The New York Giants’ offense is fully in the crosshairs after an 18-point performance on Sunday against the low-ranked New Orleans Saints defense. The first three games the Saints yielded an average of 421 yards per game, and the Giants seemed destined to put points on the board. Two weeks ago, this author penned an article on Giants QB Eli Manning and his issues surrounding his mental recognition and processing of certain snaps in the loss to Houston. This edition of Giant Tidbits will see those issues resurface, and a few others. Ultimately, it is puzzling to see a veteran QB struggle with what he is seeing in head coach Pat Shurmur’s offense. Interestingly, the design behind the passing concepts touch on the Jocko Willink podcast excerpt, entitled “Good:”
No this is not a pump up piece to ease the minds of concerned fans. Many of Pat Shurmur’s drop-back passing concepts provide answers to the problems that defenses present before the snap. Most often, a zone coverage beater is schemed for one side of the field, and a man coverage beater on the other with the QB having to pick the “correct” side. Some can overlap. For example, Cover 1 and Cover 3 beaters can be the same pattern or combination, and the bulk of these coverages come from single high safety looks. Basically, Shurmur tries to equip the QB with enough simplified complexity to have answers at the line, make a decision, and be an athlete.
2 Deep Safeties Become Cover 2 “Tampa 2”: Good
After the opening drive for the Big Blue offense yielded a 2-yard strike to Sterling Shepard for a TD, the Giants’ 2nd drive was not as fruitful, leaving a 3rd-and-11 from their own 35 yard line. This play featured 11 personnel package in a 2×2 receiver set, with the right two receivers running a Drive Concept and the Left two running a Post-Wheel combination versus a Cover 2 Tampa in the secondary. See below:
Manning quickly chooses to deliver the shallow route of the Drive Concept, despite having time to throw in anticipation to the deeper cross route. By way of background, the Saints ran Cover 2 Tampa (or close variation Green) on 41% of the Giants’ dropbacks on Sunday. This was clearly part of the defensive game plan. Manning had seen the coverage already in the game. In fact, on the first drive, he hit a sit route as part of a Space Concept in the void that the dropping MLB left in the zone coverage. This deeper route would have demanded placement and good timing but was a lost opportunity to settle on a shorter route south of the sticks.
When Motion Followed is Not Man: Good
Sending wide receivers in motion does a few things; one of the benefits is tipping off the hand of the defense. If the receiver is followed by a player, there is a high probability that the coverage is man. Last week, we noted in this column that Manning ran a Mesh Concept in which, after the snap, he verified that the coverage was man by checking the opposite side of the field (where his intended receiver was heading. High probability does not equal all the time, as the below example shows on 3rd-and-6 in the 2nd quarter:
Manning does a nice job of confirming his read after the snap to avoid throwing to the flat and then to the crossing route, which was occupied by a crease defender. You may notice that Mesh is not one of the reads in which the field is divided in half. It is a full-field read with as many as five in the progression (though it rarely gets that far) and is versatile against man and zone. The defense was Cover 2 Tampa again from the Saints, and Manning found the underbelly of the zone, and RB Wayne Gallman secures the first down. The key is that not all check downs are signs of weak mental processing or a QB who is not on the right page.
Deep Over vs. Single High Safety: GREAT?!
Those who listened to the game probably overheard CBS announcer Tony Romo pleading for Pat Shurmur and Manning to take a shot down the field. Stretching a defense vertically is very important even if not successful, as it changes defenders’ expectations in coverage. If a defender knows that a vertical stem can lead to a deep post, he will give more cushion and be ready to defend in both directions, and the opposite is, of course, true. There were shots to be had against this Saints defense at different points in the game, but they were forgettable attempts. Please see the below reminder of a theme discussed in these threads from Week 2, as well as on the Big Blue Banter Podcast with my co-host, Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL):
The above Deep Over route is a cautiously aggressive way to attack single high safety defenses (that become Cover 1 or Cover 3). The Giants ran it against the Cowboys and Manning moved on within the progression. The example from the 2nd quarter this past Sunday vs. the Saints is even more glaring than the above. Here, the Giants face Cover 3 (the Saints ran around 30% of the time), The below is run off of play action and a reverse look, with only two main receivers downfield running routes (the RB is a 3rd check down). Please see the below video:
The issue actually is not Manning’s hesitation to throw this route; it demands a well-placed ball where the timing of the strike is most important. What is surprising is that this play is in the playbook at all. Manning has had multiple opportunities to deliver deep over routes throwing to his left to the field and has hesitated or missed most of the time, and quite frankly, it will be hard to find a situation better than the above. A linebacker is giving underneath coverage, the vertical and left horizontal space is uncapped, and the deep safety is occupied with the post route. QB and play-caller need to be on the same page here; there are only so many chances to deliver equalizers in games. The Giants got the look they wanted, but is the design the right fit?
Good (Where’s Latimer?)
The Giants missed Cody Latimer this past week, and really for much of this season, as his targets have been limited. The skill positions in this offense are occupied by many high-level talents and targets are hard to come by. But the number of times the Giants run 3×1 formation sets, they need a receiver who can consistently win in isolation. Russell Shepard filled in for the hurt Latimer this past week, and please see the below example of a fade route against Quarters Coverage, just two plays after the previous Deep Over route in the 2nd quarter:
Shepard has a tough task trying to gain separation against CB Marshon Lattimore, but notice the resources that are able to be deployed to the rest of the field. With no real bona fide threat at the lone-X, defenses can allocate minimal defenders, in this case just one. This has been a very understated weakness of the Giants’ passing attack. Latimer, when healthy through three games, only has five targets for three receptions. That simply is not enough. His ability to win with body control and at the catch point make him a prime candidate for this position and one that will provide balance to these formations.
Cover 2: Not so Good
The above examples show a Giants passing attack that, quite frankly, is not where it needs to be after one fourth of the season. Hope is not lost, but improvements and consistency need to come very soon. This piece started off with Cover 2 Tampa and Jocko proclaiming “Good.” Well, the play-calling in the 2nd half really did have the same attitude, but the half-field reads simply did not. Please see the below 2 plays versus the same Cover 2:
In regards to the first example. there simply are few real play-calls for 3rd-and-14, and to be honest, it is troubling to even include it in a piece like this. But Shurrmur called a two-man combination that ran both men through the deep half of the field and is probably the best Cover 2 beater one could draw up. The defense is in “Sticks” coverage where the underneath defenders are holding at the first down marker. They are also flat-footed, and the break Beckham makes, if the ball is thrown with anticipation, is very hard to defend to the sideline. Manning checks down quickly, probably to give Barkley a full head of steam to try for the first down. The second clip was perhaps the most disturbing of the all the examples. The Giants on 1st-and-10 face a very vanilla two-deep safety look where both are well off the line of scrimmage. The Giants are down 19-7 in the 3rd quarter with 7 minutes left and have a slot corner route dialed up. The right side of the field wins against Cover 2 or Quarters. See it, send it.
Overall, the Giants need to rebound very quickly to remain relevant in a very tough conference. Specifically, the offensive passing attack needs more cohesive play design that fits with the traits of its quarterback and others. Although the caution a veteran like Manning displays helps minimize turnovers, he has to be more willing to pull the trigger if his reads call for it. Each week will bring different defensive challenges, whether in the secondary or on the defensive line. Good. The Giants just need to take advantage of the solutions.