Any Given Sunday: Giants Over Seahawks

New York Giants RB Wayne Gallman
New York Giants RB Wayne Gallman
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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
Weeks ALY RB
1-4 2.70 2.76 -28.5%
5-8 3.90 3.70 -0.2%
9-13 4.64 4.68 4.9%

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:

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

Chart 1

Where the Game Swung
Event Time NYG GWC
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

NYG -20.0% -43.5% -5.5% 17.9%
SEA -39.1% -10.4% 8.8% -19.9%
NYG -15.3% -29.9% -5.5% 9.2%
SEA -35.6% -14.4% 8.8% -12.3%

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.

Going Delivery

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
Weeks Pass Off
Deep Pass
Tyler Lockett
Deep Targets
Lockett Targets
1-7 20.3% 107.0% 46 12 175.2%
8-13 -6.0% 76.4% 38 9 6.6%

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:

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.


11 comments, Last at 10 Dec 2020, 12:28pm

1 Giants' O-line

It should be noted that the Giants have employed a rare OL rotation. You mention that LT Andrew Thomas got benched in week 6, and he did...sort of. He didn't start, but his replacement, Peart, had spelled both him and RT Cam Fleming both before and since. And Thomas himself played a fair amount in that game. It's a similar story with Lemieux and Hernandez. It was mostly Hernandez until he got COVID and has been mostly Lemieux since, but the starter doesn't play all the snaps. 

It's unorthodox, but seems to be working. 

2 Giants' Run Game Improvement

One thing that has fuelled the improvement is play design. Once they realized their O-line couldn't win one-oin-one matchups often enough or hold their blocks long enough, they revamped their philosophy and now run mostly quick hitters between the tackles with double-teams at the point of attack when possible. 

Oh, and they fired O-line coach Mark Columbo when he balked at Judge getting hands-on in the O-line drills/practices and subsequently planning to bring in DiGugliemo (sp?) to help Columbo.

Judge is very adaptable, smart, not afraid to upset the apple cart, and obviously has buy-in from his guys. As a Giants fan, I'm really pleased so far.

3 Seahawks fourth down and…

Seahawks fourth down and short yardage play calling at least the past two weeks has featured a lot of sideline to sideline action rather than attacking the line of scrimmage, and opponents are catching on.  Pete Carrol can go for it in these situations, but the play calls need to use a little more Chris Carson or play action, and less jet sweeps that take forever to materialize.

4 Giants have been looking better for a while now

I commented after the November 2 game against the Bucs, that if the Giants continued playing like that, they could very easily become at least a concerning playoff opponent for somebody.  If the playoffs started today, that somebody would be the Seahawks...

5 crumples up draft

So close to being able to write this up for Jets over Raiders....



7 Definitely

Wilson has never been one to get the ball out quickly or when his back foot hits the ground like some QBs. He gets in the habit, especially when he's having a bad game, of holding the ball forever and a day looking for the home run shot which makes the O-line look bad because they're having to block for 5-10 seconds instead of 2-3. 

8 That 'Fail Mary'...

Am I the only one who thinks that, especially when you have one behemoth WR or TE to potentially toss the 'hail mary' to, that instead of drawing up and coaching the paly for them to catch it, you instead have them elevate and volleyball it to a nearby teammate? 

Don't get me wrong - a hail mary is still a hail mary; you're a long-shot to make that catch or win the game. But it feels like the 'WR -DB cluster' is too jammed up to reliably expect any reception.

9 It's an interesting thought…

It's an interesting thought.  It should be easier o bat a ball than to catch it when surrounded by a horde of defenders.  The question would be how easy it would be to bat it with relative accuracy?

The player you're trying to bat the ball to will no doubt be covered when the ball is thrown, but once it's in the air, their defender(s) will no doubt converge on the ball.  So even a semi-accurate bat in their direction should give that player the chance to at least make an acrobatic catch, without having to deal with defenders trying to strip it away from them.

10 Different type of Hail Mary

See, I have always thought that if you have a D.K. Metcalf-type player, you put them on one side by themselves, and then put the other 3-4 receivers on the other side. At that point, you force that single receiver to at least be double covered, because you don't want to have a repeat of the Raiders-Jets ending last week. Otherwise, even if there is "good" coverage, I'm taking my tall/big receiver in a 1-on-1 matchup. If the defense does the smart thing and at least doubles your best guy (and I'm not talking about a LB running down the field with him), then toss it into the crowd. 

I'm not at all a fan of batting the ball--it isn't a volleyball or basketball. In fact, I think if average guys (like the majority of us commenters) tried to recreate it with several friends at a park, it would not work regularly.

[My scenario: QB, but about 20 yards away, throws a Hail-Mary type pass; 1 WR tries to bat the ball, to another WR, while at least 2 DB fights to block it. NFL players are much better athletes, but the QB would be launching the ball about 50 yards or so while being rushed. Also, the DB to WR ratio would be about 6-3, assuming another WR stands out of the scrum. So you should probably have at least 2 friends play defense. I would LOVE for somebody to try this and get back to this thread with actual "stats."]

11 Sure, but by your same logic…

Sure, but by your same logic, Hail Mary passes would never be caught.  The question isn't whether batting the ball would be easy (it isn't), but rather whether the chance of successfully doing so is greater than the chance of bringing the ball down with a reception when surrounded by DBs (also not easy).

As for the idea of sending your biggest guy somewhere else, away from the rest of your receivers, that makes sense.  But if the ball needs to go into the end zone and is being thrown 50 yards, multiple defenders are going to rotate to the ball and be under it even if the intended receiver is initially covered by only one or two guys.  It's that tendency to converge on the ball that makes me wonder whether purposefully batting it away from the scrum to receivers who have been told to stand back a few yards might possibly work.  At least once, until every DC in the league has a chance to study the play.