The Giants were huge underdogs for this game and needed things to break their way to the top. The Titans’ coaching and execution mistakes gave the Giants a chance to stay in the game and stay. But it also fell to the Giants to take advantage of those opportunities.
They did, and late-game numbers offer an interesting perspective on how the Giants came to victory.
Saquon’s Big Day
The story of this game was a career day for Saquon Barkley. The Giants needed all of Barkley’s contribution because his play and the Titans’ errors of direction and execution made the difference.
The EPA graph of racing vs. Passing really tells the story of this game.
The Giants were one of the best running teams on Sunday, and that’s a good thing because they were one of the least efficient in the air.
Barkley looked better — and healthier — on the field than he has since the start of the 2019 season. He was tied with Joe Mixon for the second-fastest top speed yesterday at 21.1 mph, according to NFL NextGenStats.
Y as i wrote after the game, Barkley showed much more patience as a runner than ever, which is clear from the NGS tracking data. Barkley leads the NFL in Rush Yards Over Expected (RYOE) by a wide margin. Of his 164 yards, 88 of them were “above expectations,” suggesting he forced missed tackles, which was evident on tape, and was patient enough to allow his blocks to develop further. than before
That said, we must also acknowledge the influence of Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka.
The Giants used a very diverse running game, splitting their calls between inside and outside, as well as left and right, very evenly.
The Giants’ running scheme also helped Barkley face favorable matchups. The Giants made frequent use of the pre-snap move to slow down the Titans’ defense and get defenders out of position. They also used unexpected blocking schemes, like asking Sterling Shepard to be an inside blocker. According to NextGenStats, Barkley only faced a “stacked” tackle box in one race. His other 17 carries have come against seven- or six-man boxes, which makes it much easier for the offense to establish a numerical advantage on the side of the game.
Planning advantageous matchups, influencing the defense with personnel and lineup, and creating numerical advantages do not appear in the scoring box. However, they may be the most important factors in the success of a running game.
What to do with Daniel Jones?
Daniel Jones’ career so far has been nothing more than a Rorschach test of how people view the quarterback position.
His base score, completing 17 of 21 passes, suggests an efficient day. Similarly, his extremely high completion percentage above expectations (CPOE) suggests a lot of very accurate passing.
On the other hand, most of Jones’s passes were of little value and EPA models suggest a bad day for the quarterback. Jones was ranked 27th in the NFL in EPA per play and 25th in hit rate.
More than a third of his total yards came on the pass to Sterling Shepard and even with the 35 yards he traveled in the air, he ranked 28th in the NFL with an average of 5.7 passing yards.
Jones’s work provided fodder for both sides of the conversation.
In short, his game was wildly efficient and wildly inefficient at the same time.
Usually when we have these kinds of dichotomies, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. But this time I think the answer is that (for the most part) Jones executed what the Giants asked him to do, but what they asked him to do wasn’t particularly valuable (at least as far as the EPA formula is concerned).
His fumble (which was a great play by Jeffery Simmons, credit where it’s due) and interception (which was a terrible read and poor throw by Jones) lower his total EPA.
But also, most of his passes didn’t matter that much. He only attempted five passes beyond 10 yards down the field and the other 16 were no more than 10 yards down the field (including five behind the line of scrimmage).
We’d expect a plucky underdog desperately trying to pick up the upset victory over a superior opponent to lean toward the passing game. Instead, Jones only attempted one pass in the entire third quarter and nine total passes in the second half overall. Most of those passes were short, quick, one-read concepts.
For one thing, the Giants didn’t need any more of his passing thanks to the success of their running game.
On the other hand, the Giants had trouble protecting Jones when he fell behind to throw. Of his 21 pass attempts, Jones was sacked five times and often had to fight as well. The Giants’ interior offensive line continues to be a problem and the Titans’ defense practically lived in the Giants’ backfield. According to NextGenStats, Jones was pressured on 69 percent of his throwbacks.
It’s also worth noting that Jones held the ball quite a bit. He averaged 2.98 seconds to throw, the fifth-longest in the NFL this week, even though his average pass was 3.3 yards from the first-down marker.
For whatever reason, the Giants only asked Jones to be the game manager, and he did well enough for the team to win. We’ll have to see how the coaching staff and Jones respond when they need the passing game to carry them.
Where was Kadarius Toney?
One thing stands out about the Giants’ complement: Kadarius Toney’s near-total absence from the game.
The Giants’ 2021 first-round pick played seven snaps. That’s not a typo. Toney played two full snaps in the first half and was seen sitting alone on the bench for a while. He finished the game with 23 rushing yards and no targets or receptions.
Rookie Wan’Dale Robinson played nine snaps before leaving the game with a knee injury midway through the first quarter, while journeyman Richie James played 42 snaps.
As of this writing, we don’t know why Toney was almost a healthy scratch from the game. He may still be dealing with the injury that kept him out of practice at the end of preseason. Or maybe there’s something behind the scenes that we don’t know about yet.
It’s a situation worth watching, particularly if Robinson’s injury turns out to be a longer-term problem than we currently know.
Will the real left guard please stand up?
And finally, before we got to the full snap count, we got our answer on whether Ben Bredeson or Joshua Ezeudu would play left guard.
The answer was “yes”, with Bredeson playing 32 moves and Ezeudu playing 28.
The Giants apparently kept a page from Joe Judge’s practice book and rotated the two players at left guard. A look at the tape could reveal whether the team had a tendency toward a particular game type or blocking scheme depending on whether Bredeson or Ezeudu were on the field. Alternatively, the Giants could have been trying to find an answer to the internal pressure that was screwing up their offense.
Or it’s possible that neither player is completely healthy and they were being managed. We don’t know for sure, but it’s something worth taking a closer look at.
Full snapshot counts
CB Cor’Dale Flott played two special teams plays.