This game ended with the strange dichotomy of both being a 14-point loss, but a game in which it never felt like the Giants were playing as poorly as the score indicated. They failed to take advantage of their opportunities, but they also played well enough to create those opportunities.
The Giants came into this game knowing they were fighting an uphill battle, down their starting quarterback in Daniel Jones, best defensive player in James Bradberry, and with Freddie Kitchens taking over play-calling for COVID-19 positive offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
Were the Giants what the final score says the were? An overmatched team not ready for prime time, or is there something deeper to be found in the more advanced stats?
This game saw a relatively low number of possessions and snaps, which shouldn’t be surprising since both teams want to play a ball-control offense and shorten the game. The Giants held the ball for 25 minutes, 57 seconds and only played 54 snaps on offense, while the Browns held the ball for 64 snaps and 34:03 on the clock.
Both quarterbacks threw approximately the same number of passes, with Colt McCoy attempting 31 and Baker Mayfield attempting 32. But with Mayfield only throwing 5 incompletions, the Browns were able to keep the clock moving throughout the game.
The Giants kept up their offensive line rotation, bringing Will Hernandez onto the field for 20 snaps in their zone running package with Alfred Morris (13 snaps). Matt Peart, though, did not play.
For the most part, the Giants played out of an 11-personnel package against the Browns. Darius Slayton played 47 snaps, while Evan Engram played 43, Sterling Shepard was on the field for 38 snaps, and Golden Tate played 30. The Giants also made relatively frequent use of their 12-personnel package, with Kaden Smith playing 24 snaps (44 percent). Levine Toilolo played 18 snaps and Elijhaa Penny played 8 snaps in the Giants’ two-back sets.
Speaking of running backs, Wayne Gallman Jr. was the Giants starter, playing 23 snaps while Dion Lewis played 18 and Alfred Morris played 13 snaps.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants came out in their nickel package and didn’t rotate players that often. That’s something of a surprise, and some expected them to mix and match personnel to try and overcome the absence of James Bradberry. However, the Giants had 10 defenders on the field for at least 60 percent of the snaps. They were
- S Jabrill Peppers (64 snaps)
- S Logan Ryan (64 snaps)
- LB Blake Martinez (64 snaps)
- S Julian Love (61 snaps)
- CB Isaac Yiadom (61 snaps)
- DL Leonard Williams (50 snaps)
- DL Dalvin Tomlinson (50 snaps)
- DL Dexter Lawrence II (48 snaps)
- LB Tae Crowder (45 snaps)
- S Xavier McKinney (41 snaps)
The Giants’ defensive rotation largely concerned their front seven, with linebackers Jabaal Sheard (29 snaps), Carter Coughlin (28 snaps), and David Mayo (25 snaps) all playing roughly the same amount in various packages, while Cam Brown didn’t play any defensive snaps.
Interior defensive lineman B.J. Hill (21 snaps) and Austin Johnson (20 snaps) filled in for the Giants’ starters to give them rest throughout the game.
Stats and analytics
The Giants were coy (pardon the pun) this week regarding whether Daniel Jones or Colt McCoy would get the start against the Browns.
McCoy ultimately completed 19 of 31 passes for a mediocre-at-best 61.2 completion percentage. However, we can’t say McCoy played poorly. He had four passes batted away from receivers at the last second, which, if caught, would have given him 74.2 percent completion and probably much closer to 300 yards.
All told, the Giants’ passing game was their strength against the Browns. McCoy was good for 3.1 EPA on the game, or 0.09 EPA per play. While not spectacular, he had a positive impact for the Giants, which was, unfortunately, countered by the running games’ -0.25 EPA per play.
Much of McCoy’s positive value came from the fact that he looked further down the field than the Giants typically have this season. 15 of his 31 passes were targeted 10+ yards down the field, and, per NFL NextGenStats, McCoy’s average pass traveled 10 yards in the air. But despite that he was also quick to get the ball out, with his 2.6 seconds to throw the fourth-fastest in the NFL on Sunday.
That crisp release helped protect the Giants’ offensive line and stave off the Browns’ pass rush. While we have given plenty of credit to the Giants’ line for their play against the Browns, the pass protection wasn’t as sterling as the one sack and one QB hit sat line would suggest.
McCoy was frequently operating from a tight pocket on Sunday, as three of the Browns’ top pass rushers got close to him.
McCoy also helped the Giants’ cause by rarely throwing into coverage. The Giants receivers once again struggled to create much separation from the opposing defensive backs.
But despite that, McCoy only threw into coverage five times all game (16.1 percent). While the Giants were clearly aggressive in their game planning, turnovers would have been a disaster.
The Giants’ defense did its job when it came to the Browns’ running game. They held them to just 100 yards rushing, down from their season average of 156 yards per game.
However, that didn’t matter much with Baker Mayfield putting on a quarterbacking clinic against the Giants’ defense. Mayfield lead the league on Sunday, completing 84.4 percent of his passes, an astounding 16.4 percent over expected.
Based on those numbers, and his 9.4 aggressiveness percentage, it could be expected that the Browns’ receivers were running wide open through a Giants’ secondary missing James Bradberry. And they were finding open field in the Giants’ zone defense, with four of the Browns’ top five receivers getting more than league-average separation from the Giants’ defenders.
But what Baker’s play truly exposed was the Giants’ lack of a consistent pass rush. The Giants did get the first sack of the game, with Dexter Lawrence beating undersized rookie lineman Nick Harris, but that that was still a 5-second sack which required Baker to hold the ball.
None of the Giants’ pass rushers consistently threatened Baker, who was largely unhurried all game long.
Regardless of how the Giants’ season ends, whether it ends in two weeks or they make it into the playoffs, it’s clear that they need to address the EDGE position (and wide receiver) in free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft.