This will be the Giants’ second game with Daniel Jones as their starting quarterback, who had a memorable debut to say the least. It will also be their first game without Saquon Barkley as he works to recover from the high ankle sprain he suffered while hauling in a catch along the sideline in last week’s game.
The Giants were able to win without much of a running game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but as we all know, expectations can go out the window in divisional match-ups.
So then, what should we be looking for when the Giants are on offense?
Stats at a glance
Note: The Giants’ offensive stats are their results from just Week 3. We’ll go back to their season-average stats and their league rank as we get a more significant sample size with Daniel Jones and without Saquon Barkley.
The Giants can beat Washington if they...
Protect Daniel Jones
After the Giants ran for more than 150 yards and Eli Manning went largely unpressured by the Dallas Cowboys, we might have begun to hope that the offensive line questions have been answered.
That didn’t last very long as we saw a Giants’ quarterback operating under pressure in a cramped, dirty pocket. And while Manning was only sacked once by the Buffalo Bills, Daniel Jones was sacked five (5) times in addition to 11 quarterback hits. Fortunately, the Giants won’t be seeing Shaquil Barrett (who is off to a truly monstrous season) again this year, but they still face a dangerous pass rush nearly every week. This week the Giants face Washington’s stout defensive front, which is bookended by Ryan Kerrigan — who has been a thorn in the Giants’ side since being drafted back in 2011 — and Montez Sweat.
The Giants likely won’t be able to do anything about the personnel on their offensive line until next year, but they can do some things schematically to keep their young quarterback upright. The first would be to make use of bootlegs and rollouts to move the pocket and keep him away from pressure. These have been in the Giants’ offense since the beginning and not only get the quarterback away from pass rushers, but also cut the field in half and speed up the process.
While Jones’ athleticism can help extend plays, the Giants shouldn’t want him ad-libbing every snap. As players like Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Cam Newton can attest, playing outside of the structure of the offense can expose quarterbacks to additional pressure and create the opportunity for injury.
The Giants could also make use of a couple other strategies to help mitigate the pass rush. The first is using play-action to slow rushers down and force them to respect the possibility of a run — this is not contingent on the presence of Saquon Barkley or an effective running game. Defenses will respect a well-sold play-action pass on the first play of the game.
Next, the Giants can make use of heavier personnel packages such as 12 or 21 personnel. They can use the tight ends or the fullback those personnel bring on to the field as either extra pass protectors or to chip-block edge rushers as they release into routes.
It might be inspiring to see a quarterback stand and deliver the ball in the face of pressure, but it simply isn’t good for an offense if the quarterback is under constant duress, nor is it good for the quarterback to take that many hits.
Attack the middle of the field
There are a number of reasons why attacking the middle of the field would be a good strategy for the Giants.
First and foremost, Washington is without Reuben Foster. They took a chance on the athletic inside linebacker after he was released by the 49ers, only to lose him for the year with a torn ACL in May. Starting in Foster’s place is free agent signee, Jon Bostic. Bostic has bounced around the NFL since being drafted by the Chicago Bears back in 2013. He has been a good down-hill linebacker in his career and at times produced prolific tackle numbers, but he has never been particularly capable in coverage.
Second, this is where Evan Engram truly shines. While he has been productive on the steady diet of 3-yard crossing routes he has seen under both Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur, Engram’s speed and receiving ability make him ideally suited for gashing the middle of defenses.
And finally, that is where Daniel Jones has been the most effective. Against Tampa Bay he completed 10 of 13 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown down the middle of the field. That is a higher completion rate, more yards, and more yards per completion than he had toward either (or both, taken as a whole) sidelines.
Protect the ball
Ball security has emerged as something of a concern for Jones. He has had issues with fumbling going back to the pre-season, as well as two more against the Buccaneers as well as an interception which bounced off a rookie safety’s hands.
Recognizing sources of pressure and when pressure is getting close, throwing the ball away if necessary, and continuing to improve his recognition are all things Jones can, and should, work on during his week of preparation as well as going forward.
If the Giants are able to protect him from the pass rush and give him good looks in the middle of the field, that should go a long way toward helping Jones take care of the ball. But Jones will have to make a point of working on taking care of the football in his own preparation.
The good news is that Washington hasn’t been great at taking the ball away, with a -3 turnover margin through the first three weeks. As long as the Giants can put Jones in a good situations, they should be able to keep turnovers to a minimum.