The New York Giants head into a must-win matchup with the Miami Dolphins in Week 5. To come out on top, their offense will likely need to outduel Miami’s, which is a tall order. Unsurprisingly, the Dolphins are currently 11-point favorites (-535 moneyline), and the 48.5 over/under in the game is not in any way related to the Giants’ offense.
Still, NFL games aren’t played on paper. Even at 1-3, the Giants aren’t completely dead yet, and their offense still retains vestiges of the 10th-ranked one by DVOA a season ago. Miami is also reeling from a 48-20 whiplashing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. Can the Giants take a page out of the Bills’ book or find their own formula for success?
Here are the raw numbers for the Giants’ offense and the Dolphins’ defense so far this season.
- 11.5 points per game (32nd)
- 158.0 passing yards per game (30th)
- 5.8 yards per pass attempt (28th)
- 94.0 rushing yards per game (23rd)
- 4.0 yards per carry (T-19th)
- -33.7% offensive DVOA (32nd)
- -31.1% pass offense DVOA (32nd)
- -20.1% rush offense DVOA (25th)
- 29.8 points per game (28th)
- 251.0 passing yards per game (25th)
- 7.3 yards per pass attempt (28th)
- 123.5 rushing yards per game (22nd)
- 4.3 yards per carry (18th)
- 14.4% defensive DVOA (29th)
- 20.8% pass offense DVOA (26th)
- 6.8% rush defense DVOA (29th)
Despite poor counting stats, the Dolphins’ defense ranks 13th in overall Pro Football Focus grade at 72.6. That is largely on the back of surprisingly stout coverage, as their 76.0 grade ranks 12th in the NFL. On the flip side, their 62.3 run defense grade ranks 18th, and their 57.3 pass rush grade is 22nd.
(It’s worth noting that Miami has been on either end of blowouts over the past two weeks, which could tremendously skew the data in such a small sample size. Still, the NFL season is short enough that there are often sample-size problems.)
What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object?
Miami’s defensive tendencies
Under Vic Fangio, the Dolphins have moved toward zone coverage, playing it 73.6% of the time (14th). They play a lot of quarter-quarter-half (24.7%, 2nd) and Cover 3 (36.4%, 9th). These are very similar tendencies to Seattle’s, and that didn’t work out too well for the Giants.
Miami has also blitzed a lot less this year, doing so 27% of the time (19th). They also generally play with a very light box, employing seven or more men there just 9.1% of the time, the lowest rate in the NFL. This is despite the fact that they’ve faced 3+ receiver sets at the second-lowest rate in the league. That generally puts an offense in an advantageous position to run the football.
Get back on the ground
Regardless of whether Saquon Barkley plays in this game, the Giants cannot abandon the run the way they have the last two weeks. Against San Francisco and Seattle, the Giants ran 24 first-down plays in the first half; 18 were pass plays, and just four were designed runs. It’s understandable that the Giants would want to pass the ball to stay ahead of the sticks with Barkley out, but it’s allowed the defenses to key on Daniel Jones.
Miami’s run defense has been surprisingly porous so far this season, and most of the damage is coming from non-quarterback runs. They rank 27th in the NFL in allowing a 45.4% success rate on running back carries; in other words, teams have been able to keep their down-and-distance manageable by running the football. They’re also one of only seven teams allowing a positive EPA on running back carries, ranking 27th in that category.
This is a defense that plays a light box and encourages teams to run, even when playing shaky passing offenses like the Patriots and Broncos. When offenses run, they tend to succeed. Even if Barkley misses his third consecutive game, the Giants need to run the ball.
Let Darren cook
On the season, the Dolphins have allowed tight ends to catch 22 of 29 targets for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, they’ve allowed a 72.4% success rate on those 29 targets, which ranks 31st in the NFL. While they haven’t necessarily given up a lot of yardage per target (6.24, eighth-lowest), they’ve allowed teams to keep ahead of the sticks with those tight end passes.
The Bills took advantage of this early in the game. In the first quarter, they targeted the tight end four times and generated a positive EPA on all four passes.
The Giants have been waiting for a Darren Waller signature game. He has just 15 receptions for 153 yards and 1.15 yards per route run. Against Seattle, Waller was targeted only once over the game’s first three quarters. This is as good a game as any to get him going in the quick passing game.
It’s easy to think that the passes worked because Miami had to respect Josh Allen’s arm, but looking at the plays, that’s not really the case. Simply reading that the Dolphins were playing a soft zone allowed Allen to easily find his tight end underneath.
The Giants rank 30th in the NFL with a 37.9% passing success rate on first down. They need to scheme up the easy stuff underneath against Miami, and Waller is a good candidate to do it.
In general, Waller is also a good target for the Giants due to the struggles of the Dolphins’ linebackers in coverage. Jerome Baker and David Long have coverage grades of 57.6 and 45.7, which rank 51st and 70th out of 72 qualified linebackers, respectively. They’ve combined to allow an incredible 27 of 28 receptions for 327 yards and two touchdowns. Baker’s targeted passer rating is 135.4, while Long’s is 152.1.
Expose Miami’s cornerbacks
Just like the Dolphins’ linebackers, their cornerbacks have struggled this season. Xavien Howard has a 50.3 coverage grade (59th out of 72 qualified cornerbacks), and Kader Kohou’s 62.6 mark is still below average (44th). While it’s hard to blame any cornerback for being beaten by Stefon Diggs, the second-year player allowed 4 of 5 catches for 101 yards and two scores in that matchup. Eli Apple (45.4 coverage grade) and Justin Bethel (69.4) have also picked up work in Miami’s secondary to varying results.
The strength of the Dolphins’ coverage, though, is their safety unit. Jevon Holland leads all 68 qualified safeties with a 90.3 coverage grade, and DeShon Elliott ranks 19th at 71.6. They have combined to allow 13 of 23 receptions for 131 yards with five pass breakups and a 26.1% forced incompletion rate, suggesting that their coverage has been very tight. Elliott missed Miami’s last game, so his status could change the Giants’ approach.
Here’s an example of how the Bills successfully attacked Miami’s zone coverage.
The Dolphins are showing a quarters look pre-snap. The Bills run a switch release with a post/wheel combination and orbit motion to the flat. Although Brandon Jones (No. 29) reads the release and waits for the post, Xavien Howard (No. 25) gets sucked too far inside on the post, allowing Gabe Davis to come open on the wheel.
It appears that the Bills learned this play from somewhere, too. Watch the Chargers catch Miami in a similar mistake in Week 1.
Same idea — a switch release against quarters (although the route combination is slightly different). Once again, who doesn’t see the switch? Xavien Howard. The Giants need to find a way to expose the veteran. He is several years past his prime and gave up 826 receiving yards in 2022. While PFF did not charge these plays to him, they were his coverage lapses.
Meanwhile, Kohou’s struggles against Diggs might not carry over against the Giants’ less talented receivers, but Apple is still ripe for the picking, as usual. There’s a lot to like about this cornerback matchup for the Giants.
Against Seattle, the Giants actually found a fair amount of success at times dinking and dunking their way downfield. The problem is, as it was in 2022, that needing first down after first down to get to the end zone increases the chances of making mistakes along the way via sacks, penalties, drops, and other errant plays.
Although there is a temptation to continue the dink-and-dunk game against such soft coverage, as shown above, there are ways to beat it. The Giants need to attack Miami’s tendencies.
What pass protection?
As of Wednesday evening, it appears as if the Giants’ starting offensive line will consist of Josh Ezeudu, Mark Glowinski, Ben Bredeson, Marcus McKethan, and Evan Neal. PFF just ranked the Giants’ offensive line the worst in the NFL, and that’s including a healthy Andrew Thomas.
Fortunately for the Giants, Miami’s pass rush has been mediocre thus far. They’re tied for 19th in the NFL with 2.5 sacks per game, and their 67.3 team pass rush grade is tied for 22nd. Andrew Van Ginkel has been an effective pass rusher, posting 10 pressures and 3 sacks on just 78 pass rushes, a 12.8% pressure rate. Bradley Chubb has been underwhelming, though; he has 9.2% pressure rate, well below the 11.2% average for edge rushers.
Still, former first-round pick Jaelan Phillips could return to action on Sunday, which would put additional pressure on the Giants. Phillips has eight pressures on just 59 pass rushes this season, a 13.6% pressure rate. Specialist Emmanuel Ogbah can also be a menace, as he has six pressures on 35 rushes (17.1%).
From the interior, the Dolphins’ defensive tackles are known more for their run defense than their pass rushing. Christian Wilkins has an 8.3% pressure rate, while Zach Sieler is at 6.5%. Raekwon Davis, Miami’s rotational defensive tackle, is at 5.3%. Perhaps the Giants can contain that instant up-the-middle pressure.
The bad news is that Seattle’s pass rush wasn’t all that effective before facing the Giants. New York was just the antidote for that, as the Seahawks racked up 11 sacks and treated the Giants’ blockers as if they weren’t there.
In this game, it will be incumbent upon Daniel Jones to make better decisions. In Week 4, PFF charged Jones with causing 29.4% of the pressure he faced, the third-highest rate among quarterbacks. Two sacks were also blamed on him rather than his offensive line (though there were five sacks that were charged to no one, indicating that a free rusher came through).
More troubling, though, is how Jones played when he was kept clean. He ranked 27th with a 55.4 grade when not under pressure, throwing his pick-six that way and adding another turnover-worthy play. True, he took 2.13 seconds to throw and a 3.2 average depth of target when not under pressure, indicating that it was only short passing that saved him from pressure. Still, he needs to be better in those situations for the Giants to even have a shot.
While it’s hard to imagine the Giants coming out on top in this game, they’ll need their offense to find itself to have any sort of fighting chance. Otherwise, their season will slip even further out of their grasp.