the field, though most of his passes were within of 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Manning did most of his damage in the middle of the field, though he was also effective passing to the right in the short and intermediate distances.
Saquon Barkley didn’t play as large a share of the snaps as in previous games, notching 44 of 62 (71 percent). That might have been part of the game plan after he caught 14 passes for an ineffective 80 yards against the Cowboys, but he also suffered a bruised knee on the Giants’ first drive, and which likely also had an effect.
Barkley ran to all sides of the offense, though most of his runs went between the tackles, to the left (7 attempts, 26 yards, 1 td)
Barkley was also the Giants’ third leading receiver, catching five passes for 35 yards. Unlike the week two game, Barkley caught passes as a wide receiver as well as a running back, a tactic which helped to open up the defense for the rest of the offense, as well as converting a crucial first down on the Giants’ final drive.
Finally, tight end Rhett Ellison had perhaps his biggest game as a Giant. Ellison only caught three passes for 39 yards, but he scored a crucial touchdown and played 54 of 62 snaps. That was undoubtedly influenced by the injury to Evan Engram, who suffered a sprained MCL after just 13 plays. However, the two-tight end set seemed to be a part of the Giants’ game plan from the beginning. Ellison played an important role both as a chip blocker on J.J. Watt as well as (attempting) to block him one on one when the line slid protection the other way. Ellison doesn’t have anything like Engram’s athleticism, but hopefully he will be able to build on Sunday’s performance. Scott Simonson was the second tight end after Engram left the game, getting 16 snaps. Wide receiver Cody Latimer was only targeted twice, but he was on the field for 40 snaps. Perhaps his role in the offense will grow as time goes on.
The Giants’ starting secondary of Janoris Jenkins, B.W. Webb, Landon Collins, and Curtis Riley played all 68 snaps, as did linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Perhaps as compensation to the loss of Eli Apple, or in an attempt to contain DeShaun Watson on the ground, the Giants’ played an uncharacteristic amount of zone coverage while the Texans were forced to play catch-up and throw the ball. As a result, Watson threw for 385 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with DeAndre Hopkins getting 6 receptions for 86 yards (14.3 yards per catch) and Will Fuller getting 101 yards on 5 catches.
But while Houston was able to find success through the air, Watson was under duress for most of the game. For the first time this season, each of the Giants’ top pass rushers all averaged closer than league average on their rushes.
The Giants played a surprising amount of 4-2-5 nickel packages against Houston. Surprising, because Houston came in to the game averaging an NFL-best 157.5 yards on the ground. It would make sense that any defense would want as strong a defense against the run as possible and play their base defense. The Giants, however, opted to play a smaller, faster defense — but it was still incredibly effective at stopping the run. They held the Texans to a mere 59 yards on the ground, just 25 of which came from running backs.
Kareem Martin and Kerry Wynn lead the way, with Martin getting 51 of 68 snaps, largely as a defensive end, while Wynn had 44 snaps. As we have already talked about extensively, Wynnn had himself a game, notching 5 tackles, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble in an effort that would have been seen dominant if J.J. Watt hadn’t also played in the game.
Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson rounded out the Giants’ most common defensive front, playing roughly half of the snaps, at 35 and 31 snaps, respectively. The two have proven to simply be a force in the middle of the Giants’ defense and are a big reason why teams simply can’t run up the middle on New York. Their short-area athleticism, play strength, and excellent understanding of leverage are trouble for any offensive line.
First year Giants Lorenzo Carter, Mario Edwards Jr. (first year with the team, if not in the league), and B.J. Hill played 21, 24, and 14 snaps, respectively. Each player had an impact, however, and each came away with a sack. Impressively, Hill’s sack didn’t come as a defensive tackle, but as a 4-3 defensive end, as he utterly overpowered the Texans’ left tackle. He very nearly had a second sack on the very next play, but Deshaun Watson just escaped and heaved the ball downfield, which was intercepted by Alec Ogletree.
It wasn’t perfect, but the Giants finally played complementary football and breathed some life into their season. Just in time, as they play the New Orleans Saints next week.