The 5-1 New York Giants will travel to take on the 2-4 Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7.
The two teams’ records would suggest that the Giants should have this game well in hand. However, the Jaguars are a more dangerous team than their three-game losing streak would indicate. They have one of the youngest teams in the NFL, with talent on both sides of the ball. And with Doug Pederson at the helm, they’re also much more competently coached than in previous years.
The Jags’ offense is a work in progress as Pederson strives to get his young players on the same page and executing consistently. Their defense, however, has quietly been one of the best in the NFL over the first six weeks.
The Jaguars are 10th in yards per play allowed and have fielded one of the NFL’s best run defenses — and most disruptive pass defenses.
The Giants and Jaguars don’t cross paths often — though the presence of former Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson makes them feel more familiar.
What can we expect from the Jaguars’ defense on Sunday?
Will the run game be there for the Giants?
As mentioned above, the Jaguars have a young and talented front seven.
Their defense ranks seventh in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate, and they rank third in the league in yards per game and yards per carry.
The Jaguars several young defenders who are playing quite a bit and playing well. Both of Jacksonville’s first round picks were used on the defense, selecting Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker with the first overall pick and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd 27th overall. Walker’s size and explosive athleticism has been an asset in Jacksonville’s defensive front. He’s used his length and power well to control blockers, and currently ranked seventh in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate,
Lloyd has played almost every defensive snap for the Jaguars. He’s been active in pass defense (which we’ll get to in a minute), but he’s also shown growth in how he plays the run. Lloyd is a physical defender who comes downhill hard, using his hands well to take on blockers.
The Jaguars also have a solid cast of rotational defenders at the defensive tackle and defensive end position. Veteran Adam Gotsis has proven disruptive against both the run and the pass, while nose tackle DaVon Hamilton anchors their line.
While the Jaguars have stumbled in recent weeks, they’ve proven stout against the run. Four of their first six opponents have failed to eclipse 100 total yards on the ground.
The Giants rely heavily on their run game to move the ball. The Giants themselves are coming off of a sub-par game running the ball against the Baltimore Ravens. How they scheme to correct the issues that cropped up on the ground in Week 6 will be one of the determining factors in this game.
Can the Giants get their passing attack on track?
The most accurate description of the Giants’ passing game is probably “enough”. So far the Giants have just one game with more than 200 yards passing and are currently have the second-lowest total passing yards of any team to have played six games.
As mentioned above, the Giants have largely leaned on their running game to consistently move the ball, though they have come up with some key receptions in third-and-long situations. Again, their passing offense has been “enough”.
There have been several reasons for the Giants’ anemic passing offense: They’ve struggled to get healthy receivers on the field, their pass protection has been ... an adventure, and many of their passing plays have been targeted to the shallow areas of the field.
While the Giants didn’t get much production through the air against the Baltimore Ravens, there were some encouraging signs. Rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson returned to the field after being injured 9 snaps into his NFL debut back in Week 1, and caught three passes on four targets for 37 yards and a touchdown. Likewise, rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger caught all five of his targets for 38 yards and a touchdown. Those might not be stellar numbers, but they give the Giants a foundation off of which they can build.
This week presents an interesting challenge.
As the efficiency chart above shows, the Jaguars have a good pass defense as well as a stout run defense.
The Jaguars are around the middle of the league in terms of completion percentage, yards per attempt, and rate of passing touchdowns allowed. They blitz at about league-average rate and hurry quarterbacks at about the same rate.
All of that would seem to bode well for the Giants.
However, digging a little deeper is where the intrigue comes in.
The Jaguars lead the NFL in ESPN’s team Pass Rush Win Rate metric, topping both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. As a unit, the Jaguars beat opposing blockers in 2.5 seconds (or less) on 55 percent of their pass rush reps. And despite having just 3.0 sacks on the season, edge defender Josh Allen ranks ninth among edge rushers in PRWR. Meanwhile, nose tackle DaVon Hamilton ranks seventh among interior defensive linemen in PRWR, with his 16 percent win rate just trailing Dexter Lawrence’s 17 percent win rate.
The Jaguars are also pretty good at hitting quarterbacks. While they don’t have many sacks (just 10 on the season, and Allen’s 3.0 lead the team), they’re tied for the fifth-most quarterback knockdowns (28) and have the fifth-highest knockdown rate.
So all of that would suggest that while the Jaguars are adept at beating blockers quickly, opposing quarterbacks have been able to get rid of the ball quickly enough to avoid the sack — but not the hit.
The Jaguars have a diverse set of defensive linemen. Allen is quick and agile off the edge, while Walker is one of the freakiest height/weight/speed athletes to enter the NFL in recent memory. Gotsis is a slightly undersized but savvy veteran and while Hamilton is slow (he clocked a 5.35-second 40-yard dash back in 2020), he is tremendously powerful and surprisingly agile for his size. That will present a range of challenges for the Giants’ blockers.
The Jaguars primarily play single-high coverages, either Cover 1 or Cover 3, with some Cover 2 sprinkled in. On average, they’re at their best in their Cover 3 shells, and the Giants should expect to see a lot of those looks. Cover 3 will allow them to keep eight defenders close to the line of scrimmage, which they’ll want to do against Saquon Barkley.
The Giants have leaned heavily on their tight end position as receivers, particularly on third downs. The matchup between linebackers Lloyd, Foyesade Oluokun and the Giants’ tight ends could prove pivotal. Both linebackers are athletic, and Lloyd has stood out in coverage with two interceptions and six passes defensed so far this season.
The Jaguars have had a propensity for getting their hands on the ball this year. All told, they lead the NFL with 40 passes defensed and are tied for fifth with 7 interceptions. They’re also seventh in interception rate, so their number of passes defensed and interceptions aren’t wholly explained by the (relatively) high number of pass attempts they’ve seen so far this year.
The Giants can absolutely find success against the Jaguars through the air. However, Daniel Jones will need to be on-schedule and precise with his placement. The Jaguars’ have enough up front to potentially give the Giants’ pass protection problems, and their pass coverage has proven opportunistic.
Perhaps the key for the Giants on offense through the first six games of the season has been their adaptability. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have made a habit of adapting their offense over the course of games as they discover opponents’ tendencies. Whether that has been a tendency toward man or zone coverage in certain situations, overaggressiveness or a willingness to sit back, the Giants have been able to suss out opponents’ tendencies in high-leverage situations and exploit them for just enough gain.
Last week it looked as though the Jaguars were going to break through and Trevor Lawrence would secure the come-from-behind win against the division rival Indianapolis Colts. However, the Colts had been paying attention and had used the Jags’ tendency toward Cover 3 defense against them all game. With the pressure on, the Jaguars switched to man coverage, but Matt Ryan was ready for it. The Colts were able to keep the Jaguars off-balance by calling man-beater concepts and engineered their own game-winning drive with 2:38 remaining in the game.
The return of Robinson could play a significant role in the Giants offense against the Jaguars. Robinson is one of the Giants’ most versatile players, with experience as a receiver, running back, and “gadget” player. His presence should give Daboll and Kafka significant freedom in scheming against Jacksonvilles’ tendencies. While the Cover 3 is a balanced defense, it has some obvious weaknesses. In particular, offenses can easily put defenders in conflict in the short and intermediate areas of the field — which is where the Giants have preferred to play so far this season.
Concepts like the “Smash” (a route combination featuring a short hook or curl route and a deeper corner route), or the Curl/Flat route combination can put outside corners in serious responsibility conflicts. They’re forced to decide whether to cover the deeper receiver or shallow receiver, and the deep safety is often unable to get there in time to help. Quick receivers like Robinson (and Richie James) are able to cut sharply and maximize separation against those zone coverages, and pick up yards after the catch.
If the Giants are able to make enough hay against the Jaguars’ preferred Cover 3, they’ll likely switch to more man looks and potentially blitz more as well.
The Giants can use man-beater concepts (such as rub or crossing routes) to keep scheming easy completions. Likewise, they can use their Wildcat package to move the ball in unexpected ways against man coverage.
The Jaguars also have a tendency to blitz using their linebackers. The Giants’ interior pass protection has given them trouble this year, and blitzes through the interior gaps could prove effective. That said, Jacksonville’s tendency to blitz their linebackers and not defensive backs can make them a bit more predictable — and therefore the Giants should be a better able to design counters and call them at the right times.
There are no perfect defenses, and every team falls into habits over the course of the season. Coaches have their preferences and players have their own strengths and weaknesses. But while teams might have an idea of what’s coming they still have to counter and execute better than the other team.
We’ll see on Sunday whether the Giants will be able to do so again.