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Plays that changed the game in Giants’ 30-27 victory over the Bears

So, yeah, that was something. Typically these posts go over the 10 most impactful plays of each week’s game, but so much happened in the New York Giants’ 30-27 overtime win over the Chicago Bears, we had to go to 12 this week.

These are some of the most important plays of the game by Win Probability Added (WPA) and Expected Points Added (EPA), per data provided by nflscrapR. Explainers here (WPA) and here (EPA).

Both WPA and EPA presented from the perspective of the offense.

14:22 remaining, first quarter – Ogletree’s Pick-6

EPA: minus-5.78 | WPA: minus-12.6 percent

We should have known we were in for a weird game after just two plays from scrimmage. The Giants’ early game plan was to blitz Chicago. It resulted in a Grant Haley tackle for loss on first down and on second-and-12, the Giants sent five, Chase Daniel never saw Alec Ogletree, and the blitzing linebacker deflected the ball to himself and rumbled in for a touchdown and an early 7-0 Giants lead.

:53 remaining, first quarter – Fuller gets a jump

EPA: minus-6.14 | WPA: minus-14.0 percent

The Giants love running Odell Beckham on slants. It’s been that way since Beckham was a rookie. Everyone knows this, so when there was a hint of a very common slant/flat combination with Beckham and Sterling Shepard, cornerback Kyle Fuller knew exactly what was coming. Fuller had the slant jumped before Beckham even broke off his route. He was so early, he had to wait for the interception. Eli Manning was forcing balls all afternoon — his 31.4 percent of throws into tight coverage led all quarterbacks, per Next Gen Stats — so a mistake was looming somewhere.

At some point, the Giants should add a “go” route on the slant — a sluggo route — to misdirect corners eager to jump on the slant. Maybe that will come one day, but that day was not Sunday against the Bears.

13:16 remaining, second quarter – Ogletree strikes again

EPA: minus-6.15 | WPA: minus-14.1 percent

Luckily, the interception didn’t hurt the Giants much. The next Chicago drive ended with another Alec Ogletree interception, this one more impressive than the first — and more impactful by EPA and WPA even though the first ended in a score. On this play, a first-and-10 just outside the red zone at the 23, Ogletree was in the middle of the field, read Chase Daniel’s eyes, jumped in front of the ball, and hauled in a one-handed interception to likely save a touchdown.

3:43 remaining, second quarter – AKIEM HICKS RUSHING TOUCHDOWN

EPA: 3.71 | WPA: 12.6 percent

One of the most fun parts of football is when players who shouldn’t be scoring touchdowns score touchdowns. Well, defensive end Akiem Hicks is one of those guys who shouldn’t be scoring touchdowns. But on a fourth-and-goal at the 1, Chicago put Hicks in the backfield, handed him the ball, and Hicks plowed through for the score and a 14-7 lead.

This could be a place to insert a joke about how you should have started Hicks in fantasy. I do happen to play in a league with IDP and I did start Hicks on Sunday — 29.6 points with six tackles, a sack, and pass defended to go along with the rushing touchdown.

13:00 remaining, third quarter – A bomb from Beckham

EPA: 3.98 | WPA: 12.4 percent

Nothing about the Giants’ offense was clicking in the first half. But an attempt to jumpstart the offense in the second half came with the arm of Odell Beckham Jr. With the ball just across midfield on a first down, the Giants ran a toss to Beckham, who bought some time behind the line of scrimmage before he launched a pass to a wide-open Russell Shepard for a 49-yard touchdown and a 17-10 lead. The most incredible part of the play —Beckham’s second passing touchdown on the season — was that Shepard admitted after the game he wasn’t supposed to be running a route during it.

4:02 remaining, third quarter – Beckham can catch touchdowns, too

EPA: 3.32 | WPA: 11.1 percent

Red zone production has been a problem for the Giants throughout much of the season. Entering the game, the Giants were 25th in points per red zone trip and 28th in touchdowns per red zone trip. Those troubles popped up when the Giants had a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the third quarter. The Giants’ plays went:

  • Heavy run for no gain against an 11-man box
  • Heavy run for no gain against an 11-man box
  • Heavy incomplete play-action pass with one available route

On fourth down the Giants brought some wide receivers back on the field and used Beckham, Saquon Barkley, and Sterling Shepard in a tight bunch to the right. Beckham was the outside receiver and while Barkley, Shepard, and Bennie Fowler lined up on the left all ran routes to the right, Beckham snuck across to the left and no Bears followed. Eli Manning had pressure in face, but Beckham was so open he was able to float a pass with no danger and the touchdown gave the Giants a 10-point lead.

12:33 remaining, fourth quarter – Tarik Cohen vs Landon Collins, Cohen by Unanimous Decision

EPA: 3.0 | WPA: 9.8 percent

Landon Collins struggled against Tarik Cohen in coverage all game, but it didn’t really become a factor until the fourth quarter. Go back up and rewatch the two Ogletree interceptions. On top of them being good because of being interceptions, both saved Collins in coverage against Cohen. On the pick-6, Cohen had the potential to turn the corner before Collins closed and on the second interception, Cohen was well behind Collins with a clear path to the end zone.

On this play, Chase Daniel had plenty of time in the pocket to let Cohen get downfield. The back had to adjust back for the pass was able to out-leverage Collins for a 46-yard catch. Chicago’s drive would eventually stall and the Bears settled for a field goal to make the score 24-17.

2:26 remaining, fourth quarter – B.W. Webb, forced fumble

EPA: minus-3.62 | WPA: minus-7.1 percent

After a Giants punt and a team effort to down the ball at the 2-yard line, Chicago made an attempt to drive down the field to tie the game while down seven. That attempt lasted one play when a quick curl to Taylor Gabriel turned into a forced fumble from B.W. Webb and a recovery by Sean Chandler.

The Giants had a holding penalty set them back with the ball, so they settled for a field goal and another 10-point lead after the turnover.

1:13 remaining, fourth quarter – Onside kick recovery

EPA: 0 | WPA: minus-86.7 percent

Chicago got the next drive down to the 3-yard line and faced a fourth down and a decision that doesn’t always have a correct answer — whether to kick the field goal first when down 10. The Bears did kick the field goal and took their chances on an onside kick to get the ball back and drive for a touchdown. Part of what makes being down by two scores late so difficult is relying on an onside kick. They were already hard to recover and with the new rule changes to the kickoff, recoveries are almost impossible. But Chicago did get the recovery here.

A lot of the focus on the Giants’ side fell on Odell Beckham, who let the ball bounce in front of him. But there’s an argument to be made Curtis Riley is more at fault. Riley doesn’t get over quickly enough and then bails on a block attempt, probably to avoid a block in the back penalty. Beckham then doesn’t fully commit to the recovery, but it’s fair to wonder if he was expecting more room with Daniel Brown (85) blocked out of the play.

:03 remaining, fourth quarter – Chicago Special

EPA: 1.31 | WPA: 65.7 percent

Chicago then drove back to the 1-yard line — a drive aided by another Cohen vs Collins big play. Facing a fourth down with three seconds left and a touchdown needed, Bears head coach Matt Nagy went into his bag of tricks. On the “Philly Special” during the Super Bowl, running back Corey Clement tossed the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who threw to an open Nick Foles for the touchdown. Chicago’s version had Burton take a handoff and pitch to Tarik Cohen, who threw to an open Anthony Miller in the end zone. Miller started in a stack with Cohen on the left side and ran across to the right. He was able to get open with a natural pick from wide receiver Josh Bellamy (15), who cut his route in the middle of the end zone and forced Grant Haley to go behind while Miller cut through in front. Tie game.

10:00 remaining, overtime – Barkley breaks one

EPA: 2.14 | WPA: 18.3 percent

One of the pros of looking at impact plays through EPA and WPA is that it can highlight plays that wouldn’t otherwise be mentioned. But it can also overlook plays that kickstart something meaningful. Saquon Barkley’s 22-yard run on a give-up play is one of those. The play itself was only worth 0.42 EPA and 1.3 percent WPA because the run itself wasn’t impactful for the result — the Giants still needed a 9-yard completion and then Aldrick Rosas still needed to hit a career-long 57-yard field goal for any of it to actually matter.

Barkley’s 29-yard run to start overtime, though, was not one of those plays. This one mattered on its own. Getting the Giants past midfield immediately gave them an estimated 85 percent chance to score on the drive. That became 100 when the Giants eventually kicked a 44-yard field goal for a 30-27 lead.

4:38 remaining, overtime – Allen Robinson keeps Chicago alive

EPA: 2.56 | WPA: 26.9 percent

Chicago got down to its potential last play in overtime with a 4th and 7 on their own 28-yard line. But Chase Daniel and Allen Robinson came through with a 10-yard connection to keep the Bears’ hopes alive. The conversion alone was worth 26.9 percent win probability.

But three sloppy plays later, including a fumble and sack, the Bears faced a 4th and 8 on from their 39. The Giants got aggressive, blitzed seven defenders, and a deep pass intended for Taylor Gabriel was deflected by Janoris Jenkins to seal the game for the Giants.

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