The New York Giants do indeed have a game in Week 8. At the end of one of the weirdest intervals we've seen -- going from Thursday Night Football to Monday Night Football -- the Giants will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Giants fans might have some lingering good feelings about playing Tampa. After all, just a year ago Daniel Jones was able to start his NFL career with a come-from-behind win against Tampa. But that was without Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White on the field.
The Buccaneers are suddenly red-hot, powered by an offense that is finding it's groove and a suffocating defense.
It wasn't that long ago that the Buccaneers defense was considered a "get healthy" game for most offenses.
But with a concerted effort and some smart additions, they've become a tough and disruptive unit.
Todd Bowles scheme makes great use of the talent available, unafraid to send pressure and able to capitalize on opponents mistakes.
Right now Tampa is fielding a formidable pass rush and is one of the most opportunistic defenses in the NFL. They are tied for fourth in the league with a +5 turnover differential, with 9 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries (7 forced fumbles).
This is likely the most complete and disruptive defense the Giants have faced since their opening week match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Another formidable front
When the Giants’ offense takes the field against the Buccaneers they will face a deep, dangerous, and stout defensive for the seventh time in eight games.
Taking a look at the advanced stats shows just how good the Bucs defensive front is, and what kind of match-up the Giants’ offensive line is facing.
Per ESPN Pass Rush Win Rate, the Buccaneers’ 54 percent win rate trails only the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 56 percent win rate.
The Buccaneers are also stout against the run, tied with Pittsburgh with a 33 percent run stop win rate.
Meanwhile the Giants’ offensive line is 31st in the NFL in pass block win rate, just ahead of the New York Jets with a 45 percent win rate. NFL Next Gen Stats rates the Giants as worst in the NFL in pressure allowed, surrendering pressure on 43.4 percent of drop backs.
Highest Team Pressure Rate Allowed (this season)— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 28, 2020
32) Giants - 43.4%
31) Cowboys - 35.0%
30) Vikings - 33.9%
29) Jets - 33.3%
28) Eagles - 31.9%
Three of the five teams are in the NFC East.
Football Outsiders still ranks the Giants’ offensive line as the worst run blocking unit in the NFL with just an average of just 3.29 adjusted line yards (half a yard less than the 31st ranked Bengals).
It’s clear the Giants’ offensive line has their work cut out for them this week, to say the least.
Individually, EDGE Shaq Barrett is tied for sixth in the NFL with the Eagle’s Brandon Graham at a 23 percent win rate, while DL William Gholston is tied at fourth with Malik Jackson among interior linemen with a 19 percent win rate.
Barrett has fallen off the torrid pace he set last year, notching just 3.0 sacks in his first seven games. However, as ESPN’s PRWR suggests, he has been beating blockers and been disruptive in the backfield — he hasn’t gotten home on his rushes as often he did last year.
Across from Barrett is former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been a remarkably consistent player for Tampa since the Giants traded him in 2018. Since the Giants traded JPP, he has racked up 26.5 sacks and 43 quarterback hits, an average of 0.88 sacks and 1.4 QB hits per start, despite dealing with a career-threatening broken neck suffered in a car accident in the 2019 offseason. So far this year he has 5.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, and 3 forced fumbles.
Pierre-Paul remains as explosive out of his stance as Giants remember, but has added improved hand usage to his arsenal.
Bowles also uses JPP in a variety of ways, lining him up on both the left and right sides of the defense, as well as using him as a stand-up rusher in 3-man fronts.
Along the interior, the Buccaneers have Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston. As mentioned above, Gholston has been one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the NFL this year. He only has 2 sacks on the season, but his 11 QB hits is already a career high, to go with 4 tackles for a loss, which is on pace with his best years. At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, Gholston is able to line up at both end and interior defensive line in 3 and 4-man fronts, giving him plenty of versatility in the Buccaneers’ scheme.
Suh isn’t the dominant force he was earlier in his career, but he can’t be ignored, either. So far he has 3.0 sacks, 7 QB hits, 3 tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble. His game is still predicated on overwhelming blockers with his power, and the Giants’ offensive linemen will need to be sure to maintain their leverage to keep from being bulled back into the pocket.
The best linebacker duo in the NFL?
I’m going to go ahead and slap a trigger warning for long, long-suffering Giants fans and members of the Beezer Brigade on this part of the preview.
Backing up the Buccaneers’ formidable defensive front is the linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Devin White. Both White and David are slightly undersized compared to the classic inside linebacker archetype (each around 6-foot 1, 235 pounds), but exceptionally athletic and active linebackers. David has been one of the best linebackers in the NFL throughout his 9-year career, using his athleticism and instincts to routinely disrupt plays as NFL offenses have gotten faster and more spread out. While the 30-year old David isn’t quite playing at the level he was in his 2013 or 2015 All-Pro and Pro Bowl (respectively) seasons, he is still playing at a high level. His skill set is being taken advantage of by Todd Bowles’ aggressive defensive scheme. He is still used as a traditional inside linebacker, either coming downhill to fill holes or playing coverage over the middle of the field. But there are other times when Bowles lines David up on the line of scrimmage as an EDGE player, a match-up that creates problems for would-be blockers.
Then there’s second-year linebacker Devin White. White is the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week, coming into this game off of a dominant 11-tackle, 3-sack performance against the Las Vegas Raiders. White, a former running back, made a name for himself as a freak athlete at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, and he is beginning to reach his potential as the mental aspect of his game catches up with his athleticism.
Perhaps no play he made was more impressive than his sack of Raiders’ QB Derek Carr on a fourth and 1.
White starts the play showing blitz on the line of scrimmage, but drops into coverage after faking a rush, reaching about 8 yards downfield at the peak of his drop. He quickly recognizes Carr scrambling and immediately fires downhill to knock Carr out of bounds before he can pick up the first down on his own. A quick (and admittedly rough) application of the Pythagorean theorem says that White ran Carr down from about 25 yards down-field before Suh could run him down from behind the line of scrimmage.
The athleticism and instincts the Buccaneers’ linebacking duo brings to the field open up a lot of options for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and will likely severely limit the Giants’ options on offense.
Much of the Giants’ offense has come from passes to the short and intermediate area of the field, with Daniel Jones average pass being targeted 6.8 yards downfield, tied for the sixth-shortest (per NextGenStats), while his average completion travels just 5.6 yards in the air. Likewise, Jones is, by far, the Giants’ leading rusher and his 296 yards is 124 more than the next highest total (Devonta Freeman at 172). The Giants have been depending on Jones’ legs to give them some semblance of a threat on the ground. A linebacking duo like David and White could put a severe crimp in how the Giants have run their offense thus far.
Tampa Bay has built an impressive secondary full of young, talented, athletic players over the last few seasons. The oldest member of their secondary is free agent addition cornerback Ross Cockrell, with 7 years experience, followed by fifth-year players Andrew Adams and Ryan Smith.
The meat of their secondary is made up of third-year corner Carlton Davis, second-year corners Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, 3rd year free safety Jordan Whitehead, second-year safety Mike Edwards, and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr.
That group of young players gives Bowles a wide variety of skills with which to draw up his coverages and disguise his pressure packages.
If the Buccaneers’ secondary — and defense in general — has a weakness, it’s that the communication and chemistry between their young players is still developing. That can lead to confusion or missed assignments, particularly in zone coverage or when the secondary has to rotate coverages after the snap.
Here the Buccaneers show tight coverage before the snap only to retreat into zone coverage once the play starts. And while that can be a useful strategy for disguising intentions, it allows Nelson Agholor to find a void in the coverage with a simple post route. Nobody picks Agholor up as they all drop into their zones and he is able to pick up 28 yards on the catch and run.
There have been calls for the Giants to make greater use of Daniel Jones as a runner to supplement (or rather, supplant) a virtually non-existent rushing attack. And the read-option does have the added benefit of slowing pass rushers and giving the numbers advantage to the offense. The Buccaneers could opt to make greater use of zone coverage to ensure that their secondary players don’t have their back turned on Jones. If so, that could present opportunities across the middle like the one above.
It’s a tight path toward offensive success, but mistakes and missed assignments in the secondary can be exploited. However, if Tampa plays a relatively clean and disciplined game the Giants’ offensive opportunities could be few and far between.