Giants at Commanders: Stats and analytics from the Giants’ win over Washington

The New York Giants topped the Washington Commanders 20-12 in their Week 15 rematch.

The game was more stressful than pretty much anyone would have preferred, but the Giants ultimately came away with the win. While the Giants gained the lead at the beginning of the second quarter — and wouldn’t relinquish it — this game was a much more back-and-forth affair than the box score might suggest.

The win featured a breakout performance from rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, and something of a breakout from the defense as a whole.

But aspects of the game are often lost — or at least overlooked — at the moment. What light can the stats and analytics shed on the Giants’ win?

Plays of the game

This game was won by the Giants’ defense, no two ways about it. The defense came away with the biggest plays from both a win probability and EPA perspective, and it wasn’t really close.

The biggest play of the game from on the Win Probability chart was the fourth quarter sack by Dexter Lawrence and Azeez Ojulari. While Taylor Heinicke was initially ruled down by contact, that ruling was overturned, and resulted in a sack-fumble which was recovered by the Giants. That play was worth a whopping 31 percent swing in win probability, dropping Washington’s chances of winning from 53 percent to just 22 percent. At the time, the Giants lead 17-12, but were reeling as Washington had just sprinted down the field. A field goal would have put Washington in position to potentially win with a field goal. Instead, it set up a big drive that resulted in a field goal to put the game out of reach.

The biggest play in terms of expected points added was, unsurprisingly, Kayvon Thibodeaux’s sack-fumble-recovery-touchdown. The Giants were down 3-0 in the first quarter and struggling mightily on offense. Their first drive was a very quick 3-and-out that took all of about 40 seconds of game clock and their second possession fared a bit better, but not by much. Washington, meanwhile was moving the ball at will between the 20s and the game could have gotten ugly quickly if they managed to get traction in the red zone on their third possession. Instead, Thibodeaux made the play of his young career and gave the Giants a 7-3 lead. That one play was worth an impressive 6.5 EPA for the Giants and was easily the biggest play of the game.

Just enough offense

Once again, the Giants’ offense was probably best described as doing “enough”. We’ve seen the Giants struggle mightily against teams that can put up points, but fortunately, Washington isn’t one of those teams.

Because of that, the Giants were able to win without having to ask their offense — and their passing offense in particular — to do much.

Daniel Jones had just 160 yards passing and averaged 5.0 yards per attempt. Per NFL NextGenStats, his average pass was 5.2 yards short of the first down marker and was intended to have 3.7 air yards. His average depth of target ranks in the 2nd percentile dating back to 2010 and his average completion traveled just 3.4 yards downfield in the air.

RBSDM.com/Boxscore

This was likely due to both the Giatns’ and Washington’s scheme.

First and foremost, the Giants didn’t want Washington’s pass rush wrecking their day (again). Last time around, Washington’s defense got to Jones four times and forced a fumble that led to an early 10-0 hole.

This time, the Giants wanted to get the ball out quickly with “catch and throw” one-read passes. Where the Giants’ passing game relied more on RPOs and play-action bootlegs earlier in the season, this was much more of a traditional quick passing attack that involved far fewer mesh points. The Giants (correctly) determined that the NFL has gotten a handle on their use of play-action and RPO plays. The use of the quick game took Washington by surprise and allowed Jones to get rid of the ball before the Commanders’ pass rush could get to him.

The Giants passing game largely served as an extension of the running game — which itself struggled up until the final drive after Heinicke’s second sack-fumble.

The Giants’ passes were fairly useless from an EPA perspective. They averaged just 0.04 expected points added per pass attempt, and the Giants only scored 13 offensive points. However, they helped the Giants win the time of possession battle and flip field position.

The Giants’ more traditional passing attack allowed them to take advantage of Jack Del Rio’s preference for Cover 2 and Cover 4 defenses. Those coverage schemes would have been well-suited for slightly slower developing passing plays that involved mesh-points. However, they allowed quick separation for the Giants’ receivers and easy, high-percentage completions for Jones. Per NFL NextGenStats, just four of Jones’ 32 pass attempts were thrown to receivers who were “covered”.

As they have over the last several weeks, the Giants’ receivers were solid, if unspectacular.

They executed their assignments well, generally did a good job of getting open, and made plays when the offense most needed them to do so.

NFL NextGenStats

About the defense

Despite the win, the Giants had one of their most anemic offensive performances of the season against Washington. Fortunately, their defense more than picked up the slack and it didn’t matter.

Where the Giants had just one offensive play to rank in the Top-10 in EPA and Win Probability added (respectively), their defense had four of the top plays in Expected Points Added and five plays in the top 10 of win probability added.

But before we get to what the defense did well, we need to talk about the Giants’ run defense.

Overall, the Giants gave up 159 yards on 29 carries (6.1 yards per carry) on the round. That’s bad enough, but Brian Robinson picked up 89 yards on just 12 carries, or 7.4 per carry. The Giants might have come into the game with a plan to slow down Robinson, but the only time the Giants were able to consistently defend the run was when the Commanders opted to use Curtis Sameuel as a runner instead of Robinson or Antonio Gibson.

Robinson was able to find at least some success no matter where he ran.

Things are unlikely to change drastically with just three games left in the regular season.

Fortunately, the Giants were able to force Washington into passing situations, and they did a great job of getting after Taylor Heinicke.

Per NFL NextGenStats, the Giants pressured Heinicke on nearly 40 percent of his dropbacks despite “only” blitzing 26.5 percent of the time. There aren’t many teams who can claim a 26 percent blitz rate as being low, but the Giants head the list. They were able to succeed without leaning on the blitz because their Front 4, led by Thibodeaux and Ojulari, did an excellent job of consistently pressuring Heinicke.

As much as Washington harassed Daniel Jones in the first meeting, the Giants defenders out-played Washington’s linemen in the passing game and practically lived in the opposing backfield.

That also served to take a lot of pressure off of the Giants’ secondary and frustrate the Commanders’ longer-range passing attack. That, in turn, also made the Giants’ blitzes that much more effective. With the Front Four consistently winning their one-on-ones, blitzers were able to generate a ton of pressure.

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