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Plays that changed the game in Giants’ 40-16 blowout victory over Washington

The New York Giants have won some weird games this season and the 40-16 victory over Washington was no different. After a sloppy start of the game that made it look like it was heading towards a Beamer Special, the Giants pulled away and little mattered once the second half began.

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.

6:21 remaining, first quarter – Sanchez gets sacked

EPA: minus-1.71 | WPA: minus-5.1 percent (NYG 48.2 percent → 53.3 percent)

Mark Sanchez has seen his share of rough games over the years. This was one of them. Thrown in to start after an injury to Colt McCoy last week, Sanchez had one of the worst games a quarterback could have. He finished this game with a QBR of 1.1, a metric scaled 1-100. Single-game QBR can also be thought of as win probability, so a team with a quarterback who played like Sanchez would expect to win 1.1 percent of the time. Not great.

On this third-and-11, the Giants showed pressure with six but dropped two back at the snap. It confused the offensive line and Sanchez enough that when the quarterback went to scramble both Sean Chandler and B.J. Hill had clear lanes to him.

It’s rare a true turning point in a game can come this early, but that’s what happened when Chandler sacked Sanchez midway through the first quarter. Even with the score still at 0-0, that play represented that final time Washington had a win probability over 50 percent in the game.

2:52 remaining, first quarter – Curtis Riley’s Pick-6

EPA: minus-5.0 | WPA: minus-9.9 percent (NYG 57.6 percent → 67.5 percent)

It only got worse for Sanchez. With the ball backed up on Washington’s own 1-yard line, the offense ran an RPO with a read on Kareem Martin. Martin crashed inside the block of tight end Vernon Davis, which caused Sanchez to pull the ball away from Adrian Peterson and attempt a slant to Michael Floyd (17). But Martin was able to get his hand on the pass and with no other receivers in the area, Curtis Riley was able to break for the pass and the tipped ball landed easily in his hands for a pick-6 and an insurmountable 7-0 Giants lead.

1:56 remaining, first quarter – Sanchez gets sacked, again

EPA: minus-1.51 | WPA: minus-5 percent (NYG 69.9 percent → 74.9 percent)

The Giants didn’t even have to confuse Sanchez at all to get to him. On this second-and-14, the Giants just sent a four-man rush. Sanchez panicked in the pocket and tried to step up with no receivers open. When he did that, Olivier Vernon and Kareem Martin were able to shed their blockers and take the quarterback down. Sanchez was sacked five times in this game on 19 drop backs, a 26.3 percent sack rate. Vernon now has 3.5 sacks over the past two games after having just one from Weeks 6-12. It’s almost like being mad about his sack numbers was misguided.

8:54 remaining, second quarter – Barkley gets blockers

EPA: 6.26 | WPA: 10.3 percent (NYG 81 percent → 91.3 percent)

There were also plays on offense for the Giants in this game. Not many of them mattered in the grand scheme of win probability, but Saquon Barkley’s big run early in the second quarter helped blow the game open. Barkley is going to get a lot of credit for this long touchdown run, but it might be one of the best-designed runs and the best-blocked run of the Giants’ season.

Typically, running into stacked boxes is ill-advised. The Giants started against an eight-man box here and invited a ninth with motion from Sterling Shepard. At the snap, the entire offensive line blocked to the right, which influenced the defense that way. Shepard was the key with a block on safety D.J. Swearinger (38) to secure the cutback lane. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (20) took a bad angle to Barkley, which can’t happen against a player who can be one of the fastest in the league in the open field.

7:54 remaining, second quarter – Another Alec Ogletree interception

EPA: minus-5.12 | WPA: minus-5.6 percent (NYG 91.4 percent → 97 percent)

Earlier in the season, opposing offenses were targeting Alec Ogletree in coverage and throwing at whoever he was covering. Over the past few weeks, the ball has found Ogletree no matter who he was covering. On this second-and-12, the Giants dropped back into a zone. Sanchez tried to hit Jamison Crowder on a quick hit over the middle, but the ball bounced out of Crowder’s hands, thanks to contact from Tae Davis, and into Ogletree’s, who rumbled inside the 10 on his return. The Giants scored three plays later on an Eli Manning touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard for a 24-0 lead.

2:30 remaining, second quarter – Barkley breaks another

EPA: 3.65 | WPA: 0.7 percent (NYG 99.1 percent → 99.8 percent)

This Barkley run was arguably more impressive than the 78-yard touchdown. Washington again had eight men in the box and the blocking here wasn’t as good from the offensive line. Center Spencer Pulley fell down, which allowed Da’Ron Payne (95) to break through the middle. Barkley was quick enough to avoid him and hit a much smaller hole than his touchdown run, but one still sealed off well by the blocks of tight ends Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson. On this run, Clinton-Dix had a better angle initially until Barkley set him up with a quick false step outside to turn the safety around. Barkley then broke through the tackle of Josh Norman as he crossed the field and was eventually pushed out of bounds by Clinton-Dix after a gain of 52.

Barkley finished the day with 7.84 Expected Points Added on his 14 attempts and a 57 percent success rate.

9:02 remaining, fourth quarter – Johnson to Jamison

EPA: 7.05 | WPA: 0.5 percent (NYG 99.9 percent → 99.4 percent)

With the game settled before the half starter, nothing in the second half really mattered toward the result of the game. Washington continued to look lifeless until Josh Johnson took over for Sanchez at quarterback. Johnson’s first drive ended in a turnover on downs just outside the red zone, but his second drive was capped with an 8-yard rushing touchdown from the quarterback following a Kyle Lauletta interception.

The next drive resulted in a 79-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder. On a 2nd-and-13, Washington’s offensive line held a six-man rush from the Giants. Johnson calmly floated the ball to Crowder, who separated from Grant Haley on a shallow crossing route. Crowder then turned up the field and blew past Kamrin Moore (29) who hesitated on a bad angle while getting some time to play on defense in a blowout.

While Johnson’s efforts didn’t really matter in the result of the game, they did help show the fault in so many teams wanting a carbon-copied significantly worse version of their own starting quarterback as the backup so the offense doesn’t have to change. Johnson isn’t good, but he looked like a superstar after Sanchez. He was able to scramble around in the pocket to create on his own and Washington even called option plays with success while Johnson was in the game. That’s exactly the type of advantage a team should want with a backup in and a lesson every team in the league should learn from this game.

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