Any loss by the Giants to a division rival is a tough one, but this game was the Giants’ to win. However, things quickly snowballed out of control for the Giants and the Eagles were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
So rather than celebrating a winning streak and looking at taking the lead in the NFC East, we’re left wondering what went so wrong so quickly. Let’s see what the numbers have to say the difference is between these two teams.
If we thought that the Giants would be easing wide receiver Sterling Shepard back into the swing of things following the turf toe injury which landed him on the injured reserve, we were mistaken. Shepard played 46 of 60 offensive snaps, 77 percent of the total snaps and the fourth-most among players who didn’t play every down.
RB Wayne Gallman Jr. finished the game as the Giants’ lead running back, playing 32 offensive snaps after Devonta Freeman’s ankle injury. The Giants likely played a relatively high number of snaps in their 12-personnel package, with Evan Engram playing 50 snaps while Kaden Smith saw 36.
Golden Tate was the Giants’ third receiver with 28 snaps, while rookie Austin Mack got 12 snaps and Alex Bachman saw just 1 snap.
Rookie OT Matt Peart continued to get glimpses of the field, playing 6 offensive snaps, while RT Cam Fleming played 56 of 60 snaps.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles only held the ball for about 5 minutes longer (32:32 to 27:22), but they ran a full 21 more plays on offense, 81 to 60. Only two defenders, James Bradberry and Logan Ryan played every defensive snap, though linebacker Blake Martinez played 80 of 81, and safeties Jabrill Peppers and Julian Love played 79 and 75, respectively.
Despite the return of linebacker David Mayo (9 snaps) from the injured reserve, Devante Downs played 45 defensive snaps. The team likely wanted more athleticism on the field with LB Tae Crowder sidelined by injury.
Injuries to cornerback Darnay Holmes and safety Adrian Colbert forced the Giants to reach down their depth chart, with rookie Madre Harper seeing 24 snaps, second-year corner Corey Ballentine playing 17 defensive snaps and special teams player Nate Ebner playing 12 snaps at safety.
Finally, rookie linebacker Cam Brown played 12 snaps on defense, up from 5 snaps last week.
The Eagles were in control for most of the game, but the Giants had a dominating 91.1 percent win probability following Sterling Shepard’s touchdown with just over 6 minutes left in the game. But, as we know, it was all downhill from there.
The first big drop in win probability was the 59-yard catch made by Eagles’ rookie receiver John Hightower to set Philly up for their first touchdown of the quarter. Fortunately, the Giants were able to stop the 2-point conversion and limit the damage.
The sharp cliff started with Evan Engram’s drop, which decreased the Giants’ odds of winning by 5.8 percent. A drop from an 89.7 percent chance to win to an 83.9 percent chance to win is survivable and the Giants weren’t in desperate position. The problem is that it was compounded by the penalty from Corey Ballentine on the punt the very next play. His 15-yard penalty set the Eagles up at the 40-yard line and was a difference of 12.1 percent. From there things snowballed with further penalties from the Giants and chunk plays by Boston Scott (9-yard run), and Richard Rodgers (11- and 30-yard receptions). Those allowed the Eagles to quickly get into scoring position, and have extra chances to score, while also controlling the clock.
The Giants’ defense didn’t challenge Wentz
Watching the game, two things were apparent regarding Carson Wentz and the Giants’ defense. The first is that the Giants’ defensive line was frequently overwhelming the Eagles’ offensive line. Wentz was sacked three times and pressured many more.
But the second thing that was quickly apparent is that the Giants’ secondary wasn’t challenging Wentz at all. The Giants were frequently playing soft coverages and the Eagles’ receivers were able to find voids for big gains. Both Jones and Wentz finished with quarterback ratings of 91 (91.9 for Jones, 91.1 for Wentz). The big difference between the two — and what allowed the Eagles to storm back into the game — was how the Giants called their defense.
Wentz finished with a strong 11.6 EPA (0.22 per play) on the game as a passer, despite completing just 58 percent of his passes and throwing an interception. Jones also threw an interception but he completed a full two-thirds of his passes, but finished with -1.2 EPA (-0.03 per play). It’s worth noting that Jones’ running was worth a full 5.1 expected points on two plays — by far the Giants’ best production.
The difference comes in how the two defenses played the respective quarterbacks.
The Giants played much softer coverage schemes, allowing Wentz to find his receivers further down the field. We know that the value of passes typically peaks between 10 and 15 yards downfield, and Wentz nearly lived in that range.
He averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, while his intended air yards was an impressive 9.8 yards and his average completion traveled 9.3 yards downfield. On average, Wentz threw his passes 0.3 yards past the first first down markers.
Jones, meanwhile, averaged 6.2 yards per attempt, but his average pass was intended to travel 6 yards in the air, his average completion flew just 4.4 in the air, and his average pass was 3.7 yards behind the first down maker.
Both quarterbacks were rarely throwing into coverage. Wentz threw into coveage 11.6 percent of the time while Jones threw into coverage on 10 percent of his passes. Likewise, both teams’ receivers were getting roughly the same amount of separation, but in different areas of the field.
So while Jones completed a higher percentage of his passes — and he did do a much better job of getting the ball out faster with a 2.48 time to throw — Wentz’s connections further down the field held more value.
And we can see the difference in what areas of the field were open by comparing the two quarterbacks’ charts from NFL NextGenStats.
As we can see, many more of Jones’ pass attempts came 10 yards or less down the field, while Wenz’s came between 5 and 15 yards downfield. That was the area generally vacated by the Giants’ secondary as they dropped into their zone coverages.
Both quarterbacks were under frequent duress, but the Eagles’ rushers tended to get a bit closer to Jones than the Giants did Wentz.