New York Giants 2020 Team Study

Offense

The 25th-ranked Giants offense struggled in 2020. Their best offensive player (Barkley) did not play a snap after injuring his knee in Week 2. The offensive line featured several new faces who did not gel right away, including a rookie left tackle (Andrew Thomas) who progressed over the course of the season. Receivers missed games. Evan Engram dropped passes. And just when the offense was playing its best, Daniel Jones got hurt. Without his mobility, the Giants were not the same.

I believe Daniel Jones is a potentially solid NFL quarterback. He is not the caliber of player to carry a team to the Super Bowl in the face of adversity. But not many are. He has reliable downfield accuracy and is not afraid to make difficult throws. He also flashed excellent mobility and decision-making as a runner. He falls into the category of quarterbacks who can be highly successful when given the right circumstances, specifically protection and weapons. We have seen this type of player in Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Kirk Cousins. These are players who can thrive in favorable circumstances but can really look bad when given no support. Jones belongs in this tier.

But Jones’ biggest weakness is pocket awareness. When teams can get pressure, particularly on his blind side, Jones makes mistakes. Of the 12 quarterbacks drafted in the last three years with at least 9 NFL starts, only Josh Allen (31) and Lamar Jackson (31) have more fumbles than Daniel Jones (29). Obviously both Allen and Jackson have played more games. Nobody on this list has more fumbles per game than Jones.

Fumbles by Quarterbacks Drafted in 2018-2020

PlayerGamesFumblesFumbles per SackFumbles per Game
D. Jones272934.9%1.07
J. Burrow10928.1%0.90
G. Minshew231830.0%0.78
D. Haskins161224.5%0.75
J. Allen443133.7%0.70
L. Jackson463145.6%0.67
D. Lock181145.8%0.61
J. Herbert15825.0%0.53
S. Darnold382020.4%0.53
B. Mayfield462123.1%0.46
K. Murray321418.7%0.44
T. Tagovailoa915.0%0.11

The schedule did Jones no favors in 2020 given his biggest weakness. The Giants faced teams in the top-10 in pressure rate in 8 of their 16 games. And several teams they faced outside the top-10 in pressure rate still boasted a strong pass rush and overall pass defense (LAR, SF, and CHI). Despite this, Jones did show improvement handling pressure in 2020 relative to his rookie season.

D. Jones Fumbles Year 1 to Year 2

 FumblesSacksFumbles Per Sack
D. Jones (2019)18380.47
D. Jones (2020)11450.24

Mistake-prone quarterbacks typically perform better when the team can establish the run and take some of the pressure off the passing game. So losing Barkley was particularly rough on the Giants. Goff was a star with a healthy Gurley and Cousins looks dangerous when he has Dalvin Cook. Forcing this caliber of quarterback to play with only one dimension caps their success. Taking the pressure off the passing game makes a huge difference in performance. Similarly, Daniel Jones performed better when the Giants were able to run.

*Omitted Weeks 12 and 14 where Colt McCoy started due to Daniel Jones’ injury

This chart shows the Giants’ offensive performance ranking each game by the team’s total rushing yards. The Giants did not often establish a successful offense without the ground game, whether through Jones or the running backs. But when they did, they had a pulse. The Giants played below expectation in only 2 of 9 games in which they rushed for at least 85 yards. They were even outperforming in one of these games (against the Bengals) before Jones got hurt. So the only truly disappointing game came against the Rams early on. If an improved offensive line with a healthy Saquon can help the Giants establish a ground game, that could be huge for this offense.

After Jones got hurt against Cincinnati he lost his mobility and it severely limited the Giants offense. After winning 4 of 6 games in which Jones averaged 45.5 rushing yards a game, the Giants struggled against the Cardinals and Ravens without this element, as Jones rushed just 1 time for 3 yards total in those two games. The Giants had no chance.

The Giants’ skill players did not provide a lot of support for Jones. They were 7th in the league in dropped pass % and lacked a receiver who could consistently beat coverage. Engram flashed in moments but dropped several big passes. Shepard was a reliable short target when healthy and Slayton did improve his route tree a little in 2020 but remained an inconsistent deep threat. Each of these players filled a role but the team lacked a go-to guy who could force defenses to focus and open up the field for everyone else.

Overall, the Giants offense showed promise at times but remained a couple of pieces away from sustained success.

Defense

Looking only at their fairly decent defensive production, it’s a little surprising that the Giants defense ranked 20th in 2020. But this reveals the importance of factoring in the quality of opponents when evaluating teams. They played bad offenses most of the year. Their average opponent offensive strength was 19th and they played 11 of 16 games against bottom-half opponents. One of their tougher matchups on paper came against a Tampa Bay offense without Chris Godwin or Antonio Brown. Their offensive struggles also meant that opposing offenses did not need to be too aggressive. So despite allowing the 9th-fewest yards per play, the Giants defense was mediocre.

There were some bright spots. Particularly, the defensive line played well and James Bradberry excelled at lockdown coverage. This limited big plays so the Giants performed particularly well against teams that relied on an outside receiver for offensive success.

*Omitted games where James Bradberry did not play

This chart shows the Giants’ defensive Adjusted Rating in games ranked by the yardage share each opponent’s top receiver had of his team’s total offensive yards. The Giants played relatively well against teams that relied more heavily on one receiver because Bradberry was able to have a bigger impact disrupting those teams. For example, the Giants had strong games against CHI (+0.61), who relied on Allen Robinson, and SEA (+0.76), who relied on D.K. Metcalf. They also had a decent game against TB (+0.06), who was playing without Godwin or Antonio Brown, meaning they were reliant on Mike Evans. The (+1.29) against the Bengals was inflated because Cincinnati played without Joe Burrow. Meanwhile the Giants really struggled against SF (-1.49) and BAL (-1.94), two teams that focused on running and passing to the tight ends without featuring a stud outside wide receiver.

Only one top outside receiver had an above-average game against the Giants (DeAndre Hopkins). Every other #1 outside receiver had a subpar game, with several players having outright bad games.

#1 Outside Receivers v. NYG

PlayerRec. Yds Per GameRec. Yds v. NYG
D. Hopkins87.9136
D. Metcalf81.480
A. Robinson78.133
T. McLaurin74.574
A. Cooper69.623
A. Cooper69.641
M. Evans62.955
D. Johnson61.557
R. Woods58.536
T. Higgins56.844
M. Brown48.125

With outside receivers struggling, teams did not make a lot of big plays against the Giants. Therefore, teams that relied on big plays for offensive success tended to struggle. They allowed the 5th-fewest 20+ yard passing plays and the 4th-fewest 40+ yard passing plays. Teams with the consistent ability to grind out first downs had relative success compared to teams that relied on splash plays.

Similarly, the Giants played better against pass-heavy teams. The problem was, with a mediocre offense, the Giants were often playing from behind. So they did not get to press their advantage against the pass. The Giants could perform better defensively if they are able to play with the lead and force teams to pass more frequently.

Putting it All Together

Betting Takeaways

  • Overall, the Giants are underrated heading into the offseason. They arguably should have won the NFC East despite key injuries and taking time to adjust to a new system. Yet all the talk is about how the other teams in the NFC East will improve.
  • Expect the Giants to outperform offensively when they can establish the run and take the pressure off Daniel Jones by reducing the frequency of obvious long passing situations.
  • Avoid big bets on the Giants when facing a team that exerts significant pressure, as turnovers can bury them.
  • Expect the Giants to outperform defensively against teams that rely on an outside receiver for offensive success, provided James Bradberry is healthy.
  • Expect the Giants to underperform defensively against teams that run and feature tight ends in the passing game, particularly if that team can establish a lead.

Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways

  • Daniel Jones could provide some value as a late-round quarterback but cannot be relied on against strong pressure. He’s a matchup-dependent option who makes a very strong streamer candidate in some weeks, particularly with his rushing upside. He should be paired with another quarterback but has potential to become a weekly starter.
  • The Giants had a very low touchdown total in 2020. Without reason to think this number will increase, skill position fantasy options should be downgraded due to a lack of total scoring potential.
  • Avoid outside receivers who project to face off against James Bradberry. Consider betting the Under on their receiving yard props and avoid them in DFS.

Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year

The week I first went public with my picks (Week 17), I started with a Game of the Week play in the DAL-NYG matchup taking NYG +3. I played the angle that the Giants would be able to run against Dallas and take away the Cowboys’ big plays. As a team that had relied on big plays for success after Dak Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys were particularly vulnerable to stalled drives. I predicted the Cowboys would struggle to get in the end zone and would settle for too many field goals. I also predicted the Giants would convert enough drives to score 23-27 points and that would be enough to win. The Giants ended up winning outright, 23-19, after the Cowboys settled for 4 field goals.

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