Giant Tidbits: Zone Read Remedy for the Run Game?


There are many questions swirling around the New York Giants. Chief among them are the issues surrounding the run game.  The Giants are averaging only 77.9 rushing yards per game and running the ball only 30.04% of the time, which is dead last in the league ( Adding to the aggregate statistics, the Giants have a DVOA of only -13.1% when running the ball (ranks 21st, Football Outsiders). Suffice it to say the rush attack is not where it needs to be and not being utilized to its full potential, especially with Saquon Barkley in the backfield. An under the radar solution may help alleviate some of the issues, but first, let’s get into the data.

Some Numbers

Many fans simply wish for more attempts, under the old school football maxim that a team must “commit to establishing the run.” For those who may still like this narrative, Football Outsiders published a very good study many years ago, details here (, with the punchline being no direct relationship in the data between attempts and a running play’s success. Leaving the optimal run/pass ratio debate to the side of this piece, the common ground is that when the Giants do run the ball they need to be way more effective and efficient.

The first “blame” goes immediately to the offensive line. Of the five starters, only two (Nate Solder, and Will Hernandez) remain from preseason camp. Over at Football Outsiders, the Giants’ line ranks dead last in Adjusted Line Yards, while they are first in Open Field Rankings. What this means is Big Blue’s line does the least for Saquon Barkley in the run game, yet he makes the most of it of any back in the league. This is apparent to anyone who has watched the games this year; when Barkley makes enough people miss he can chunk off big pieces of yardage. The Giants need to find ways schematically to make up for this weakness, now or in later seasons. This line, like any other in the league, will never be perfect. Let’s get into the film behind these statistics.

Inside Zone from Shotgun

One of the foundational running schemes for the Giants is inside zone, particularly to the weak or open side of a six-man offensive line. They run inside zone out of shotgun very often, and there are many sound football reasons for that, which range from Saquon Barkley’s familiarity with it to the offensive line’s new personnel this season. Becoming a unit that can execute multiple schemes does not happen overnight. This unit, however, has not progressed in either ability to execute the existing plays or expanding to other parts of the play book. Numbers-wise, the Giants have run inside zone 58 times out of 149 rushing attempts (38%, according to Sharp Football Analysis). The Giants are in shotgun 71% of the time (ranked 9th in the league, Football Outsiders). What does this mean? A lot of inside zone from shotgun. Please see the below example from the Falcons Week 7 game:

From a schematic standpoint, the above play has become very predictable.  The first and second tier defenders can key on this as they read run or pass, effectively making the offense from this look the opposite of multiple. Head coach Shurmur is cognizant of this, like any good coach, and has attempted to change it up. See the below boundary sweep with center and guard leading against the Redskins in Week 8:

The above boundary sweep was an attempted constraint play to running the usual open side inside zone, and was executed poorly. This sweep encapsulates the offensive line somewhat perfectly with multiple subpar blocks made against a divisional opponent who exploits them. The Giants need a better answer to keep defenses off balance to these looks.

Add Zone Read to Inside Zone

This is going to be very unfair and harsh to QB Eli Manning, but a bona fide zone read element added to inside zone would greatly help the run game. See the below inside zone run from the Redskins game in Week 8, from the same 3×1 Nub set from the above example, again with TE into the boundary:

The backside of the formation gets overwhelmed by the edge rusher, the 3-technique DT and the second tier linebacker. Near the top of the screen you can see Manning running QB keeper steps, but no one pays attention to it. The Giants run these formations with the TE into the boundary, creating an extra gap for defenses to account for. But by doing that it means either Evan Engram or Rhett Ellison is responsible for reach blocking the edge rusher. This has been a very difficult task, and coordinators can instruct their ends to crash hard at will, knowing that nothing is coming to the backside in response. The threat of a running quarterback would force the edge rusher or second tier player to contain/play the QB. Remember when the Giants were gashed by zone read earlier in the season? See the below run from Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, from the same 3×1 Nub Set :

Giants defensive end Kareem Martin crashes his gap to the QB, which is his assignment. Safety Landon Collins has the QB if he keeps it, and by doing so he cannot scrape or crash his A gap assignment. He is effectively in conflict and cannot play fast. This solution is very basic, but again, the Giants are having trouble adding more layers blocking-wise to the run game. Zone read would make the defense defend the entire field, and also open up the possibility of running inside zone from 2×2 sets. In these sets the TE can detach from the formation, relieving Ellison or Engram from their DE blocking duties. The recent examples have shown the TE into the boundary, but removing him from the formation effectively removes a box defender accounting for a gap, thus creating more space for RB Barkley for him at the second level.


Red Zone

There is no part of the field in which zone read would have a greater impact than in the red zone. The Giants rank 31st in red zone TD scoring percentage ( Backside QB keeps in this area are deadly, as teams like the Saints employ QB hybrid Taysom Hill on a regular basis to punish defenses. I profiled the Giants’ running red zone woes for Inside the Pylon a few weeks ago ( and concluded that the simplicity of the run game is hurting this team. See the recent inside zone run to the open side from Week 8 against the Redskins:

The issue with this play was the backside 2-tech (over right guard John Greco) beats center Spencer Pulley in the combination block. If this is made, then Barkley probably crosses the goal line, but either way, a crashing edge rusher takes away any chance for Barkley to one-cut to the backside seam. This is the real advantage zone read keeper options would have for the running game; it would help open up diagonal or vertical seams for Barkley. The effects would be twofold: more consistent ability to consistently go north for gains, and a better chance of a big run hitting within the structure of the play. No one really wants to “rein Barkley in”, but rather give him easier backside solutions that punish a defense when they are not assignment-sound.

To New Beginnings

New Giants guard Jamon Brown should bring some relief to the beleaguered right side of the line. I made a Twitter thread highlighting some of his traits here. This was a good pickup, but there aren’t many low-hanging fruits like this on the waiver wire:

There are no easy solutions in football, and it is especially easy to suggest from the cheap seats that the Giants simply add a mobile QB element to their rushing attack. This will not save the offense, but until the personnel plays to a certain standard, there truly are few other options. The Twitter mob believes run direction is the answer, simply run behind the left side of the line. As the above tape shows, though, the backside blocks play just as much an influence as do the front side, especially on inside zone. Big Blue needs elements that aid the front six and open up lanes for Saquon Barkley. Jobs are at stake.