How Coughlin’s Giants lost the little battles, and the game, in Washington
The most worrisome of the reasons for the Giants' 17-16 loss to the Redskins was their inability to stop the run.
They gave up 207 yards and 6.7 yards per carry, which seems like a one-game aberration against an unusual offense until you realize they gave up 248 yards and 6.5 yards per carry in the first game. Considering they’ll likely be playing Robert Griffin III’s Redskins for the next decade-plus, this doesn’t bode well.
They never figured out how to stop the Redskins’ pistol formation, in which Griffin lines up in a short shotgun with the running back behind him. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information blog, the Redskins ran 62 percent of their plays from this formation and averaged 8.1 yards a per play, both running and passing.
From play to play, it was some combination of being out-schemed, outmuscled and outrun. John Gruden put it well midway through the fourth quarter, when narrating a montage of confused Giants defensive ends responding to the read option and its permutations.
“I don’t know what’s happening if I’m a defensive end for the New York Giants: Are they blocking me? Are they bluffing me? Are they chopping me? Are they doubling me? They’ve been totally neutralized in this game.”
The Giants also lost because their own ground game broke down in the second half, a failure compounded by offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s decision to stick with the run.
The Giants ran the ball effectively and often in the first half, for 4.8 yards per rush, and they called running plays 45 percent of the time.
But in the second half, they only managed 2.8 yards per rush. Gilbride didn't budge, calling runs 48 percent of the time.
(For the year, the Giants have run on roughly 41 percent of their plays.)
Gilbride’s discipline in maintaining a balanced offense is laudable; it is certainly beneficial to the passing game. But he took it too far last night. The result was that the Giants were consistently put in bad positions in the second half, and they failed to take advantage of Eli Manning’s hot hand.
THEN THERE WERE THE PENALTIES.
The Giants committed nine of them, for 73 yards. Coming into the game, they had been the second-least penalized team in the N.F.L., averaging 33.5 yards per game.
That’s a 40-yard difference between a normal Giants game and last night’s outlier. While it’s tricky to evaluate precisely how many points the Giants lost from these 40 yards, we can consult this Expected Points chart from AdvancedNFLStats.com as a rough guide and say that those 40 yards were worth at least 2.5 points, or more than they would have needed to win.
Three penalties came in the return game, one on a punt and two on kickoffs, killing the Giants’ field position and forcing them to start drives on the 10, 9, and 8.
Three penalties were particularly ill-timed: Sean Locklear’s false-start penalty on the Giants’ first drive, which broke up the Giants’ rhythm by putting them in a 1st and 15 and ultimately forcing them to settle for a field goal; a dubious intentional-grounding penalty on Eli Manning, which looked on first blush like a miscommunication between Manning and Rueben Randle, scuttling a promising drive and ultimately forcing the Giants into a 43-yard field goal attempt that they missed; and Will Beatty’s holding penalty late in the game, which forced the Giants into a 3rd and 20 they didn’t convert before punting and never seeing the ball again.
Stopping the run, their own run/pass ratio, and penalties: they're the items that the team will have to do some thinking about as they assess the narrow loss in Washington, which indicated once again that the margin between excellence and mediocrity for Coughlin's Giants is paper-thin.