The 3-8 New York Giants host the 2-8 New England Patriots on Sunday in a Week 12 game ahead of the Giants’ bye week. New York earned their third victory of the season, as they defeated the Washington Commanders 31-19 with undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito slinging the rock around the yard. The Patriots had a bye week in Week 11, and look to pick up the pieces of their dilapidated season.
This seemingly insignificant matchup is consequential, but not for desired reasons pertaining to the 2023 season. Both teams are in the hunt for the top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The Giants currently hold the fifth selection, and the Patriots hold the third overall pick.
Both NFL franchises may need a long term quarterback in a quarterback rich draft, and the loser of this game likely gives themselves a better chance of landing their desired target. Still, there’s plenty of football games to ensue, and the NFL draft seems lightyears away; so, in the meantime, let’s wait to go infinity and beyond on NFL draft talk from here on out in this article.
Who is the Patriots’ quarterback?
Earlier this week, in typical Bill Belichick fashion, the future Hall of Fame coach was non-committal on his starting quarterback situation:
“I’ve told all the players the same thing: Be ready to go. So, hopefully they will be,” Belichick stated, according to CBS News Boston.
Belichick was never one for a sound bite. There’s mystery surrounding the quarterback situation because former first-round pick Mac Jones has struggled mightily this season.
Many believed Jones would take a step in his development with the return of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who replaced the combination of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as the coordinator(s) of the offense.
However, Jones failed to take a step, and the offense remains static. Jones has thrown for 2,031 yards with ten touchdowns and interceptions. His completion percentage is a solid 65.4%, but he leads the league in turnover worthy plays, he has the second worst adjusted completion percentage under pressure, and only Colts’ quarterback Gardner Minshew has a higher turnover worthy play percentage than Mac Jones (8.2%).*
His yards per attempt is a modest 6.3. It’s a season to forget for the 25-year-old quarterback, and, for the second-year in a row, 2022 fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe is breathing down his neck.
Zappe became a fan favorite last season when he won two of four games for the Patriots while Jones dealt with an ankle injury. Zappe, who doesn’t have a big arm but thrives on quick processing, has thrown for 885 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions on 117 passing attempts.
After a dismal game in Week 10 across the pond in Germany against the Colts, Jones was benched in favor of Zappe for the second time in 2023. Zappe did not orchestrate a game winning drive, but the Patriots did enter their bye week with a decision to make.
It’s not just a two-man decision, though. The Patriots are also entertaining former Carolina Panthers’ third round selection Will Grier, who is currently on the Patriots practice squad.
On the Rich Eisen Show, beat reporter Tom Curran had this to say regarding the quarterback position during the Patriots bye week:
“If I was a betting man I would say, and I don’t have any intel on this, but Will Grier gets the reps to be the starter, and if he fails in that, then Zappe would start and Grier would be [No.] 2, and you proceed through the end of the year and you try to maintain the culture.”
Reports have suggested that not only has Jones struggled on the football field, but the locker room has turned against him. NBC Sports Boston reported that 80% of the Patriots locker room is out on Mac Jones. Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald stated the same thing.
I try not to read into to much of the sideline interactions, but there’s obvious frustration from O’Brien in the clip below:
Bill O’Brien PISSED at Mac Jones pic.twitter.com/AclbRTblL7— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) November 12, 2023
O’Brien noted that practice will ultimately determine who is the starting quarterback against the Giants. For now, there is no definitive answer on the Patriots’ signal caller, but the Giants may see another opponent with a massive culture changing type of move for the first time - the second in four weeks.
(This statistic is for quarterbacks with at least 50% of their team’s dropbacks)
The Giants have the worst scoring offense in the league, with a measly 13.5 points per game. The Patriots rank 31st with just 14.1 points scored per game. The over/under on this Week 12 affair is currently 33.5 and is sliding downward - one can see why.
New England ranks 26th in yards per game with a 294.5 average. They average 199.6 passing yards per game, which ranks them 22nd in the league, and they rank 27th in rushing yards with an average of 94.9 yards per game.
Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne still leads the team in targets, receptions, and yardage, but suffered a torn ACL in Week 8. Tight end Hunter Henry is second in targets and tied for second with Demario Douglas in catches with 30. Henry has three touchdowns on the season and is a good two-way starting tight end; his blocking has improved, but he is more of a receiver.
Former Miami Dolphin Mike Gesicki has 21 catches for 181 yards with a touchdown that was followed by a devastatingly bad - and almost patented - Griddy Dance. Gesicki is a tight end who is more of a big slot. He has two pass blocking reps on the season. Pharaoh Brown, the former pupil of Andy Bischoff, will also see the field in 12 and 13 personnel. He has seven catches for 170 yards with a score on the season.
Receivers DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster are on the roster, but have struggled with injuries. The former has 15 catches for 158 yards on the season, but suffered a concussion and hasn’t seen the field since Week 8. Parker could be back in Week 12.
Smith-Schuster has 22 catches for 149 yards with one touchdown on the season. He saw only one target in Week 10, but played the most snaps of any wide receiver. Sixth round rookie Kayshone Boutte - who about a year-and-a-half ago many believed could be a first round pick out of LSU - played significant snaps for the first time since Week 1 in Week 10. He caught his lone target for 11 yards in Week 10.
The player I want to focus on and highlight is the rookie out of Liberty, Demario Douglas. He has caught 30 of 43 targets for 361 scoreless yards on the season. His snap count has significantly risen since he returned from an ankle injury in Week 7.
Douglas adds something that this Patriots’ offense desperately needs - playmaking ability and speed. His nickname is Smoke, and that’s apt due to his explosiveness and agility. He saw 16 targets over the last two games and had a season high 84 yards in Week 10. I would not be shocked to see him involved early and often against the Giants on Sunday.
New England has a two headed backfield led by Rhamondre Stevenson and a familiar face in former Dallas’ Cowboy back, Ezekiel Elliott. Stevenson has 482 yards on 144 carries (3.8 YPC) with three touchdowns to go with 32 catches on 42 targets for 229 yards (7.2 YPCatch).
Elliott has 18 catches for 108 yards, but is utilized more as a rusher; he has 331 yards on the ground with two touchdowns and he also sports a 3.8 yards per carry average. Stevenson had more work in Week 10 - and will operate more on passing downs - but their respective roles aren’t rigidly defined. New England will use both zone and power/gap rushing concepts, and the Patriots also rank top-10 in pass percentage.
What the Giants should do
Wink Martindale could thrive on his philosophy of pressure breaks pipes against whoever is playing quarterback for the Patriots. New England’s offense lacks explosiveness, and they may look to lean on the run to set up play action passes early in the game. Due to this, we may see more base personnel - five man fronts - from the Giants’ defense in neutral situations.
Against Washington last week, the Giants were often in sub-packages with two defensive linemen; we’ll still see that against 11 personnel, which the Patriots run 46% of the time, and 12 personnel in passing situations.
Expect Martindale to use a compliment of his exotic blitz packages and to employ his simulated pressure. The Giants may also get back to playing more man coverage than they did last week, specifically Cover-1.
New York played a season low 14.1% man coverage against the Commanders last week. The majority of their zone coverage snaps were in Cover-3 (40%), so they were still operating with middle-of-the-field closed concepts when they weren’t cloud covering over Terry McLaurin.
The Giants will likely not roll coverage over a specific receiver unless a receiver gets hot in the game, and becomes the quarterback’s go to target.
When in Cover-1 or disguised Cover-3, the Giants will be pressed on the line of scrimmage with the deep safety far off the ball for security. The nature of having seven or more players on the line will create one-on-one matchups and force unblocked defenders due to protection manipulation. Martindale tries this every game, and may find success with it against this Patriots offense.
Left tackle Trent Brown missed the last two games with an ankle injury and for personal reasons. If he remains out, long-time swing tackle Connor McDermott will likely replace him, which is good news for budding star Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Patriots have Michael Onwenu on the right side, and he’s an underrated lineman, who has only allowed eight pressures this season.
Cole Strange and either rookie Sidy Sow or rookie Antonio Mafi; Sow has performed better in pass protection than the former UCLA linemen. Strange has played adequatly this season, but has allowed 18 pressures. Veteran center David Andrews has allowed 15. All three, or four, of these interior offensive linemen will struggle against Dexter Lawrence.
Could the Giants actually win consecutive games before entering the bye week? They might as the Patriots’ season is bleak. The Giants do have momentum, but we must acknowledge Belichick’s record against rookie quarterbacks.
The hoody wearing former Giants’ defensive coordinator has only lost six games to rookie quarterbacks in his entire tenure as the Patriots head coach. Belichick is 24-6 against rookies with 25 touchdowns and 44 interceptions, according to Elias Sports. Yes, his team is not the teams of the past, but that’s still impressive.
Only Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Mark Sanchez (2009), Colt McCoy (2010), Russell Wilson (2012), Geno Smith (2013), and Tua Tagovailoa (2020) defeated the Patriots in their rookie seasons. Giant great Colt McCoy was the lowest drafted of the group (Pick 85).
Does this mean undrafted Tommy DeVito, dripping of Jersey Juice and smelling of garlic, can’t defeat the Patriots of Sunday? Absolutely not, but he’ll likely see a new defensive gameplan and rotations for the first time. He must avoid the traps that Belichick and his team will lay for him.
This is another winnable game for New York, as they look to conclude the desolate first part of their season with a win before the bye week.