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Giants-Saints: What to expect when the Giants have the ball

The Giants’ offense may not lead the day, but it will need to do enough

Green Bay Packers v New York Giants
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The New York Giants enter a Week 15 matchup that is suddenly pivotal for their slim playoff hopes. At 5-8, they’re still not quite in the hunt for the NFC playoffs considering that they currently rank 12th in the conference. Still, the New Orleans Saints are one of the teams above them, even if it’s only one slot. A loss in this game would all but end the Giants’ chances, while a win would buoy them a step closer to an improbable ride. Of course, two matchups with the Philadelphia Eagles loom like austere omens overhead, but New York would be grateful to even get there still alive.

In recent weeks, the Giants’ offense has started to show a semblance of respectability. The numbers aren’t always gaudy, but they’re functional.

What are the Saints’ defensive tendencies, and how can the Giants respond?

Defensive tendencies

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the Saints play these coverages at a higher rate than most other teams — the fourth-most Cover 1 (33.4%) and the eighth-most Cover 2 (16.9%). Overall, they play man coverage the seventh-most among all defenses (38.2%). They still play a decent amount of Cover 4 (18.2%, 13th), but they rarely use Cover 6 (2.7%, 28th) and employ Cover 3 far less than other teams (23.2%, 27th).

The Saints like to run man coverage because they’re really good at it. They’ve allowed the third-lowest completion percentage (48.7%), the second-lowest completion percentage over expected (CPOE, -7.4%), the second-fewest yards per attempt (5.4), the lowest EPA per dropback (-0.31), and the second-highest defensive success rate (62.8%) when they play man.

New Orleans’ zone coverage is still quite good, as they rank first in completion percentage (62.3%), fifth in CPOE (-2.8%), 12th in yards per attempt (6.8), and 10th in defensive success rate (56.4%) in zone. However, they rank 22nd in EPA per dropback in zone coverage despite allowing a 7:10 TD:INT ratio.

The Giants’ favored Yankee concept works well against Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks. Those are two of the Saints’ most common defensive alignments. DeVito needs to be ready to throw the over route rather than targeting the go exclusively.

Pound the rock

The Saints rank 13th in defensive yards per game (321.0), but that’s divided into seventh against the pass (189.5) and 26th against the run (131.5). Their DVOA rankings are very similar: 13th overall, ninth vs. the pass, and 24th against the run. That makes the Giants’ core game plan against the Saints obvious: run the football.

Unfortunately, the Giants’ run-blocking has hardly been up to the task. Against the Packers, Andrew Thomas (48.9), Tyre Phillips (51.6), and Justin Pugh (54.4) all posted subpar Pro Football Focus run-blocking grades, while John Michael Schmitz (60.3) and Ben Bredeson (61.1) were mediocre. For the season, the Giants’ 46.3 team run-blocking grade ranks 30th.

Still, the Giants’ offense should run through Saquon Barkley. Against the Packers, Barkley was on his way to being the Giants’ player of the game with two touchdown runs despite averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. However, when he fumbled on a 34-yard run after hitting the deck untouched and enabled Green Bay to drive down for the go-ahead score, his Kudos turned into a Kwillie.

Barkley will be looking to redeem himself this week. He’s managed to keep his yards per carry at a respectable 4.2 (14th out of 40 qualified running backs, min. 100 carries) primarily through chunk plays, as he ranks fifth with 20 rushes of 10+ yards. Accordingly, he has the third-highest rate of breakaway yardage (39%) and ranks 28th in first down rate (20%) and 25th in success rate (36.8%).

Fortunately for Barkley, the Saints allow many big runs. They’ve given up a higher rate of 10+ yard runs than any other team (14.7%). They haven’t given up too many rushing touchdowns — they’re tied for 10th with just nine — but there is chunk yardage to be had against them. That should bode well for the Giants’ run game.

Wan’Dale city

The Saints’ coverage is excellent overall. As a team, their 90.1 PFF coverage grade ranks fifth in the NFL. Their passing stats are excellent. In particular, they cover the deep area of the field well, ranking second in DVOA there.

However, they’re not quite as elite in the short area of the field, ranking 13th. While that’s not bad, it’s certainly more mediocre. That’s where Wan’Dale Robinson comes in, as the Giants have mostly limited his route tree to within five yards of the line of scrimmage. On throws between 0-9 air yards, Robinson has caught 41 of 50 targets for 319 yards (7.78 yards per reception), 0.282 EPA per reception, and a 52% success rate. Robinson is often open but not targeted; Tommy DeVito should feed him the ball this week.

Furthermore, Saints slot corner Alontae Taylor is the weak spot on their defense. He has a 51.3 PFF coverage grade and has given up more yardage (468) from the slot than any other cornerback in the NFL. He’s also allowed four touchdowns there, the second-most among corners. Even taking into account his high rate of slot snaps, Taylor ranks 33rd out of 43 qualified slot corners (min. 75 slot snaps) with 1.36 yards per cover snap allowed. That makes Robinson, who has played 82.6% of his snaps out of the slot, the Giants’ primary target in this game.

Interestingly, Barkley is not the place the Giants want to go through the air. The Saints have the top-ranked defense by DVOA in covering running backs at -43.3%. They rank in the top three in virtually every category regarding running back receiving — completions, yards, yards per attempt, interceptions, EPA per target, and success rate.

Protect the football

The Saints are tied with the Giants for the fifth-most takeaways in the NFL with 22. That means this game will likely come down to whichever team protects the ball better. Offensively, the Giants are tied for the 12th-fewest giveaways with 16, while the Saints are right behind them with 17.

DeVito has protected the football reasonably well. In his last four games, he threw just one interception on 99 pass attempts. It’s fair to somewhat disregard his interceptions against Dallas because at least one of them was forced due to the Giants’ huge deficit in the game. In this game, DeVito’s biggest role will be to manage the offense and avoid costly mistakes.