In what has become a depressing tradition over the last three seasons, the New York Giants have slipped to 0-2 on the season.
This year the Giants dropped their second game in a bad 28-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills in their home opener. The Giants are currently tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second-worst point differential in the league.
Let's take a closer look at the various stats from the game and see what positives, if any, can be taken from the game.
Of course we have to start with the Giants’ starting quarterback. This was not a great — or even good — game for Manning, and the box score paints a particularly damning picture: 26 completions on 45 attempts (57.8 percent) 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions.
But if we go beyond the box score, there were some encouraging signs in Eli’s play as well as some context that needs to be addressed.
Per the NFL’s NextGenStats, we saw a significantly more aggressive Manning than we did in the opening game and on average in 2018. Eli’s average pass traveled 8.5 yards in the air, and his average completion was 6.4 yards downfield. Compare that to last week when his average attempt was 6.6 yards downfield and his average completion came just 4.8 yards downfield, and we see a definite improvement. Even better, Eli’s average pass was 0.1 yards past the first down marker, which doesn’t seem like much until we realize his average a week ago was 1.8 yards short of the first down marker — which was also his average from 2018.
While deeper passes are less “high percentage” and there is a greater risk associated with them, the potential gain consistently outweighs the risk. We see the value of passes peak between 10 and 15 yards downfield, and it is good to see the Giants attempt more passes in that range.
Of course, the passing game did not realize the potential gains from a longer range passing game. And while some of that had to do with inconsistencies from Manning, it also had to do with the other 10 players on the field.
Of the Giants pass catchers, WR Bennie Fowler and TE Evan Engram were on the field the most, each playing 55 of 70 offensive snaps (71 percent). Receivers Russell Shepard and Cody Latimer were next up with 41 and 40 snaps apiece.
Fowler was Eli’s most frequent target, seeing 10 targets (5 receptions) over the course of the game, while Latimer and Cody Core (14 snaps) each saw five targets and Shepard saw three targets. But of Eli’s targets, only Engram (8 targets) and TJ Jones (30 snaps, 4 targets) caught more than 66 percent of their passes.
The issues was that — once again — most of the Giants’ receivers struggled to create separation. Per NextGenStats, Eli was throwing into tight coverage (a defender 1 yard or less from a receiver) on 22.2 percent of his passes, tied for fourth most in the NFL as of this writing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, only Engram and Jones were able to generate any sort of separation from defenders, and each caught 75 percent of their targets.
In his weekly “Kudos & Wet Willies” Ed Valentine called Mike Remmers the obvious weak link in the Giants’ offensive line, and refused to criticize Kevin Zeitler, who is dealing with a shoulder injury.
However none of the offensive linemen had good days after the first drive and a half.
Saquon Barkley (61 snaps, 87 percent) had another productive day with 107 carries on 18 rushes. However, he was inconsistent on the ground, with 9 of his 18 runs going for 4 or fewer yards and more than half (63 yards) came on four carries, two of which came on the opening drive. Barkley only picked up 40 yards on 9 carries (4.44 ypc) in the second half.
The Bills were largely able to contain the Giants’ run game without heavy boxes, and Barkley only ran against heavy boxes on 5.56 percent of his carries per NextGenStats — one of the lowest rates in the NFL.
Eli’s average release time was 2.65 seconds, which was roughly league-average for the NFL on Sunday, but he was consistently playing from a dirty, crowded pocket. While Buffalo only sacked Eli once, they got consistent pressure, routinely pushing Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, and Jon Halapio into the backfield.
That pressure resulted in one of Manning’s interceptions as Harrison Phillips got his hands up and tipped a pass (which was caught by Ed Oliver), while other pressures forced Manning to speed up his process while attacking those tight passing windows.
Based on the snap counts, the Giants had a clear core of starting defenders in their defensive front against the Bills.
- LB Alec Ogletree (76 snaps, 100 percent)
- LB Ryan Connelly (64 snaps, 84 percent)
- EDGE Markus Golden (63 snaps, 83 percent)
- EDGE Lorenzo Carter (61 snaps 80 percent)
- DL B.J. Hill (58 snaps, 76 percent)
- DL Dalvin Tomlinson (57 snaps, 75 percent)
From there the snap counts dropped off dramatically and the next most was rookie DL Dexter Lawrence III with 38 snaps (50 percent).
Of them the two EDGE players were the most productive, with Golden notching 6 tackles and a sack while Carter had four tackles and half a sack. DL Olsen Pierre (18 snaps) and rookie EDGE Oshane Ximines (25 snaps) rounded out the Giants’ pass rushing production with a sack and half a sack, respectively.
But while the Giants out-sacked Buffalo 3-1, Josh Allen enjoyed the more comfortable pocket, as none of the Giants pass rushers got within league-average distance from the opposing quarterback.
I should note that while this is not a post in which Tomlinson will shine — a nose tackle’s impact on stats is inherently limited — he might be the Giants’ best and most consistent defender. Fans should not take his limited statistical production as a sign of poor play by him. In fact, Tomlinson had a great game and has become a joy to watch as he routinely manhandled the Bills’ interior offensive line and was consistently in the backfield.
The Giants’ starting defensive backs played nearly every snap against the Bills.
- S Jabrill Peppers - 76 snaps (100 percent)
- S Antoine Bethea - 75 snaps (99 percent)
- CB Janoris Jenkins - 74 snaps (97 percent)
- CB DeAndre Baker - 73 snaps (96 percent)
This after the Giants split time between Baker and Antonio Hamilton (who was relegated to 25 special teams snaps) against the Dallas Cowboys.
Unfortunately, the Giants’ secondary did not play well at all. The notoriously inconsistent and turnover-prone Josh Allen completed 16 of 30 pass attempts (63.3 percent) and went without a turnover after losing the ball four time in the first half against the New York Jets.
CB Grant Haley was the Giants’ primary nickelback, playing 47 snaps (62 percent) as the slot corner while Michael Thomas played 15 snaps in three safety packages.
As we could probably tell from watching the game, the Bills’ receivers had little problem creating separation from the Giants’ DBs.
Leading receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown combined to catch 11 of 12 targets for 155 yards. Meanwhile, the Giants’s secondary failed to record a single pass defensed, with only Alec Ogletree credited with knocking a pass down.