The New York Giants defense has improved, but there are still plenty of holes for the Jets to exploit
Five games into the season, the New York Giants’ defense was almost as putrid as their offense. Big Blue’s defense was allowing 26.6 points and 378 yards per game while collecting only three takeaways. The Giants failed to register a takeaway in four of their first five games.
Out of the blue, the Giants have kickstarted a major turnaround on defense. Across their last two games against the Bills and Commanders, the Giants allowed 10.5 points and 285 yards per game while forcing three turnovers.
Despite the recent progress, New York’s defense remains a bottom-10 unit when looking at the entire season. The Giants are currently ranked 23rd in defensive DVOA, 23rd in yards per game allowed (351.4), and 24th in points per drive allowed (2.04). While their recent defensive improvements are promising, the sample size is too small to definitively prove their early struggles are a thing of the past.
This remains an exploitable unit that the New York Jets should be able to succeed against. To pull it off, the Jets must pinpoint the issues that plagued the Giants’ defense from Weeks 1-5 while also figuring out what did not work for Buffalo and Washington over the past two weeks.
We’re going to put ourselves in Nathaniel Hackett‘s shoes and try to concoct the perfect plan to score points on the Giants. How can the Jets offense make the Giants defense revert to its Week 1-5 form? What must they do to avoid falling into the same fate as Buffalo and Washington?
This is the Jets’ simple two-step plan to succeeding offensively against the Giants.
1. Pound the rock early with Breece Hall, specifically on first down
When the Giants defense was struggling, one of its biggest problems was stopping the run in the first half. These are the Giants’ rankings against first-half rush attempts from Weeks 1-5:
- 5.7 yards per attempt (28th)
- 0.07 EPA per attempt (29th)
- 6 touchdowns (32nd)
- 22 first downs (30th)
- 386 yards (29th)
Opponents came straight out of the gates punishing Big Blue on the ground, which allowed them to string together long, efficient drives to seize early leads and quickly force the Giants’ brutal offense into catch-up mode against a rested defense.
More specifically, the Giants were atrocious at stopping first-down runs in the first half from Weeks 1-5:
- 7.1 yards per attempt (31st)
- 0.15 EPA per attempt (31st)
- 5 touchdowns (32nd)
- 11 first downs (32nd)
- 268 yards (32nd)
In recent weeks, I have been practically begging the Jets to go with a pass-heavy approach on first down. Nathaniel Hackett finally listened to me in Week 6 as he chose to pass the ball on 70% of the Jets’ first down plays against Philadelphia.
This is the week to switch it up.
Now that the Jets have proven they are willing to air it out on first down, opponents will start backing off to respect the threat of the pass. Couple that with the Giants’ issues at stopping the run in the first half, and this is the perfect opportunity for Hackett to feed Breece Hall time and time again in the first half.
Hackett should trust Hall to continuously set the tone on first down. Ideally, Hall generates at least 5-6 yards a pop with his first down runs. That should create plenty of favorable second and third-down situations for the Jets, where they can mix in some aggressive play-action shots downfield.
Despite the Giants’ overall defensive improvement over the past two weeks, this particular weakness actually persisted in those games. Over the past two weeks, the Giants allowed 5.4 yards per rush attempt in the first half, including 5.7 on first down.
The only difference is that Buffalo and Washington didn’t attack this weakness frequently enough. From Weeks 1-5, the Giants’ opponents averaged 13.6 first-half rush attempts per game, but the Bills and Commanders combined to average only 8.0 first-half rush attempts. Both teams were too confident in their pass game and neglected the Giants’ egregious weakness against the run.
The Jets cannot fall into the same trap. This is the game for Breece Hall to shine. Fresh off a bye week that was preceded by two consecutive games in which he set a season-high in snap percentage, Hall is ready to handle a true workhorse role against the Giants.
2. Use the threat of Hall to feed Garrett Wilson, especially outside of the numbers on downfield play-action throws
Obviously, feeding Garrett Wilson should be a focal point of the Jets’ game plan every week, but this is a particularly good opportunity for the Jets to emphasize targeting their best receiver.
The Giants have struggled to stop the opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver. According to FTN Fantasy, the Giants are allowing the 10th-highest DVOA (10.9%) to opposing No. 1 receivers. On a per-game basis, the Giants have allowed opposing No. 1 receivers to average 6.3 receptions for 97.9 yards and 3.9 first downs-plus-touchdowns.
Here are the performances put forth by No. 1 wide receivers against the Giants (defined by the active wide receiver who has played the most snaps per game this season):
- CeeDee Lamb: 4/4 for 77 yards, 3 first downs
- Marquise Brown: 6/10 for 54 yards, 3 first downs, 1 TD
- Deebo Samuel: 6/12 for 129 yards, 4 first downs, 1 TD
- Tyler Lockett: 4/6 for 54 yards, 1 first down
- Tyreek Hill: 8/9 for 181 yards, 4 first downs, 1 TD
- Stefon Diggs: 10/16 for 100 yards, 6 first downs
- Terry McLaurin: 6/9 for 90 yards, 3 first downs
To maximize this weakness, the Jets should specifically focus on targeting Wilson when he is outside of the numbers, as the Giants have struggled mightily to defend wide receivers in this area. Against passes thrown outside of the numbers to wide receivers, the Giants have allowed the NFL’s third-highest passer rating (121.9) and 10th-most EPA per attempt (0.28).
To narrow it down even further, it’s on downfield throws (rather than short throws) where the Giants have really struggled.
Against passes thrown outside of the numbers to wide receivers at least 10 yards downfield, the Giants have allowed the second-highest passer rating (135.4) and the most EPA per attempt (0.82).
On these throws, opponents have completed 13-of-26 attempts for 338 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a whopping 21.4 total EPA. That’s nearly two completions per game with 26.0 yards per completion, meaning the Jets should be able to hit Wilson for at least a pair of big shots on the outside.
It makes sense that this would be a weakness in Big Blue’s defense when considering their schematic tendencies. Under the famously blitz-heavy Wink Martindale, the Giants are using man coverage at the league’s third-highest rate (43.5%). This leaves you highly vulnerable on the outside as your corners are often left on an island against star receivers with little or no help over the top.
— NFL (@NFL) September 22, 2023
.@cheetah to the 🏠!
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2023
As shown in the following clip, man coverage can also leave you susceptible to pick plays. The Jets should try to mimic what the Cowboys did here: using a pick to free up their best receiver on a wheel route.
Just a quick 49 yards for CeeDee Lamb 👀
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2023
To fully exploit the Giants’ weakness against elite wide receivers, the Jets must ensure they primarily target Wilson on those downfield outside-the-numbers throws, as the Giants are actually respectable at stopping wide receivers on short throws and throws over the middle.
Against passes thrown to wide receivers less than 10 yards downfield, the Giants are allowing the 13th-lowest passer rating (89.6) and the fourth-fewest EPA per attempt (-0.13). Against passes thrown to wide receivers in the middle third of the field, the Giants are allowing the 13th-lowest passer rating (87.6) and the 11th-fewest EPA per attempt (0.15).
Hackett must frequently challenge the Giants’ cornerbacks with aggressive downfield shots to Wilson on the outside. As we discussed in the first section, the Jets can primarily do this off play action on second or third-and-medium after Breece Hall’s early-down rushing success sets them up with favorable down-and-distance situations. The respect demanded by Hall should force the Giants into biting hard on play action in situations where the run remains in play, opening up high-upside shots for Wilson on the outside.
If the Jets wait to take their shots to Wilson until third-and-long – when it becomes obvious they are passing the ball – they probably won’t maximize the Giants’ weakness on downfield throws to the outside. They must allow Hall to set the tone and then capitalize on his success by calling deep shots when the defense is expecting a run.
The numbers back up this theory. Of the Giants’ 13 allowed completions to WRs on outside-the-numbers throws that traveled at least 10 yards downfield, only two of them came on third down with 7+ yards to go. Most came on first down, second down, or third down with four or fewer yards to go.
One of the main reasons for the Giants’ defensive turnaround has been their improvement at limiting big plays from the wide receiver position. From Weeks 1-5, the Giants were allowing 13.7 yards per completion to wide receivers, which ranked ninth-worst. But from Weeks 6-7, the Giants only allowed 10.0 yards per completion to wide receivers, ranking fifth-lowest over that span. This demonstrates that the Giants are doing a better job of keeping wideouts in front of them and not allowing them to get downfield for massive gains.
To push the Giants back into to their early-season defensive woes, the Jets need to generate large chunks of yardage at the wide receiver position. Accomplishing that goal has to revolve around a heavy emphasis on exploiting the Giants’ weakness against star receivers on downfield throws to the outside.
Ride Breece Hall and then sprinkle in some shots to Wilson on the outside in running situations. That’s the Jets’ formula for success against the Giants defense. It sounds like a basic plan that should work every week, but the NFL is a game of matchups. Against some teams, that plan won’t cut it. But in this particular game, it is the perfect plan to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent.
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