It must be something about Week 3. For the second year in a row the New York Giants came alive in the third week of the season and got their first win.
This win came on the back of strong performances from rookie QB Daniel Jones, receiving weapons Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, and the play of the Giants’ pass rushers. As is our habit, it’s time to take a look at some of the numbers beyond the box score and see what there is to learn.
There is a ton to sift through when it comes to this win for the Giants, so rather than waste more time on an introduction, let’s dig in.
It’s fair to say that rookie quarterback Daniel Jones exceeded expectations with his play against the Buccaneers. And there were certainly things about which the Giants feel good, but if we are going to be fair and get a complete picture of Jones, we also have to recognize that it wasn’t all good.
Jones completed 23 of 36 attempts for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as 28 yards and two touchdowns on 4 carries. Jones’ mobility proved to be one of the differences in the game, allowing him to escape trouble and score points that Eli Manning simply couldn’t. That was a good thing, as the Giants’ offensive line struggled for the second week in a row, giving up five sacks over the course of the game.
Per NFL NextGenStats, the Buccaneers’ defensive front largely had their way with the Giants’ offensive line, particularly Shaquil Barrett, who nearly took over the game in the third and fourth quarters.
This brings us to the first concern with Jones’ play Sunday. He has long been praised for his courage in the pocket, going back to his time at Duke. However, he often seems unaware of pressure until a defender has his hands on him. On each of his sacks, and again on two more in which the defenders simply missed the tackle, Jones never seemed to notice them until he was being sacked. While nobody wants him to become skittish in the pocket or hearing footsteps, he does need to work on developing more situational awareness so he can use his athleticism proactively — or at least protect the football when a sack is unavoidable and help the ball security issues which have plagued him so far as a Giant.
NFL NextGenStats credits Jones with completing 63.9 percent of his passes, 3.3 percent above the 60.6 he was expected to complete based on situations, coverages, and separation. Jones was primarily effective in the middle of the field where he completed 10 of 13 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Jones was not as good outside the numbers, completing 12 of 19 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. Rewatching the game Monday morning, I noticed roughly 10 passes in which Jones was noticiably off-target. Some of those passes fell incomplete, but others — such as Evan Engram’s spectacular one-handed grab — were saved by the Giants’ receivers. This in line with some of Jones’ college scouting reports which noted a drop in precision and placement on longer passes, particularly to the sidelines. Going forward the Giants might want to emphasize passes to the middle and play to Jones strengths and save the sideline passes for shorter attempts. Fortunately, those also play to the strength of Evan Engram.
In particular here I want to call attention to the play of Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. I’ll be zooming in on them later in the week, so I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds here, but while I thought they had very good games after watching live, I’ve revised my opinion after re-watching the game: They didn’t have good games, they had great games.
Engram finished the game with 113 yards (his second 100-yard game of the season) and a touchdown in 6 receptions on 8 targets. The hybrid tight end rarely left the field, playing 57 of 65 offensive snaps, which is how things should be. In particular, Engram’s game-breaking athleticism was on display, turning a 3-yard crossing route as a part of a modified mesh concept into an 18-yard gain on the first play of the game. On the first play of the second half, Engram turned a 12-yard crossing route into a 75-yard touchdown run to seize the momentum for the Giants. That play, in particular, is how Engram should have been used since he was drafted.
Shepard was equally dynamic, picking up 100 yards and a touchdown in 7 receptions on 9 targets (62 snaps), as well as a 19-yard run. Shepard proved to be a massive upgrade to the Giants’ receiving corps, using his meticulous route running to create separation out of his breaks and dissect Tampa’s zone coverages. Even when there were defenders in the area Shepard was positioned to expand passing windows and
I had hoped that the Giants would build on the deeper passing game they showed against the Buffalo Bills, and they did. It was particularly evident in how Shepard was used when we compare his target chart from Week 3 to Week 1.
We saw quite a bit of the “bad Giants” passing game against Tampa Bay, but the use of Engram and Shepard — and more importantly their execution — gave the Giants the explosive element they needed on offense to complete the comeback.
If there was one thing that stood out about the Giants’ defense against Tampa, it was the pressure they got on Jameis Winston. Granted, Tampa Bay’s offensive line is not the strength of their team, but Winston was under siege for much of Sunday’s game. Per NFL NextGenStats, the Giants’ pass rushers were routinely in Tampa’s backfield and constricting Winston’s pocket.
The Giants also used a very active defensive line rotation throughout the game which seemed to help keep their defense fresh through the fourth quarter.
- Markus Golden - 61 of 77 snaps
- Lorenzo Carter - 59 snaps
- Oshane Ximines - 40 snaps
- B.J. Hill - 39 snaps
- Dexter Lawrence - 33 snaps
- Olsen Pierre - 33 snaps
- Dalvin Tomlinson - 31 snaps
As we’ve come to expect, the Giants’ secondary played the most consistent snaps on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerbacks DeAndre Baker and Janoris Jenkins each played all 77 defensive snaps, as did safeties Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers. Slot corner Grant Haley played 62 of the available snaps.
It is impossible to say that the Giants’ secondary had a good day against the Buccaneers. Not when Mike Evans went off for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, the Giants generally had tight coverage on Tampa’s receivers.
But we should also note that when it came to throwing the ball, Winston had a very good game. NFL NextGenStats gives Winston’s expected completion percentage for last night as 52.1 percent, yet he completed 62.2 percent of his passes — a full 10.1 percent better than expected. To put that in perspective, Patrick Mahomes was +9.6 on Sunday and Winston was second only to Matt Ryan’s +15 percent above expected.
It was definitely a tale of two halves for the Giants’ secondary, with the team playing the soft coverage we have seen for much of the year in the first half before switching to a more aggressive man coverage scheme in the second half.
That seemed to pay off (until the final drive) and the Giants not only forced Winston to hold the ball longer. As with the more aggressive route schemes, hopefully we will see more of this type of coverage in coming weeks.