The New York Giants came away from their game against the Indianapolis Colts with their biggest win in years. Not only was the 38-10 beat-down their largest margin of victory since their 40-16 win over the Washington Commanders in 2018, it secured their first playoff berth since 2016.
This game had the chance to be a competitive one early, but very quickly turned into a rout. Can the stats and advanced analytics shed any light on the nuances of what the Giants — and Colts — did to get us to this point?
Plays of the game
The Giants came into this game pretty heavily favored and they were in control pretty much from whistle to whistle. Things were a bit shaky in the first quarter, and the Colts briefly had a chance to make this a real game, but Jeff Saturday put the kibosh on that (more on that later).
Once the second quarter started, things quickly snowballed out of control for the wayward Colts.
Most Win Probability added
This actually surprised me to read, but the Colts actually had the biggest play of game in terms of Win Probability Added.
That play was Nick Foles’ first quarter (5:33) 49-yard pass to Paris Campbell on third-and-8. That play turned a bad drive that was on the verge of stalling on a dime and put the Colts in position to score a touchdown. It was worth an impressive 13 points in win probability for the Colts, bringing their win probability from 31 to 44 percent. Of course, they failed to capitalize on the opportunity to seize the momentum in the game (again, more on that later).
The Giants’ biggest play was Daniel Jones’ second quarter touchdown pass to Richie James. That gave the Giants an insurmountable 7-3 lead and was worth nine points in Win Probability.
Most Expected Points Added
The biggest play in terms of Expected Points added (or lost) was easily Landon Collins’ interception returned for a touchdown. That play was worth a whopping 8.0 EPA, or rather -8.0 EPA for the Colts. It was also effectively a backbreaker that ended the game for the Colts and seemingly sucked the life out of the players on the field.
Coincidentally, NextGenStats’ player tracking technology clocked Collins as the fastest player in the game on that interception return, topping out at 19.74 mph.
The Colts’ biggest play was the forced fumble which started the third quarter. The Giants lead 21-3 at that point, but the forced fumble was an incredible opportunity for the Colts to get back into the game. It was worth 5.3 EPA for the Colts and gave them the ball on the Giants’ 30-yard line.
Of course, the Colts were unable to capitalize this opportunity, as they likewise failed on all the others in this game. That said, credit to the Giants’ defense for only allowing Indy’s offense to advance the ball a single yard.
I’ve received considerable pushback over the last month or so from fans for saying that the Giants receivers are just not nearly as bad as the narratives surrounding the team would have you believe.
And once again, I need to stop and give credit to the Giants’ no-name receiving corps — as well as Mike Kafka for exploiting defensive tendencies and putting his players in position to succeed.
The Giants’ receivers continued to do their jobs and consistently found voids in Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 defense. Some of the Giants’ receivers exceeded league-average in separation, some were just under, but on the whole the Giants receivers continued to execute and make themselves available.
The Colts’ defensive scheme also worked to the Giants’ advantage, as the zone coverage and free releases allowed the Giants to revel in the quick passing game.
Daniel Jones’ time to throw was just 2.57 seconds — even with the occasional scramble to buy time behind the line of scrimmage. Combined with solid pass protection (don’t look now, but Jon Feliciano has joined Andrew Thomas in the Top 10 of ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate for their respecive positions) largely negated the Colts’ pass rush.
The Giants also continued to lean on short passes, with an average depth of target of just 5.8 yards downfield (ninth percentile) and a converted air yardage of 5.3 air yards.
Kafka did an excellent job of taking what the Colts gave him and the quick 2-man Cover-3 beating route combinations lead to a paltry aggressiveness rate of 4.3 percent for Jones. That is, he only threw to a covered receiver on 4.3 percent of his 24 pass attempts — or once all game.
We can also see the impact of injuries on the Colts’ defense, and the Giants’ offense.
Indy ruled slot corner Kenny Moore II out prior to the game and lost outside corner Brandon Facyson after just four plays. Because of that, they were forced to rely on rookies Dallis Flowers (slot) and Rodney Thomas II for most of the game. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Richie James had seven receptions on seven targets out of the slot, while Isaiah Hodgins had four receptions on five targets outside.
Jeff Saturday’s dumb — or cowardly — decision
Immediately after the game, I told Ed that I pretty much had to take the time to talk about Jeff Saturday’s decision to not attempt to convert their early fourth-and-1 on the Giants’ 5-yard line. The Colts were in position for this decision thanks to that big 49-yard pass earlier in the drive, giving Indianapolis a surprising burst of offensive momentum early on.
There was confusion during the game why Saturday would have his offense line up to attempt a fourth down, then call a time out, and bring out his kicking team for the field goal. In fact, I saw some speculation from some other writers who cover the Giants that perhaps “The Analytics” were against attempting to convert the first down.
As it turns out, “The Analytics” (that is, the probability that attempting to convert would have a greater positive effect than kicking a field goal, based on historic data of other teams in similar situations) were strongly in favor of going for the first down.
The Colts had a better-than-even chance of successfully converting the first down, and had they done so it would have been one of the Colts’ biggest plays of the game.
Getting a new set of downs on the doorstep of the end zone could have been a big inflection point n the game. We’ve seen throughout the season how a coach believing in his team and giving them a chance to go out and win can energize the players and lead to future success.
But Saturday opted “take the points” and just kick the field goal.
Granted, the Colts’ offense might just be the worst in the NFL and they struggled to do just about anything well this game.
Of course, this is in-line with their season-long offensive ineptitude, and they even stand out among the worst offenses in the NFL.
So it’s possible that Saturday simply did not have any faith that his offense could pick up a single yard when they needed.
But even failing that, it would have buried the Giants close to their own end zone, which is typically an advantage for your own defense. While turning the ball over on downs is deflating, it does give you a chance to win the field position battle.
That brings us back to the question of “but why?”
I’m left with how I phrased this sub-head: Either Saturday’s game-defining decision was dumb or it was overly-cautious to the point of denying his own players a chance to play for the win.