Any Given Sunday: Giants Over Seahawks
A weird thing happened on the way to laughing at Joe Judge and Jason Garrett for the entirety of the season after Saquon Barkley got hurt: the Giants went back to the drawing board and fixed their run game. Over the first three weeks of the year, the Giants had rushed for 170 total yards. Other than Andrew Thomas getting randomly benched in Week 6, they had run the same offensive line every week until Week 8: Thomas, Kevin Zeitler, Will Hernandez, Nick Gates, and Cameron Fleming. Week 8 saw them mix in, for the first time, fifth-rounder Shane Lemieux of Oregon. He basically has replaced the former second-rounder Hernandez as a starter.
The splits for New York's offensive line production are stark and have only gotten better since Lemieux joined the lineup:
|New York Giants Rushing Offense, 2020|
To do this with essentially replacement-level backs and Colt McCoy -- not a running quarterback -- against a Seahawks front that has been stout all season was mighty impressive:
Back-to-back big runs for the Giants that began to break open the game. pic.twitter.com/kZSikFiUxd
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 8, 2020
New York went jumbo on back-to-back plays here in the third quarter. The first one they have linemen flying down the left side of the line, and all of them get to their blocks well. On the back side, Kevin Zeitler (70) knocks over the pursuit and Levine Toilolo (85) gets just enough of the end to keep him out of the play. On the second one, I actually want to praise Evan Engram for sealing this edge from where he was at the start of the play. Toilolo doesn't get enough of Jordyn Brooks (56), but because Engram has squeezed inside and sealed, Alfred Morris is able to cut to him.
The Giants also -- and this floored me as someone who has tried to forget that the NFC East exists this season -- had the third-most (175) RPO rushing yards through Week 12 per Sportradar. Yes, Daniel Jones is a running quarterback, and no, they aren't particularly close to Lamar Jackson's Ravens or Kyler Murray's Cardinals. But with the lack of running back talent on this roster you'd expect things to be a little bit rougher.
Judge has preached that blue-collar ethos from Day 1 and, well, sometimes that's just talk. But this team seems to have absorbed Judge's attitude and has become a powerful rushing unit, gradually getting better and better. They're just generating a ton of push right now and it's fueling their climb up the NFC East.
Now imagine plugging a healthy Barkley into this next year.
Where the Game Swung
|Where the Game Swung|
|Leonard Williams sacks Russell Wilson||0:54 Q4||67.7%||87.3%||+19.6%|
|Darnay Holmes interception||11:27 Q4||74.2%||89.0%||+14.8%|
|Colt McCoy incomplete third-and-5||2:00 Q4||82.9%||69.0%||-13.9%|
|Seahawks fourth-and-1 fail||5:15 Q3||42.6%||56.5%||+13.9%|
|Chris Carson TD catch||6:15 Q4||85.3%||74.1%||-11.2%|
|Wayne Gallman 60-yard run||9:04 Q3||19.5%||30.3%||+10.8%|
|Quandre Diggs interception||2:31 Q1||30.3%||20.0%||-10.3%|
|Russell Wilson aborted snap||6:06 Q2||20.4%||30.6%||+10.2%|
The EdjSports model liked Seattle's fourth-down go on this chart and did not particularly care for New York's decision to punt on fourth-and-5 on their penultimate possession. New York's GWC went down 5.2% on the decision to punt on the Seattle 42. It believed the Seahawks gained 7.1% GWC on the decision to go in the third quarter. In the result, if not the process, both of those decisions went well for the Giants.
Pete Carroll's never gonna go for it again, huh?
By the (D)VOA
Note that the Giants are spectacularly held down by Colt McCoy's offensive contributions in this game. They had the worst pass offense DVOA in the league for this week's games at -64.8%. And yes, there's a big adjustment still built in for how poorly Seattle has played as a pass defense this year.
It was always a little weird that the Seahawks Let Russ Cook. I don't mean that in terms of it taking over the broad mainstream point of view -- though that was weird too -- but it was just such an outlier based on what Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer have been comfortable with throughout their careers. Tasked with taking down a heavy zone-based defense that the Giants employed, Russell Wilson was mostly asked to just plate what was in the pantry. He attempted just three passes deeper than 20 yards, and his touchdown throw to Carson was more of a scramble-aided streetball play than something that looked designed.
This is part of a broader trend that has taken us further and further away from Russ cooking: a lack of deep targets.
|Seattle Seahawks Passing Offense, 2020|
I think the table kind of undersells this because of the NFL definition of deep passes (those that travel more than 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage). In the first seven weeks, Wilson attempted 27 balls deeper than 20 yards and threw for 515 yards on them. (He added on two DPIs.) Since Week 8, he has thrown 27 balls of 20 yards or longer for 280 yards. And a lot of that gets tied up in the status of the secondary receiver for this team, field-stretcher Tyler Lockett. Lockett has been on the injury report since Week 11 with a knee sprain, and it's hard to say his performance wasn't impacted. There were several throws in this game where the timing did not work out particularly well for Wilson on deep balls:
One of the many third downs gone wrong for Seattle this weekend. pic.twitter.com/qMtXzILuDH
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 8, 2020
I'm going to guess the read did not ever take Wilson to Jacob Hollister over the middle before he ran out of time, but even if it did, why Hollister? Why are DK Metcalf and Lockett running shallow crosses on third-and-long?
Wilson has also taken more sacks recently: 21 in his last five games as compared to 17 in his first six. This is not an isolated incident -- it feels like teams have adjusted to the cooking. Between Lockett's injury and the shifting coverages, it has been a lot harder to cook lately. The Seahawks' non-Duane Brown line is always a mess and Russ will always hold the ball as long as he can to make a play. That's just kind of how things have operated in Seattle since Wilson became the starter. If you're wondering if Wilson was confused by zone coverage, I asked Sports Info Solutions to pull some numbers for this piece but they supported the idea that Wilson has actually played better against zones this year.
As you'd expect in a game like this, third-down success was way down. And Seattle only averaged 3.2 yards on 26 plays between the 40s. But without Lockett exploding, the offense is more like an episode of Chopped than Let Russ Cook -- he can cook, but he has to do so with four mystery ingredients, in a limited time sample, and he has to improvise it all on the fly.