If the New York Giants are going to beat the Washington Commanders on Sunday, giving their playoff aspirations a major boost, they are going to have to do several things better in Week 15 than they did in Week 13 — and over the past six games in general.
Let’s look at some of those things.
Run, Saquon, run!
Saquon Barkley carried the ball 18 times for 53 yards (3.5 yards per carry) two weeks ago against Washington, and that is the best game the Giants’ best offensive weapon has had in the last four weeks.
That isn’t anywhere near good enough if the Giants are going to win Sunday night and eventually make the playoffs.
Since his grinding 35-carry, 152-yard performance against the Houston Texans in Week 10, Barkley has carried the ball 53 times for 152 yards, 2.86 yards per carry. He has had one run of more than 20 yards, and in two of those games did not even have a run of 10 yards or more. Barkley had seven runs of 20 or more yards over the first 10 games, and two of longer than 40 yards.
How injured is Barkley and how big a factor has that been in recent weeks? We don’t know for sure, but it has to have some impact. Barkley has been dealing with a shoulder injury since Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, and was questionable last week against the Philadelphia Eagles after he said he tweaked his neck during practice in the days before the game.
Barkley said Sunday evening that he is “probably sure I will have more of a bigger role” against the Commanders than he did in his 20-snap appearance against the Eagles.
Question is, even if he is healthy can the Giants create some space for him to run?
The Giants are 26th in the league in run-blocking per Football Outsiders, at 4.07 Adjusted Line Yards per rushing attempt. Barkley is 32nd among running backs with 100 or more carries with a successful run rate of 47 percent. Barkley is 31st in the league in yards before contact (2.4), which is really an offensive line stat, 21st in yards after contact per rush (1.7) and 24th with only seven broken tackles this season.
Injuries on the offensive line and at tight end have been a factor. The Giants have started four different left guards, two centers and two right tackles since Ben Bredeson and Evan Neal were injured in Week 7. Neal has not played well since returning against the Commanders two weeks ago.
Per RBSDM, the Giants had an EPA of +0.030 and an overall rushing success rate of 43.4 percent the first seven weeks, seventh in the NFL. Since then, those numbers are -0.104 EPA and a success rate of 35.7 percent.
Whether it is just with Barkley doing Barkley things, better run-blocking or some added creativity from offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and head coach Brian Daboll in the Giants’ approach to the run game they need an efficient, big-play run game.
Better work on third down
The Giants went just four of 13 (30.8 percent) in third-down conversions two weeks ago. Over the past three weeks, Team Rankings shows the Giants with a third-down conversion rate of only 29.73 percent. For the season, the Giants are 20th in the league on third down, converting 38.24 percent of the time.
RBSDM shows the Giants with an EPA of +0.077 and a success rate of 49.0 percent on third down through the first seven weeks, 10th in the NFL. Since then, those numbers are -0.060 EPA and a 42.2 percent success rate.
In the second half and overtime against Washington two weeks ago, the Giants punted six consecutive times in the second half and overtime. They failed to convert a third-and-2 and a third-and-7 in regulation. In overtime, they could not convert a third-and-5at their own 43-yard line and a third-and-3 from Washington’s 45-yard line. Converting on either of those plays in overtime might have led to victory.
Pass protection/explosive passing plays
Head coach Brian Daboll on Monday lamented “four or five” big-play opportunities the Giants could not take advantage of against the Eagles.
“Explosive plays help. They help when you’re on offense. And when you can stop them and prevent them, they help you on defense,” Daboll said. “To go consecutively 12, 13, 14-play drives, usually you have to have a lot of things that go right. And inevitably if you have one thing go wrong, it puts you behind the sticks, and now you’re into some passing situations that it’s harder to convert on. So, big plays definitely help.”
We know that the Giants have had issues at wide receiver all season long. They have also had offensive line issues. Nick Falato, in searching for the missed big-play chances Daboll spoke about, did a fantastic job showing how the two are related in the video below:
Nick found several plays where Giants’ wide receivers, either through scheme or individual route-running excellence, broke open downfield for potential big plays. The common theme in all of those was that quarterback Daniel Jones was either sacked, or felt pressure and had to either run or check the ball down quickly to avoid being sacked.
The Giants are last in the NFL with 21 passing plays of 20 or more yards. Jones is 31st in the league with 20 passing attempts of 20+ yards, with several backups or part-time starters having more. He has completed just eight passes 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, also 31st. Per Pro Football Focus, Jones’ Average Depth of Target (aDOT) of 6.7 yards per attempt is 57th among all quarterbacks.
PFF shows Jones under pressure on 203 of 459 drop backs this season, that is 44.2 percent of the time. The only starter facing pressure more often is Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears (46.0 percent) of his 352 drop backs.
Giants quarterbacks have been sacked 44 times. Only Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams quarterback have been sacked more often. The Giants’ Adjusted Sack Rate, a Football Outsiders stat, is 10.0 percent, better only than the Bears 12.7 percent rate.
The Giants did get a 55-yard completion from Jones to Slayton in the first game against Washington. Slayton, though, missed an opportunity for a deep catch with less than two minutes remaining in the game that could have put the Giants in position to win in regulation.
Big plays could determine the outcome of Sunday night’s game. The Giants need to figure out a way to give Jones the time to deliver more balls down the field, and the receivers need to take advantage of those opportunities.