The Giants were big underdogs for this game and needed things to fight their way to victory. The Titans’ practice and execution errors gave the Giants a chance to stay in the game and hang around. But it was also up to the Giants to take advantage of those opportunities.
They did, and the game’s advanced numbers offer some interesting insight into how the Giants managed to pull off the win.
Saquon’s big day
The history of this game was a career day for Saquon Barkley. The Giants needed Barkley’s full input because his play and the Titans’ training and execution errors were the difference.
The running and passing EPA chart really tells the story of this game.
The Giants were one of the best teams on the ground on Sunday, and that’s a good thing because they were one of the least efficient in the air.
Barkley looked the best – and healthiest – on the pitch he has had since the start of the 2019 season. He was tied with Joe Mixon for the second-highest top speed yesterday at 21.1mph , according to NFL NextGenStats.
And as I wrote after the game, Barkley has shown far more patience as a runner than he ever has, which is confirmed by NGS tracking data. Barkley led the NFL in Rush Yards Over Expected (RYOE) by a wide margin. Of his 164 yards, 88 of them were “beyond expectation”, suggesting he forced missed tackles – which was apparent on the tape – and was patient enough to allow his blockages to develop more than before.
That said, we also have to acknowledge the influence of Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka.
The Giants used a very diverse running game, splitting their calls inside and out, as well as left and right, very evenly.
The Giants’ running schedule has also helped Barkley weather favorable matchups. The Giants frequently used the pre-snap move to slow down the Titans defense and move defenders out of position. They also used unexpected blocking patterns, like asking Sterling Shepard to be an inside blocker. According to NextGenStats, Barkley only faced a “stacked” tackle box on a single run. His other 17 runs were against seven- or six-man boxes, making it much easier for the offense to establish a power play side advantage.
Scheduling advantageous games, influencing the defense with personnel and roster, and creating power plays do not appear on the box score. However, they can be the main success factors of a racing game.
What about Daniel Jones?
Daniel Jones’ career so far has been nothing but a Rorschach test of how people view the quarterback job.
His baseline boxing score, completing 17 of 21 passes, suggests an effective day. Likewise, his exorbitant percentage of completion over expectations (CPOE) suggests many highly accurate passes.
On the other hand, most of Jones’ passes were of little value, and EPA models suggest a bad day for the quarterback. Jones finished 27th in the NFL in EPA per play and 25th in completion rate.
Over a third of his total yardage came on the pass to Sterling Shepard and even with the 35 yards through the air, he was 28th in the NFL with 5.7 average aerial yards.
Jones’ piece offered fodder to both sides of the conversation.
In short, his game was both extremely effective and extremely inefficient.
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 performed 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).
His fumble (which was a great play by Jeffery Simmons, credit where it’s due) and his interception (which was a terrible read and a bad throw by Jones) bring his total EPA down.
But also, most of his passes didn’t matter that much. He only attempted five passes beyond 10 yards downfield and the other 16 were no more than 10 yards downfield (including five from behind the line of scrimmage).
We would expect a brave underdog desperately trying to get the upset victory over a superior opponent to look into the passing game. Instead, Jones attempted just one pass the entire third quarter and nine passes in total in the second half. Most of these passes were short, quick, single-read concepts.
For one thing, the Giants didn’t need more of their pass thanks to the success of their running game.
On the other hand, the Giants struggled to protect Jones when he folded to throw. Of his 21 attempted passes, Jones was sacked five times and often had to scramble as well. The Giants’ inside offensive line remains a problem, and the Titans’ defense was practically living in the Giants’ backfield. According to NextGenStats, Jones was pressured on 69% of his pullbacks.
It should also be noted that Jones held the ball quite a bit. He averaged 2.98 seconds, the fifth-longest in the NFL this week, although his average pass was targeted 3.3 yards from the first down scorer.
For some reason, the Giants only asked Jones to be a game director, and he did it well enough for the team to win. We’ll have to see how the coaching staff and Jones react when they need the passing game to carry them.
Where was Kadarius Toney?
One thing that stands out about the Giants snap is Kadarius Toney’s almost complete absence from the game.
The Giants’ 2021 first-round pick played seven snaps. It’s not a typo. Toney played both snaps in the first half and was seen sitting alone on the bench for some time. 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 anything but a healthy scratch from the game. Perhaps he’s still dealing with the injury that put him out of practice late in the game. pre-season. Or maybe there’s something going on behind the scenes that we just don’t know yet.
It’s a situation worth watching, especially if Robinson’s injury turns out to be a longer-term problem than we currently know.
Will the real left guard get up?
And finally, before we get to the full count, we got our answer on whether Ben Bredeson or Joshua Ezeudu would play left guard.
The answer was “yes”, with Bredeson playing 32 snaps and Ezeudu playing 28.
The Giants apparently kept a page from Joe Judge’s coaching book and rotated both players to left guard. A look at the tape could reveal if the team tended towards a particular type of play or blocking pattern depending on whether Bredeson or Ezeudu were on the pitch. Alternatively, the Giants might have tried both trying to find an answer to the inside pressure that was destroying their offense.
Or it’s possible that none of the players are fully healthy and they’ve been managed. We don’t know for sure, but it’s something worth taking a closer look at.
The full snap counts
CB Cor’Dale Flott played two special teams snaps.