There were echoes of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars as the Giants let a young team hang around until the very end of the game. While the Giants were never really in danger of losing the game, their own mistakes, miscues, and missed opportunities made the game more of a nail-biter than it needed to be.
We expected some changes from the Giants as they got healthier coming out of their bye week. And we did see some changes on the field — such as their use of heavy and super-heavy offensive personnel packages. But it was also confirmed that the Giants are who we thought they were after the first eight games.
What insights into the Giants’ seventh win can we get from the advanced stats from the game?
Darius Slayton FTW
The Giants’ cadre of pass catchers has taken a lot of heat over the first nine games of the season. Fans and beat writers alike have laid considerable blame on the Giants’ pass catchers for the team’s anemic passing attack. One beat writer (who will go unnamed in this piece) went so far as to opine that the Giants needed Kenny Golladay to have a big day, because the Giants other receivers are “terrible”.
While I was among them in the first half of the season, my deep dive into the Giants’ offense changed my mind.
To be sure, the Giants’ group of pass catchers are far from scary and there are plenty of teams who’s receivers have a much higher ceiling than the Giants’. But that isn’t the same thing as them being bad or playing poorly. The Giants’ coaching staff has done a fantastic job of putting the receivers in position to succeed and they’ve largely executed well. The analytics back that up, and the Giants are just outside of the bottom third in the NFL in EPA lost to drops.
All told, the Giants receivers played well against the Texans. For the first time in a long time, all of the Giants’ most targeted receivers were above league-average in terms of separation.
Most notably (and on-topic for this subhead), there’s an argument that no single Giant player was more responsible for the Giants’ win over the Texans than WR Darius Slayton.
Slayton’s 54-yard touchdown at the start of the third quarter was the single biggest play in terms of both winning percentage and EPA added. That play added a full 12 points to the Giants’ winning percentage, raising it from 78 percent to 91 percent and it was also good for +5.5 EPA.
The play was well-designed by the Giants’ coaches, using Isaiah Hodgins on a vertical route against man coverage to clear out the underneath area while Slayton ran a quick out-route from the slot. The clear-out route created an enormous area for Slayton to settle under the heave by Jones and corral the ball as though he was fielding a punt. Slayton has had questionable (to put it mildly) hands in the past, and having as much room as he did made the reception that much easier. From there, Jalen Pitre had the stunningly bad tackle whiff (that rightly got him benched) and it was off to the races for Slayton. Had that play not gone down like it did, the Giants would have been in a much more precarious position in the second half.
It’s fitting that Slayton’s play was set up by a clear-out route from Hodgins. The two receivers — Slayton and Hodgins — combined for five receptions and 136 yards, or roughly 40 percent of the the Giants’ receptions and 69 percent of their passing yardage.
Saquon Barkley (and company)
While Darius Slayton might be responsible for the single biggest play of the game, but it was Saquon Barkley who carried the Giants’ offense (both literally and figuratively).
As we’ve noted, Barkley carried the ball a career-high 35 times against the Texans, racking up 152 yards and a touchdown. While that only comes to 4.2 yards per carry, Barkley’s sheer volume of carries helped keep the Giants’ offense on schedule and on the field. New York fairly dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 33:20 over the course of the game. It also
It’s one thing to see “35 carries”, but seeing the GPS representation of all of those carries really drives home just how much work Barkley had against Houston.
So far, Barkley is averaging more than 25 touches (25.2) per game in 2022, which puts him on pace for (roughly) 430 touches on the season. Even if we’re just talking about rushing attempts, Barkley is averaging 22 carries a game, which would put him on pace for 374 total carries this year.
There’s fairly compelling evidence that very high volumes can have detrimental effects on runners in subsequent years. There have been a significant number of the game’s best runners who saw their play fall off considerably after seasons in which they had 370 (or more) carries. Barkley has been the player through whom the offense is run, and he’s seen his per-game average increase over the last four weeks.
While he will likely shatter his career marks in a contract year, it might make long-term sense for the Giants to start spelling Barkley down the stretch.
Matt Brieda has seen roughly 20 percent of the Giants’ snaps in recent weeks, but the Giants might want to consider increasing that number. Brieda is a capable runner in his own right, and the Giants’ offensive line has been doing a good job of opening holes on the ground once Mike Kafka gets a read on which concepts work best against a particular defense.
This past week, while Barkley lead the NFL in rushing (at least prior to Monday Night Football), he largely picked up what was blocked for him. Per NFL NextGenStats, of Barkley’s 152 yards, 143 of those yards were “expected”. Brieda is capable of being a fine receiving back, and his style of running fits most of what Barkley brings to the table as well. He might not have Barkley’s explosive potential, but he is capable enough to warrant a larger role to help preserve Barkley down the stretch.
While Barkley has certainly earned praise this year, we should also be aware that his production isn’t coming in a vacuum. The Giants’ offensive line has done a good job of opening holes while the coaching staff has excelled at exploiting defensive tendencies.
Dexter the destroyer
No Giant has taken a bigger leap this year than fourth-year defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence II.
Sexy Dexy has become an absolute force in the middle of the Giants’ defense. He had an excellent game against the Texans’ defense and his impact was felt in both run defense and as a pass rusher.
Texans’ RB Dameon Pierce is a certifiable beast and is probably the frontrunner (no pun intended) to be the offensive rookie of the year. He pretty much is the Texans’ offense and might be the closest thing to Marshawn Lynch we’ve seen since Beastmode retired. But despite how good he has been — and how much he hurt the Giants’ on Sunday — he couldn’t do much of anything when (and where) Lawrence was in the game.
Pierce had 94 yards on 17 carries, or 5.5 yards per carry. That would suggest that he gashed the Giants’ defense, but the reality was more nuanced. Pierce did most of his damage on the outside, and on the offensive right in particular.
The Giants primarily play Lawrence as their nose tackle, and the Texans only tested the A and B gaps seven times all game. And while they were able to manage 4.4 yards per carry on those inside runs, most of the yardage came when Lawrence was off the field.
Lawrence has also been a wrecking ball in the passing game as well. He far and away leads the Giants in sacks and quarterback hits. His 5.0 sacks nearly as many as the next three players combined: Oshane Ximines (2.0), Jihad Ward (2.0), and Leonard Williams (1.5). Likewise, Lawrence’s 16 QB hits is more than Ximines (7) and Williams (7) combined.
This game, Lawrence was the only Giants’ pass rusher to consistently get closer than league average to Davis Mills.
We saw reports over the weekend that the Giants had talks with Saquon Barkley and Julian Love about contract extensions. At this rate it would behoove them to make Lawrence a priority as well. The Giants picked up his fifth-year option, but he is only going to get more expensive after 2023 if he keeps playing at this level for another year and a half.