EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The self-scouting at the bye week spawned some new ideas for the New York Giants coaching staff. Among them was a renewed dedication to the run game and the personnel that would best support that approach.
Some of tight end Evan Engram’s playing time became a casualty. He played just 36 snaps (61 percent) in Monday night’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers, while fellow tight ends Rhett Ellison (33 snaps) and Scott Simonson (13) saw a spike in their usage.
Engram had played 89 percent of the snaps in the Giants’ previous game against the Washington Redskins. He was playing close to 90 percent of the offensive plays the first two weeks of the season as well before injuring his knee.
Engram’s blocking deficiencies are going to affect his playing time in the second half of this season, potentially to the chagrin of fantasy owners. His chances to produce at the level of his promising rookie season -- aside from this week against a bad Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense -- will decrease.
His altered usage was on display against the 49ers. It was a combination of scheme against that week’s opponent and where the Giants are likely headed in the second half of the season.
“Probably a little bit of both,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We trust all those tight ends. Obviously, Scott and Rhett are bigger and probably a little sturdier when it comes to the blocking stuff, although they are dependable receivers. And then Evan does a good job blocking, but he’s obviously more of a pass receiver. We just try to use him strategically.”
Shurmur’s goal is to use each players’ strengths to the best of their ability. That means limiting Engram as a blocker in lieu of Ellison and/or Simonson. The Giants ran more heavy sets out of the bye week. Fullback Eli Penny played a season-high seven snaps and the Giants used two-or-three tight end sets on 22 of 55 offensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The slightly decreased workload takes Engram off the field on some traditional running downs. But the Giants don’t actually run the ball out of all those heavy formations, and it will ultimately cost Engram some potential routes, opportunities and catches. There were eight pass plays over the first 3½ quarters where Engram either wasn’t on the field or didn’t run a route.
The second-year tight end caught four passes on five targets for 46 yards against the 49ers. Most of that came on the final drive of the game when the Giants were trailing and in a hurry-up, two-minute offense.
Engram had three key catches and four targets on the game-winning drive, including a clutch 31-yard catch and run to get the Giants into San Francisco territory. That sequence represented what was expected from Engram this year after totaling over 700 yards as a rookie.
“Evan is best when he can take off and run because he has good speed,” Shurmur said. “We try to utilize that the best we can. There are times when he actually does that, they take it away and they check it down. Other teams know he has good speed, so when he’s in the game in a position where he can run a seam route, at times they take it away.”
This week would seem to be a prime week for Engram to do damage, even with a slightly decreasing workload. The Bucs have allowed a league-high 669 yards to opposing tight ends this season.
The Giants’ game plan last week also involved a run-heavy approach early. Saquon Barkley had a season-high 15 carries in the first half.
This week likely will be different. The Bucs are a much better defense against the run than pass, which should allow Engram to remain a major part of the game plan.
But for how long moving forward?
Other playing time/workload notables off the bye week:
--Barkley had a season-high 20 carries and 24 total touches against the 49ers. Shurmur said that’s about what he expects from his starting running back. Barkley felt fine this week after the increased carries and would welcome more if necessary.
--The Giants used more of their big nickel package in part because defensive coordinator James Bettcher thought it would be useful against all the 49ers’ pre-snap shifting. It meant more of Michael Thomas and less of third cornerback Grant Haley on defense. Thomas played more than half the defensive snaps. It’s something they will use more in the second half of the season.
--Wide receiver Corey Coleman saw a spike in his opportunities. He became the primary kickoff returner and played nine snaps on offense. He had success, and his role should continue to grow.