The New York Giants faced off against the division rival Washington Redskins at home, with Big Blue looking to salvage what they can from this season. The offense sputtered (despite some deceiving aggregate statistics), going 2 of 14 on 3rd down and failing to score a meaningful touchdown in the red zone. The narrative out there is that the offensive line cannot provide sufficient protection and that any QB in the backfield would face pressure. In the first half of the Redskins game, however, of Manning’s 18 drop backs, he was touched two times (both sacks, one on the final play of the half). He was hurried two times on top of that, one of them was perhaps the most successful Hank Concept the Giants have run this year. Please see below:
This may seem like a very basic play that many teams run, but Manning getting to the backside read in a Hank Concept is a step forward. He shows solid pocket awareness, and instead of the quick check down to Barkley on the left side, he extends the play within the structure. For an X’s and O’s guy in 2018 following the Giants, you do not type the previous sentence often. The drive ended with only a field goal but had some strong examples of the offense executing as intended.
One would think halftime adjustments could help the enhance the lack of scoring, as the Giants trailed 7-3. Last year with the Minnesota Vikings, head coach Pat Shurmur statistically had very good 3rd quarters. According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings were 2nd in 3rd quarter DVOA (23%). Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and his 2017 Carolina Panthers were 13th in 3rd quarter DVOA (4.7%). Going into Week 8, the Giants were only ranked 18th in DVOA for the 3rd quarter, and to be honest, the most recent 3rd quarter will probably bring this number even lower.
Losing the Initiative: 3rd Quarter
The first possession of the half started off well with a couple of runs and completions, and the Giants found themselves with a 3rd-and-5 from the Washington 48 yard line. So much is made of the Giants “staying on schedule” in terms of keeping 3rd down distance manageable, and at this point, they had done that. The Giants have a version of a Drive Concept called while the Redskins are in Dime personnel running another split-field coverage. Please see below:
The Redskins end up with a type of Cover 3 pattern match coverage to the trips side of the formation. They bring a zone blitz (or zone-exchange, as Greg Cosell and some call it) with the safety coming and another defender dropping off to the trips side (rushing 4 total). Manning may have been distracted by RB Saquon Barkley picking up the blitz, but the concept called for a throw made with anticipation by first simply stepping to his front side. The adjustment was not made, and a crawling rusher grabbed Manning’s ankles for the sack.
Some may say this evaluation is harsh, but fans must remember the offense has the initiative at the snap. This initiative is maintained by the timing of the design, allowing a QB to fit balls into tight windows.
Using Pre-Snap Elements
The previous play on 3rd down can be difficult for evaluation, as the defense can become one dimensional with little consequence. The pass rush generally runs with little worry about the run, and the secondary knows where the offense needs to get to. In the 3rd quarter of this Redskins game, however, there were multiple instances of 2nd down passing being the issue. Please see the below example from the following possession:
On this play, Manning comes off the Beckham-Barkley side initially and throws an incomplete pass to tight end Evan Engram. Forget the result for a second and think about the process. Why not use the initiative from the pre-snap motion, which indicates zone coverage? If the QB reads the cornerback covering Odell Beckham, whatever zone coverage technique he chooses, throw the opposite. Putting defenders in conflict is the hallmark of attacking zone coverage. The result is either Beckham to the Turkey Hole or Saquon Barkley in space against a linebacker. The offense abandoned the initiative for reasons that are unclear.
After that series resulted in a three-and-out, the next series was very similar. The Giants faced a 2nd-and-10 after a failed bootleg attempt. Head coach Shurmur called a Double Out Combination from a 3×1 receiver set, but out of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE’s). Please see below:
Since the Redskins were in base 3-4 defensive personnel, this virtually ensures that the defender (in man or zone/man) is a linebacker covering Saquon Barkley. This throw was to the wide side of the field, which, while giving both receivers more space, also means a longer throw. Asking for an anticipatory throw like this is not easy, but it’s made considerably easier when the match-up is determined before the snap. The offensive line gave up pressure in 2.6 seconds (snap to contact of Manning), so the pocket was not clean, but these are the realities of the NFL and of this team. The Giants need a QB whose play speed can take advantage of the initiative it has at the snap, otherwise why run 3×1 sets out of 12 personnel?
The Red Zone: Little to No Initiative
The red zone has been a notable issue for the Giants. I documented this a couple of weeks ago for Inside the Pylon (Link http://bit.ly/nygRedZone), but one example sticks out from the Redskins game. On a 3rd-and-goal from the 3 yard line in the 4th quarter, the Giants had a chance to score a TD and cut the 13-3 deficit. They came out in 11 personnel, initially in an empty set. Please see below:
Barkley’s initial position spread out and resulting return motion signaled zone coverage. The Snag Concept paired with two shallow crossing routes gave answers to a wide range of zone coverages from the defense. Although the Redskins were in single-high, there are low odds this deep in the red zone that they would have a vanilla landmark zone. Beckham’s sit route is really the first viable option versus single-high and is covered well by the linebacker. The crossing routes both offer good chances to attack the defense horizontally. Manning’s footwork seemingly is the issue, causing him to be late to Barkley. The windows are tight in the red zone and do not last long. Opportunities like this must be taken advantage of as well as the signals that come before the snap.
To say the Giants are an imperfect team is an egregious understatement, and this offensive unit needs to find a way to put solid football on tape for more than just a half of football or parts of a drive. There are many factors at play; the offensive line will see turnover as this season progresses into the off-season. The unit as a whole needs to stop losing the initiative as the play goes on. Most of this responsibility falls on the quarterback, and that is just the nature of the position. Whether it comes from Eli Manning, Alex Tanney, Kyle Lauletta, or someone else, the Giants need to find an answer soon.