The Giants suffered a gut-wrenching 33-31 loss on Sunday to the Carolina Panthers to drop to 1-4 on the season. Despite the offense scoring over 30 points (it had not done so in quite some time), victory magically eluded Big Blue. Much of the post-game discussion, for both the team and the media, has either centered around previous locker room drama or the very poor job the referees did with many dubious calls that went against Big Blue. As a football film cyborg focused solely on tape study, none of that interests me or really has a bearing on the X’s and O’s, personnel matchups, or biomechanics that the great game offers on a weekly basis. Breaking down the tape proved many things, one of which is that the Giants’ offense still controls their own destiny, and not because of their place in the weak NFC East. More so, the offensive unit’s own actions, from the QB to the offensive line to the coaching staff, all have a direct relationship to their success. Let’s get into it.
Pre-Snap RPOs Gone Very Wrong
The first half was a hodgepodge of poor execution, penalties, and missed opportunities that hindered Big Blue’s efforts. Skipping to a possession in the 3rd quarter in the wake of a Curtis Riley interception, the Giants had an opportunity. They came out in a formation where the tight end lines up into the boundary. This forces a defender to come into the box to defend a backside gap (or defend it from farther away, but the Panthers were spinning their safety down). The Giants run a replacement 5-step slant or glance route behind the front and zone coverage to Sterling Shepard for a nice gain. See below:
A few plays later, the Giants look to revisit the same play, this time run from the opposite side of the field with Odell Beckham running the glance route. Big Blue runs the same pre-snap RPO with Manning on the same box read. This time, however, the set up is ever so slightly different:
The different diamond front allowed Adams to mask his late movement and his quick drop into coverage. Manning did not engage RB Barkley in the mesh really at all, giving Adams no reason to alter his drop. The pressure generated from the diamond front probably sped Manning up a bit and certainly did not make him feel comfortable as he threw off platform. The initial broadcast replays made it look like Manning’s questionable footwork caused a late throw, but the dangers of any pre-snap read (RPO or otherwise) is how that changes post-snap. Manning said afterward to the media:
Eli on first int: " I have to do a better job of seeing him there"— The Giant Insider Newspaper & Podcast (@GiantInsider) October 8, 2018
Many fans do not like the mystery behind RPOs. Why have a veteran QB run them at all? The answer here lies in the offensive line and young RB Saquon Barkley. One way to help get him into space consistently at the second level is to run when there are box advantages present (i.e. 2nd tier defenders with enough depth in their alignment). This offensive line, in turn around mode, needs all the advantages it can get. As of Week 4, it ranked 20th in DVOA (-12.0%) at Football Outsiders. Being multiple on offense while putting key defenders in conflict is what Pat Shurmur historically has done via traditional passing. This part of the Giants game, both in strategy and execution, needs massive improvement.
Chipping Away at Cover 2
The next drive in the 4th quarter (after a Panthers TD to make it 27-16) resulted in another Manning interception. This one was not nearly as difficult to break down. Please see below:
Manning sees clear Cover 2 and is a maybe only a beat off in terms of timing, but he hangs the throw badly out to the right. The deep safety has no issue with the interception. QBs will miss throws; football is by no means a mistake-free game. Manning said just earlier on WFAN radio that they did not get the coverage they were looking for on this play and that he saw a window to the Turkey Hole and tried to take it. But this was somewhat alarming:
Eli Manning on WFAN: I tried to put it in that little hole in the Cover-2, but I could have went through my progressions and found a check down with Saquon (on the second interception intended for Russell Shepard)— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) October 8, 2018
This is a quote for Mike Francesa, so analyzing it could be a fool’s errand. But Manning saying he could have gone through his progressions and found the check down to Barkley, when he had even an improvised Cover 2 beater, is a little tough to swallow. Contrast that sentiment with ex-Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians with his maxim: No Risk It, No Biscuit. The Giants need to attack both man and zone coverages, taking feet from the inches that these defenses give them. Getting Saquon Barkley into space via a check down is great (and, as we have documented, a big part of how the Saints get the ball to Kamara), but punishing a team at the intermediate level puts a unit on its heels.
The Giants and Manning attempted to be pushing back in the middle of the 3rd quarter on the first Giants drive of the half. Manning takes the team down to the far red zone, and then the drive stalls on two throws to Odell Beckham. The second throw is the one to focus on, with Beckham running a fade to the Turkey Hole after a slide release against the hard corner in Cover 2. Please see below:
Teams in the red zone are going to play a lot of 2-deep shell coverages, as the Giants obviously understand. Manning is close to being perfect here in his timing. His placement is spot on, but perhaps the 1/2 beat allows Bradberry to make a play on the ball. The Big Blue QB also had to throw through a bit of trash (he may have hesitated to secure a throwing lane), but the ball seemed to hang for a bit. These factors all led to an incompletion, but challenging these windows will help their play in the long haul. If this play looks familiar to you, please see the below from the 4th quarter of the Dallas game in Week 2:
In the play from the Dallas game, Beckham came from a bunch formation with a much better angle to attack the Turkey Hole, but the horizontal and vertical stretch elements are very close to the play against Carolina. Manning’s willingness to throw this route shows progress, at the very least. It is not an easy throw by any stretch. The standards for Manning are high because he can deliver in tight window throws, as we will see below.
OBJ Deep Post TD
Back to the Carolina game; on the very next throw Manning makes (after his 2nd poor interception), it is the middle of the 4th quarter and the Giants are attempting to rally. Pat Shurmur shows confidence in Manning, calling a play that has not been too successful for the Giants in the past. On this one, Odell Beckham runs a very good deep post route, and the deep middle safety is occupied by the quasi-Mesh Concept of the deep crossers. See below:
Manning made this throw with great anticipation of what the deep safety was looking at. He also was betting that Beckham could win inside the vertical space against a deep third cornerback. If this route looks familiar to you, it is not the first time the Giants have run it this season. Back in Week 2, this column highlighted Manning’s hesitation to throw the deep over route, which the inside slot receiver is running. Please see below from the Cowboys game:
It is clear that Manning is not comfortable throwing the deep over route away from him to his left, but the action can make any deep safety’s eyes go to what is happening front of him. Essentially, this is how concepts like the Mills Concept works (http://insidethepylon.com/football-101/glossary-football-101/2015/10/15/itp-glossary-mills-concept/). Manning’s comfort with these routes is crucial to attacking coverages if the Giants want to turn around this season and, to some degree, this franchise.
Lastly, many out there try to make the discussion about the New York Football Giants into some type of Survivor-like blame game, where the most recent offender is voted into some sort of pit of misery. This is not how a team or football works. Starters and role players are going to fail. This piece has focused on the offense, where this unit must take a large responsibility for the wins and losses the team has suffered. But breaking down these bigger plays in the game, one is reminded that film study seems to reveal that the bad plays are never as bad as we remember them to be.