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.
|Eff. Rating||Adj. Rating||Rank|
|Pass EPA||Rush EPA||Adj. Pass Rate|
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.
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.
Now the coaching staff is out. They hired Brian Daboll, who helped Josh Allen realize his immense potential as a quarterback, and Mike Kafka, who worked with Patrick Mahomes. If Daniel Jones is going to succeed as an NFL quarterback, this is his chance. He makes enough great throws to inspire hope, but he needs to clean up the little details in his game and make quicker decisions. The stage is set, and if they can stay healthy on offense they could be primed for a big step forward.
|Eff. Rating||Adj. Rating||Rank|
|Pass EPA||Rush EPA||Blitz Rate||Pressure Rate|
The Giants weren’t much better on defense, but there is reason to believe it would have been markedly better if the offense had been better. They were an average defense against the pass but atrocious stopping the run. Unfortunately, their inept offense could not build a lead and force opponents into a one-dimensional passing attack that would have played into their relative strength. It’s unsurprising that their best defensive performances came in games where they played most or all of the game with the lead.
James Bradberry took a step back in 2021 by most standards, but I still think he is a top cornerback in the league. It’s notoriously difficult to grade cornerback play effectively, but I like to chart a team’s relative defensive performance by how much each opponent relies on its #1 WR. This imperfectly captures elite (or poor) cornerback play because it gauges overall effectiveness instead of one player’s stats. Good cornerback play is not always about how many yards you give up. Scheme plays a role, and against some offenses, letting your top cornerback play single coverage can be an overall positive even if the top receiver gets some catches, if the rest of the offense struggles as a result.
Chart B shows the Giants’ Adjusted Effectiveness ranking each opponent by its reliance on its top wide receiver. The Giants played close to or above average against every opponent with a stud receiver, but played their worst football against Denver, New Orleans, Dallas, and Tampa Bay. These teams all have a more spread out passing attack. This reduces the impact of an effective cover corner like Bradberry.
After losing Dalvin Tomlinson in the off-season, the best players on their front seven were Leonard Williams and Blake Martinez. Unfortunately Martinez suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3 and the Giants never really got on track. They lacked an elite edge rusher and exerted pressure on the quarterback at the 3rd-lowest rate as a result. Being 15th overall in pass defense EPA while exerting pressure at one of the league’s lowest rates is a good sign that your cornerbacks are not the problem. They need better pass rushers.
They also weren’t tough enough up front. They got bullied by running backs who could run through people and elusive running backs who could evade tackles. They allowed significant yards after contact to opposing running backs and their worst performances came against the Melvin Gordon/Javonte Williams duo of the Broncos (-1.65 Adj. Rating), Alvin Kamara and the Saints (-1.10), and the Elliott/Pollard combo of the Cowboys (-1.06). Teams that wanted to run, could run. That’s a problem.
Now they’re also working to remake the defense. They hired Don Martingale as defensive co-ordinator, who consistently put together strong defenses with the Ravens, anchored by good cornerback play and a healthy dose of blitzes to create pressure. They also have significant draft capital and could build around Martingale’s style. It should be interesting, but I think they are still a good edge rusher away from being a good defense. It will likely help their progress if the offense steps up, which could also have positive ripple effects on the defense given its strengths and weaknesses.
When to bet on the Giants: With plenty to be optimistic about in 2022, the question is whether you can actually bet on the Giants anticipating improvement. It all comes down to market price for me. If books and bettors treat the Giants as an extension of their 2021 identity, there will be considerable value betting them early as an underrated squad.
When to fade the Giants: Sometimes I advocate fading bad teams even with big spreads because they are even more hopeless than perception. I will likely not be doing that with these Giants early on. They have enough reasons to be optimistic. But if I do want to go against them, it likely will be when they project to get bullied by a strong team with an excelling running game, preferably featuring two backs that can wear the defense out.
What to look for in the offseason: With overall picks 5, 7, and 36, look for the Giants to secure immediate difference-makers on the edge, in the secondary, or on the offensive line. They effectively traded down in last year’s draft with the goal of strengthening for 2022. That time has come. If they enter the season healthy look for them to fast track the rebuilding process under new leadership.
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