It’s only been a couple of weeks since the Eagles last took on the New York Giants. When they last met, New York was reeling off of two losses where they struggled to move the ball or stop anyone defensively. Before that game in Week 5, I took a close look at Big Blue and covered a number of issues they were having, including their problems in the secondary and on the offensive line.
While those issues are still apparent, this is a team that is getting healthier and has confidence coming off their first win of the season on Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. They are one of the Eagles' staunchest rivals, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Let’s take a closer look at some of the things they’re having some success with at this point in the season on the offensive side of the ball, and what makes them so dangerous.
This is one of the most basic route combinations in football, the slant-flat. It’s a horizontal stretch concept that is a quick, easy way to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and to your playmakers. The Giants use this concept, as do many other teams, from a number of different formations and personnel groupings. In the scenario above, Hakeem Nicks is at the bottom of the screen running a quick slant route towards the middle of the field (the yellow arrow). Fullback Jon Conner (the Terminator of Hard Knocks lore) is running a route to the flat (blue arrow). The route that Conner is running could be the fullback, a tight end or another receiver in any other situation. Like I said, it’s the same concept from a number of looks.
The Vikings are in press here, and Eli Manning will read off of the cornerback to decide where to throw the football. The fact that he’s in press coverage doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in man coverage against Nicks, as he could also be in zone coverage and responsible for that area of the field. It will be up to Manning to read the cornerback after the snap, see what he does and get the ball to the open area of the field.
The ball is snapped, and it’s time for Manning to make the read. Is the corner going with Nicks to the middle of the field, or is he sitting in the flat in zone coverage? The corner opens up and looks like he will be running with Nicks on the slant. This should be an easy read for Manning.
Manning releases the football, and Conner makes the catch. An easy read, and an easy completion for Manning and the Giants on first down.
Let’s take a look at a play from the week before against Chicago. This is the same concept, and the same type of read for Eli.
Again, at the bottom of the screen we see Nicks running the quick slant. This time, we see tight end Bear Pascoe coming to the flat out of the backfield. The Bears are playing off of the line of scrimmage, and Eli will have to figure out if this is zone or man coverage.
The ball is snapped, and when Manning sees the corner over top of Nicks in his pedal, and he knows he has zone coverage. Now, he has to read the linebacker in the middle of the field. Will the linebacker charge the flat on Pascoe’s route? Or will he play as an underneath defender and take away the slant? Depending on which way he goes, Manning will make his decision and get rid of the ball.
Manning releases the football, and Nicks makes the catch away from his body and takes it 11 yards for a first down. Look at Nicks climb the ladder to make the catch over the middle of the field, exposing his body to a potential hit. Nicks is an impressive physical receiver, with large hands who can make catches away from his frame. His ability to then bring the ball in and make something with it after the catch is what makes him one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.
The Giants hit on a number of these types of routes against the Eagles as well, including Rueben Randle’s 26-yard touchdown grab. As a fan, it can be frustrating to watch catch after catch be completed underneath. We’ve seen already that they can hit on this play whether the defense is in press or off coverage. But what happens if the corner really tries to take that in-breaking route away from the outside receiver? That should solve the problem, right?
The Giants know that opposing defenses have started to sit on these slant routes. Not only do they run slant-flat consistently, but they run "double slant" concepts, snag concepts and a host of other route combinations that incorporate in-breaking routes that get all three of their playmakers open underneath. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis was asked this week about what happens when you try to take those types of routes away, and his response went a little something like this ...
Look at this play against Chicago. The Giants are in “12 personnel” with Nicks at the bottom of the screen and Victor Cruz to the top. The Bears are playing their corners within 5 yards of the receivers, and are lined pre-snap to their inside shoulder. They’re expecting slants here, and the Giants know it. What you see above is a “Double Sluggo” concept, where both receivers break like they’re going inside on a slant, get the corner to turn his hips, then break outside and get over top of them down the field. When facing the Giants, you have to pick your poison, do you trust your back seven to hold strong and tackle the catch on short routes underneath? Or do you open yourselves up like the Bears do on this play and leave yourself prone to a play down the field?
As you can see, both Giants receivers are open on this play. Manning has the ability to go to either for a first down. He opts for Cruz at the top of the screen, who brings it in for a 23-yard completion.
What about the Giants run game? As I alluded to earlier, New York has had issues along the offensive line, and has struggled to protect Manning. While they don’t protect him with the run game from a volume standpoint, they can and will from a scheme standpoint, and that’s exactly what they do with one of their favorite run plays, the draw.
It’s first-and-10, and the Giants come out in their favorite personnel package, “11 personnel,” with one back, a tight end and three receivers (a package we broke down here). The Giants, again, are having issues protecting Manning, and have allowed consistent pressure off the edge all season long. The draw play neutralizes that pressure by keeping pass rushers honest on the perimeter. Above, you see the Chiefs are going to get rushers up the field in the form of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
The Giants offensive tackles, Justin Pugh and Will Beatty, usher the linebackers up the field, sucking them into the play. After initially looking like he was going to pass, Eli Manning turns and hands the ball off to his running back David Wilson. As you can see, there’s plenty of space for Wilson to take this ball and run. With Hali and Houston out of the way, the rest of the offensive line does a good job getting a hat on a hat to create running lanes for Wilson, who takes it for a 22-yard gain. This play is a staple of the Giants’ run game, and it’s an easy way to keep opposing pass rushers honest when they attempt to pin their ears back and get after Manning.
One of the other run plays you have got to be ready for when you play the New York Giants is the Iso Lead play, where they incorporate a fullback and attempt to run behind him.
This play will run to the weakside of the formation (away from the tight end), where you see the Panthers have fewer defenders down in the box. Up front, a combo block between the center and right guard will take care of the nose tackle, allowing the fullback (Pascoe in this instance) to reach the second level and get to the weakside linebacker. The right tackle, Pugh, will block the playside defensive end.
The Giants do a good job of getting on their blocks, sustaining them and creating a lane for Wilson to run through. Obviously, you can see that he is a little late to get to the hole as it opens, but again, this is one of their top run plays you can be sure to see on Sunday afternoon.
Let’s take a look again at what the Giants do with the Iso Lead play. It’s first-and-10 (notice a growing theme here, the Giants have the ability to run anything and everything on first down, a very unpredictable offense), and the Giants come out in "12 personnel," with two backs and a tight end with two receivers on the outside. It’s the same look as the Iso Lead play we saw in the previous shot off the snap ...
But as the Broncos quickly found out, this wasn’t a run play, it is a play-action pass off of Iso Lead-action. The Giants are a very successful play-action team, mainly because they do a great job at marrying their top play-action passes with their top running plays (something every offense ultimately tries to do, some with more success than others).
The Giants are going for a shot play on first down, as they look to stretch the defense vertically with a three-level flood concept to the bottom of the screen, with a dig route on the back side. At the very bottom (with the blue arrow), you see they’re sending Victor Cruz on a deep post. Tight end Brandon Myers, who is lined up on the line of scrimmage, is running a 10-yard out, and fullback Henry Hynoski is serving as flat control.
Let’s remove the routes from the picture and take a look at the coverage. The Broncos are in quarters, as you see the four defensive backs have responsibilities for their 25 percent of the field all the way across.
At the top of his drop, Manning has two options on this play. You can see that Cruz, who is about the blow past the coverage on his side, is heading towards the other side of the field, over top of the opposite safety. Unfortunately for that safety, he also has to contend with the dig route from Nicks. Look familiar? This is, when you boil down to it, just another form of the post-dig combo that I’ve broken down numerous times in this space. Manning and the Giants are high-lowing the safety, and based on his reaction to the concept will get the ball to the open man. This is really a great concept because notice that the safety nearest to Cruz at the bottom of the screen isn’t focused on him either, as he is paying attention to the tight end, who is running at him full speed. When given the time, this passing game really puts opposing secondaries in a bind.
Cruz pulls this in for a 51-yard catch, and I wanted to show you this shot to see, again, the talent that these receivers have (this shot is similar to the catch we saw Nicks make earlier in this piece). It’s a great catch away from Cruz’s body that he snatches out of the air. It’s not exactly how you would teach it on a clinic tape, but Nicks, Cruz and Randle have a lot of talent, and are well-coached by receivers coach Kevin Gilbride Jr.
For a more thorough breakdown of the Eagles matchup against the Giants, be sure to tune into Eagles Game Plan this weekend, and next week I’ll be back Monday to analyze the game.