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What can we learn from the Giants’ PFF grades and snap counts against the Rams?

Portrait of a team that just isn’t quite good enough

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The tension was palpable Sunday as New York Giants fans watched their team stagger downfield to get into position for a possible winning field goal against the Los Angeles Rams: Would it be better to make the field goal and win, or miss the field goal and preserve their team’s No. 5 standing in the 2024 NFL draft? Such is life for teams eliminated from the playoffs.

We now know that the flame for Jayden Daniels (or even Caleb Williams or Drake Maye) still burns with one week left to go. What do PFF grades and snap counts tell us about why this hope endures?

OFFENSE

PFF grades

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Once again the Giants’ offense did not have a single player grade above average in PFF’s eyes. That is the story of the 2023 Giants.

  • Tyrod Taylor was the highest-graded Giant on offense. That was because of his big plays, most notably the 80 yard TD to Darius Slayton, but that was only one of four big time throws PFF credited to him, against only one turnover-worthy play (presumably his interception). The Rams blitzed Taylor a very Wink-like 44% of his dropbacks but to little avail - he graded 86.4 on those plays, including the TD pass to Slayton, although his interception came on a play on which he was blitzed. The Rams flummoxed Taylor more when they didn’t blitz (54.0 grade). Overall, when under pressure (36% of the time), Taylor held the ball an average of 3.91 seconds. Taylor threw the ball 20+ yards downfield four times, as opposed to Matthew Stafford, who only launched one pass more than 20 yards.
  • Nothing new with the offensive line: Andrew Thomas clocked in at only 67.6 as he plays through his hamstring and knee injuries, though they affect him more in run blocking (55.2) than pass blocking (74.1). Tyre Phillips had a similar but slightly lower line (44.4 run blocking, 75.1 pass blocking before his injury). The other OLs were underwater as usual, including Matt Peart (57.5), Ben Bredeson (35.9), and Justin Pugh (48.5). John Michael Schmitz had his worst game as a pro: 23.5, including the coveted 0.0 pass blocking grade. Mr. Schmitz, let me introduce you to Aaron Donald. Schmitz surrendered a sack, a QB hit, and 6 pressures, out of the 20 total pressures allowed by the Giants’ OL.
  • The receivers were OK but nothing special overall: Darius Slayton (65.5 route running grade but with a contested catch and 39 YAC), Isaiah Hodgins (63.7), Wan’Dale Robinson (63.3), Jalin Hyatt (59.9), and Darren Waller (60.6). Daniel Bellinger had a good day receiving (70.6) but continued to be a liability blocking (48.3), with 2 more holding penalties. Saquon Barkley had an OK game running the ball (64.2) but had only a 33.4 receiving grade because of two drops.

Snap counts

  • The offensive line starters played the entire game, with the exception of Tyre Phillips, who left with what looked like a serious injury and was replaced by Matt Peart.
  • Eric Gray got a few more snaps than usual and a couple more than Matt Breida in relief of Saquon Barkley, but still nothing substantial. If will be interesting to see if Gray plays a bigger role in the final game now that there is nothing to play for except draft position.
  • As usual Darius Slayton and Wan”Dale Robinson played most snaps on offense, but Jalin Hyatt was not far behind and far ahead of his usage in many previous games. Isaiah Hodgins got his usual fraction of the snaps and is consistently WR4 now. Sterling Shepard played a few snaps at the end once again, and Parris Campbell was inactive.
  • With Lawrence Cager out, Darren Waller saw the majority of snaps and Daniel Bellinger a bit less than half the snaps, but the Giants had two TEs on the field for only a few plays.

DEFENSE

PFF grades

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus
  • Dexter Lawrence led the defense again at 80.4, but his play remains clearly a notch below his early season form because of his hamstring injury. He had only a QB hit yesterday but did get 2 run stops. The rest of the IDL was near or slightly below average: Rakeem Nunez-Roches (61.8 but with a sack), A’Shawn Robinson (58.7), Jordon Riley (55.8), and D.J. Davidson (47.3).
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux (55.3) had his third consecutive quiet game, with only a single hurry, one of only 9 pressures the Giants’ defense got on Matthew Stafford. Azeez Olulari graded 48.8 overall but with 2 QB hits, Jihad Ward got a sack but overall graded an abysmal 31.8, and Boogie Basham graded 69.9 in limited action, mostly due to his run defense.
  • It was not a good day for the linebackers, with Isaiah Simmons leading at 59.9, ahead of Bobby Okereke (48.6). Of note is that Micah McFadden seems to be reverting to his 2022 form (29.5, with 2 more missed tackles) after seeming to make a big leap in his play earlier in the season.
  • Dane Belton had one of his best games as a Giant (76.2), seeing more playing time than in any other game this season. At the other safety, Xavier McKinney (62.5) had a low impact game. Nick McCloud held up satisfactorily at cornerback in place of injured Tae Banks (58.1), better than regulars Adoree’ Jackson (45.7, including a 26.1 tackling grade) and Cor’Dale Flott (51.5).

Snap counts

  • With Tae Banks out, Adoree’ Jackson and Nick McCloud played every snap at boundary corner - despite the Giants having been eliminated, Tre Hawkins III was once again not given a single snap on defense. Cor’Dale Flott was the sole slot corner when the Giants were in nickel. As usual Xavier McKinney played every down, and Dane Belton got all the snaps after Jason Pinnock left with an injury.
  • Bobby Okereke played every snap as usual, continuing his amazing streak for the season. It will be interesting to see whether he gets some plays off in the Giants’ final game. For the first time Isaiah Simmons saw the field on defense about as much as Micah McFadden. It is worth watching whether this was a one-off strategy based on the opponent and how the game played out or whether Simmons is claiming a larger role in the defense in general. Darrian Beavers was activated for the first time as a Giant but did not play on defense (he did play 20 snaps on special teams).
  • Dexter Lawrence was once again on a pitch count, with A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches making up most of the rest on the IDL. Jordon Riley got a few more snaps than D.J. Davidson, whether by accident or design; this will be another thing to watch going forward.
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux got a bit more rest than usual, with Azeez Ojulari, Jihad Ward, and Boogie Basham filling the rest of the snaps at edge defender in that order of play time.

To put the Giants’ roster into perspective, it’s useful to compare their performance yesterday to that of next week’s opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, continuing their late-season swoon, lost at home to of all teams the Arizona Cardinals. Their PFF grades should be poorer than those of the Giants, right? Not so. PFF gave above average (70 or higher) grades to 8 Eagles on offense and 5 Eagles on defense. PFF doesn’t grade coaches, but a reasonable interpretation might be that for all the complaints this season about what Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Wink Martindale are doing during games, the Eagles’ coaches must really be doing a lousy job to lose as many games as they have with all the talent they put on the field - talent that is playing well as PFF sees it.