The New York Giants face the Washington Commanders in a crucial Week 15 matchup on Sunday Night Football. The two teams played just two weeks ago in Week 13, where the score ended in a 20-20 tie; it was the first tie for the New York Giants since a 1997 Week 13 game against Washington.
Washington had the luxury of a bye week to split their two games with New York; essentially, the Commanders had three weeks to prepare for this specious playoff matchup. The loser of this matchup will have an uphill climb to make the playoffs.
According to Football Outsiders, New York has a 90 percent chance of making the playoff with a win; Washington has an 86 percent chance. However, with a loss, the Giants' chances of making the playoffs drop to 31 percent; Washington’s would be at 28 percent with a loss. To say this is the most important game of the season is an understatement.
Let’s look at what the Giants’ offense can do this time around to have more success against the Commanders’ defense.
Week 13 strategy
Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will likely not change his approach in personnel. Washington almost exclusively uses nickel and dime personnel packages; they get away with lighter players because their safeties are excellent in run support.
Against the Giants, Washington ran Nickel 63.1percent of the time and Dime on 29.2 percent of the snaps, with New York attempting to exploit the lighter personnel with a 10.8 percent 13 (1 RB, 3 tight ends, 1 WR) personnel rate and a 33.8 percent 12 (1 RB, two TEs, 2 WRs) personnel rate.
Despite the ostensible rushing personnel advantage for New York’s offense, the Giants found little success on the ground. New York’s EPA (expected points added) per rush was the second lowest of the season - the only game where it was worse was Week 2 against Carolina. The Giants' offensive line only allowed 1.47 yards before contact; for reference, Washington had 2.25 YBC.
The most success the Giants had on the ground was in the two-minute drill before the end of the first half when offensive coordinator Mike Kafka called three halfback draw plays in a four-play span that resulted in 6 yards, 21 yards, and -4 yards.
Not only was the success of Washington’s lighter personnel a testament to their second and third-level defender’s ability to fit the run, but they were also in more middle-of-the-field open type of looks. Del Rio’s unit mostly ran quarters coverage (30.8 percent), with a 26.2 percent Cover-3 rate and a 20 percent Cover-2 rate.
Despite more off-leverage and two-high safeties, New York still couldn’t run the football because the defensive front was far superior to the Giants' offensive line. Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Montez Sweat are a scary trio of linemen to block, and it appears as if Chase Young may finally return from the knee injury he suffered last November.
Furthermore, safeties Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest are aggressive coming downhill in run support. Also, linebacker Jonathan Bostic had a great game against the Giants rushing philosophy that consisted of similar run principles that Scott Turner used against the Giants.
Kafka attempted to use GH counter from a variety of formations with little success. Kafka also attempted to get the football to Barkley in space as a fast four (motion right before the snap outside) to the three-receiver side of a 3x1 set. Barkley had five targets that resulted in five catches for 18 yards.
The play-action bootleg and play-action slide game were used frequently, but Washington defended those plays well. One aspect of Kafka’s offense that is underutilized was the quick game passing attack.
In overtime, Kafka used quick game to attack the quarters coverage and off-leverage of Washington’s defensive backs. The Giants had success in overtime with an 11-yard strike to Slayton that ended up irrelevant due to an eventual sack by Payne.
On the Giants' second possession, Kafka dialed up more quick game with simple slant-flat combinations to Isaiah Hodgins that resulted in 10- and 12-yard gains. Unfortuanately, Jones was sacked on third-and-3. The Giants tried more quick game against Philadelphia, and they experienced moderate success. I expect to see more against Washington.
What should the Giants do?
Kafka should attempt to build upon the success he had in overtime against Washington by attacking the off-leveraged Washington defense with his quick game passing attack. With two-man route concepts and a check-down, the Giants can put a Washington defender into conflict, which would allow Jones to get the football out of his hands quickly off a simple read.
The Giants tried several deep shots against Del Rio’s defense when they were in middle-of-the-field closed defenses (Cover-3/1). An effective quick game passing approach may force Washington tighter to the line of scrimmage in coverage, which can allow Darius Slayton or Marcus Johnson to establish easier vertical leverage deep.
The Giants had some opportunities down the field against Philadelphia that weren’t capitalized, which primarily was a byproduct of poor protection. New York must be smart with its deep passing approach because getting behind the sticks and taking penalties/sacks was one of the main factors in the Giants’ tying Washington in Week 13.
Establishing the run and working the play-action pass must still be a part of this offense. It will be difficult, but leveraging Jones’ legs must be an approach, but not the sole approach. A more balanced approach might be difficult to fully trust with the Giants' offensive line; the Giants had 10 true pass sets on 40 Jones’ drop-backs in Week 13.
I don’t think it would be the wisest thing to have the Giants take 30 true pass sets in the game, but the quick passing game and an effective rushing attack will negate the pass rush if executed correctly. The Giants have only taken 20 true pass sets in a game three times this season - Dallas in Week 3, Seattle in Week 8, and Detroit in Week 11.
This is essentially a must-win game for both the Giants and the Commanders. The last time the Giants won a prime-time game was a Monday Night Football game in Week 10 of the 2018 season against the 2-7 Nick Mullens led 49ers. The Giants have come close several times recently: Philadelphia’s comeback in 2019 when the Giants led 17-3 in the third quarter; Tampa Bay Buccaneers loss in 2020; the Evan Engram drop against Philadelphia in 2020; Dexter Lawrence jumping offsides in Week 2 at Washington of 2021; Oshane Ximines jumping offsides against the Chiefs in 2021.
Despite these horrific situations, the Giants can right the ship and win this game that was flexed into the Sunday night slate for its dire circumstances for both teams. The Giants lack a successful passing attack, and they still can’t create consistent explosive plays. Their rushing attack has stagnated, and they’re not nearly as efficient off the play-action as they were before the bye week.
It feels as if - with the Commanders coming off a bye and the Giants’ injuries - the cards are stacked against New York. Still, this is a winnable game for the Giants if they find a way to mitigate their mistakes. The Giants were close on several occasions to securing a win in Week 13. They have to find a way to finish and move the football on offense. It’s easier said than done. But if the Giants want to make the playoffs, they must put their best foot forward on Sunday night.