The Giants 34-13 loss on Thursday Night Football was one of the more lopsided victories in a storied NFC East rivalry. In its wake, many have questioned if it is finally time to move on from 37-year old quarterback Eli Manning. This is a sensitive subject around MetLife Stadium and should be treated with the proper care and respect for a 2-time SuperBowl champion. This piece would not be as bold as to call for the benching of Manning (many other factors at play), but the QB play in this offense in recent weeks is not where it needs to be. Let’s look at the Giant Tidbits from this game.
On the 2nd play from scrimmage, the Giants call a pass (Hank Concept) out of 12 personnel. Those that follow me on Twitter might remember in the preseason, the sit or spot route of Hank is what Manning threw against the Browns that injured TE Evan Engram. Please see the below image from Dub Maddox’s Adapt or Die (https://amzn.to/2ORIThM) outlining Hank:
It is a spacing concept meant to spread defenses horizontally opening up throwing lanes for the QB with a mix of routes that for the most part terminate in space. The Giants ran this with the sit/spot route being the first read in the progression, which seems most common in the NFL. Please see the below play from Thursday night:
The Eagles are playing a version of Cover 3 Zone, and the left side of the play is teed up for this concept. Manning does not come off his first read despite two defenders near the sit/spot opening a throwing lane to the 2nd read, which is the design of the play. Very active LB Jordan Hicks jumped the route (after recognizing Hank, see here for a breakdown of him from me http://bit.ly/JordanHicksInjury), and on top of that, Manning’s placement is off a bit. The ball is tipped and intercepted, and a great example of poor QB execution.
Manning’s placement over the past couple weeks has been a topic that has been somewhat ignored in this column. Quarterbacks are going to miss their spot, especially QB’s in the current NFL often with unstable pockets and throwing off platform. The narrative out there that the pass protection has failed to protect Manning is simply not accurate. Film study shows that he can lose accuracy on throws of all distances to both sides. Two examples come to mind from Thursday. They both come against man coverage, butting up against another narrative that zone is what is giving Manning most of his troubles. See the first below:
Manning gets to the back side of the play but does not step into the throw as DT Fletcher Cox looms to his right. Manning did not want to take a hit. One could also debate if this is a “hurry,” and critics seem to scream that Manning does not have the guts or guile to take hits. This column does not take that opinion or judgment. The bottom line is that good quarterbacks complete throws from difficult situations, and part of that stems from solid fundamentals. Manning does not square his shoulders to the back side targets at any point as he moves to his right. He will not be able to step into all throws, but the accuracy potential here is almost dead on arrival way before Cox gets passed John Greco.
The second play came with 4:22 left in the 2nd with Manning throwing from an empty set on first down. The defense is playing man coverage, and Beckham has to beat left corner Ronald Darby on a fade route. Please see below:
Beckham wins the vertical space, but the window is smaller and demands a well-placed ball. Manning underthrows it slightly, and the defender can make a play on the ball. Beckham does not win at the catch point and the opportunity is wasted. The pocket allowed Manning to drop, hitch and deliver with square shoulders this time. The overall follow through was negated somewhat by a pass rusher, and again the reality is the majority of pockets will not be 100% squeaky clean. Manning has time and space here, and the ball is off.
The Eagles mixed in several different coverage looks throughout the game. In the first half, of his 25 drop-backs, the Eagles ran 2-high safety looks pre-snap 13 times. There were a fair amount of split field coverages, often targeting Beckham’s side of the field in some sort of man coverage and the opposite side in a more vanilla zone. Near the end of the half, trailing 24-6, the Giants needed a score before halftime to get back in the game. See the 1st and ten play below:
The Giants have the perfect play call on against the Quarters coverage. It is difficult to think of a more perfect play call. Manning’s timing is solid and can release from a stable base in the pocket. The ball merely is underthrown to Cody Latimer, where one in stride the play results in a touchdown. This is a matter of going from good to great on this play, and big players make big plays. The Giants are not getting that from the QB position.
The last example is the throw where head coach Pat Shurmur was seen afterward on the broadcast tape yelling for his QB to “throw the ball.” No one can be sure what the communication was from coach to QB, and it was a frustrating game to be sure. This occurred early in the 2nd quarter on a 2nd and 20. Please see below:
Big Blue faces Quarters Coverage here (Cover 4), and they have a Smash Concept called out of a 3×1 set. Manning elects the 1-step hitch almost immediately due to the larger cushion from the outside cornerback. Some may judge the movement of the zone defenders claiming that Shepard is only open after they move, but that ignores what constitutes open in the NFL. The outside corner is flat-footed in conflict by the 1-step hitch. The play design works, looking for a back shoulder throw (based on Shepard’s turn) with the safety Rasul Douglas as the only defender in range. Typing “safety Rasul Douglas” is almost laughable, he is the Eagles 3rd string corner filling in at safety after Rodney McLeod’s injury. The Giants called a strength (Smash has been Manning’s most consistent play this year) against the Eagles weakness (their backup corner playing safety), and Manning failed to deliver.
At this point, it is clear Manning did not have his best game on Thursday. What is more alarming, is these issues have been brewing all games but the Houston Texans game. The potential for better play is there, but the consistency is shaky at best. As stated in the introduction, it is above my pay grade to say how or when a great player should be benched. The threads and work done on Kyle Lauletta from the preseason, however, are being dusted off.