The New York Giants’ quarterback controversy is on hold, at least for now. With Daniel Jones returning, Tyrod Taylor’s rib injury ascertained that the calls for Taylor would cease for the time being. Now, it’s up to Jones to pick up the play of the Giants’ offense against a Las Vegas Raiders team in flux.
How to stop Maxx Crosby?
The Raiders have one of the best edge rushers in football in Maxx Crosby. Crosby has the third-highest Pro Football Focus grade at the position (91.6) among 66 qualified edge rushers. The unbelievable thing about Crosby is his strength both as a pass rusher and a run defender; his grade is 90.7 in the former (2nd) and 90.3 in the latter (5th).
Crosby has the most pressures of any edge defender in the NFL (47). His 16.2% pressure rate ranks seventh, and his 6.5 sacks are tied for eighth.
Giants fans who are hoping against hope that Andrew Thomas will be back to face Crosby are in for a disappointment. Crosby has lined up on the left side of the defensive formation (against the right side of the offensive line) on 79.7% of his snaps this season. That means it will be either Evan Neal or Tyre Phillips most often tasked with blocking Crosby. Per PFF, Phillips has outplayed Neal in his two starts, but that’s not saying much — it’s a 49.9 grade vs. 39.0. Neal has a 7.1% pressure rate, while Phillips’ is actually worse at 9.2%.
This likely means that Daniel Bellinger, Saquon Barkley, and Matt Breida will be used to attempt to neutralize Crosby on passing downs.
Crosby hasn’t had a game with fewer than four pressures this season. Last year, though, the Saints managed to hold him without a pressure on 28 pass rush snaps, while the Broncos, Jaguars, and Colts limited him to two in each game. All four of those teams had right tackles who finished the season at least average in PFF pass block grade, though, so none of them are particularly instructive on how to block Crosby with a deficient tackle situation.
The best the Giants can hope for is to get some effective chips on him and to get the ball out quickly. In the run game, they’re probably also looking to double-team and bump him.
Pound the rock
Obviously, every NFL team is going to be ready for the Giants to try to pound the ball down their throats. Saquon Barkley is the Giants’ best offensive player, and with the offensive line severely banged up, it only makes sense.
Still, the Giants need to keep pounding it even if it’s not initially working. One of the bigger problems for their offense earlier in the season was that they turned away from the running game very quickly, especially running back runs. The team didn’t even crack 20 non-quarterback rush attempts until Week 5 when they had 22 in large part due to Jones’ injury.
In Week 7, though, we saw some of what the Giants should be doing offensively. Barkley had 21 rush attempts even though he gained just 78 yards at 3.7 yards per carry. The Jets game is not a fair analysis due to Brian Daboll’s refusal to pass the ball with Tommy DeVito under center. Still, even with both Jones and Barkley on the field together for the first time since Week 2, the Giants need to turn back to Barkley rather than trying to open up the passing game with Jones.
This is also an optimal game to run the ball because Vegas’ defense struggles with it. They’re 30th in the NFL in allowing 140.6 rush yards per game and 26th with 4.5 yards per carry allowed. They also rank 30th in EPA per run play allowed (0.0559) and 29th in rush defense DVOA (8.6%).
The Raiders do have some defensive players doing well against the run, namely Crosby, linebacker Robert Spillane (77.2 PFF run defense grade), and cornerback Nate Hobbs (89.7). Still, other players like defensive tackle Bilal Nichols (50.1) and linebacker Divine Deablo (52.8) are struggling in that area.
11 vs. 12 personnel
The Giants rank 10th in the NFL in using 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers). The Raiders’ defense ranks 30th in the NFL in EPA per rush allowed (0.158) and 26th in success rate allowed (48.3%) out of 11 personnel. That would seem to indicate that the Giants should try to run out of 11 personnel against the Raiders. Specifically, drawing the Raiders into a 4-2-5 nickel look seems to yield the best rushing results for offenses.
Still, the Raiders have poor numbers against runs out of 12 personnel, as well. They rank 25th in EPA per rush, 29th in success rate, and 27th in yards per carry. They’ve also faced 105 rushes out of 12 personnel, the most of any defense in the NFL and 17 more than the next-closest team. It seems that 12 personnel might be a wiser choice for the Giants, especially if they’re going to try to stop Crosby in both the run and passing game.
Who will replace Waller?
It appears that Darren Waller will be out multiple weeks with his hamstring injury. That’s unfortunate for the Giants in this matchup, as the Raiders’ worst coverage spot in terms of efficiency is the tight end position. They rank 25th in the NFL in DVOA against tight ends.
The only other tight end currently on the Giants’ roster is Daniel Bellinger, who will take over TE1 duties. The team has three tight ends on the practice squad: Lawrence Cager (who was on the active roster for several games before being released), Tyree Jackson, and undrafted free agent Ryan Jones. One or more of them will likely be elevated while Waller is out.
Bellinger flashed some potential as a receiver in 2022, but he may be the only blocking tight end the Giants have. Cager has some receiving ability, which might make him the best candidate to replace Waller. According to PFF, Jackson has some limited experience in run-blocking with mixed results. Jones is new to the position and is on the practice squad to learn its nuances.
What’s clear is that there’s no one else in the tight end room who’s going to take over for Waller within the Giants’ offense. That means other players will need to step up. The Raiders are allowing just 197 passing yards per game, the ninth-best mark in the NFL, and their 6.3 yards per pass attempt allowed ranks 11th. Moving the ball through the air might not be that easy, to begin with.
Perhaps the team will try going to Barkley as another weapon in the receiving game. The Raiders rank 22nd in pass DVOA against running backs. Barkley had an opportunity for a big play and perhaps a touchdown against the Jets had the ball not been tipped by C.J. Mosley. He also had the touchdown on a checkdown from Tyrod Taylor against the Commanders.
The #Giants had a chance for BIG one -- prob a TD -- if the ball doesn't get tipped here.— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) October 30, 2023
Finally, they found a one-on-one for Saquon Barkley as a receiver on an angle route where the LB can't keep up with him.
Very close to being a TD. Great play by the Jets DL. pic.twitter.com/qsdUoVB9Hv
Saquon Barkley turned on the jets on this TD pic.twitter.com/TegdKuAVhY— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 23, 2023
Despite the Raiders’ fairly strong pass defense, their biggest weakness is the intermediate range of the field. They’ve allowed 11.0 yards per attempt (24th), 0.647 EPA per pass attempt (25th), and a 64.3% success rate (29th) on throws that traveled between 10-19 yards downfield.
The Giants have had only 32 pass attempts to the intermediate area of the field, which is the fewest in the NFL on a per-game basis. Waller has received the most targets in that area, but Darius Slayton has the second-most. He’s caught 6 of 8 targets for 113 yards (14.1 yards per reception) with 0.500 EPA per target and a 75% success rate. Perhaps that’s where Jones’ eyes should be, particularly if the Giants can get him isolated on Amik Robertson, who has a 44.2 PFF coverage grade.
What to expect from Jones?
It’s difficult to know what to make of Jones’ season. I’m curious to see how the Giants try to deploy him, particularly if Andrew Thomas doesn’t end up playing (but even if he does). I’ve been saying since Taylor started playing that he’s looked better than Jones because the Giants gave him a more quarterback-friendly game plan considering the disaster of the offensive line. This is the first game for Jones to try to prove that — but only if the Giants keep the same game plan.
Will Jones take off running in the game? The Raiders actually rank 23rd in EPA per rush allowed to quarterbacks at 0.152. On the other hand, they rank 11th in success rate allowed on those plays (41.9%), seventh in rush yards per game (12.3), and fifth in yards per carry (3.2) on quarterback runs. In other words, they’ve allowed two rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks. That being said, the only legitimate running quarterback they’ve faced so far is Josh Allen, whom they held to three rushes for seven yards (perhaps skewed somewhat by the 38-10 blowout and James Cook’s 7.2 yards per carry).
It also remains to be seen if Jones will feel comfortable taking a hit after sustaining his neck injury. In the past, he’s been mostly immune to that, bringing an almost reckless attitude to taking a hit at times. We’ll see how that plays out.
Also, if the Raiders do decide to crowd the box and dare Jones to throw, will he be able to do so? That’s a big question for the Giants.