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The Giants’ new pass-heavy offense (!), by the numbers

A tale of three seasons

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Isaiah Hodgins catching a touchdown pass vs. the Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

This week Ed Valentine has documented how the Giants are increasingly using 11 personnel on offense to great effect using previously unheralded wide receivers Isaiah Hodgins, Richie James, and Darius Slayton. Nick Falato has shown how Mike Kafka has transitioned from a heavy play-action, crossing pattern approach early in the year to a short passing attack using stacked receiver formations on the boundary. Let’s put some numbers on this dramatic change in offensive philosophy.

We can divide the Giants’ 2022 season neatly into three segments:

  • Weeks 1-7: The “shock the world” period in which the Giants went 6-1 and seemed on an inevitable path to the playoffs
  • Weeks 8-14: The “wilderness weeks” in which the league seemed to have caught up with the Giants’ game plans, injuries were mounting, and the Giants seemed on the verge of dropping out of the playoff race, going 1-4-1
  • Weeks 15-17: The “resurrection,” with stirring victories over Washington and Indianapolis and a last-second loss to Minnesota in which the Giants went toe-to-toe with the Vikings

What did the Giants’ offensive tendencies look like during these three time periods? We’ll use the excellent data source for some insights. We exclude “garbage time” plays (win probability less than 20 percent for either team) and the last two minutes of the half to isolate “neutral” game situations in which we can see what the offense really wants to do.

Weeks 1-7: A balanced offense


During their initial fast start, the Giants were a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to passing on early downs. They had a slight tendency to run more often than expected in most game situations, especially third-and-short, but were league average in passing on 3rd-and-long.

Weeks 8-14: Going into a shell


For whatever combination of reasons, the Giants’ offense changed dramatically beginning with the Seattle game. They had been passing more than 50 percent of the time in most games until then, but against the Seahawks they threw the ball less than 40 percent of the time on early downs. And it became a habit throughout this stretch of mostly unsuccessful games. The starkest example was the Houston game, their only win during this stretch, in which they passed less than 30 percent of the time despite facing an opponent with a weak pass defense. The Giants never passed on second-and-short, they passed much less than expected on 3rd-and-short, and after they had rushed for a first down, they almost always came back with another rush.

Weeks 15-17: A passing offense is born


In the past three games that clinched a playoff spot for the Giants, they have remained strictly a running team on second-and-short and third-and-short. But out of nowhere, they have become a pass-heavy offense in all other game situations, using those 11 personnel groupings and stacked receiver formations that Ed and Nick discussed. During this time the Giants have passed more than all but three other teams in neutral game situations. Daniel Jones is keeping company with Joe Burrow, Kirk Cousins, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen and Tom Brady in terms of his use by his offensive coordinator.

Quarterback play: Chicken or egg?


Looking at Daniel Jones’ performance in isolation and relative to other quarterbacks, some interesting things can be seen:

  • Jones began the season as an average to slightly above-average QB in both completion percentage over expected (CPOE) and expected points added (EPA) per play. It’s fair to say that he was contributing to the Giants’ 6-1 start but was not a primary reason for it.
  • During the Giants’ mid-season slump, Jones’ CPOE increased significantly, from 0.8 percent to 5 percent. But it wasn’t doing the Giants much good - his EPA/play, which had been .135 to start the season, dropped to .047 during the wilderness weeks.
  • In the recent three-game push to the playoffs, though, Jones has been both accurate and effective, sitting in the upper range of QB performance with an EPA/play of 0.17 and a CPOE of 7.1 percent. He is now a major reason for the Giants’ success. You already knew that - the long TD drives in Washington (as Brian Daboll told him), the 334-yard passing performance in Minnesota, the 2 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs vs. Indianapolis. But it shows up in objective measures as well.

How much of this is Jones, how much of it is adjustments in offensive game plans by Mike Kafka, and how much is the better performance of the wide receiver corps? There’s no easy way to know. There is another interesting behavior in the QB scatter plots above. EPA/play and CPOE are two different measures of QB play, and so there is scatter when they are plotted against each other. But it’s also clear that there is some correlation between them - good QBs tend to both complete more of their passes than you’d expect from an average QB and to get more out of them in potential contributions to scoring.

Except that is not true league-wide in the scatter plots above in the middle of the season. The best fit line is almost horizontal, i.e., increased CPOE didn’t buy much in potential scoring. And the CPOE axis is much more compressed in the mid-season plot than in the other two, ranging only from about -5 to +5 vs. -10 to +10 early and late in the season. We can only speculate on why. Is this telling us that around the league, defensive coordinators started to figure out opposing offenses about halfway through the season, forcing offenses into more conservative stances from which the best ones eventually emerged and the rest didn’t? If so, then the Giants’ path to the playoffs may be a microcosm of what numerous teams experienced. Obviously other things play a role - injuries to key players, quarterback changes in mid-season, etc. And mid-season stats from 2021 didn’t show anomalous behavior to the same extent.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear from Ed’s and Nick’s analyses that in 2022, both the Giants’ WRs and Kafka’s personnel and formation designs have played a role in the offense’s recent success. But not every QB can take advantage of those things. Daniel Jones has.