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Giants at Patriots: When the Giants have the ball

Can the Giants’ do anything against the Patriots’ defense?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Just like the New York Giants, we have to do a quick turnaround as both we and the Giants get ready for the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football.

The Giants are coming off of a rough loss to the Minnesota Vikings in which they weren’t able to move the ball or capitalize on their opportunities. Now, on a short week the Giants have to travel to Foxboro, Mass. to take on a team that not only has one of the best defenses in the NFL, but also one of the best offenses.

The Giants face, perhaps, the toughest task of their season in the Patriots. What can Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense do to keep up?

Stats at a glance

Keys to the game

Keep Jones upright
No offensive strategy since the advent of the forward pass has been ambivalent about hits on the quarterback. Sacks are considered big plays for a reason, and even hits and pressures have the potential to derail a play. But still, the Giants need to pay particular attention to protecting Daniel Jones this week. Since taking over in Week 3 he has been hit or sacked 34 times (counting the sack in Week 4 which was nullified by a defensive penalty. It might not have counted, but I’m sure Jones felt it) in just three games.

This week the Giants are playing a Patriots defense that has 24 sacks and 39 hits through 5 games. They are led by OLB Jamie Collins with 4.5 sacks and rookie EDGE Chase Winovich with 4.0, but six other defenders have at least 2 sacks on the season. All told, a Patriots’ defender has hit an opposing quarterback 63 times in the first five games. While New England has played a pretty soft schedule so far this year, the Patriots have been bringing pressure at the same rate Jones saw against Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

Before the Giants even begin to consider how to attack New England’s defense, they need to figure out how to protect their quarterback. They Giants primarily played an 11-personnel package against the Minnesota Vikings, with Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Golden Tate, and Darius Slayton on the field for roughly two-thirds of their offensive snaps (save Shepard, who was on the field for more than 80 percent).

The Giants should heavily consider playing 21 or 12 (two back or two tight end packages, respectively) personnel this game. Ordinarily, I would recommend those packages because they make creating match-ups in the passing game easier, but considering how much pressure the Patriots are able to bring while remaining fundamentally sound, the Giants should consider them just for the options in keeping extra blockers.

Of course, that suggestion is complicated by the fact that Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, and Evan Engram are all dealing with injuries, but right now the Giants’ main goal should be keeping Jones healthy and on his feet.

Take care of the football
Once the Giants figure out how to protect Jones, they need to find a way to consistently move the ball on New England’s defense. First and foremost, that means keeping possession of the ball and not allowing the Patriots to take the ball away. Not only does New England lead the NFL in sacks, but they also lead the league in passes defensed with 44 and interceptions with 11. That 4 to 1 ratio of passes defensed to interceptions is also the highest rate in the NFL. Again, they haven’t been playing great quarterbacks and offenses, but they have capitalizing on the opportunities that come their way.

When Jones first took over, fumbles were the most concerning issue, but thankfully those haven’t been a problem the last two weeks. But so far this year Jones has thrown three interceptions — two against Tampa Bay and one against Minnesota — but he has also had another six passes which probably could (or should, depending on the pass) have been intercepted. The first bounced off of Tampa Bay’s rookie safety Mike Edwards, the second slipped through Josh Norman’s hands, and then he had another four passes which hit Minnesota defenders in the hands only to fall harmlessly incomplete.

The Patriots have gotten their hands on a lot of passes, and more importantly, they have hung on to more of them than anyone else.

This isn’t all on Jones. He is going to have to be quick and correct in diagnosing New England’s defense, as well as be accurate in putting the ball where only his receivers can make a play on it. The Giants’ coaches are going to have to be smart in creating a game-plan which doesn’t put the ball in jeopardy unless absolutely necessary, and do a good job of making sure the Giants’ players know what to expect from the Patriots’ defense. Finally, the Giants’ receivers need to be precise in their route running and work as much as possible to expand catching windows and put themselves between defenders and the football.

Oh, and make sure they hang on to the ball.

Create separation ... Somehow
Finally, the Giants have to figure out how to get enough room for their players to play. That means finding some room for Jon Hilliman and Elijhaa Penny to run the ball, and creating enough separation downfield for Jones to deliver passes relatively safely.

The problem, of course, is that New England is remarkably (and unsurprisingly) stingy in that regard. They have largely controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game, with offenses seldom able to open holes and pick up yards on the ground. In the passing game, they play tight coverage, avoid allowing free releases, and close passing windows quickly.

While the Patriots’ defense has given up just over six points per game, the Buffalo Bills gave them their toughest fight and scored 10. That makes taking a look at what Buffalo did worthwhile, and there are a few things the Giants can take away from that game. The first is to include inside zone in their rushing attack. It wasn’t consistent, and the ageless wonder that is Frank Gore is probably better than any running back the Giants can currently count on, but Buffalo’s greatest success came running between the tackles and using inside zone blocking schemes to get as many double teams and combo blocks as possible. The Giants have been better running outside, but they should at least look at running inside.

In the passing game, the Bills were able to scheme some separation and free releases by using bunch sets and stacking receivers. Those formations make it very difficult for defenses to play tight coverage and tend to create natural rubs on defenses playing man coverage. The Giants could, and probably should, also look at using mesh concepts for the same reason, as well as using wheel routes when they use a receiver out of the backfield.

It’s not going to be easy, but with sound play and some good planning, the Giants can (hopefully) be competitive against New England.