The Giants were big underdogs for this game and needed things to break their way to come out on top. Coaching and execution miscues from the Titans gave the Giants a chance to stay in the game and hang around. But it also fell to the Giants to take advantage of those opportunities.
They did, and the advanced numbers from the game offer some interesting insight into how the Giants managed to come up with the win.
Saquon’s big day
The story of this game was a career day for Saquon Barkley. The Giants needed every bit of Barkley’s contribution because his play, and the Titans’ coaching and execution miscues, were the difference.
The running vs. passing EPA chart really tells the tale of this game.
The Giants were one of the best teams on the ground Sunday, and it’s a good thing because they were one of the least efficient through the air.
Barkley looked the best — and healthiest — on the field he has since the start of the 2019 season. He was tied with Joe Mixon for the second-highest top speed yesterday at 21.1 mph, per NFL NextGenStats.
And as I wrote after the game, Barkley showed much more patience as a runner than he ever has, which is born out by NGS’ tracking data. Barkley lead the NFL in Rush Yards Over Expected (RYOE) by a wide margin. Of his 164 yards, 88 of them were “over expectation,” suggesting he forced missed tackles — which was apparent on tape — and was patient enough to allow his blocks to develop more than he had previously.
That said, we also need to recognize the influence of Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka.
The Giants used a very diverse running game, splitting their calls between inside and outside, as well as left and right, very evenly.
The Giants’ running scheme also helped Barkley face favorable matchups. The Giants made frequent use of pre-snap motion to slow down the Titans’ defense and move defenders out of position. They also used unexpected blocking schemes, such as asking Sterling Shepard to be an interior blocker. Per NextGenStats, Barkley only faced a “stacked” tackle box on one run. His other 17 carries were against seven- or six-man boxes, which makes it much easier for the offense to establish a numbers advantage on the play side.
Scheming advantageous matchups, influencing the defense with personnel and alignment, and creating numbers advantages don’t show up on the box score. However, they can be the biggest factors in whether a run game is successful.
What to make of Daniel Jones?
Daniel Jones’ career thus far has been nothing if not a Rorschach test for how people view the quarterback position.
His basic box score, completing 17 of 21 passes, suggests an efficient day. Likewise his sky-high completion percentage over expected (CPOE) suggests a lot of very precise passes.
On the other hand, most of Jones’ passes held little value and EPA models suggest a downright bad day for the quarterback. Jones was 27th in the NFL in EPA per play and 25th in success rate.
Over a third of his total yardage came on the pass to Sterling Shepard and even with the 35 yards that throw traveled in the air, he was 28th in the NFL with 5.7 average air yards.
Jones’ play offered fodder to both sides of the conversation.
In short, his play was both wildly efficient and wildly inefficient at the same time.
Usually when we have these kinds of dichotomies, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. But this time I think the answer is that (for the most part) Jones executed what the Giants asked of him, but what they asked him to do wasn’t particularly valuable (at least as far as the EPA formula is concerned).
His fumble (which was a great play by Jeffery Simmons, credit where it’s due), and interception (which was a terrible read and poor throw by Jones) drag his total EPA down.
But also, most of his passes didn’t matter all that much. He only attempted five passes beyond 10 yards down the field and the other 16 were no more than 10 yards downfield (including five behind the line of scrimmage).
We would expect a plucky underdog desperately trying to get the upset victory over a superior opponent to lean into the passing game. Instead, Jones only attempted one pass in the entire third quarter and nine total passes in the second half altogether. Most of those passes were on short, quick, one-read concepts.
On one hand, the Giants didn’t need more from their passing thanks to the success of their running game.
On the other hand, the Giants struggled to protect Jones when he did drop back to throw. Of his 21 pass attempts, Jones was sacked five times and often had to scramble as well. The Giants’ interior offensive line remains a problem and the Titans’ defense was practically living in the Giants’ backfield. Per NextGenStats, Jones was pressured on 69 percent of his drop backs.
It’s also worth noting that Jones held the ball quite a bit. He averaged 2.98 seconds to throw, the fifth-longest in the NFL this week, despite his average pass being targeted 3.3 yards short of the first down marker.
For whatever reason, the Giants only asked Jones to be a game manager, and he did that well enough for the team to win. We’ll have to see how the coaching staff and Jones respond when they need the passing game to carry them.
Where was Kadarius Toney?
There’s one thing that leaps off the page regarding the Giants’ snap counts its the almost total absence of Kadarius Toney from the game.
The Giants’ 2021 first round pick played seven snaps. That’s not a typo. Toney played all of two snaps in the first half and was spotted sitting by himself on the bench for a period. He finished the game with 23 rushing yards and no targets or receptions.
Rookie Wan’Dale Robinson played nine snaps before exiting the game with a knee injury half way through the first quarter, while journeyman Richie James played 42 snaps.
As of this writing, we don’t know why Toney was all but a healthy scratch from the game. Perhaps he’s still dealing with the injury that knocked him out of practice at the end of preseason. Or perhaps there’s something going on behind the scenes that we just don’t know about yet.
It’s a situation that bears watching, particularly if Robinson’s injury turns out to be a longer term issue than we currently know.
Will the real left guard please stand up?
And finally, before we get to the full snap counts, we got our answer as to whether Ben Bredeson or Joshua Ezeudu would play left guard.
The answer was “yes”, with Bredeson playing 32 snaps and Ezeudu playing 28.
The Giants apparently kept a page from the Joe Judge book of coaching and rotated the two players at the left guard position. A look at the tape might reveal whether the team had a tendency toward a particular play type or blocking scheme depending on whether Bredeson or Ezeudu were on the field. Alternatively, the Giants might have been trying both to try and find an answer for the inside pressure that was wrecking their offense.
Or it’s possible that neither player is fully healthy and they were being managed. We don’t know for sure, but it’s something that’s worth a closer look.
Full snap counts
CB Cor’Dale Flott played two special teams snaps.