This is it. Football is back and on Sunday the New York Giants will get the first chance to put the miserable 2017 season behind the,. Unfortunately that first game comes against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that had the league’s best defense last season. It’s certainly going to be a test for the Giants offense to start the season, but there’s a number of things to watch on that side of the ball.
Open ‘er up
There’s been a lot of projection through the offseason and preseason about what the Giants offense might look like. But the reality is we have no idea. Saquon Barkley played one preseason game. Odell Beckham played none. It’s a complete mystery what this team is going to look like on offense. This is when everything gets unleashed. We’ll see about the motions. We’ll see about the play-action. We’ll see how the likes of Beckham, Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram get lined up from snap-to-snap. We’ll see if the offensive line can hold up. We’ll see if the Giants really want to rely on the ground game or if Barkley’s biggest contributions will come in the passing game. There’s no more holding back and running vanilla schemes in the preseason. We’re going to get what the Giants have been planning and the first glimpse of what this offense that had a lot of resources put into it during the offseason.
The matchup everybody wants to see
What many people are going to talk about is the matchup between Odell Beckham and Jalen Ramsey. It’s one of the best offensive players against one of the best defensive players in the league. We don’t get many of those during the season. It’s also fair to wonder just how much we’ll actually get it on Sunday. The Jaguars defense isn’t just Ramsey — there’s another really talented cornerback on the other side of the field in A.J. Bouye. Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, Ramsey was first in adjusted yards per pass and seventh in Success Rate among qualified cornerbacks. Bouye was 12th and 20th.
Because of that, the Jags kept their corners on “sides” 78 percent of the team, which was 16th-most in the league, per Football Outsiders. But against some of the best receivers Jacksonville faced last season, they allowed Ramsey to move around a bit. Per Pro Football Focus, Ramsey followed T.Y Hilton, Larry Fitzgerald, and DeAndre Hopkins on at least 60 percent of their snaps. He was also on A.J. Green, but that battle was cut short after both were ejected in the first half. Last season the Jaguars were first in DVOA against opposing No. 1 receivers by allowing just 42 yards per game.
While this one-on-one battle will be what a lot of people are watching for, it might be worth watching how much the Giants try to avoid it. The Giants could test how much the Jaguars want Ramsey to follow Beckham by putting the receiver in the slot, but still putting a receiving threat on the outside like Engram or Barkley. This will be a continual cat and mouse game throughout Sunday.
We’ll have a bigger breakdown on Ramsey later in the week.
No team is spending more on its defensive line this season than the Jaguars. There’s good reason for that. Calais Campbell. Yannick Ngakoue. Malik Jackson. Marcell Dareus. There’s depth behind that, too. Jacksonville has guys that can line up anywhere on the defensive line and beat and single or combination blocks along the offensive line. Last season Campbell was 17th among defenders in pressures and Ngakoue was 26th per Sports Info Solutions. That’s going to test the new look Giants offensive line that has four new starters and Ereck Flowers at right tackle. For all the talk Dave Gettleman made about improving up front, it’s possible that line looks a lot like last year’s against the Jaguars on Sunday.
Where the Jaguars did struggle last season was against the run — 27th in DVOA — though that did improve with the addition of Dareus midseason.
Follow a blueprint
That’s what Ramsey told GQ about Jimmy Garoppolo and the Week 16 game that saw the San Francisco 49ers slice through the Jacksonville defense. And to an extent Ramsey was right. The Niners scheme in that game was perfect for attacking the Jags on defense. It’s something other teams should look at when facing Jacksonville this season, so let’s look at a few things that worked in that game.
First we’ll take a look at an easy 13-yard gain on a third-and-2 at the start of the game. The Niners came out in 12 personnel (two tight ends) with both tight ends in line to the left and the two receivers out to the left. The running back was also in shotgun to the quarterback’s left. At the snap, the running back and inside tight end ran quick curls which froze three of the second-level defenders on that side. That allowed George Kittle to run a post behind those defenders and in front of the safety for an easy catch.
Later on the drive the 49ers came out in 11 personnel against a single-high safety on third-and-7. Marquise Goodwin initially lined up wide to the right across from Ramsey, but motioned into a stacked position with Kendrick Bourne in the slot. With that motion and the stack, Ramsey stayed slightly outside and when Goodwin broke inside, there was enough schemed separation that Ramsey couldn’t break on the pass and it led to a 24-yard gain.
This last play is something we’ve brought up before — disguising the run, going heavy, drawing a stacked box, and unloading play-action. This is a first-and-10 from the 25. San Francisco came out in 21 personnel. Teams ran 57 percent of the time from 21 personnel on first down last season, per Sharp Football Stats. All signs point to a run. The Jaguars have eight men in the box and commit to the handoff as soon as the ball is snapped. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk looks like he’s going to hit linebacker Telvin Smith (50) on the lead block, but instead runs right past him. By the time Paul Posluszny realizes it’s a pass he’s too far behind to do anything about it. Juszczyk had a clear path down the sideline for a big gain.