After an upset victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday, the New York Giants will try to build a winning streak against the New England Patriots. The Patriots have been in a free fall with no end in sight. While their putrid offense is the primary cause, injuries on the defensive side of the football have also hurt them. It’s those holes the Giants will try to exploit when they have the ball in this matchup.
How should the Giants attack the Patriots’ defense?
Throw the football
Overall, the Patriots rank 18th in the NFL with 228.8 passing yards per game allowed. However, since star edge rusher Matt Judon and stud rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez went down in Week 4, New England ranks 24th with 251 pass yards per game allowed. In that same time period, they ranked 31st with just 1.33 sacks per game. For the season, they’re 21st in pass defense DVOA and 31st in team Pro Football Focus pass rush grade.
This should lead the Giants to a similar game plan as they used against Washington: open up the passing game. The offensive line may struggle even against New England’s pass rush, but nonetheless, there should be opportunities for Tommy DeVito to gain chunk yardage.
The Patriots’ current three cornerbacks are J.C. Jackson (who was benched in Week 10 for being late to curfew), Jonathan Jones, and Myles Bryant. None of them rank higher than 48th out of 85 qualified corners (min. 210 cover snaps) in PFF coverage grade. In fact, Jackson has the second-worst grade at 37.3, ahead of only Adoree’ Jackson. Jones is allowing 15.1 yards per reception, while Bryant has allowed three touchdowns. As a team, the Patriots’ coverage ranks 29th in PFF grade.
New England’s cornerbacks are exploitable.
Target secondary receivers
In pass defense, Bill Belichick is up to his usual tricks. His signature step has always been to take away the opponent’s top threat(s) and force them to go elsewhere. This season, the Patriots rank third in the NFL in defensive DVOA against the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. (Note that the No. 1 is chosen somewhat arbitrarily based on the opponent’s perceived top threat or most targeted receiver.)
It may be hard to determine who, exactly, the Giants’ No. 1 receiver is. Darius Slayton may be the closest to it given his ability both downfield and in the intermediate range. Slayton did not practice on Wednesday but said he plans to play on Sunday.
After that, though, the opportunities are vast. The Patriots rank 26th in DVOA against No. 2 receivers and 31st against No. 3s. They’re also 20th against tight ends and 29th against running backs. There’s a lot to like in those matchups.
It will likely be evident pretty quickly which players the Patriots are focusing on defensively — almost certainly Saquon Barkley. Therefore, Jalin Hyatt and Wan’Dale Robinson have a chance to do some damage both over the top and underneath, especially if the Giants use Barkley as a decoy both on play action and out of the backfield.
Utilize Wan’Dale more
Bryant is the Patriots’ slot cornerback. Robinson is the Giants’ slot receiver. Bryant has allowed 27 of 30 targets to be caught out of the slot with a 111.0 passer rating. His 259 yards given up in the slot are the eighth-highest among all defenders. That means the Giants should use Robinson to help keep the chains moving.
Robinson has only 12 targets over the past four weeks. He should be getting a lot more than that, especially against the Patriots.
Additionally, using him on jet motion, both for jet sweeps and as a decoy, should be a priority.
Abandon the run?
It might seem tempting for the Giants to abandon the run against the Patriots. After all, that’s the strength of New England’s defense. Their 97.7 rush yards per game allowed is the ninth-best in the NFL, and both their rush defense DVOA and PFF run defense grade rank sixth.
Still, as the Giants have seen through much of the season, choosing not to run altogether is a bad idea. To keep attempting that balanced attack often helps the run break through later in the game. That was visible against the Commanders when Barkley did not have a single rushing yard before the final play of the third quarter; he finished with 14 carries for 83 yards, including two breakaways.
The Giants should definitely pass more than run, but they should not completely let go of trying to run the ball.