The 6-1 New York Giants travel to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday to face the division-leading 4-3 Seattle Seahawks. At the beginning of the season, Seattle was egarded as a tanking team with a chance to select in the top three of the 2023 NFL Draft. They very well may select in the top three, but that’s due to the possession of Denver’s first-round selection.
A career resurgence by former Giant backup quarterback Geno Smith astounded many around the NFL, as head coach Pete Caroll’s vision of success has transpired through seven games.
Smith’s ascension coincides with the breakout of rookie running back Kenneth Walker III, who has three touchdowns in the two games he has started since Rashaad Penny suffered a fractured fibula.
Caroll’s vision is predicated on running the football and working the play-action passing attack that presumably would allow Smith to “manage” the game. Smith, however, is playing phenomenal football. He is averaging 8 passing yards per attempt, with 11 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 1,711 passing yards, ranking eighth in the NFL.
Smith’s completion percentage is 73.5, which ranks first in the NFL of quarterbacks who start. Pro Football Reference has Smith as the fourth-most accurate quarterback in terms of on-target percentage - Daniel Jones is sixth.
One of the many reasons we are witnessing an elevation in play from Smith is the protection and scheme. Despite having rookies anchoring both tackle positions in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, Smith ranks 16th in pressure rate. Smith was sacked 16 times through seven games, which is not ideal and ranks ninth most in the NFL, but the pressure rate is still down.
Smith is the eighth-most blitzed quarterback, and is doing an excellent job getting the football out of his hand when extra defenders rush. Smith ranks third in NFL passer rating, and Pro Football Focus ranks him as the fourth-highest in total offense and the fifth-best when passing.
Smith ranks in the top 10 of several advanced quarterback metrics, and some of his throws this season have been unreal. I’m most concerned about Seattle’s rushing attack because the Giants' defense forgot how to execute simple run fits against Jacksonville, but Smith could pose a problem against New York.
Seattle is the fifth-highest-scoring team in the league, with an average of 26.1 points per game. The Giants currently rank 18th with an average of 21.4 points per game. They're 12th in yards per game (362.9), whereas the Giants are 19th (334.3).
The Seahawks average 137.1 rushing yards per game, ranking 10th. The Giants average 173.4 rushing yards per game, second in the league. Since Walker assumed the starting job, Seattle averages 173.5 rushing yards per game, although that was done against Arizona and the Los Angeles Chargers - not exactly the best run defenses.
Seattle averages 225.7 passing yards per game, ranking 16th, while the Giants are 30th with an average of 160.9 passing yards per game. Seattle averages 30.9 passing attempts a game, ranking 23rd. The Giants are 29th, with an average of 27.4 passing attempts per game.
The Seahawks' offense is tied for third in the NFL with 31 explosive plays (20+ yards or more). They are second in the league with explosive runs (11, behind Cleveland), and they have 17th in the league with 20 explosive passing plays. The Giants have eight explosive runs and seven explosive passing plays, the latter ranks dead last in the NFL; the next lowest is the Rams at fourteen, who played one less game.
Seattle has the seventh-best three-and-out percentage; only 26.4 percent of their drives resulted in a three-and-out. The Giants are just behind them with a 26.8 percent rate. The Seahawks also have the fifth-best offensive EPA (expected points added), and the Giants are behind them at seventh-best.
There are four NFL running backs who average more than six yards per carry, and two of them are Seahawks. Of all running backs that have earned at least 20 percent of their offense’s snaps, Walker and Penny each average 6.1 yards per rush; the other two are Chicago’s Khalil Herbert (6.2 YPC) and Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne (6.1 YPC).
Big Blue’s defense attempted to corral Etienne last week, and the second-year back rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries. Etienne left several plays on the field, as there were plenty of missed or poorly judged cuts that could have led to even more explosive plays for Jacksonville’s offense.
The Giants were confused and often out of position against Jacksonville. Defensively, it was their worst effort of the season. The linebackers were a gigantic concern, and Jaylon Smith was an issue all game.
I’m not certain the Giants even want to play their linebackers.
The #Giants defense leads the league in QUARTER personnel (7+ DBs on the field, no ILBs)— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 26, 2022
They've run this package 10.5% of their plays this season
The next closest team is the Raiders at 2.9%
The problem with New York utilizing their quarter package against Seattle is the Seahawks' personnel isn’t light offensively. The Seahawks rank third in the NFL in 12+ personnel packages - they’re only in 11 personnel 46 percent of the time, which ranks 30th in the league. 12 personnel likely means more snaps for Giants' linebackers.
Doug Pederson and the Jaguars followed the blueprint set by Kellen Moore and the Cowboys - attack the Giants’ defense laterally. Jacksonville’s offense keyed the Giants’ biggest vulnerability on defense by forcing their linebackers to play disciplined and be in position on lateral runs outside of the EDGE rushers.
Smith and Tae Crowder scraping over the top of traffic to make plays on the lateral plane is not the best path to success for the Giants. Teams do not attempt to run on the interior against the Giants. The Jacksonville offensive line was not bullying the Giants upfront; they were taking advantage of bad run fits on the outside while using eye candy in the backfield to force hesitation.
This remains a concern for me against Seattle. One glimmer of hope is the approach of Seattle’s rushing attack. While potent and explosive, they are much more zone based. The Giants linebackers sometimes abandon their gap responsibility to over-pursue vs. zone runs, but their primary issues exist against pin-pull concepts to the outside.
Dallas and Jacksonville pinned the end man on the line of scrimmage and would kick backside or play side pullers into space, and New York failed to position themselves advantageously to defend many of these runs. There were miscommunications, misalignments, and bad judgment.
The Giants have been better against wide zone teams - not perfect, but better. They were sound against Derrick Henry and the Titans in Week 1. New York’s defense also struggled with late motion and jet motion. The hesitation often led to slow execution of run fits, which can lead to mistakes. Seattle ranks 26th in the league in pre-snap motion; the Seahawks only use it on 35.2 percent of snaps.
Seattle’s rushing attack at home is a big threat to the Giants' defense at the second level, and I’m certain Wink Martindale will do everything in his power to try and slow the rookie from Michigan State down.
DeeJay Dallas is the change of pace back who has some receiving upside. Dallas averages 5.1 yards per carry this season.
Typically speaking, many coordinators would salivate at the thought of scheming against two rookie offensive tackles. The response to Pavlov’s bell is diminished by the effectiveness of both Cross and Lucas, but I think Martindale will make them very uncomfortable.
Martindale will find a way to load the line of scrimmage and use simulated pressure, off-ball blitzes, and twists up front to get pressure on Smith, who has been effective against pressure. The twist/stunt up front could be a way to make the neophytes on the outside pay.
The Giants ran two E/T twists last week, both worked, albeit Leonard Williams was flagged for roughing the passer.
The #Giants run two E/T (End/Tackle) twists with Thibodeaux and Leonard Williams (second one was the roughing the passer...)— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 25, 2022
New York didn't phone home on either play, but the concept worked
Great way to free up rushers w/ a four-man pass rush pic.twitter.com/F0tBM8f3RX
Martindale may dial up the four-man pass rush and use end/tackle twists to force the tackles to transition smoothly on their pass-offs while also sending more pressure than he did last week against Jacksonville.
Generating pressure exotically will be part of the game plan, but rookie pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is talented enough to win one-on-one against Cross or Lucas. Cross is not consistently protecting his outside shoulder, and Thibodeaux is starting to become dangerous with his high-side ability to bend around the corner; Pederson was well aware of that in the fourth quarter, and Cam Robinson received help from the tight end.
Dexter Lawrence continues to have an unreal year, along with Leonard Williams, who is not filling the stat sheet but is still separating from offensive linemen. This duo can win their matchups against Austin Blythe (C), Damien Lewis (LG), and Phil Haynes/Jake Curhan (RG).
The big question mark is the health of D.K. Metcalf, who injured his knee (patellar tendon) against the Chargers. The injury is considered mild, and Metcalf suggested he wants to play this week, but it seems unlikely. We will see.
The loss of Metcalf would affect the functionality of the offense. Metcalf has 31 catches on 52 targets for 417 yards and two touchdowns on the season. His departure opened the door for Olympic track athlete Marquise Goodwin, who recorded four catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers.
Goodwin figures to be a big part of the offense and may see a lot of Adoree’ Jackson, but I have concerns about Tyler Lockett in the slot against Darnay Holmes. Lockett is one of the better true slot wide receivers in the NFL. He has 41 catches on 51 targets for 468 yards and two touchdowns.
Second-year wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge could have an expanded role. The undersized wideout only has 16 career catches, and he fumbled an exchange with Smith last week, but he is explosive.
The Seahawks also use their tight ends often in the middle of the field, which could be an issue for the Giants' linebackers. Noah Fant will see a lot of safety coverage, but Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson are the safety valves for Smith. Much like the Giants, Seattle likes to chip and release its tight ends beneath zone coverage for easy yardage. There will be 12 and 13 personnel packages on the field often, especially with the probable loss of Metcalf.
Seattle is a run-first team. But the passing attack led by Smith is not to be trifled with. On the first play of the game last week, Seattle opened with an EMPTY formation, 12 personnel, and Geno Smith went through a full field progression. He realized that the No. 3’s stick route (Metcalf) was covered well, so he worked to the backside to find the tight end Dissly on a dig route.
First play of the game for Seattle— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 26, 2022
12 P, EMPTY formation...Geno Smith doesn't like what he sees to the front side of the play; stick to Metcalf at No.3 is covered well
Smith works to the backside DIG and hits Dissly for a 16 yd gain.
Great job by Geno#Giants #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/4EPaMr6mzl
That’s not easy to do. This team will throw, and has had a lot of success doing so.
This isn’t an easy task for New York, and the Giants will be in a hostile environment. The Giants' defense looked lost pre-snap several times on the road last week, and those communication mishaps must be rectified.
The Giants will attempt to lead Seattle to the pool's deep end, and keep this game close into the fourth quarter. Big Blue has that capability and could leave Seattle with their seventh victory of the season, but they have to be better defensively. It was pretty remarkable that New York only surrendered 17 points last week.
If the Giants play as poorly as they did last week on defense, then it will be a long day in the Pacific Northwest. New York must execute their run fits, pass routes off with quality communication, and deflate the Seahawks' offense by applying pressure and staying assignment sound. It’s possible, but the Giants have to improve on defense.