Where Do the Saints and Giants Go Following Their Week 8 Shootout?
Eli Manning threw for 350 yards, no interceptions and a career-high 6 touchdown passes, and it wasn’t enough to win.
Drew Brees threw for 511 yards, tied the NFL single-game record with 7 touchdown passes and still needed help in the form of a facemask penalty on a punter to set up a 50-yard field goal to win the game with time expiring.
This was the absurdity of the Week 8 game between the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints, one that tied for the third most combined points in NFL history at 101.
The game started innocently enough, with a New Orleans three-and-out before the Giants drove down the field and decided to give Andre Williams two carries at the goal line, which combined for -1 yards. Then a touchdown pass to Odell Beckham kicked off a scoring barrage that led to the wildest game of the week -- and possibly the year.
If this game was to be decided in a college football-style overtime, it might have never ended, and it would have been fitting because the game resembled something to closer to a Big 12 matchup than any type of NFL game.
There’s much to take in from this game, so let’s make it easier to break it down by what this game means for each team.
All Saints Day
By no surprise, Brees was our top quarterback in Week 8 by Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data. Brees accounting for 29.99 NEP through the air, per numberFire Live, a mark only 12 quarterbacks had hit in total through the first seven weeks of the season. For context, Jay Cutler entered the week in 13th place among quarterbacks in Passing NEP with 29.93. Brees almost doubled his own season’s worth of Passing NEP on the day, as he entered the game with 31.49.
Brees was spectacular, though he did get some help both from his teammates and the Giants. New York was rarely able to get a pass rush on Brees, leading to no sacks on the quarterback. Heading into the game, Brees had been sacked 17 times on 270 drop backs, a 6.2 percent sack rate that would be a career worst over a full season.
Receivers were also regularly running wide open, which helped Brees complete 40 of his 50 pass attempts. It wasn’t just one receiver finding holes in the defense: the group of Benjamin Watson, Willie Snead, Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks were all able to find their way into big plays on Sunday afternoon. Watson led the way with 14.22 Reception NEP, thanks to 9 catches on 10 targets for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Watson continues to fill at least enough of the role vacated by Jimmy Graham, an important weapon for Brees and the Saints offense. New Orleans entered the week as the eighth best offense in the league by Adjusted NEP per play but had been brought down overall by the 31st ranked defense. The defense again left no sign of optimism and for the team to keep winning, so the offense will likely have to keep playing some high scoring affairs.
Luckily for the Saints, only three of their remaining games come against defenses that ranked in the top half of the league by Adjusted NEP per play entering Week 8. The Saints also get games against Houston, Tampa Bay and Detroit in the second half of the year.
At 4-4, the Saints have somehow climbed back into the playoff picture after entering the week with just 12.2 percent chance of a playoff berth. With a favorable schedule over the second half of the season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Saints complete for one of the two Wild Card spots as long as the offense can keep up its pace.
A Giant Defeat
In every game but one this season, the Giants have had a win expectancy of at least 90 percent at some point during the game, according to our calculations, and after eight weeks, the Giants are a 4-4 team. Sunday’s shootout was again another heartbreaking loss for a Giants team that continues to invent new ways to lose in 2015.
This one, a facemask penalty on punter Brad Wing helped set up the game-winning field goal, which allowed the Giants to be just the second team in the modern era to score 49 points in a game and lose.
On offense, this was everything the Giants could have hoped in a game -- outside of the two Williams carries on the first drive. Manning’s day was just a notch below Brees' by NEP, finishing the day with 24.94 Passing NEP, the second highest total of the week the fifth best single game for a quarterback by NEP this season. This isn’t particularly new for Eli, though. He’s the only quarterback in that top five to show up twice, and his Week 8 performance is behind his Week 5 game against the San Francisco 49ers when he threw for 441 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. In the hopes of the Giants, Manning has been everything that was wanted in the second year of Ben McAdoo’s offense.
Odell Beckham again did Odell Beckham things, leading all receivers for the week with 16.94 Reception NEP. Even Dwayne Harris continued on his development as a wide receiver, catching 2 touchdowns -- including a nice over-the-shoulder catch -- for 7.92 Reception NEP. Entering the week, Harris was 122nd among all players with 12.87 Reception NEP. Shane Vereen continued to be more involved in the passing game -- 8 catches on 9 targets for 60 yards and a touchdown -- as the Giants only ran 21 times for 87 yards.
New York entered the game as the 18th ranked defense by Adjusted NEP per play, 15th against the pass and 19th against the run, but they made those rankings look very generous throughout Sunday’s game.
Steve Spagnuolo’s first run as the defensive coordinator was based on a dominant pass rush getting to a quarterback quickly to help a less-than-stellar secondary. Now the Giants have pieces in the secondary, like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but the pass rush is nonexistent, to the point fullback Nikita Whitlock is one of the team’s best players at rushing the passer. In the next few weeks, the Giants should get Jason Pierre-Paul back on the field, but there is still far too much unknown about what the defensive end can do this season.
Between the lack of pass rush and the back-end players frequently finding themselves lost in zone coverage, the defense is a significant question mark despite what Manning, Beckham and the offense have accomplished this season.
The Giants also don’t have an easy remaining schedule. After a game against the Buccaneers next week, the Giants host the Patriots, our top ranked offense through Week 7. Following a Week 11 bye, five of the Giants’ six games are against teams that entered Week 7 ranked among the top half of the league by nERD.
They have a half game lead in the division but still entered the week behind the Philadelphia Eagles in divisional odds, per our math. A win in New Orleans would have been a significant boost to those odds. The offense played well enough, but the defense made things much tougher -- a common theme for the season.