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Giants-Seahawks: What to expect when Seattle has the ball

The Seahawks’ offense has come alive the last two weeks

New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks
DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett
Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

The Week 3 matchup between the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks features two offenses heading in different directions. While both struggled mightily in Week 1 and rebounded in Week 2, the Giants’ offense sputtered once more in Week 3, while the Seahawks’ repeated their previous effort.

Led by a slew of young players at key positions and a quarterback who rose from the ashes a year ago, Seattle’s offense has averaged 29.0 points per game through three weeks, including 37 in each of the last two contests. The scuffling Giants defense faces a formidable challenge in trying to stop them.

Who is Geno Smith?

The former second-round pick and long-time NFL journeyman shocked the world in 2022 by performing like a top-10 quarterback. Still, heading into 2023, it was fair to ask which version of Geno Smith would take the field. In Week 1, after Smith threw for just 112 yards and 4.3 yards per attempt, it was fair for the doubts to creep up. In the last two games, though, Smith has looked more like his 2022 self, throwing for 312 yards per game, 8.1 yards per attempt, and three touchdowns compared to one interception.

Still, there are signs that the Seahawks quarterback can be had — if you know where to look. In 2022, Smith’s 4.2% turnover-worthy play rate was tied for 28th out of 35 qualified passers, but his 1.9% interception rate was tied for 11th. In the last two games, Smith has a 5.2% turnover-worthy play rate but just a 1.3% interception rate.

Therefore, the key to beating Smith is to turn him over. Unfortunately for the Giants, that’s not the strength of their defensive scheme. The Giants are one of two teams without a takeaway and one of four without an interception so far this season. In 2022, they tied for last in the NFL with just six interceptions and 25th with 19 takeaways.

The deficiency isn’t just in the scheme, though. Brock Purdy had two interceptable passes early in the Week 3 matchup, but Deonte Banks and Adoree’ Jackson simply could not come up with the picks. Although Smith did not have any turnover-worthy plays in the 2022 matchup, if he throws them the Giants’ way, they must come away with turnovers, not “almosts.”

The other thing the Giants need to do defensively is to take away the intermediate area of the field. In 2022, deep balls were Smith’s calling card, as he posted a 99.3 Pro Football Focus grade, 31 big-time throws, a 14:2 TD:INT ratio, and a 120.2 passer rating on throws traveling 20+ yards. So far in 2023, although he’s attempting an even higher rate of deep balls (12.6% compared to 11%), his results are not as prolific: a 68.9 PFF grade, three big-time throws, no touchdowns or interceptions, just four completions, and a 69.1 passer rating.

Now, it’s on his mid-range throws that Smith has been lethal. He’s attempted 15 of them through three games, completing all 15 for 219 yards, 14.6 yards per attempt, a 3:0 TD:INT ratio, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Notably, he has no big-time throws in that area, which means he’s taking what the defense is giving him.

That puts pressure on all levels of the Giants’ defense to execute. He likes to throw deep, and he proved last year that he can make defenses pay there. But the work isn’t done there: they need to keep containment in the middle because that’s been his bread-and-butter in 2023.

Beware play action

A whopping 33.9% of Smith’s dropbacks have come off play action, the second-highest rate in the NFL. That’s where he’s done almost all of his damage.

On 38 play-action dropbacks, Smith is 29-for-35 (82.9%, second-best) for 369 yards (1st), 10.5 yards per attempt (5th), 2:0 TD:INT ratio, a 129.6 passer rating (6th), and a 91.4 PFF grade (2nd). He has no turnover-worthy plays off play action, and he’s gained 20 first downs.

Meanwhile, without play-action, Smith’s completion percentage plummets to 61.8% (25th), and he has just 5.4 yards per attempt (27th). His 61.1 PFF grade ranks 25th, and all four of his turnover-worthy plays have come without play action, a 4.8% rate that ranks 27th. His 80.3 passer rating ranks 22nd.

In other words, Smith is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he uses play-action and significantly below average without it. That means the Giants need to find a way to reduce the play-action he can use. Unfortunately for the Giants, all three passers they’ve faced this season have utilized play-action more than 30% of the time, and Joshua Dobbs roasted them for 9.1 yards per attempt on 10 play-action passes.

The three-headed monster

Perhaps Smith’s breakout was engineered in large part by the weapons he had on offense. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett form one of the most formidable receiving duos in the NFL. This year, Seattle added Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the consensus top receiver in the draft, to form a dangerous trio.

So far, it’s been Metcalf pacing the receiving corps, nabbing 15 receptions for 234 yards and a touchdown. He has a 137.3 targeted passer rating, the fifth-highest among qualified receivers. 11 of his 15 catches have gone for first downs, emphasizing that he’s been a chain-mover. Given that 103 of his 160 offensive snaps (64.4%) have come from the wide left spot, Deonte Banks draws the unenviable task of being his primary matchup, as Banks has taken 99 of his 132 snaps (75%) on the right side of the defensive formation.

Luckily for the Giants, most of Metcalf’s production has come against zone coverage. He has caught all nine of his zone targets for 153 yards, averaging 17.0 yards per target. Less fortunate for New York, though, is that Metcalf’s touchdown came against man coverage.

Still, the Giants cannot forget Lockett. The Seahawks’ second option had five receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown against New York in 2022. That touchdown was a partial atonement for an earlier drop and a fumble, as it put the Seahawks ahead for good, 20-13. In Week 2, Lockett further proved his importance to Seattle by catching a walk-off touchdown in overtime against Detroit. Though Lockett will line up in the slot at times (he’s done so 35.7% of the time this year), Tre Hawkins draws this primary matchup.

Smith-Njigba has yet to get going in the NFL, posting nine catches for 57 yards through three weeks. He’s played in the slot 79.5% of the time. Adoree’ Jackson will likely be his primary matchup, and the veteran has struggled in the slot so far, posting just a 52.7 coverage grade and yielding 201 passing yards, a touchdown, and a 114.8 targeted passer rating through three games.

Run game discipline

Thus far this season, Kenneth Walker has been far more consistent than in his rookie year. While his 4.3 YPC average is unremarkable, he has four rushing touchdowns and 14 missed tackles forced, ranked second and fifth among running backs, respectively. He’s also tied for eighth with six rushes of over 10+ yards, but just 25% of his yardage has come on breakaways. That has led to a 46.8% success rate that ranks 11th out of 37 backs with at least 25 carries.

Walker is always a threat to break a long one, but his ability to grind makes him even more dangerous. Previously, you could count on him for loss plays where he simply did not read the hole well or danced too much to look for the big play. Through three weeks this season, though, he’s been steadily picking up yardage in a way that keeps his offense ahead of the sticks and can wear out a defense. The Giants need to stay in their running lanes and prevent Walker from picking up yards after contact. That’s been another issue for them, as missed tackles littered the tape in their loss against San Francisco.

With the discussion of play-action, though, the Giants still need to defend the pass first. As good as Walker is, this Seahawks offense runs through its passing game right now. A team doesn’t need to be successful running the ball, or even establish the run at all, to utilize the play-action pass effectively; still, the Giants must be on the lookout for that play-action rather than flowing too hard upfield.

Key pressure matchup: Kayvon Thibodeaux vs. Jake Curhan/Stone Forsythe

The Seahawks’ second-year tackles have both been out the last two weeks. Abe Lucas is on injured reserve, which means that Jake Curhan will be starting for the third consecutive game. On the other side, 2022 top-10 pick Charles Cross has been ailed by a toe injury, and his status for Monday night’s game remains unclear.

One way or another, the Giants must find a way to unleash Kayvon Thibodeaux in the most advantageous way possible. With Azeez Ojulari once again ailing, the Giants don’t have much juice at the edge rusher position. Thibodeaux earned an atrocious 28.6 PFF grade against San Francisco and now stands at 36.6 for the season; his pass rush grade is 51.5 and has not exceeded 56.2 in any of the three games.

As Ed Valentine explained last week, it’s not just a Thibodeaux problem, but the Giants must find a way to scheme him one-on-one against a backup tackle. If it’s both Jake Curhan and Stone Forsythe, so much the better, but if Cross plays, Thibodeaux should line up on the other side. There’s no use dropping him into coverage 22% of the time.

Curhan has allowed 14 pressures on 101 pass-blocking snaps. Forsythe has a 52.4 pass-blocking grade and is fresh off a six-pressure, two-sack performance against the Panthers. These are exploitable players, and Thibodeaux must beat them.