With the New York Giants entering the bye week, and sitting at the midpoint of the NFL season, this is a good time to take stock of where this team is offensively, and in terms of the big picture.
The big picture? Well, you do not need me to outline where that stands. The Giants, even in the wake of a surprising victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, sit at 3-6 on the year, three games behind the Dallas Cowboys in the win column in the NFC East. Were the playoffs to begin this week, the Giants would be on the outside looking in yet again.
Although in a bit of good news, the Giants would hold a pair of selections in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft. Their own at the 10th spot, and the Chicago Bears’ selection in the ninth spot.
So let’s take some time to take stock of this offense. What it does well, what needs to be improved, and of course where things stand with third-year passer Daniel Jones.
Looking at the numbers
We can start with a look at where this team stands, offensively, from a numbers perspective.
This is not the prettiest of pictures.
Through the prism of Expected Points Added, you can see where the Giants stack up when compared to the rest of the league, courtesy of RBSDM.com:
Through nine weeks of the NFL season, the Giants are where you do not want to be on this graph: In the lower-left quadrant. That is where you find teams that are below-average in both rushing efficiency, and passing efficiency. Other teams in that quadrant? Detroit, Washington, the New York Jets, Houston and Miami.
That is not great company.
With respect to Jones, one way to examine quarterbacks is through efficiency numbers, both EPA and Completion Percentage Over Expectation.
Here is a look at where the Giants quarterback stacks up:
Jones slots in the upper-left tier, barely above league average in terms of EPA per play, but below league average in terms of CPOE. He is in a cluster of passers that includes Ben Roethlisberger and Taylor Heinicke, and if you expand things a little more Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts.
Again, that might not be the best company.
Sticking with the quarterback, Jones has completed 64.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,059 yards and eight touchdowns, along with five interceptions. He has posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 5.96, just behind Roethlisberger’s mark of 6.01, and just ahead of Patriots rookie passer Mac Jones, and he ranks 22nd in the league in that category.
Jones’ QBR of 45.4 finds him 23rd in the league, trailing Mac Jones, Jalen Hurts, Jimmy Garoppolo and Teddy Bridgewater.
We’ll get to reasons for these numbers in a moment, but that is the starting point.
The rushing attack
As the above numbers indicate, the Giants are struggling to run the football. Some more numbers illustrate this picture. New York averages just 95.9 yards per game on the ground. That puts the Giants 24th in the league. Now, game script has a lot to do with this. After all, if you are losing games you are throwing the football more than you are running it, which is going to hurt your overall average yardage.
New York also averages just 3.9 yards per attempt, which is below league average and near the bottom of the league. Only the Raiders, the Jets, the Steelers, the Dolphins, the Falcons and the Texans are worse on a per attempt basis.
Now, part of this might be due to the loss of Saquon Barkley, who has been sidelined for the most part since Week 5 with an ankle injury.
Still, that does not explain the entirety of the struggles.
If you are looking for a schematic answer, there might not be one to be found. In terms of EPA, according to charting data the Giants rank 21st in the league with an EPA per Attempt of -0.08 on inside and outside zone plays.
On all other designs? The Giants rank 30th in the league with an EPA per Attempt of -0.18.
So regardless of concept, the Giants are struggling to run the football. This shows up on film as well as in the data.
Take this play against the Raiders from last Sunday:
On this first-and-10 play, the Giants try and get something going on the ground using a jumbo package. Reserve tackle Korey Cunningham comes into the game as a tight end, aligning on the right next to Kyle Rudolph. Off the the snap Cunningham tries to block Maxx Crosby, who is aligned on his inside shoulder, but the defensive end gets through the gap and forces Devonta Booker to cut behind the line of scrimmage. Booker manages to evade Crosby, but runs into trouble when defensive back Nate Hobbs slides downhill, avoiding Rudolph’s blocking attempt and getting to Booker for the tackle.
Or take this attempt at a run to the edge, again with Cunningham in the game as an extra tight end:
Cunningham is tasked with blocking down, which will allow tackle Nate Solder to pull in front of Booker. But Crosby is too quick off the snap, and despite Cunningham’s effort, the defensive end gets into the backfield. Center Billy Price, who is also pulling on the play, cannot get to the edge because he is forced to pick up Crosby. But Crosby has the angle on Booker, and along with linebacker Denzel Perryman, drags the running back down for a loss.
So far we have looked at power designs, now we can take a look at zone concepts. On this play against the Carolina Panthers, the Giants try and run Booker on the inside using zone blocking, with tight end Kaden Smith executing the slice block from right to left. The design gets cut down behind the line:
Right guard Will Hernandez looks to block defensive tackle Derrick Brown off the snap, but Brown beats him with a swim move, as it seems Hernandez drops his eyes and misses the strike point. Brown gets into the backfield immediately, stopping this play from getting going.
You can also look at this outside zone play against the Atlanta Falcons, where Elijhaa Penny manages to get 2 yards despite near-immediate penetration up front:
As far as what has worked for the Giants, they have just 21 rushing plays this season with a gain of 10 yards or more, often referred to as an explosive play. That ranks the Giants near the bottom of all NFL teams in terms of the number of explosive run plays generates this season, according to SharpFootballStats.com.
Eight of those runs came on zone designs, and of those eight? Three involved Jones as the ball-carrier. Whether it was this run against the Carolina Panthers:
Or this long touchdown run against the Washington Football Team:
One way the Giants have created explosive plays on the ground is via their quarterback keeping the football. Now, that is a dangerous proposition, using your QB as a run threat, but given the results the Giants might want to keep these designs part of the game script each week.
Now we can shift gears and take stock of the passing game.
Daniel Jones and the passing attack
Before we get to the bad news about the Giants’ passing game, we can start with some positives. An area of the passing game that has been successful this year is the play-action passing game. According to charting data from Pro Football Focus, Jones has an Adjusted Completion Percentage of 79.3 percent this season when using play-action, which is an increase in his ACP by 5.3 percent over traditional drop back designs. His ACP of 79.3 percent on those plays places him 15th in the league.
What is better than those numbers? The fact that the Giants are using play-action at a decent clip. Jones has 87 play-action drop backs according to Sports Info Solutions, which is eighth-most in the NFL. On those plays, Jones has completed 57 of 84 attempts for 652 yards and three touchdowns, with just one interception. He also has an NFL passer rating of 99.1 on those concepts, and an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.5, which is well above the ANY/A of 5.4 he has posted this season on traditional dropback plays.
So despite the Giants’ struggles running the football this season, they are still having success in the play-action passing game. That is perhaps due to the way the run blocking schemes are mirrored when New York looks to throw off play-action. Take this boot-action design with Jones targeting Evan Engram in the flat:
The offensive line does a tremendous job on this play selling the run action, which gets the defense to bite on the run look. Jones wheels out of the run fake and spots his tight end, wide open in the flat with room to run. When an offense does a good job mirroring their blocking on play-action designs to their run blocking schemes, they can be effective on play-action, even if they are struggling to run the football.
Of course, you can build more designs off the play-action, boot-action game, and Jason Garrett deserves credit for the concepts he has worked into the game scripts. Like this boot-action design with a throwback element to Kadarius Toney:
This is a great design because of how Toney works away from the flow of the play. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon carries out a run fake and rolls to his right, but then throws back to the left side to Toney who is working away from him on a crossing route.
These designs even work to give the quarterback some opportunities for a quick, easy read and throw. Like this example against the Kansas City Chiefs:
Jones comes out of the run fake and boots to the right, where the Giants are setting up a three-level stretch for him to read. The flow of the play — and the job the Giants do up front in selling the outside zone — gets the Chiefs defenders sliding away from Jones’ rollout. But the quarterback spots Rudolph open immediately in the flat, so he takes the easy throw for a good gain.
Another area where Jones is performing well is when he is pressured in the pocket. Now there is a flip side to this, which we will get to in a moment, but as the Giants enter their bye week Jones has posted an Adjusted Completion Percentage of 79.1 percent according to PFF, which trails only Teddy Bridgewater and Kyler Murray in the NFL. Jones has completed 44 of 81 passes when pressured, for 476 yards and a touchdown, without an interception.
How is Jones doing this? Well, for the most part by finding an outlet quickly and getting rid of the football. When pressured this season Jones has posted an Average Depth of Target of 7.9 yards, 29th out of 30 qualified passers. Only Kirk Cousins has a lower ADoT when pressured this year, according to PFF.
But...that is okay, provided it is working for the quarterback. Plays like this are examples of Jones facing pressure, getting to the checkdown, and creating a successful play:
Because, as we transition to two areas of concern in the passing game, Jones might need to be willing to take these checkdowns when pressured. Because Jones has been sacked 19 times this season, 10th-most in the NFL. And on some of those plays, there is nowhere for the quarterback to go with the football and/or no opportunity for him to go anywhere. Like on this sack against the Raiders:
When Jones hits his drop depth and looks to throw, there are no options downfield. Everything is covered up. Then pressure gets home from the left side and Jones loses the football, and Las Vegas recovers.
Later in the game Jones again dropped to throw on a vertical concept, and when he hit his drop depth, there was nothing to target downfield:
Of course, there have also been moments where Jones does not have a chance because of a breakdown up front, like on this play against the Carolina Panthers:
The Panthers play a twist game up front, with DaQuan Jones staying upfield from his inside alignment, and Brian Burns looping around to the inside from the edge. Both the right guard and the right tackle stay on Jones, and Burns gets a free shot at Jones, who can do nothing but turtle before the hit.
But there are also moments where Jones could beat a sack with his eyes. Take this play against the Chiefs, from the fourth quarter:
On this play, the Chiefs show single-high coverage but spin this to a two-high look at the snap, with safety Daniel Sorensen dropping deep at the bottom of the screen. Jones keeps his eyes focused to the trips side of the formation, but misses the chance to look backside and hit the hole shot against this rotation. He ends up taking a sack.
Had he spotted this rotation, and the opportunity to hit Darius Slayton on the vertical route to the right, he might have hit on a big play.
And that is the perfect way to transition to the final piece, Jones’ eyes. Because despite of all the good things he has done this season, he still needs to get better with his eyes. Take this interception against the Los Angeles Rams:
Jones looks at the dig route from Engram the entire way, and Taylor Rapp just picks his pocket. Rapp initially makes contact with Engram to re-route him off the line before dropping into a hook one to read the QB, but Jones makes it too easy for him.
As he did later in the game, again staring down a route and letting Rapp get him once more:
The Giants run a hitch/seam combination to the left side, and with the Rams dropping into Quarters coverage, throwing the hitch to the boundary receiver is the right read. But Jones seems to lose track of Rapp playing underneath and, as he stares down the hitch route, Rapp just gets right into the throwing lane for the second easy interception of the game.
But this is not just a Taylor Rapp situation. Take this interception from the Chiefs game where again, Jones’ eyes lead a defender to the football. This time it is young linebacker Willie Gay Jr.:
Jones looks for Slayton on a little spot route, but his eyes go from the snap to Slayton, and never deviate. Then Jones is a bit deliberate getting the ball out, all of which allows Gay to get under the route and into position for the easy interception.
So in terms of how Jones can improve? It is with his eyes, and avoiding mistakes like these.
In all, the offense is performing much like you would expect the offense of a 3-6 football team to be performing. They are struggling to run the football — regardless of concept — and while there might be reasons for those struggles or ways to mitigate the struggles, there does not seem to be an overnight fix or remedy. Other than, perhaps, using Jones more as a runner.
In the passing game, Jones is doing well when pressured, and is executing play-action concepts well, but there is still room for growth. Particularly with his eyes, and with reading rotations. The Giants need to do a better job of protecting him and/or getting open for him, and Giants receivers have, according to PFF, dropped 13.7 percent of Jones’ throws when he is pressured, which is sixth-most in the league. So helping him out there could pay dividends. But there are issues beyond just the QB. Sure, Jones could help himself, and needs to improve with his eyes, but the QB position is not the biggest issues for the Giants at this point in time.