Sunday night was expected by many to be another New York Giants’ blowout loss in a disappointing season. It wasn’t. The Giants played their best game of the year all around against a Buffalo Bills team that put up 48 points on Miami a few weeks ago. Maybe the Bills were still jet-lagged from their London loss to Jacksonville. Maybe, though, this Giants team is beginning to put some things together, at least on defense.
What do Pro Football Focus grades and snap counts tell us about why this game played out the way it did? Let’s take a look.
- Befitting a team that only scored 9 points, only two Giants offensive players graded above average: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor (77.8), who aside from his brain freeze at the end of the first half made a number of nice passes and was very adept at escaping the Bills’ pass rush; and wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, who caught 3 of 4 targets for 21 yards. Taylor was noteworthy for having played about as well under pressure (43.2% of his dropbacks) as when kept clean, and for making three big-time throws.
- Most of the rest of the offense was in the average (60-70) range, an achievement for a group that has been anemic most of the season. The result was only nine points, so they couldn’t feel great about that, but in the words of Billy Crystal’s Fernando Lamas character, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” For the moment, anyway. Eventually the points have to start coming.
- We always want to know the diagnosis for the offensive line on this team. Last night? Not good, but by recent standards, not bad. Let’s zero in on the details:
By the standards of the Eagles or the Lions, these would be terrible grades. But the Giants are a team that has had multiple 0.0 pass blocking grades this season and plenty in the 20s. For the five OLs that played most of the snaps, the overall blocking grades were 47.0-58.5, which is subpar but a distinct improvement over past games. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.
Evan Neal even had a decent, though still below average overall, game, and we had above average pass blocking from Mark Glowinski. Justin Pugh, for someone coming off an ACL and a year of rust, was adequate and seemed to have a positive impact on the line overall. He surrendered two sacks, but that was playing out of position at left tackle. Neal did not give up a sack and only surrendered three total pressures. A Giants quarterback hasn’t seen that level of competence since Game 2.
- Having trained since the start of the season in the same way as Justin Pugh - sitting on the couch - I can now declare myself to be NFL-ready if Brian Daboll needs me. Pugh started at left guard, figuring he was ready to play 20-25 snaps, but when Josh Ezeudu suffered an injury early in the game, he was pressed into service at left tackle and wound up playing all 77 offensive snaps, as did the remaining active OLs except Marcus McKethan, who replaced Ezeudu on the field.
- The Giants alternated 12 and 11 personnel sets, and a clear pecking order has begun to emerge. When they were in 12, Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins were the wide receivers. In 11, Slayton was joined by Jalin Hyatt and Wan’Dale Robinson. Last night 11 was the personnel grouping of preference, with Hyatt (56 snaps) and Robinson (46) seeing the field a lot more than Hodgins (18), who was not targeted even once Parris Campbell is now apparently a special teamer, and Sterling Shepard got only one snap.
- Saquon Barkley heroically played most of the offensive snaps (60) despite clearly still being limited by his high ankle sprain.
- When was the last time multiple Giants’ linebackers played at an elite level? The Carson-Taylor-Banks era? Well, we saw great linebacker play last night, with Bobby Okereke (90.8) continuing his ascension and Micah McFadden (87.9) taking his season-long improving play up another notch. In limited snaps, Isaiah Simmons (70.7) played well, too.
- In the secondary, Jason Pinnock (72.1) and Xavier McKinney (70.3) both played well, while the cornerbacks were a mixed bag, mostly below average overall. It wasn’t always the pass plays they conceded: Tae Banks gave up zero receptions in three targets yet graded 39.5 in coverage. The only way to explain that is if opposing defenses are purposely staying away from Banks as the Giants’ best cornerback but that the receivers he covered were getting open. Sure enough, Adoree’ Jackson (49.9) gave up 4 receptions in 4 targets and Cor’Dale Flott (52.5) 5 receptions in 7 targets.
- The big mystery of this Giants’ defense is the defensive line, assumed to be the strength of the D coming into the season. Instead, they can’t get much pressure on the QB: 6 by Kayvon Thibodeaux, 3 by Dexter Lawrence, 2 by Leonard Williams, and 1 by Jihad Ward, totaling zero sacks among them (though give Josh Allen credit for that). Most alarming, they are allowing opponents to gash them in the run game. Last week it was outside, Sunday night it was up the middle. Even Lawrence had a very human 69.1 run defense grade, as did Leonard Williams (65.7). Newcomers A’Shawn Robinson (58.8), Rakeem Nunez-Roches (52.0), and Jordon Riley (34.4) were all poor.
- Bobby Okereke, Xavier McKinney, Jason Pinnock, and Deonte Banks have been the iron men of the defense. Once again last night all four played every defensive snap. Adoree’ Jackson and Cor’Dale Flott played most snaps but were replaced by Tre Hawkins and Darnay Holmes for brief periods when they were shaken up. Even Nick McCloud got a couple of snaps.
- An interesting thing has happened on the interior defensive line. A’Shawn Robinson, considered the big signing of the off-season there, played only a few snaps for the second game in a row. Rakeem Nunez-Roches now seems to be the first substitute, with Jordon Riley getting a few snaps as well.
- With Micah McFadden back in the lineup, Isaiah Simmons once again played only a limited number of snaps (11). Opposite Kayvon Thibodeaux, who played most of the defensive snaps (56), Jihad Ward (41) played most on the edge, with Boogie Basham getting his usual limited exposure (9) in his Bills revenge game.