The New York Giants opening day match up came against a very tough Jacksonville Jaguars defense, featuring elite pass rushers like Calais Campbell, linebacking talents Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, and cornerbacks such as Jalen Ramsey. These are some of the reasons they were ranked number 1 overall DVOA wise at Football Outsiders. However, an investigation into the all-22 film reveals a Giants offense that was their own worse enemy. Local media has cried out for the poor offensive line play, quarterback Eli Manning‘s play, receiver drops, penalties, the list goes on and on. Rather than take this week’s Giant Tidbits series investigating many of those Week 1 examples, one play in particular stands out that encapsulates much of the game for the offense.
Right Tackle Ereck Flowers has received the brunt of the criticism in the wake of the 20-15 loss on Sunday. Much of it is warranted, but, the early first quarter holding call near the Giants own end zone has many layers. The play occurred on 2nd and 17, with the Giants behind the eight ball after Ereck Flowers’ tripping penalty on the first play of the game. The Giants come out in 11 personnel and the Jaguars respond with their nickel package. Calling attention to the Jaguars safety closest to the boundary, he retreats just before the snap. The Jaguars do this often to try to mask the coverage looks they are giving, which often can be split field coverage where half of the field is playing Coverage X and half is Coverage Y. Such was the case on this play, with the Jaguars playing Cover 2 man on the boundary side, and Cover 4 or Quarters to the field. There are many names for this type of defense, we will leave the labeling to coaches. Please see the below picture of the coverage:
What’s important to understand is that Giant head coach Pat Shurmur and many offenses like to call plays that incorporate answers for man or zone coverage. In this case, Shurmur designs a man beater concept (slant-flat combination) on one side and a zone beater concept (Sticks Concept) on the other. The QB’s job is to read before the snap which side of the offense to throw to. This is effectively a half-field read, but if the QB can get a handle on what coverage is coming to either sides or both sides, the offense rolls. Please see the below video that breaks down all of the above:
Manning’s read elects the zone beater side, the Sticks Concept. Stick routes (the 2 3-step routes by the slot receivers that the concept is named for) must hit at 5 yards down field with the QB quickly assessing whether the zone defenders can appropriately react to these routes (mostly likely reading their hip angles, for further reading Dub Maddox’s Adapt or Die https://amzn.to/2ORIThM). The throw must be on a line versus zone (as is the case here), and Manning is not comfortable and comes off of it. The question is, with the two deep look, what coverage did he anticipate on this side of the field? The leverage of the defenders did not suggest man coverage, so it’s likely he is thinking Cover 2, Cover 4, or some variation. What is a little odd, and seems like a Week 1 issue, is not electing to throw to the other side of the field which was clearly in man (Again, all in the pre-snap read with the inside leverage of the corner back to Jaguar tendencies to 3×1 sets). Perhaps back at the snap maybe the reversing safety confuses him?
Back to the play, Manning reacts to the closing pocket not by resetting his feet and coming back to the man side (tough maneuver), but going out of structure. Exiting the pocket took right tackle Flowers out of a barely adequate anchor position. Please see the below still:
The above end zone view highlights Flowers outside hand positioning, which actually closely mirrors that of left tackle Nate Solder. This is not to say that either is ideal, which is the upper outside pectoral muscle of the rusher. Manning’s scramble to the right coupled with Flowers not letting go of the right shoulder causes the flag. Engram had caught Manning’s deep ball for a gain of 34, that was of course negated by the flag.
This play, although technically for the stat sheet a “no play”, highlights small details that hounded the Giants all game. The play is not just a holding penalty on a right tackle that had a bad day at the office. Manning needs to be better in his reads and that will come with more game reps in Shurmur’s offense. Shurmur and the offensive brain trust need to call routes that Manning is comfortable or effective throwing as zone beaters. If they can not get him comfortable with Sticks Concepts early in the game, something else should be brought forward. On other routes, Engram can not have drops, and the left side of the line can not get beaten as often as it was. This is a work in progress as all the people mentioned above are working in-game settings for the first time. Next stop is Dallas, looking for all around improvement.