A breakdown of the bye week changes made by the New York Giants on both offense and defense.
Although the New York Giants were 4-3 at the bye, they clearly weren’t satisfied with some of their statistics (despite what their head coach said about stats being for losers last week).And so the coaching staff went to work to find ways to boost the team’s performance ahead of its critical divisional game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The results were mostly favorable, to say the least. The Giants offense scored a season-high 28 points, while remaining true to head coach Ben McAdoo’s preferred 11-personnel base. Eli Manning also had one of his best games of 2016, save for a pair of late-game interceptions.
Meanwhile, the defense held its own as it made life for Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz miserable. It was an overall team win for the Giants that, as a whole, showed that there had been quantifiable adjustments made in the week off.
Let’s look at some of the changes the Giants implemented that resulted in a 28-23 win over the Eagles.
Prior to this week, the Giants receiving trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard had their set roles in the offensive formation, roles that rarely varied. This week, the Giants did a better job of mixing and matching personnel, starting with moving guys around.
Per Ryan Smith of Pro Football Focus, receiver Sterling Shepard, who worked in the slot 94.6 percent of the time in the first half of the season (tied for most in the NFL), only worked from the slot 73.5 percent of the time against the Eagles.
That meant that Beckham saw a few more snaps in the slot, where he’s historically had success. Although his receiving yards totaled 46 this week and he was held to just four catches on his 10 targets, half of his catches went for touchdowns.
While also on the subject of the receivers, it’s worth noting that before his sprained ankle, Cruz’s snaps were reduced. At the time of his exit, Cruz had only been on the field for 15 snaps, catching the his lone target for 46 yards.
This tweak was likely a result of the coaches’ attempt to help with running game. In the past, Cruz hasn’t been known for his blocking, which is very much a part of a receiver’s job. Instead, the coaching staff went to a combination of Roger Lewis Jr. and Dwayne Harris, two physical receivers who have shown a taste for doing the dirty work.
Lewis played in 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, Harris in 25 percent. While Cruz’s injury no doubt inflated those numbers, it was apparent from the start of this week’s game that, when it came to running the ball, the coaches were going to go with the more physical receivers to help with downfield blocking.
The Giants running game woes continued this week, their production being an unimpressive 54 yards on 23 carries. Per Pro Football Focus‘ weekly media notes, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins combined to force one missed tackle on 22 carries and averaged 1.5 yards after contact.
However, there are some glimmers of hope that this unit might be on the rise. First, the rookie, Perkins averaged 2.9 yards per carry to Jennings’ 2.4, with both men receiving the same amount of carries (11).
Perkins showed an ability to get outside the tackles, something the Giants haven’t really had since Ahmad Bradshaw. He also caught all three of his passes for 15 yards, showing that he has the versatility the Giants have long been searching for in a running back. He’s still not quite there yet with pass protection and whatnot. Moreover, the offensive line’s run blocking remains an enigma at times, but the future looks very bright where Perkins is concerned.
Speaking of the offensive line, the Giants finally went to a jumbo package to help with short yardage and select rushes. That package featured former starting right tackle Marshall Newhouse lining up as the jumbo tight end.
The Giants used this formation seven times (11 percent of the offensive snaps) and, while no runs went in Newhouse’s direction, it’s a new wrinkle that might just give opposing defensive coordinators something new to think about moving forward.
Tight end Larry Donnell, who began the season as the starter, was demoted. Per the official snap counts, Donnell’s snaps were strictly limited to special teams, as he logged a team-low seven snaps. That meant more opportunities for Will Tye, who played in 46 of the team’s 64 offensive snaps, and rookie Jerell Adams, who logged 14 out of 64 snaps.
Tye only managed to haul in four out of seven passes thrown his way for 33 yards, which isn’t ultra-impressive. Adams wasn’t that impressive either, catching three out of four balls for 24 yards. However, this is where the stats don’t tell the entire picture.
What both Tye and Adams did bring beyond their paltry receiving production is yards after the catch. According to the official game stats, 21 of Tye’s 33 receiving yards came after the catch and 12 of Adams’ 24 receiving yards were after the catch. Based on those numbers, more than 50 percent of each player’s production came after the catch.
Adams is still a work in progress. He was penalized for a false start in the game, turning a manageable second down into a second-and-long. But make no mistake about it: this young man is brimming with potential to where, if he continues on the path he’s on, prioritizing the signing of another tight end won’t need to be high on the team’s “to do” list this coming offseason.
While most eyes were focused on the offense and the changes they rolled out, the defensive side of the ball also made some tweaks to the snap counts of players who might have been struggling a bit in recent weeks.
One very noticeable tweak was a reduction in the snaps defensive end Owa Odighizuwa received. The Giants’ third-round draft pick in 2015, who to be fair did miss his entire rookie season due to injuries, received just five snaps on defense this week.
On the flip-side, Romeo Okwara, who made the team this year as an undrafted free agent, received 13 snaps in relief of starters Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Neither Okwara nor Odighizuwa dented the stat sheet as far as tackles, sacks, etc. went. But it was still interesting to see Okwara receive more than twice the number of snaps as Odighizuwa. It’s too soon to say whether this change is going to be for the rest of the season or if it was specific to this game.
However, with the coaching staff looking to keep Vernon and Pierre-Paul fresh throughout the game and while being down one defensive end—Kerry Wynn was inactive due to a concussion—the decision to limit Odighizuwa’s snaps was a curious one.
If you blinked, you probably missed the handful of times that strong-side linebacker Devon Kennard lined up inside at defensive tackle.
But first, let’s back up a bit. For some unknown reason, the Giants didn’t really make frequent use of Kennard’s pass rushing abilities much in the first half of the season. That began to change in Week 7 when they started sending him at the quarterback more, and it continued this week against the Eagles.
Kennard hasn’t recorded a sack yet, but he did manage one hit against Carson Wentz this week, and now has one hit in each of his last two games.
With all the talk about the Giants struggling to get sacks, the first thing that needs to be accomplished id to collapse the pocket. The Giants weren’t doing this with any regularity earlier in the season, so defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo apparently decided to try speed over power.
It’s too soon to consider the decision a success. Based on the push the Giants were managing to generate and that Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon each managed five pressures a piece (per Pro Football Focus‘ weekly media notes), the Giants did do a good enough job this week of getting the young quarterback off his mark.