The New York Giants possess a 3-1 record, but the offense averages the 22nd-most yards per game (332), the 18th-most points (19.0), and they’ve yet to eclipse 200 passing yards in a game.
Despite the lack of an explosive passing attack, there are several encouraging takeaways about the Giants offense through four games. Running back Saquon Barkley is elite, and the overall rushing attack is adaptive with an offensive line upgrade. Also, the game plans from Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are fluid and filled with in-game adjustments.
Each game had a different and unique way of punishing opposing defenses. The foundation of any successful team is coaches that maximize the potential of their players. Through four games, it’s safe to say that Daboll and Kafka have positioned their players in an optimal manner.
The Giants' league-leading rushing attack has five major pillars: Barkley, Daniel Jones, the offensive line, overloaded tight end sets, and adjustments made by the coaching staff.
Barkley currently leads the NFL in rushing with 463 yards. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and he ranks second in rushing yards over expectation (behind Nick Chubb).
According to Pro Football Focus, Barkley has run power/gap 45 times and zone runs 35 times - a testament to the scheme’s flexibility based on what works vs. the Giants’ opponent.
Barkley displays the explosiveness and burst to get to the second level and follow his blockers working within a power/gap scheme. He also seems much more comfortable maximizing the blocks in front of him with vision, decisiveness, and patience to have success as a zone runner.
The offensive line deserves praise for their ability to adjust, have success in space, work the combo blocks up to the second level, and displace defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. There is an obvious upgrade at the offensive line, and it’s much more pronounced when run blocking than it is during pass blocking.
There is exceptional conviction when Barkley is toting the rock. Defenses are hyper-focused on stopping Barkley, which is opening up avenues of success for Daniel Jones.
The Giants quarterback injured his ankle in their 20-12 win over Chicago, and that could prove to be a major factor in hindering Jones’ mobility and the overall effectiveness of this offense. Jones’ status for Sunday vs. Green Bay is uncertain.
Jones has 188 yards on the ground with an average of 5.9 yards per carry. The Giants use the zone-read game, and Jones will also escape the pocket and find rushing lanes as a passer. Still, most of Jones’ damage on the ground is from play-action bootlegs that get Jones towards the sidelines with receivers crossing the field or leaking out to the play side.
The Dallas and Chicago games featured a ton of play-action bootlegs; the use in the Dallas game was primarily to slow down their potent pass rush. Against the Bears, Chicago decided not to pay any attention to Jones until late in the third quarter. Jones gashed the Bears several times for big runs or hit a few passes with Jones off boot-action where a defender was in conflict and had to choose between coverage or attacking Jones.
Both of Jones’ rushing touchdowns against the Bears were the same play - 13 personnel (three tight ends) all on one side, with a halfback misdirection play-action bootleg to the tight end side. The Bears forgot about Jones on the well sold play-fake on both touchdowns, and Jones connected with Tanner Hudson on the second half for a first down on this same exact play.
The Giants are currently struggling with wide receiver health, which was somewhat a factor in transitioning to more tight ends; also, the Bears would crowd the tight end side, allowing the Giants to run successfully to the weak side against their OVER front (3-technique to the strength, block down on the 1-technique and pull Jon Feliciano to the WILL), while also creating a seal to the boot-action with down blocking tight ends.
The Bears struggle to defend the double-Y and triple-Y sets by the Giants because New York had success running to the strength, running weak side, and also using their quarterback as a rushing threat. The continuous guessing by the Bears defense assisted the Giants in their success, as did the run blocking up front, Saquon Barkley, and Jones being smart with his legs.
The importance of coaching
Kafka and Daboll consistently won the chess match against Chicago and seemed to have an answer to combat the Bears, but there have been clutch adjustments in every game.
In Week 1, the Tennessee Titans aligned in a similar over type of front with worse linebackers. The Giants adjusted their rushing attack to double-pulling power/gap concepts with the play-side guard and center kicking into space, mostly to the strong side. Barkley ran for 164 yards and a touchdown.
The Carolina Panthers employed an OKIE front with a nose and two 5-techniques - along with very aggressive linebackers in the B-Gap - to stop the Giants’ rushing attack. New York used the Panthers’ aggression against them in the second half, as Jones led an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive after a Carolina touchdown. The Giants worked the play-action pass and took advantage of the intermediate part of the field.
We also caught the first glimpse of the RPO isolation to the sideline where Jones keeps and runs down the line of scrimmage with two eligible receivers high-lowing a defender - a play that is difficult to defend. We’ve seen this play, or a variation of it, in every game since.
The Giants' offensive line struggled against the Dallas Cowboys, but New York had success with some weak side runs. Kafka also really stressed move the pocket plays to protect Jones and utilize his athleticism towards the sideline, which proved to be a gigantic part of the Giants' game plan in Week 4.
The Giants' rushing attack is diverse, unpredictable, and it’s based on exploiting weekly opponents. The passing attack has struggled, but so much credit deserves to be ushered towards Daboll, Kafka, and Giants’ offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.
The negative return on investment New York has received from the wide receivers is palpable. The Giants have allocated so many resources to the position, yet the injuries mount, and the players seem to age tenfold.
It is difficult for Jones to establish a rhythmic passing attack with his current lot of receiving weapons. Barkley is tied with wide receiver Richie James with 15 receptions. David Sills is the snap leader at wide receiver.
The injury to Sterling Shepard is a devastating loss, but the Giants desperately need to get Kadarius Toney and Wan’Dale Robinson back.
The Giants don’t have sufficient play-makers to exploit opposing secondaries. Jones has an average of 6.3 intended air yards per target, which currently ranks 28th in the NFL. Jones is under pressure during 37.2 percent of his drop backs (first in the league), and he’s blitzed the 12th-most.
The lack of weapons and the offensive line issues in protection haven’t helped this passing attack. Despite the issues, I like the play designs against zone and man coverage, and there’s real creativity by the coaching staff in the red zone. There is still a lot of room for Jones and the passing attack to improve, but - if Jones’ health permits - the Giants should receive more competent receiving weapons soon with the hopeful return of Toney and Robinson.
The Giants' overall offense exceeded many expectations, despite the struggles through the air. The re-emergence of Barkley is the impetuous - the heartbeat - of this Giants team. The defense’s propensity to hyper-focus on Barkley has allowed the Giants to extend drives and score multiple touchdowns with the legs of Jones.
The coaching staff continues to use option plays like the zone-read and RPO to force defenders to be wrong by isolating them as conflict players. Jones executes these plays well, and it allows the Giants to matriculate the football down the field in a quick and efficient manner.
The next three games for the Giants aren’t easy. They travel across the Atlantic to face the Green Bay Packers in England, before hosting Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. New York then travels to northern Florida to face a now formidable Jacksonville Jaguars team, led by new head coach Doug Pederson.
The Bears and Panthers are among the two worst teams in the NFL, so we may see how this team stacks up in the coming weeks. However, the health of players like the Giants’ quarterbacks and wide receivers will be something to monitor throughout the week.