Let’s look at the plays that swung the outcome of Sunday’s game
Last week the New York Giants escaped with a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a game plan that didn’t often test a bad secondary down the field. They weren’t as lucky in a 25-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12. The difference was really a lack of big plays on each side of the ball. While the Tampa Bay game with filled with wild swings and turnovers, the game against the Eagles didn’t have much of that and slowly slipped away in the second half instead of one big turning point.
Both WPA and EPA presented from the perspective of the offense.
14:21 remaining, first quarter – A first third down
EPA: 2.64 | WPA: 7.9 percent
On the Giants’ first drive of the game, they faced a third-and-9 from their own 26-yard line. Coming into the game, the Giants had been terrible at converting third downs, especially third and long. But on this play, the Giants got a combination of good design and a favorable defensive play call to convert. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has a tendency to drop second-level defenders to the first down marker on third and longs. While that would seem to protect against a first down, it can give opponents an opportunity to catch the ball in front of the marker and fight past the sticks. That’s what happened here when Rhett Ellison chipped against a defensive end on the right side of the offense and ran into a wide open void in the middle of the field. He caught the ball seven yards behind the sticks but was able to turn upfield and get a first down. With a new set of downs, the Giants would score a touchdown six plays later.
2:28 remaining, first quarter – A rough conversion allowed
EPA: 2.82 | WPA: 8.0 percent
Towards the end of the first quarter, the Eagles faced a second-and-10 from their own 26. Tight end Zach Ertz was wide open off a play-action pass and broken through an attempted tackle by a charging Curts Riley to get the first down. But the bigger impact on the play was a roughing the passer call on Olivier Vernon. Vernon chased Carson Wentz out of the pocket and just after Wentz released the ball, Vernon’s hand came down on the quarterback’s face mask to draw a flag and an added 15 yards on top of the 10 to Ertz.
But due to another questionable call — offensive pass interference on Alshon Jeffery — and a sack later in the drive, the Eagles were forced to punt.
13:44 remaining, second quarter – Russell Shepard deep
EPA: 3.96 | WPA: 10.5 percent
The Giants finished the game 5-of-12 on third downs but were able to get some conversions early. On their first drive of the second quarter, the Giants faced a third-and-8 from their own 15. The Eagles got pressure up the middle and from Eli Manning’s right, but he was able to side step and plant to get a ball down the sideline to Russell Shepard, who was able to find the ball in front of two defenders for a gain of 29 yards. Per Next Gen Stats, given the circumstances of the play — defenders closing on Manning and defenders near Shepard — there was only a 31.1 percent chance of that pass being completed, the 16th-least likely pass in the NFL this week. After a penalty stalled the drive, the Giants kicked a field goal.
8:18 remaining, second quarter – Clement’s big run
EPA: 2.7 | WPA: 6.8 percent
With the Giants up 12-0, the Eagles had a third-and-3 from their own 37. Philadelphia came out with a trips look to the right and ran an RPO to that side with a screen for the inside slot receiver. But Carson Wentz liked the look up front and handed the ball to Corey Clement, who took advantage of an aggressive Giants’ defense. Wentz read Connor Barwin, who flew around the edge to help open the middle of the field. Alec Ogletree took himself out of the play by forcing contact with a pulling Jason Peters (71) instead of holding his ground to fill the gap. And while center Jason Kelce (62) didn’t get much contact with Landon Collins, it was enough to make Collins go around him and by the time Collins did, Clement was already through the hole on his way to a 32-yard run to set up a Philadelphia field goal.
4:16 remaining, second quarter – Barkley answers
EPA: 5.0 | WPA: 7.9 percent
The Giants were able to answer back on the next drive with a big run of their own — of course from Saquon Barkley. On a second-and-6 from the Giants’ 49, the offense came out in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) but a tight split that kept all players within the numbers. While this keeps defenders close together, it can also create confusion for where each offensive player is going to go — the Los Angeles Rams take the biggest advantage of tight splits from 11 personnel. At the snap, the Giants took advantage of a blitz around the left side, which made a big gap once Nate Solder cleared Haloti Ngata (94). The closest anyone came to taking Barkley down on his way to the end zone was Sterling Shepard while he blocked a defensive back out of the play. It went as a 51-yard touchdown and the Giants took a 19-3 lead.
But while Barkley’s run was worth 5.0 EPA, he finished with only 1.27 EPA on the ground for the game. Just one other run of Barkley’s added positive EPA and he finished with a rushing success rate of just 15.4 percent.
1:11 remaining, second quarter – Ertz converts
EPA: 3.87 | WPA: 7.6 percent
Philadelphia answered back on the next drive — 75 yards on six plays in 3:02. The capper was a 15-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz on second-and-9. Ertz ran a route from the wing on the right and turned right at the first down marker. Alec Ogletree kept his feet where his zone was supposed to be instead of reacting to the only player in his area and didn’t break until the ball was thrown. By that time it was too late and Ertz was able to break through his arm tackle and the tackle attempts of three more Giants as he fell into the end zone.
Tackling had been an issue for the Giants early in the season, but had gotten better as of late — up to 16th in broken tackle rate as a team per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, but that was not the case on Sunday.
:17 remaining, second quarter – Eli’s mistake
EPA: minus-2.45 | WPA: minus-6.6 percent
This is where the game started to fall apart for the Giants. Despite a dominant first half, the Giants only scored 19 points, which likely wasn’t going to be enough to hold on in the second half. With 17 seconds and one timeout remaining, the Giants took a shot to the end zone from the 27-yard line. The result was a terrible forced pass to Odell Beckham for an interception that took away a chance at points to close the half. But while the result was bad, the process of the play call was good. Manning had two check down options — one on either side of the field — in Saquon Barkley and Corey Coleman. With a timeout remaining, the Giants could have checked the ball down and still had a chance for one shot to the end zone before a field goal. Going deeper, the Giants also had the opportunity at an open corner route to Sterling Shepard on the right side of the field, though it looks like Manning’s progression never went that way. Any of those three options would have been better than the pass Manning forced.
14:10 remaining, third quarter – Tate on third
EPA: 2.64 | WPA: 7.8 percent
At the start of the third quarter, the Eagles faced a third-and-9 from their own 26. The Giant wanted to give a pressure look, so six defenders stood at the line of scrimmage. The two defenders to the offense’s right dropped back into coverage, but with a 3×1 set to that side, the defenders were a step behind where the receivers would be. That was especially true for Sean Chandler, who was at the end of the pressure look but had to rush to cover Golden Tate as the middle slot receiver. Tate was able to get leverage and turned around at the first down marker for a gain of 10. However, the drive would stall for a punt but the Eagles forced a Giants three-and-out on the following drive and kicked a field goal on the drive that followed.
:57 remaining, third quarter – Davis gets Wentz
EPA: minus-2.65 | WPA: minus-9.7 percent
The Giants held on to a 19-14 lead late in the third quarter and had a defensive stand to hold that lead. It was capped by a Tae Davis sack of Carson Wentz on a third-and-4 on the Giants’ 48-yard line. On a six-man rush, Davis and Alec Ogletree both attacked center Jason Kelce. Ogletree spun away for a stunt, which allowed Davis to squeeze through and get to the quarterback. The most important thing the sack did was knock the Eagles out of range for an obvious fourth down attempt. Even an incomplete pass would have allowed the Eagles to try on 4th and 4 from midfield, but the sack forced a punt.
At this point, the Giants had a 72 percent win probability. But the Giants’ next offensive drive was a quick three-and-out but even after the punt, the Giants still had a 62 percent chance to win. Unfortunately, the Eagles went down the field and score a touchdown on the next drive for a 22-19 lead.
8:22 remaining, fourth quarter – Beckham gives hope
EPA: 2.58 | WPA: 11.0 percent
The Giants would answer back on the next drive with a field goal of their own to tie the game. The key positive play on the drive was a third-and-8 conversion to Odell Beckham. Eli Manning was able to roll out, avoid potential pressure and get a pass to Beckham on the sideline for a gain of 19. At this point, the Giants reached a 50.1 percent win probability and they would eventually get into the red zone but stalled for a field goal to tie. Philadelphia went down the field on the following drive and kicked a field goal to win.