One of the tougher days of the year is upon NFL fans, Overreaction Monday, and today many Giants fans and media will call out the offensive unit/offensive line/QB/Play-calling for Big Blue’s tough 20-15 loss to Jacksonville yesterday. Getting to the offense in due time later in the week, charting the defense last night illuminated many plays worth breaking down further. Some were noticed in game, some maybe not as much. With that, lets look at the Giant Tidbits.
Left cornerback Eli Apple had a tough 2017 to say the least. Leaving all that behind him, he faced a Jaguars secondary that although not as talented as others the Giants will face, challenged the Giants early and often on fade routes. This was definitely a theme of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s first quarter game script. The thing with fades is they are very low percentage throws, and often what defensive coordinators want (especially playing Quarters or Cover 4). Check out the below two plays, Play 1 vs a Mesh Concept Wheel Route near the red zone and Play 2 a Z receiver Fade in the fourth quarter:
Both plays illustrate Apple’s ability to shadow wide receivers throughout the stem of their routes, something my co-host Dan Schneier and I have talked about on our podcast Big Blue Banter. Defensive coordinator James likes to bring pressure, but he needs corners that can give him the 2.5-3 second window needed to get rushers to the QB. One of the techniques I lauded Apple for in the past was press ball, where Apple lines up close to the wide receiver but does not jam the WR shadowing him only. These two examples above show him in coverage vs. bunch formations, which creates more room for the receivers to separate essentially putting more pressure on the coverage. In both plays, he was able to appropriately close or collision the receiver, get good hand position, flip his hips and stay in the pocket of the receiver downhill. This is what Bettcher and the Giants need badly this season to unlock the rest of their defense.
Speaking of press bail technique, the Janoris Jenkins is a great example of this technique. Near the end of the first quarter and following nice pressure from the front 7, WR Donte Moncrief is lined up outside the numbers vs. Jenkins who was inside leverage. Jenkins is in boundary-lock, where the rest of the defense is playing zone, but because Moncrief is spread so wide it is easier for a few reasons for Jenkins to cover him 1 on 1. Moncrief’s release takes him outside toward the boundary, exactly where Jenkins wants him to go. See below:
Jenkins has excellent position along the boundary, as the wide receiver looks very early for the ball in flight. Many would question, what difference would that make he needs to find the ball, track it, and catch it. Veteran wide receivers wait until the last possible moment betting that the QB will locate the ball appropriately so as to not draw the head around of the defender. Moncrief’s early look allows Jenkins to react and look for the ball as well, finds it and displays his very good ball skills and body control. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles ball placement lacked severely on this play, but Jenkins technique throughout the route was almost flawless.
The third play we will highlight in the secondary came from rookie free safety Curtis Riley, in his third year coming over from Tennessee. The Giants have lacked a true rangey who can cover and provide some level of physicality from center field. Early in the first quarter near the red zone the Jaguars ran a backside dig out of a 2×1 receiver set. Curtis is not shown initially in the broadcast tape, but he is probably shaded to the twins just a bit. See below:
As the tape shows, Bortles eyes down his receiver for a bit allowing Riley plenty of time to read the play. But he comes in on the correct angle and delivers a punishing blow to the receiver. After viewing many of the Giants secondary All-22 film, it is difficult to find an example like this from incumbent free safeties Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams. Both flashed occasionally coming downhill to the line of scrimmage to make a stop in either the run or pass, but neither could deliver the physicality on deeper routes. Quite simply, this is why they are no longer on the team, as was written for this publication Thompson needed to show traits like this in preseason (was injured for most of it), and Adams showed mental mistakes in coverage that did not improve. This is a big uptick for the Giants defense.
What types of Bettcher blitz packages does this type of coverage unlock? Bettcher brought many blitzes yesterday but a good one to highlight came midway through the third quarter with the Jaguars featuring a Trips 3 receiver set. These sets can cause headaches, especially for teams wanting to bring pressure, as the zone or man coverage to the trips side gets taxed. The Giants blitzed the backside of the formation from their dime personnel (3-2-6 to be exact) and attacked Bortles as he waited for an intermediate route to develop. See below:
This coverage lies in the grey area that is not man nor pure zone, but pattern match coverage. It starts, however, with a cornerback on the trips side, Eli Apple, that is in boundary-lock (or Man Every he Goes coverage, names will vary). Apple is on the wide side of the field, and must shut this WR off as he does. The linebacker and safety, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Landon Collins, drop but read their respective receivers and carry them north down the field. This hybrid type coverage with only 6 defenders back gambles that the blitzing 5 can get to the QB in time for their technique to hold up. Safety Michael Thomas nicely shows his blitzing skills beating the TE for a hit on the QB.
Jacksonville’s group of receivers and quarterback Blake Bortles have their flaws, but effective coordinator Nathaniel Hackett navigated them to the AFC Championship game last year. Their talent was virtually shut down in the second half due to plays like the above. The secondary coverage and Bettcher’s simplistic yet effective schemes may need to carry the Giants through a tough early-season schedule.