Wins like this past week over the Ravens are becoming routine for the Giants, which is impressive considering how difficult they normally are to come by. The immediate aftermath usually leaves fans with a feeling of bewildered joy. Obviously winning feels good, but questions of “What did I just watch? How did that happen?” are there as well.
Narrative-driven reporting is usually quick to fill in the gaps. But quantifiable analysis of “what” and “why” happened takes more time to sort out. Let’s see what the stats and advanced analytics can tell us about the Giants’ latest win.
A Cinderella story in pictures
The biggest single story from the Giants win is how they just keep coming out on top of better teams in the same way.
It looked as though the Giants would have a hard-fought loss against the Ravens. Then, in the span of eight plays — starting with a third down conversion nullified by penalty, and finishing with Kayvon Thibodeaux’s strip-sack — the Giants went from having a 17 percent chance of winning to a 99 percent chance of winning.
The Giants win probability increased from 17% to 57% on their first interception this season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 16, 2022
Xaiver McKinney pressured Lamar Jackson after a high snap, his 5th pressure this season (T-most among safeties).#BALvsNYG | #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/o3t7vIfd3P
Six plays later, Kayvon Thibodeaux strip sacked Lamar Jackson.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 16, 2022
As a result, the Giants win probability increased from 79% to 99% and they went on to win the game 24-20.#BALvsNYG | #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/BkymlsvI6x
The Giants were largely outplayed by the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, and the Ravens. While the Giants were far from the incompetent mess we’ve seen in previous years, they looked every bit the “scrappy underdog” for much of those games. Despite the Giants’ largely anemic offense, they were able to hang around and keep from hurting themselves.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Giants would make subtle adjustments while their opponent would hurt themselves with snowballing penalties, mistakes, or miscues. That opened the door for the Giants to capitalize and stun their opponent.
This is what that looks like:
Week 1 vs. the Tennessee Titans
Week 5 vs. the Green Bay Packers
Week 6 vs. the Baltimore Ravens
The Giants are obviously a flawed team. They have questions or outright holes at several spots on their roster, even as they start to get injured players back healthy. Teams that are starting practice squad caliber players (or mid-season street free agents) can still win games in an “any given Sunday” fashion. But for that to happen in almost the same way in three of six games is virtually unheard of.
The NFL is in a weird place this year. Teams that were largely expected to be mediocre at best — such as the Giants, Jets, Vikings, and Seahawks — are all surging, while teams that were expected to be good are flagging. Offense seems to be down league-wide as well, and 14 of 26 teams to play (so far) this week failed to score more than 20 points.
Save us, Obi Wan’Dale...
The Giants were finally able to get Wan’Dale Robinson on the field, and it didn’t come a moment too soon. His numbers were hardly revelatory, catching three of four targets for 37 yards and a touchdown. However, the first significant action of his NFL career was a breath of fresh air.
It’s no secret that the Giants’ offense is anemic. They had just 238 total yards of offense and once again failed to eclipse 200 yards passing. The Giants’ inability to consistently move the ball through the air is starting to be a real problem for them.
Saquon Barkley pretty much was the Giants’ offense through the first five games of the season. He has been accumulating yardage more consistently than at any point in his career, and the Giants have been able to lean on him in the second half. This game, however, Barkley never really got going. He had 83 yards on 22 carries (3.8 per carry) with another 12 yards receiving, and his longest play went just 8 yards. A big reason why the Ravens were able to bottle Barkley up was that the Giants don’t really threaten teams down the field.
The Ravens were able to play with more defenders close to the line of scrimmage and Barkley saw a stacked box on 36.36 percent of his carries, per NFL NextGenStats. That was tied for the seventh-highest rate this week (at least before Monday Night Football). Barkley also saw his efficiency drop this week, spending an average of 4.3 seconds behind the line of scrimmage — also the seventh-highest rate.
The obvious answer is just “do passing better!”, but folks looking for a simple answer as to why the Giants struggle through the air are likely going to be frustrated.
As we’ve come to expect, most of Daniel Jones’ passes were fewer than 10 yards down the field, and the Giants’ average reception traveled 5 yards in the air.
There are personnel and schematic reasons for the Giants’ reliance on short-range passing.
Much of the Giants’ passing offense seems to involve shallow-to-deep reads. Without being in the meeting room, we can’t say why, but we’ve seen evidence of the Giants taking short gains as opposed to longer ones. That could be due to issues with the receiving corps, Daniel Jones’ comfort and preferences, concerns about pass protection, or a desire to avoid turnovers.
The Giants’ pass protection is also spotty-at-best. Jones was sacked four times by the Ravens, after being sacked three times by the Packers*. Likewise, the Giants know that they can’t afford to give away possessions by way of turnovers. Riskier throws further down the field could be devastating to them if they result in interceptions. The Giants success has depended on not making mistakes and hurting themselves. They just don’t have the ability to beat themselves AND the other team.
*Note: Yes, the stat sheet only records one sack by Green Bay, but the two that were wiped out by penalty still happened. Giants’ blockers were beat and Jones was hit.
Obviously they need more from their receiving corps.
In all likelihood, the reason why the Giants’ passing offense looks like it does is a mix of all of those factors.
But regardless of the actual reason, opposing defenses are starting to recognize the Giants’ offensive tendencies and it’s getting harder for them to consistently move the ball. Hopefully Robinson’s return to the field will help alleviate that problem.
Dexter Lawrence keeps getting better
The Giants picked up Lawrence’s fifth year option in the 2022 offseason, so he’s going to be a member of the team until the end of the 2024 season. But I would contend that Joe Schoen needs to start talking to his financial people about extending Lawrence following the 2022 season.
We expected that he would have a big season in 2022, but his play in Martindale’s scheme has exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. Lawrence has always been big, fast, and powerful, but now he’s adding improved technique to unlock his physical traits and Martindale is scheming to take advantage.
Lawrence has emerged as one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the NFL.
He is currently 10th in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate among defensive tackles, just behind Christian Wilkins and Kenny Clark with a 16 percent win rate. NFL NextGenStats is even higher on Lawrence, crediting him with the fifth-highest pressure rate among defensive tackles at 12.1 percent.
While players like Chris Jones and Aaron Donald might beat blockers faster than Lawrence, he’s one of the best at applying pressure once he does get past blockers. Lawrence is quickly becoming a game-wrecker, and his pressure helps make the rest of the Giants’ pressure packages go.