While the game was, apparently, close up until Denver’s third quarter touchdown to go up 17-7. However the Broncos dominance in ball possession and methodical drives had something to do with that.
Thanks to a shortened preseason where the Giants had to deal with injuries to a number of starters and a desire to manage fatigue heading into an extended regular season, this was the first chance we got to really see the Giants’ starting units in action.
While the outcome of the game was frustratingly familiar from recent years, let’s take a look at the numbers and see if we can find any deeper insight.
The last couple weeks the story of the snap counts was “who played” and “how much”. But that was when we were trying to use the preseason to make inferences and predictions about the Giants for the regular season.
Now, the story of the snap counts is more about who didn’t play — or who played less than predicted.
Starting up front, while left guard Shane Lemieux got the start for the game, he only played 17 total snaps, with new edition Ben Bredeson playing 44 snaps. The plan had been for Lemieux to try and play through his partially torn patellar tendon, but that plan could be out the window. We did see the Giants use a now-familiar strategy of platooning their offensive line, but the disparity between Bredeson and Lemieux’s snaps begs the question of whether Bredeson will soon be the Giants’ starting left guard.
Speaking of that platoon, starting left tackle Nate Solder played 43 of 61 offensive snaps (70 percent), while Matt Peart came on the field for 19 snaps (one of which was as a jumbo tight end).
All eyes were, of course, on running back Saquon Barkley as he makes his return to the field from a torn ACL suffered in Week 2 of last year. Barkley roughly split the snap load with free agent addition Devontae Booker, with Barkley getting 29 snaps and 24 snaps for Booker. The Giants didn’t run the ball much, with Barkley getting 10 carries and Booker running the ball 4 times. Based on Barkley’s 2.6 yards per carry, it could be assumed that the Broncos’ defense was keying on him and stacking the box. Thanks to NFL NextGenStats player tracking data, we know that just wasn’t the case. Barkley didn’t see any 8+ man boxes, and was the least efficient running back in the NFL on Sunday with a rating of 6.15.
Rushing efficiency is calculated by taking the total distance a player traveled on rushing plays as a ball carrier according to Next Gen Stats (measured in yards) per rushing yards gained. The lower the number, the more of a North/South runner.
Barkley also spent the eighth-most time behind the line of scrimmage, per NextGenStats.
At the wide receiver position, Sterling Shepard lead the way with 58 snaps, trailed closely by Kenny Golladay with 52 while Darius Slayton rounded out the 11-personnel grouping with 43 snaps.
In previous years the Giants have had major issues with wide receivers failing to generate separation, and unfortunately that continued against the Broncos. Golladay had the lowest average separation in the NFL with just 0.9 yards despite getting an average of 7.7 yards of cushion from the Denver defense. Perennially poor separator Darius Slayton got a league leading 9.1 yards of cushion from the Broncos’ corners, but averaged just 1.7 yards of separation.
Rookie receiver Kadarius Toney played just five snaps.
Outside of his long pass to Darius Slayton following a Denver offsides penalty, Daniel Jones’ day was — as Mark Schofield described his performance in the final preseason game — “meh.”
Jones took advantage of that free play, and in doing so raised his completion percentage by 1.2 percentage points and his yards per attempt by about 0.7. Unfortunately, he averaged just 59.5 percent completion, which was 0.7 percent below expected (per NFL NextGenStats). Many of Jones’ other passes were timing routes designed to get the ball out of his hand quickly, which is something he did relatively well. Jones had a solid time to throw of 2.58 seconds, which makes generating pressure tricky for a defense.
That’s born out in the charting from NextGenStats, who show that while Jones’ pocket was constricted, it wasn’t devastatingly so.
All told, the Giants’ offense offense ranked 22nd in the NFL in efficiency.
Outside of garbage time (defined here as having less than 8 percent chance of winning or losing), the Giants had an EPA per play of -0.077. Their passing EPA per play was 0.020 (success rate 43.5 percent), while their rushing EPA per play was -0.280 (success rate 45.5 percent).
As we’ve come to expect, James Bradberry and Blake Martinez played every one of the Giants’ 66 defensive snaps, while Adoree Jackson and Xavier McKinney played 63 (95 percent) and Logan Ryan played 61 snaps.
Lorenzo Carter lead the way for the defensive front in his first game back from a torn Achilles with 58 snaps, and Leonard Williams played 51 snaps.
From there, the Giants used a pretty active rotation, with nine other players getting at least 23 snaps.
- DL Dexter Lawrence - 42 snaps
- EDGE Azeez Ojulari - 34 snaps
- NT Austin Johnson - 33 snaps
- SS Jabrill Peppers - 30 snaps
- EDGE Oshane Ximines - 29 snaps
- CB Darnay Holmes - 28 snaps
- LB Reggie Raggland - 25 snaps
- LB Tae Crowder - 25 snaps
- NT Danny Shelton - 23 snaps
The Giants’ defense struggled mightily to get off the field all game long. The Broncos only punted twice, and they held the ball for just under 30 minutes by the start of the fourth quarter.
While the Giants’ receivers struggled to find any separation from Denver’s secondary, the Broncos’ pass catchers were able to consistently find voids in the Giants’ coverage.
Between his accurate passing, improvisation, and receivers finding room to work, Teddy Bridgewater was the best quarterback in the NFL on Sunday.
He averaged an incredible 0.566 EPA per play against the Giants with a 57.5 percent success rate. Per NFL NextGenStats, Bridgewater’s completion percentage of 77.8 percent was 14.2 percent above expected. Looking at his completion chart brings into focus just how well Bridgewater played.
The Giants’ defense was, for the most part, stout against the run. They limited Melvin Gordon to 31 yards on 10 carries (outside of his 70-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach), while rookie Javonte Williams picked up 45 yards on 14 carries. However, they struggled to create much in the way of pressure with their natural pass rush.
Bridgewater had the second-longest time to throw in the NFL on Sunday, holding the ball for an average of 3.03 seconds.
The Giants’ pass rush did manage to get closer to Bridgewater on average than the Broncos did Daniel Jones, but they just didn’t disrupt him or the Broncos’ offense.
The Giants’ defense just couldn’t get off the field this game, and that shows up in their advanced analytics as compared to the rest of the NFL.
The chart shows about what we’d expect from watching the game.
(Note: For defense, negative EPA is good, as it means the offense is less likely to score on the next play.)
Outside of garbage time, the Giants were fairly successful in stopping the run, allowing a rushing EPA of -0.231, which was good for 10th in the NFL. However, their pass defense was porous, giving up 0.439 EPA, which was 23rd in the NFL. Their total EPA per play was 25th in the NFL at 0.223.