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By the numbers: Analyzing the stats from the Giants’ first loss

How did this game get away from the Giants?

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants suffered their first loss of the season, falling 23-16 to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.

It was an ugly game on tape, with poor — or downright sloppy — play from both offenses. Both teams struggled to overcome injuries, miscues, and mistakes on the field. For a while it looked as though the Giants would be able to keep the game tight and exploit their opponents’ mistakes for another hard-fought win. However, a late surge from the Dallas offense dashed those hopes.

Games between bitter rivals are often fraught with emotional reactions, but what do the stats and advanced analytics tell us that we might not realize in the moment?

How did the game slip away from Giants and were there any real bright spots for them?

Stats and analytics

The Giants remain a running team

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has watched the Giants play offense, but their passing game remains virtually nonexistant. It isn’t that the Giants don’t throw the ball — they have 92 passing attempts on the year — but they just aren’t very good at it.

The Giants currently rank 30th in passing yardage (162.3 per game), 30th in ANY/A (4.4), and 30th in expected points added through the air (-13.69).

(Note: ANY/A is “Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt” and accounts for passing yards, sack yards, passing touchdowns, and interceptions.)

After three games it appears that the Giants are using a “low to high” progression read that favors shorter passes. And while that does tend to lead to safer passes, short passes just don’t add much value to the offense.

On the other hand, the Giants have been one of the most efficient running teams in the NFL. They’re second in yards per attempt (5.6), fourth in yards per game (169.3), and second in expected points added on the ground (14.59).

The Giants’ running game wasn’t consistent. Barkley had his big 36-yard touchdown run but averaged 3.46 yards per carry on his other 13 runs. And while Daniel Jones averaged 0.93 EPA per run, the team can hardly expect him to carry the ball 20 times a game.

But it was still their best option and more likely to be successful than their passing attack.

Neither team scored a lot, but it was notable how infrequently they punted. The Giants had three drives end in punts, while Dallas punted the ball four times. Even their less successful drives generated a fair number of first downs. Dallas finished the game with 23 first downs, while the Giants had 22.

In almost every instance, running the ball against the Cowboys was the preferable move for the Giants.

Oh pressure, where art thou?

We know Daniel Jones faced pressure all night long. The 23 total pressures was the most he has faced since entering the NFL in 2019. But in the shadow of that was how little pressure Cooper Rush faced from the Giants’ defense.

The Giants failed to get a sack and only hit Rush twice all game long. It would be one thing if that was against the dominant Cowboys’ offensive line of old, but Dallas spent much of the game with a left side consisting of rookie tackle Tyler Smith and second-year guard Matt Farniok (for most of the game. Jason Peters played 14 snaps to Farniok’s 50).

On the Giants’ side of things, they were getting starting edge defenders Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari back from injury. It was widely expected that their return would unleash Wink Martindale’s pass rush and their burst off the ball would make his blitzes that much more effective.

Unfortunately, the Giants rarely got close to Rush.

Credit where it’s due, there was surprisingly solid play to Dallas’ patchwork offensive line. But that play was also bolstered by decisive play from Cooper Rush and great play design by Kellen Moore.

Rush got rid of the ball in a crisp 2.53 seconds, often finding his hot read before the Giants’ blitz could get there. Kellen Moore also called a good game, anticipating Martindale’s blitzes and doing a good job of scheming his players open, and directing the offense to them.

Rush’s four most frequently targeted players? WR CeeDee Lamb (12 targets), WR Noah Brown (7 targets), TE Peyton Hendershot (3 targets), and TE Jake Ferguson (3 targets).

This might just have been a case of a very good offensive mind calling a good game. However, the Giants might also want to go back into the film room to see if they have established any clear tendencies on tape that opponents could exploit. The fact that Cooper Rush was able to quickly find wide-open receivers in the Giants defense, and find them for big plays, played an important role in the outcome of this game.

Daniel Bellinger was quietly impressive

There’s a lot the stats could say about the Giants’ offense against the Cowboys, and little of it positive. So I wanted to take a moment and shine a spotlight on rookie TE Daniel Bellinger, who quietly had an excellent day receiving. While his raw box score stats aren’t impressive — 4 catches on 5 targets for 40 yards isn’t going excite Fantasy owners — what Bellinger did within the structure of the Giants’ offense certainly was impressive.

While Bellinger only had 40 yards, he was still the Giants’ third-leading receiver, trailing only Sterling Shepard (5 for 10, 49 yards) and Saquon Barkley (4 for 4, 45 yards). Per NFL NextGenStats’ player tracking data, Bellinger had the lowest average targeted air yardage of any receiver. His average target came just 1.4 yards downfield — in other words, his five targets traveled an average of 4 feet, 2 inches in the air. Unsurprisingly, his share of his offense’s air yards was also the smallest among qualifying receivers at 3.23 percent.

Now, it should go without saying that 4x1.4, or even 5x1.4, does not equal 40. So how did Bellinger manage to turn the shortest (on average) passes in Week 3 into the third most yards on his team? By turning in one of the most impressive Yards After Catch performances of the weekend.

Bellinger might have had the lowest average targeted air yardage in the NFL, but he also had the fifth highest yards after catch per reception in the NFL this weekend. Per NextGenStats, Bellinger had a total of 36.8 yards after the catch, which averaged out to an impressive 9.2 per catch. That landed him right between wide receivers Devante Parker (9.4 per catch), and Amon-Ra St. Brown (9.0 per catch).

While Bellinger isn’t a particularly athletic tight end — at least not in the same way as Kyle Pitts or Travis Kelce — he did show intriguing YAC ability on tape as a prospect. That lines up well with what we saw from him on Sunday. Bellinger was also helped by the Giants’ scheme. His alignments granted him an average of 5.4 yards of cushion from the nearest defender, and the Giants’ play design afforded him an average of 5.9 yards of separation.

Few things went really right for the Giants on offense, but Bellinger’s play was definitely one of them. He showed that he could be a significant contributor and a reliable option in the same way that Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard were for previous teams.

Plays of the game

Positive

The biggest positive impact on the Giants’ winning percentage was Saquon Barkley’s 36-yard touchdown run on first and 10 with 5:41 to go in the third quarter. That play was worth +3.2 EPA and added 10 points to the Giants’ winning percentage, raising it from 65 percent to 75 percent.

Negative

The largest negative impact on the outcome of the game (from the Giants’ perspective) came on CeeDee Lamb’s fourth quarter reception for four yards on fourth-and-4. That play was worth +2.9 EPA for Dallas and dropped the Giants’ odds of winning from 48 percent down to 37 percent (-11 percentage points).