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Giants-Packers: Can Giants’ struggling offense find its footing?

Green Bay defense does have holes that could be exploited

New York Giants v Chicago Bears
Finding Saquon Barkley space to run has been a challenge for the Giants.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On paper, the Green Bay Packers — 28th in the NFL in yards allowed — feature a defense that should allow the New York Giants some opportunities when the teams meet on Sunday. The question is whether or not the Giants are capable of creating and taking advantage of those chances.

With rookie quarterback Daniel Jones going through growing pains, injuries to receivers and a running game that is stuck in neutral the Giants have gained more than 300 yards in just one of their past seven games. So, maybe it is the Packers who look at this game as an opportunity to get their defense straightened out.

Let’s take a closer look at the Giants’ offense vs. the Green Bay defense as we head toward Sunday’s matchup at MetLife Stadium.

Unlocking Saquon

Barkley can and will deny it, but the ankle he injured in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has limited his explosiveness since he returned. That’s been apparent.

Still, that can’t fully explain how a runner like Barkley is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry on the season and has only 88 yards on 44 carries (2.0 yards per attempt) during the past three weeks.

Plays like these have a lot to do with it:

Barkley has no chance on these two plays highlighted by NFL analyst Brian Baldinger. Baldinger’s exasperation at why the Giants were unable to get out of these plays, obviously doomed before the ball is even snapped, is apparent.

That leads to a question. Is rookie quarterback Daniel Jones not seeing these things and failing to get the Giants out of these plays that have no chance? Or, is Jones not being given the freedom to check out of the play that is coming from the sideline?

I don’t know the answer. After watching those clips, here was a thought offered by former NFL scout and current BBV contributor Matt Williamson:

“I watched these clips from Baldy and he makes great and obvious points … however, what is missing is that coaches tell you what they think of their players/QBs by how they call a game. It sure seems as though Jones is just in the infantile stages of development and they don’t trust him to get out of calls, etc.”

What I do know is that negative plays kill offenses. They limit the playbook and allow defenses to dial up more pressure, stressing the offensive line and the inexperienced quarterback.

By my calculation over the past three weeks, 18 of Barkley’s 44 carries, an astounding 40.9 percent, have gone for no gain or negative yardage. Inside Edge says Barkley has been stuffed on 15 of those 44 runs, a 34.1 percent mark that is worst in the league during that time span. Neither number is any good for the Giants.

Is there a single answer as to why? Probably not.

Shurmur said this week that the struggles in the running game come back “one thing here, one thing there.”

That could be the play call, the blocking, Barkley at times dancing a bit too much and turning a short gain into a negative play, the quarterback not getting out of a bad play. It’s probably a combination.

What do the Giants do about it?

I’m no offensive coordinator, but the data from NFL Savant tells me that one thing they need to consider is getting Barkley to the edges more often. Or, perhaps encourage Jones to keep the ball on zone reads a couple of times per game to loosen up the middle for Barkley.

The Giants have run between the guards 122 times this season for 3.38 yards per attempt. They have run to the edges or all the way to the outside 73 times for 5.75 yards per attempt. Now, perhaps some of that is skewed by designed runs for Jones or reverses, but don’t the numbers indicate that it’s something the Giants should consider?

They are running up the middle 62.56 percent of the time after doing so only 53.9 percent of the time in 2018, and doing it less successfully this season. The Giants averaged 4.01 yards per attempt up the middle a year ago.

The Packers are a team the Giants should be able to run the ball against. Green Bay is 28th in the league, surrendering 4.8 yards per rushing attempt. The Packers are 25th in rushing yards per game allowed at 125.5.

Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
Za’Darius Smith (55) and Preston Smith (91) are an edge-rushing force for Green Bay.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Edges of disaster

Linebackers Preston Smith (10.5) and Za’Darius Smith (10) are the only teammates in the NFL this season with double-digit sacks. They are also both in the top 10 in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate statistic. The only tackle who has allowed more the 40 quarterback pressures surrendered by Giants left tackle Nate Solder is Germain Ifedi of the Seattle Seahawks (41). Right tackle Mike Remmers (36) is sixth in pressures allowed. Per Inside Edge, Jones has been pressured on 28.6 percent of drop backs since Week 5, the most of 27 qualified quarterbacks.

The Giants left Solder and Remmers on islands against all-world pass rusher Khalil Mack last week. That, predictably, ended badly with a Mack strip-sack of Daniel Jones deep in Giants’ territory setting up a Chicago touchdown that provided their winning margin.

It’s been apparent most of the season that no matter how much of a disadvantage the Giants’ tackles are at in any given week that Shurmur would prefer not to give them help by leaving a tight end in or chip-blocking, but the Giants need to do a considerable amount of that against the Packers.

One up, one down

The Giants just apparently cannot have nice things on offense.

One week after finally getting wide receiver Sterling Shepard back from a five-week concussion-related absence, the Giants have lost wide receiver Golden Tate to the same fate.

As of now, tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) also remain uncertain for Sunday.

Due to the injuries to Tate and Jabrill Peppers necessitating the need to add a punt returner, the Giants have also subtracted wide receiver Bennie Fowler from the roster. A steady, but unspectacular player with 23 catches this season Fowler was inactive agains the Bears with Shepard back on the field.

Perhaps Cody Core, who has had a limited role on offense this season, will see more time on offense vs. the Packers.

The Packers have been just as susceptible to big passing plays this season as the Giants. Both teams are tied for most 40+ yard passing plays allowed at 13. The Packers have surrendered 43 plays of 20 or more yards, to 45 for the Giants.

Can the Giants put themselves into positions where they have chances to take advantage of that apparent Green Bay weakness?