Many fans will want to rehash yesterday’s preseason match up against the Cleveland Browns groaning about Davis Webb’s erratic throws or other such examples of obvious poor play. Although that type of analysis certainly has merit, some plays stood out last night that encapsulate many of the challenges that exist for this 2018 New York Giants, particularly in the offensive and defensive back position. Understandably in week 1 of the preseason, sloppiness exists that will continue and even spill over into the early regular season. But these 5 plays may tip the scales for how the Giants 2018 season unfolds, and hit on problems that will not go away soon.
The best and worst thing about Saquon Barkley’s Big Run:
Recently we highlighted how Barkley can take an inside zone run and make any defense pay when given the proper space to accelerate through the line of scrimmage (http://bit.ly/NYGRPO). The chatter going around Giants camp has focused on the gap schemes their large line will run, but plays like inside zone and duo will be embraced often (hat tip to Geoff Schwartz for highlighting). Please see the first run from Barkley where he sprang a big gain of 39 yards :
Head Coach Pat Shurmur ran this play out of 12 personnel with two tight ends on the backside of the play who held their engagements long enough for Barkley to find the northbound seam that finally developed. One of those tight ends was Evan Engram, who has been credited for improving his inline blocking this off season. Improvement is a difficult element of scouting to project, but clearly Engram is making strides to become a more complete tight end. This is crucial to Shurmur’s desire to move players around in the formation, if defenses know he is a problem in run blocking they can be tipped to the play at the line of scrimmage.
Now for inside zone purists, they could complain that Barkley cut back very early into the play, turning his pads north to the line of scrimmage making a one way bet for the backside. Against different fronts the pad angles the running back sustains are key to setting up the second level blocks for the offensive line. In a slightly different run scheme and set up, Ben Baldwin had an excellent clip showing how this can go poorly for Barkley, when he ignores staying behind his blockers, running tight with good pad level and churning out yards. Please see below:
Barkley bounces everything outside smh pic.twitter.com/PLlKK9RgLh
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) August 9, 2018
The secondary needs to tighten up in coverage:
The 3rd and 18 early in the 2nd quarter that the Browns faced sticks out as a play, in almost any situation. should not have been converted. Here rookie Baker Mayfield has enough time to find fellow rookie CJ Board on a deep post route. Please see below:
Defensive Coordinator Bettcher understandably had the secondary in zone but chose Cover 3 Buzz weakside vs. a 3×1 bunch formation. Situational play should tell the deep safety (Andrew Adams) to not play so deep to the formation side of the field. The Y receiver from the bunch formation runs an over or divide type route taking the buzz safety with him, and linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong does not get great depth distracted by the flat route leaving a large throwing window to the playside. As cornerback B.W. Webb passes off the receiver to the middle of the field Adams can not make a play on the ball, even a ball thrown later in the read by a QB under pressure. This is somewhat of ais a harsh grade on a tough assignment for the playside defenders, but a coverage that Bettcher loves call with the Buzz Safety protecting the backside.
This was not the only time the secondary was caught out of position. Later in the 2nd quarter on David Njoku’s 2nd touchdown reception, offensive coordinator Todd Haley dialed up a variation of the Mesh Concept, see below:
The coverage was a pattern match version of Quarters, where FS Andrew Adams was bracketing the #3 receiver Njoku with corner back Teddy Williams. To be fair, this is a bit of a guess without the All-22 film (not available during the preseason), but Adams for some reason cheats forward seemingly because of the mesh cross and loses track of Njoku, in the red zone. Mayfield’s throw was just good enough placement wise to fit into the larger window that the Giants left in the red zone against a player that hurt them. Offenses have a tough time with the tight windows and spaces that exist in the red zone, there is no reason to make it easier for them.
This last example came from the 4th quarter, with Mayfield still in the game against some of the Giants defenders competing for a roster spot. CB Teddy Williams gets burnt by receiver Antonio Callaway after a quick slant, see below:
Some may ask why highlight a play from the 4th quarter by a back up corner who loses to a receiver from a better inside position and a safety (Orion Stewart) that takes a poor angle? It is widely known that the Giants are thin in the secondary, and there will be times, unlike above, where Bettchher wants to play press man coverage across the board. If there are injuries to starters Janoris Jenkins or Eli Apple, this is what the coverage could look like. Slants are deadly to corners who can not at least slow their receiver and safeties that take poor angles. The free safety position right now is a wide open competition, where incumbents Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams are battling to keep their jobs. Bettcher will squeeze the most out of this group, but overall the level of play has to be higher.
This piece does not mean to take an overly negative tone to both groups of backs on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. How could anyone be negative on Saquon Barkley? The point on the offensive side is that this team knows its play-makers in the passing game will find success if healthy. Odell Beckham, Eli Manning, Sterling Shepard, these types of players cannot be held in check for long. The running game, however, is in turn around mode and needs to find consistent success to manufacture drives, something the Giants have not been able to do in recent years. Reflexively on defense, the front seven have some play-makers in the run game and pass rush, but the secondary needs to play to a certain standard in both man or zone. There is nothing more demoralizing to a defense than a leaky back end in a conference with big plays abound. David Njoku’s first touchdown was an example of this, with linebacker Alec Ogletree in a tough coverage assignment and safety Darian Thompson not possessing the range to provide any help to a slot receiver for a big touchdown.