The New York Giants are one of only six undefeated teams left in the NFL, perched atop NFC East alongside the Philadelphia Eagles 2-0. Still, despite being intact during the first two weeks of the season, their record looks, well, a bit fraudulent.
A big red flag: The Giants’ point differential is a measly plus-4 points, the lowest by far among undefeated teams. To put it in context, the Miami Dolphins returned to win against the Baltimore Ravens in week two in one of the most unlikely comebacks in NFL history, and the Fins still ended up winning by 4 points. Yet somehow the Giants managed to get away with it Two wins of the same amount.
The history of 2-0 teams with such low point spreads isn’t particularly impressive. Prior to the 2022 Giants, 20 teams from the 1970 AFL-NFL merger started a season with a 2-0 record and a plus-5 point difference or worse. On average, those teams have lost more games than they won in the rest of the season, with a negative point difference:
|Season||Squad||w||L||PPG difference||w||L||WPct||PPG difference|
The Giants can certainly reverse this trend, in fact, there is a big reason to think they could have a major advantage over the opposition. But there are many other reasons why the G-Men are more likely to follow in the footsteps of the most failed 2-0 teams in the list above.
Just look at the team’s offensive strengths and weaknesses. Instead of winning by passing, as most other successful teams do, the Giants are the only undefeated team with added negative predicted points (EPA) on dropbacks (-5.4). Quarterback Daniel Jones was downright terrible at first, racking up a QBR of 30.2, good (bad?) For 28th place in the league among qualifying passers-by. Winning that kind of game from under the center is rare in the NFL. Three winless teams this season have more EPAs in passing than the Giants, including the Tennessee Titans, a team they defeated.
With its passing bout in shambles, it’s no surprise that New York is winning by the narrowest margin. And because they’re not content with winning the conventional and sustainable way, the Giants have had to rely on running play (8th in the NFL by the EPA) and a big helping of fumble luck to collect Ws. It’s not really the best formula if the goal is to avoid the fate of the other teams that collapsed after starting 2-0.
But there is one area where New York legitimately beat the competition earlier this season: the mental game of playcall. Take, for example, the team’s unlikely late game drive in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans, culminating in a touchdown and 2-point winning conversion. New York basically played the opposite game the whole time: the Giants ran the ball when they should have passed and passed the ball when they should have run, defying expectations all the way down the field. To top it off, coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka called a pass game with catcher Kadarius Toney which turned into a scramble, and even went for the fourth down a few plays later, something New York has done on rare occasions the last time. season.
|time||Game description||down||to go||gender||xpass|
|5:27||S.Barkley in the center to NYG 31 for 4 yards.||1||10||run||75%|
|5:01||D. Jones briefly passes right to R. James for NYG 38 for 7 yards.||2||6||ride||80%|
|4:31||D. Jones briefly passes left to S.Barkley for NYG 41 for 3 yards.||1||10||ride||76%|
|4:00||Barkley in the center up to TEN 26 for 33 yards. Fumbles, ball out of bounds at TEN 11.||2||7||run||85%|
|3:27||K.Toney climbs the left end towards TEN 22 for 4 yards.||1||10||run||69%|
|2:48||M.Breida in the center up to TEN 19 for 3 yards.||2||6||run||76%|
|2:05||D. Jones left the tackle at TEN 17 for 2 yards.||3||3||run||91%|
|2:00 am||D. Jones climbs to the left end, pushed out at TEN 15 for 2 yards.||4||1||run||38%|
|1:54||S.Barkley left the guard at TEN 10 for 5 yards.||1||10||run||76%|
|1:23||S.Barkley in the center up to TEN 3 for 7 yards.||2||5||run||84%|
|1:16||S.Barkley in the center to TEN 1 for 2 yards.||1||3||run||54%|
|1:09||D. Jones briefly passes right to C. Myarick for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.||2||1||ride||31%|
|TWO POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. D. Jones’s move to S.Barkley is complete. TRY SUCCESS.||AFTER||0||ride||AFTER|
Down by 7 points and on their own 27-yard line with just under five and a half minutes remaining – a situation in which 74 percent of the previous teams passed – New York pulled up for 4 yards (an EPA negative play). Then, after two fairly predictable passing calls, the Giants began a series of eight consecutive plays (both called runs and scrambles), only one of which came in a situation where the defense might have expected it. Nor was New York reversing its hand: seven of the eight points came out of three sets of wide receivers that helped sell the threat of a pass and widen the defense.
The first race in the series was the longest and most successful. After a pre-sprint move that brought all three wide receivers to the right side of the pitch, the center and left guard shot left and opened a large hole for Saquon Barkley’s gallop. Barkley ran 33 yards, all the way to Tennessee 26, before defender Kristian Fulton punched him out and out of bounds. The drive nearly stopped afterward, with three straight runs – all with a passing chance of no less than 69 percent – leading to a 4th and 1 goalkeeper from Jones for 2 yards. Daboll and Kafka then called three more runs, picking up another first along the way.
Eventually, after marching for most of the field to the ground, the Giants faced 2nd and 1 at the 1-yard line, a place where teams handle the ball in similar situations 69% of the time. So of course, the team had Jones simulate the handover to Barkley and performed a short bootleg to the right of him first. ride to full-back Chris Myarick for the score. The game’s 2-point winning conversion was a more schematic trick: a shovel pass in the middle to Andy Reid’s Barkley.
Through a masterful series of game calls, Daboll and Kafka pushed their quarterback’s limits and dug deep into their bag of tricks to keep the ball in Barkley’s hands. During the series of eight consecutive runs, the offense averaged over half a point in the EPA per game. (The NFL average for running plays this season is -0.06.) It was a remarkable demonstration of running efficiency when the Giants needed it most.
Daboll pushed every deceptive lead at his disposal during that week 1 drive and it paid off. And maybe he can keep that trend going all year round. Sure, New York’s little passing offense, if he continues, he’ll eventually come back to haunt the G-Men, and their good luck will eventually run out. But Daboll and Kafka have already shown that unpredictable playcall can help rack up enough small perks to overcome the Giants’ biggest hurdle this year: their own quarterback. Fix it and the Philadelphia Eagles defense next Monday seems like a simple problem by comparison.
Neil Paine contributed to the research.
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