New York Giants 2021 Team Study

Part 7 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 6 here: Philadelphia Eagles. Part 8 now available: Washington Commanders.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
4.20 -0.76 31st


Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and red) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
31st 27th 16th


The Giants offense was abysmal down the stretch in 2021. Most people weren’t watching the games at that point, but they saw the highlights and stats and that was all they needed. This awful stretch included the infamous decision to run a quarterback sneak on 3rd and 9 down 3 points against Washington with 5 minutes left in the first half, essentially giving up on getting a first down. This play looked really bad without context and became the clarion call for firing Joe Judge.

And it was bad. But for the few people who watched every snap of every Giants game, this specific play call was close to understandable in context. A week earlier against the Bears, the Giants were backed up in a similar spot late in the first half on their own 5. They ran the ball on first down and got stuffed for a 3-yard loss. A false start put them back on the 1. Then they ran the ball again and got stuffed for a safety. With Jake Fromm at quarterback they were more likely to suffer a negative play than to get the first down. So the Giants played it safe against Washington with the QB sneak and punted away. Of course, they were so bad they wouldn’t have got the first down anyway is not much of a defense.

Recency bias skews against the Giants. Before Daniel Jones got hurt, they weren’t too far off an average NFL offense for 11 weeks. They faced a tough schedule of defenses in these games, including the Saints, Cowboys, Rams, Panthers, and Bucs. Their offensive performance relative to opponent steadily declined over the season and hit a free fall once Jones went down against Philadelphia, as shown in Chart A, which shows their Adj. Eff. Rating by game.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by game over the 2021 season.

With Daniel Jones, they averaged a -0.32 Off. Adj. Rating in 11 games, which would put them at 22nd on the season. By contrast, they posted a -1.59 Adj. Rating in the 6 games after they shut down Daniel Jones. That is significantly worse than the worst offense in the NFL this year (Houston at -0.79) and even Adam Gase's Jets last year (-1.10). They faced an unimposing schedule down the stretch and simply couldn’t do anything with the combination of Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm.

Two popular narratives attempt to explain the Giants’ offensive ineptitude. First, Joe Judge and Jason Garrett are widely considered to be terrible play-callers who seemed to not only ignore what analytics has taught us about offensive effectiveness, but to actively fight against it. This one bears some truth, although I think they were improving early this year with Jones at quarterback. They increased their early-down pass rate and used Jones as a runner effectively. But it was too little, too late.

Second, people blame the offensive line, which had a poor reputation heading into 2021 and arguably did not improve. I'm not an expert offensive line evaluator, and PFF ranked them 30th in the NFL. But the raw stats tell a slightly different story. They allowed the 15th-fewest pressures and racked up the 15th-most yards per carry before contact. These metrics are more complicated than simply demonstrating line quality, but they were nevertheless above average in two key line metrics. I won't go to bat for the Giants' line, but I wonder how much the play-calling and talent impacted perception of the line play.

In reality, they were a competitive NFL offense with Daniel Jones when his weapons were healthy. But the Giants dealt with massive injuries throughout the season. Every key player missed several games, including Jones, Barkley, Golladay, Toney, and their best lineman Andrew Thomas. To say rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney was electric when he was healthy (and had his head on straight) doesn't even do him justice. He was a lightning bolt. Golladay and Shepard are good role players, and Saquon looked really strong late in the season considering the defense knew they were going to run on most downs. The talent was there.

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