The New York Giants manufactured an early 18-play, 97-yard drive that ended in their only offensive touchdown against the Washington Commanders in Week 15. Quarterback Daniel Jones completed 10 passes, including a third-and-9 and a fourth-and-9 from the Washington 35-yard line.
It was arguably the most impressive drive of the season, and it couldn’t have come in a more important game. The Giants' chances to make the playoffs drastically improved with this 20-12 victory over Washington.
It was obvious offensive coordinator Mike Kafka understood how to attack Jack Del Rio’s defensive unit. The Giants worked the quick passing game, attacked the off-leveraged quarters/two-high looks, and created simple reads for Daniel Jones to execute. Jones was in rythym on the drive, with several clutch throws.
The drive started with 10:28 left in the second quarter, and ended with 1:43 left in the second - an eight-minute and thirty-five-second drive. We’ll go through each play and give a quick synopsis of the offensive and defensive thought process behind what materialized.
Play 1: First-and-10 at NYG 3: 2-yard run by Barkley
Washington’s punter Tress Way pinned the Giants at the 3-yard line with a 37-yard boot. With their backs against the wall, the Giants did not opt to kneel the ball, but they tried to create space with a 13 Personnel single back run with wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (18) motioned between Evan Neal (73) and Nick Vannett (89).
Washington aligned with five guys on the line of scrimmage with two 6-techniques to the double-Y side. New York ran DUO - a blocking scheme predicated on forming double teams up front that climb to the second level. Ben Bredeson (68) and Jon Feliciano (76) did an excellent job vertically displacing John Ridgeway (91) at the 2i-shade.
The double team on Daron Payne (94) by Mark Glowinski (64) and Evan Neal (73) was solid, but David Mayo (51) penetrated the A-Gap and contacted Saquon Barkley (26), who took what was available and drove his legs to give the Giants more space for their second-down play.
Play 2: Second-and-8 at NYG 8: Trickery!
Kafka found success earlier in the season with this play-action bootleg that positioned the EDGE defender into conflict. The Giants ran the play fake, where Jones deliberately showed the football before tucking it away as he rolled out toward the boundary. The flow of the defense reacted to the presumed run, which gave the deep over routes some space if Jones obliged. Before the snap in 12 personnel, Darius Slayton (86) motioned to the boundary between Vannett and Andrew Thomas (78).
Vannett sold the play fake and released into the flat as Jones rolled out. Slayton cleared out the cornerback to that side of the field, isolating edge defender Casey Toohill (95). Toohill had to either stick with Vannett or stay with Jones - whoever he chose, Jones would choose the opposite. Daniel Bellinger (82) and Isaiah Hodgins (18) ran over routes from the backside. The play went for 15 yards.
Play 3: First-and-10 at NYG 20: Get the ball to Saquon
The Giants secured four yards through the air to Barkley while in 11 personnel out of the shotgun with Barkley to the field side. Jack Del Rio’s defense runs the third most quarters coverage in the league behind the Jets and Titans. Washington’s defense frequently gave the Giants space and aligned at a depth of at least seven yards with two-high safeties, and the Commanders kept their defensive look the same pre to post-snap.
New York ran a drag and 6-yard slant to clear out space for Barkley in the flat - essentially a slant flat concept to the field. Before the snap, Bobby McCain (20) faked the blitz and bailed; Jones confirmed the quarters look and opted to throw to Barkley in the flat. However, Barkley did not have leverage to out-run McCain to the sideline; the defensive back was in a good position to stay square and make an open field tackle against Barkley.
Play 4: Second-and-6 at NYG 24: Put em’ on skates
Washington aligned in quarters pre-snap but transitioned to middle-of-the-field closed (MOFC) man with strong side rotation downward versus the Giants 2x2 set. Unlike the previous play against McCain, Washington linebacker Jon Bostic (59) did not have the angle against Barkley. Right before the snap, Jones saw Bostic cheat outside; at the snap, Jones confirmed Barkley was Bostic’s assignment, so he delivered the football. Barkley made Bostic look silly while picking up six yards and a first down.
Play 5: First-and-10 at NYG 30: Not what you’re looking for
The Giants lost five yards on what seemed like a drive-killing play by Jonathan Allen (93). New York attempted to run stretch zone with the sniffer coming across the formation (split zone). Allen aligned as a 2i-shade, which forced Jon Feliciano to reach him from the center spot - not the easiest assignment.
Ideally, Bredeson would help Feliciano with a quick bump before climbing to locate, but that did not happen. Allen pressed Feliciano’s outside shoulder directly into Barkley’s path for a loss of five yards.
Play 6: Second-and-15 at NYG 25: Empty stick to No. 3
New York was not shy to align in an EMPTY set and allow Jones to make quick read off defensive reactions. Jones quickly fired the football to Richie James (80) on the stick route, with the Giants running three hitches and two slants in five-man protection. Jones was reading Bostic as the MIKE, and the linebackers turned his hips outward to wall James off from any crossing routes.
McCain had to respect Bellinger’s over route; the combination of those two defensive reactions gave James the ability to quickly turn back to Jones, and the quarterback delivered a strike for six yards. Tough catch by James and great spatial awareness to sit in between the middle hook zones against Washington’s Cover-2 defense.
Play 7: Third-and-9 at NYG 31: Jones poise
A crucial 10-yard strike to James for a first down. Washington blitzed the pre-snap covering defender over Bellinger, who was the No.3 receiver in the 3x1 set. The blitz left a 3v2 outside the hash, with Kamren Curl (31) playing inside of Bellinger. The Commanders also run a T/E twist upfront.
The defense rotates to MOFC man coverage, but the loss of one the three-receiver side forced Kendall Fuller (29) to midpoint the No. 2 (James) and No. 3 (Bellinger). Fuller cheated toward Bellinger since the tight end had space outside due to Curl playing inside. James recognized the leverage and flowed outside and away from Fuller toward the bottom of the numbers. Jones was on the same page and found James as he took a big hit from three Washington defenders.
Play 8: First-and-10 at NYG 41: Breida for five yards
Washington aligned again with off-leverage in a quarters look with two safeties about 14 yards off the line of scrimmage. From 11 personnel, the Giants opted to run HB Draw to Matt Breida (31) for five yards.
Play 9: Second-and-5 at NYG 46: Tight window
The Giants ran a lot of switch releases against Washington, and the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers do just that on this play. Hodgins released inside with James wheeling around before both players angle inward and sit. Washington was in Cover-1, and they don't BANJO the switch release. Hodgins angled inward, with McCain expanding to match James; this ultimately gave Hodgins leverage to the inside against his covering defender who was aligned outside and over the top.
McCain was removed from the throwing window, and Jones found Hodgins with little operating room for an important 7-yard gain. Hodgins also did an excellent job working away from his defender; he came back toward the football and outside with the defender over-pursuing the inward break. Luckily, McCain was a tick too slow to come through Hodgins on the play.
Play 10: First-and-10 at WAS 47: Slant-flat for another seven
Washington was in another quarters look pre-snap but rotated to man-principled coverage with the weak side safety dropping from depth over the No. 3 (Bellinger) from the 3x1 BUNCH. Bellinger did a great job of recognizing the coverage and sitting for Jones, but Jones liked the two-man route concept to the boundary pre-snap.
Washington sent a cross-dog five-man pressure package at Jones, but the quarterback recognized the blitz and knew he had Barkley one-on-one to the boundary (less space) against an EDGE (Toohill). However, Toohill quickly flowed outside to match Barkley, which gave Jones an easy throwing window to Hodgins against a defender with seven yards of cushion. Jones saw the safety drop over Bellinger and knew he had two matchups to the boundary he liked. A good seven yards to keep the drive moving.
Play 11: Second-and-3 at WAS 40: Split-back 21 Personnel
The Giants don’t use 21 personnel too frequently (they’ve used two or more backs on 5 percent of snaps, ranking 21st in the NFL). Still, some of the more creative and explosive plays the Giants have managed to earn were with multiple running backs on the field.
Barkley picked up four yards to move the chains on what appears to be a BASH GT QB Power run with a zone read option. Jones gave the football to Barkley with Breida lead blocking.
Play 12: First-and-10 at WAS 36: Miscommunication?
Washington showed Cover-3 pres-nap but rotated to Cover-4 while the Giants ran two verticals on the outside, with James breaking to the middle of the field. From EMPTY, both Barkley and Bellinger stay in to block, but it’s a four-man rush, so they release on underneath crossing routes (mesh).
Jones read the linebacker, who did a good job sinking underneath the over route from James. I’m speculating, but Jones may have believed that Bellinger would sit and not continue his route since the LB sank and there was space; the rookie tight end continued and Jones threw an incomplete pass at his feet.
Play 13: Second-and-15 at WAS 41: Check down to Breida
Evan Neal cost the Giants five yards with a false start penalty, and the Giants were behind the sticks - not ideal! Many Giant teams in he past would not have found a way out of this mess. However, New York secured six yards on this dump-off to Breida.
At the snap, Washington bailed to Cover-2 with the field side cornerback assuming deep half responsibly. Del Rio was not scared to run this coverage against Jones and the Giants' passing offense, which can be interpreted as disrespect. The Giants don’t typically throw the hole shot to the field, despite Jones having the physical capabilities.
Regardless, Washington bailed to deep zones with Breida and Bellinger on the chip and release mesh with a lot of space. Jones took the easy check down for six yards to set up a reasonable third down.
Play 14: Third-and-9 at WAS 35: Incomplete on third down, oh no!
With the Giants on the fringe of Graham Gano’s leg, they decided to be - and stay - aggressive with another throw. Washington showed MOFC presnap and rotated to Cover-2 middle-of-the-field-open. The safety who has deep half responsibility to the boundary was aligned between the hashes pre-snap.
Jones looked in the right direction toward Slayton to start the play, but the hard flat defender jammed and sank to the 25-yard line; this may have given Jones the impression that Slayton would not uncover in the honey hole. As Jones came off Slayton, the flat defender transitioned his hips back inward, and Slayton came open, albeit the Giants haven’t nearly challenged defenses with hole shots this season.
Jones abandoned Slayton and worked to his left, where Hodgins did a great job providing a target off Jones’ scramble. From the apex spot, McCain took the other deep half assignment, and the flat defender was ready for James’ out route. Jones was chased and couldn’t square up to throw to Hodgins, who eventually uncovered near the sideline. Jones threw the ball away, which helped set up one of the gutsiest calls of the season.
Play 15: Fourth-and-9 at WAS 35: “We’re going for it”
Critical 4th & 9 conversion by Jones to James...— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) December 19, 2022
Richie James faced inside leverage, good release inside to create more space
James does well to bend into the top of his break before he made a contested catch pic.twitter.com/BWnHsPWy1t
Every week, Brian Daboll meets with Giants’ analytic gurus Cade Knox and Ty Siam. The coaches discuss scenarios where it would be beneficial to punt, kick the field goal, or go for the conversion. After the game Daboll praised both Knox and Siam for their work in helping him during the week with this decision.
Washington ran 2-Man Under (two safeties deep, man underneath), and James did a great job influencing McCain inward with his release and break at the top of his stem. From 11 personnel, Jones saw James' position on the outside of McCain, who was in inside leverage to begin the play.
Hodgins' vertical route held the outside defender long enough to allow Jones to fit the ball into a tight window. The Giants needed nine, they got 11. Excellent throw and route by Jones and James.
Play 16: First-and-10 at WAS 24: Underrated play by Jones
Jones was exceptional on this drive, and this was his last throw before the Barkley touchdown. Jones did a great job of influencing both the flat and middle hook defender toward Slayton’s outward return route from the No. 2 position. Watch Jones’ eyes on the throw; he created the window by removing McCain before he found Hodgins for 19 yards.
This is also a great play call by Kafka out of an EMPTY formation after a big play. Washington dropped to Cover-2, so the return route by Slayton would likely engage McCain and pique his attention. It did, and that allowed Hodgins to run the slant right behind McCain and in front of the deep-half safety. I appreciate the seam call near the red zone with an underneath option to occupy the two middle hook defenders. Phenomenal play call and execution by the Giants.
Play 17: First-and-GOAL at WAS 5: Zone read for 2 yards
Toohill crashed down the line of scrimmage, which prompted Jones to keep the football. However, Washington replaced Toohill, and there was little room for Jones to run.
Play 18: Second-and-GOAL at WAS 3: Wildcat!
Saquon Barkley's wildcat RZ touchdown— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) December 19, 2022
PS OG & OC pulled around down-block of 3T, Vannett located Curl (31), Barkley found space for six pic.twitter.com/ytZ3yV5kXK
Kafka dialed up the quick wrinkle right before the snap to help catch Washington off-guard. A Wildcat strong side boundary run for six with Jones in motion around Barkley. This was the perfect cherry on top of a long arduous drive.
Kafka has done a good job creating offense in the red zone. The Giants currently rank eighth in the NFL in red zone efficiency with a 63.50 percent touchdown rate. Last year, they were dead last with a 44.74 percent red zone touchdown rate. In 2020, they were second to last with a 46.34 percent rate, just a few percentage points ahead of the New York Jets.
The Giants resembled Washington’s offense on this long 18-play drive. In fact, the Giants and Washington offenses were like the Spiderman meme during this drive.
The Giants took a page right out of Scott Turner’s book. New York possessed the football and was efficient in big moments; this drive took more than eight minutes off the game clock. Washington is typically the team with long methodical drives that chew up the clock - they are currently first in the NFL in time of possession percentage.
Furthermore, the Giants used 11 personnel on 77.8 personnel of their snaps on this drive, which is closer to Washington’s average than the Giants, who only average 11 personnel at a 68.2 percent rate this season. The drive consisted of good play calls, excellent execution, and resilient moments that have become synonymous with this 2022 Brian Daboll coached team.