After narrowly defeating a battered and mediocre New England Patriots team Sunday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers are greeted with the unpleasant task of flying across the world’s second largest ocean to play a game of American football in a country that greatly prefers its football to be a different sport altogether.
Despite the fact that the quality of play and the medium-term negative impacts of trans-Atlantic travel present, the NFL likes money. “Give me money, money me, money now, me a money needing a lot now” is the NFL’s motto when it comes to everything, and the price of that will likely be some lackluster football. With that now set to the side, how do these two 3-1 teams matchup?
The big story this week is that the Giants finished their last game effectively without a quarterback. Daniel Jones suffered an ankle sprain that took him out of the game, and his backup, Tyrod Taylor, suffered a concussion. The Giants finished the game with Jones limping from the huddle to an isolated receiver position as they pivoted to the old-fashioned ‘wildcat’ offense. It is yet to be determined if Jones will be able to play this week, but if can be even marginally better than he looked on Sunday, I would expect him to play.
The reason is that third string quarterback Davis Webb has not attempted a single NFL pass, and his college production does not suggest he’ll be helpful if he does play. Even a fully healthy Daniel Jones hasn’t produced all that much this year. Daniel Jones ranks 25th in adjusted EPA-per-dropback at -.032. Joe Barry’s preferred formula of sitting in a two-high shell, with a heavy reliance on quarters coverage probably isn’t necessary this week.
Daniel Jones is the only starting QB in the NFL that has not attempted at least 10 passes 20+ yards down the field.— Jacob Morley (@JacobMorley) October 6, 2022
He has four... FOUR.
If he plays and Barry sits in two high, I just... I just don't know.
The Giants passing attack has also suffered from a plethora of injuries to their receiving corps. Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay, Wan’Dale Robinson, and Richie James are all banged up, and Sterling Shepard was placed on injured reserve. Golladay (MCL sprain) and Toney (injuries to both hamstrings) didn’t make the trip and Robinson has been limited in practice. The Giants currently do not have a single wide receiver with a positive DVOA. Daniel Bellinger ranks third among tight ends in DVOA, but the rookie has only received nine targets thus far, so it’s too early to tell how real those numbers are.
Up front, the Giants have not performed particularly well, ranking 25th in pass-block-win-rate and an even worse 27th in run-block-win-rate. It does appear that they have a star on their hands with left tackle Andrew Thomas, however, who ranks as the top offensive tackle by PFF. The rest of the line all rank at or below replacement level at their positions, with rookie Evan Neal in particular, struggling mightily.
Despite the overall poor offensive line play, the Giants running game has been productive, ranking seventh in EPA-per-rush and seventh in DVOA. Stop me if you have heard this before, but Green Bay is going to face an injured/backup quarterback and a team with a good running game. If they are able to bottle up the running game, they should win this game with relative ease. If they don’t, this could spiral into the danger zone. I am growing tired of writing the same thing week after week with this defense.
The run game will certainly be leaned on with Saquon Barkley finally looking healthy again. He ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards over expected per attempt. Daniel Jones would typically be a strong threat to run, as he has already managed 31 carries this year, but if he is hobbling badly on a sprained ankle, I wouldn’t expect him to be utilized in the same way. Barkley is a physical force, however, and will test the tackling ability at all levels of the defense. If Green Bay can’t improve on their 28th and 27th ranks in rush defense DVOA and EPA-allowed-per-rush, they may very well be on upset alert again.
On the other side of the ball, Green Bay should have no problem staying on schedule. The Giants defense ranks dead last in first down DVOA. Their run defense in early downs has been below average, but they have been eviscerated to the tune of .488 EPA-per-dropback on first downs. It is still early, so this data is pretty noisy, but if Green Bay can remain on schedule, they’ve shown the ability to move the ball without having to get to third down.
While the Giants run defense overall has been merely below average, their front has not provided much help in this regard, ranking 31st in run-stop-win-rate. Green Bay still hasn’t decided how they’re going to line up their offensive line, but regardless of what they decide to do on the right side, they should be effective at moving bodies and creating space for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Jones in particular is off to an incredible start this year, ranking second in rushing yards over expected per attempt and lapping the field on the percent of carries he has where he earns more yards than expected. Dillon has struggled more, running into heavier boxes and getting the ball in more short-yardage situations, but has still averaged more yards than expected for the season.
On the back end, the Giants haven’t had any standout performers this season, with none ranking in the top 38 of Sports Info Solutions’ Total Points Saved. PFF largely agrees with only Fabian Moreau earning quality marks of secondary players with more than 100 snaps. One thing to watch for this week in the running game is how the Packers try and isolate Adoree’ Jackson on the edge. The slight corner has never been a physical or good tackler and has not earned a run defense grade higher than 55 since 2018, so don’t be surprised if the Packers try and attack him on the edge.
While the Packers passing game has been working in fits and starts, Allen Lazard ranks second in DVOA. The rookie receivers have much poorer rankings, but that’s largely due to one drop for each of them and two fumbles for Doubs. The receivers are getting open, particularly Doubs, who ranks quite highly in ESPN’s new receiver metrics. If the rookie mistakes can be worked out of their games by the winter, there is real talent in this group.
The Packers should be able to keep Rodgers relatively clean this week against a mediocre-at-best front, and should be able to stay on schedule in the running game. The Packers offense thus far has been quiet peculiar as they rank near the top of the league in explosive plays while also having the lowest average depth of target in the league. One of those is going to have to give, and if last week was any indication, the Packers will try and push the ball down the field more as the season progresses.
Last week the Packers were able to win by the skin of their teeth against an overmatched team with a backup quarterback. If Green Bay can stop turning the ball over, this offense can move the ball, especially against mediocre or worse defenses like the one New York will take across the pond with them. If Joe Barry can’t slow down the run game this week, after letting the Patriots run over them, our expectations for this year should drop significantly. There is no reason not to prioritize stopping the run when the opponent does not have a healthy quarterback nor healthy targets. It’s time to start dictating on defense and consistently moving the ball against a below-average defense.
Despite being 3-1, this is not a good Giants team, and they have merely played a very soft schedule. They are the 31st-ranked team by PFF Team Grades, 31st in offense, 26th in defense, and 29th in special teams. The travel and weird schedule of this week are a hurdle the Packers must clear, but there is no reason for a serious contender to lose to this Giants team, particularly in this weakened state.