This New York Giants defense is a tough unit for a lot of reasons. I want to look at the other side of the ball, where we see a unit that certainly has struggled to consistently put points on the board and keep quarterback Eli Manning upright since about the midway point of last season. Still, this is Manning, and the Eagles' defense has to be ready to go on Sunday afternoon with the talent this team has at the skill positions.
Shot 1 - On offense we all know the three WR targets that must be accounted for. OBJ, Brandon Marshall & Sterling Shepard are 3 tough covers pic.twitter.com/cG1vDImbny — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 22, 2017
The Giants have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard. Beckham is the star. A dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, Beckham can run past you, around you, and through you. He can win short and deep, inside or outside. He's one of the best players in the league, and the Eagles showed last year that they were willing to spend extra resources in the secondary to contain him.
In my eyes, this is what led to the addition of Marshall, a player who, even at this stage of his career, demands respect on the outside. Marshall gives this team a big, physical target who is both reliable and aggressive at the catch point.
Shepard, now in his second year, is going to be a playmaker for this team from the slot. He's quick, he's crafty, he's tough, and he's really reliable. Like Cole Beasley and Jamison Crowder in this division, he's one of the better slot receivers in the NFL. For an Eagles secondary that comes into this Sunday banged up, this group of receivers will be a challenge.
Last year, the Giants led the NFL in reps of "11 personnel," which is another way to say three-receiver sets. The number 11 stands for the number of running backs and tight ends on the field, so in 11 personnel, there is one back and one tight end. For over 90 percent of the snaps last year, the Giants were in this kind of a look. That's been head coach Ben McAdoo's way of attacking defenses.
In April, I was a bit surprised when the team drafted tight end Evan Engram in the first round out of Ole Miss. Many analysts didn't view Engram as an inline type of player, meaning that he couldn't play every down right away in the NFL. I wondered how they would be able to use Engram this fall since the Giants were such a strong three-receiver team a year ago. Would he only play on passing downs? Would they try and make him a three-down player right away? Would they change their philosophy?
Watching the Giants both this summer in the preseason and through two games this fall, they utilize far more than just your typical three-receiver sets. This was a surprise to me. They've begun to mix in a lot more looks and vary their offensive approach.
This is a three-receiver set, but it's a look that the Giants rarely showed a year ago. This is a 3x1 set with the tight end placed to the back side of the trips formation, the X-iso formation. Engram's athleticism allows the Giants to do this. Some evaluators looked at him as a wide receiver this spring because of how dynamic he can be in space.
Engram shows his ability to win at the top of the route where he creates some separation downfield then fights through contact to win at the catch point and pick up extra yards after the catch. That was a throw in the intermediate area of the field, but this is a passing game that is predicated on basic quick routes. There are lots of slants, drives, curls, and sticks in this offense. It's a scheme that's meant to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. What do you get when you have an offense that focuses on the quick game? Defenses will see a healthy dose of double moves.
Shot 3 - #Giants are a quick game offense. Quick game means double moves. Evan Engram sells double moves really well. Stick Nod route here pic.twitter.com/5RZEaUqkOR — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 22, 2017
Engram's ability to win on double moves goes back to his days in college. There are multiple examples of double moves watching Engram on film since he's been in the NFL. The Giants will try to lull defenders to sleep with quick route after quick route before trying to gain a big chunk of yards on routes like this one - a Stick Nod where the receiver sells the stick route outside before sticking his foot in the ground and breaking downfield for a big gain. The Eagles' defense will have to be prepared for this route and others like it on Sunday.
Shot 4 - #Giants have run this lead-PA play to Engram twice between preseason and now. 1st down against Cleveland, TD against Detroit. pic.twitter.com/jBX1joPpgm — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 22, 2017
One play that I had ready to use in this week's episode of Eagles Game Plan happened in the preseason against Cleveland. Engram lined up detached from the formation and motioned into the backfield. He appeared to be the fullback on an Iso Lead run play to suck the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage. Engram wouldn't block a soul, however, as he'd leak down the seam for a big play. This worked against Cleveland in the preseason, and I had it ready to roll for the show. However, they ran the exact same play AGAIN on Monday Night Football for a touchdown against Detroit. The Eagles need to be ready for this play, and others like it, on Sunday afternoon.
Engram's impact has not gone under the radar. The rookie leads the team in catches and yards, and is second in targets. The Eagles have plenty of experience dealing with talented players at the tight end position this year (Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, and Travis Kelce) and Engram presents a similar test.
Here's a quick look at where Engram has lined up so far through two games. McAdoo moves him around quite a bit. With all of the injuries in the secondary, Engram will certainly be a big test for the Eagles' defense. He allows the Giants to do things we haven't seen from them in at least a few years.
Shot 5 - 12 personnel. Under center. Vertical routes from TEs off play-action. Different looks from #Giants (led NFL in 11 personnel in '16) pic.twitter.com/I8qWPpgTNq — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 22, 2017
This is a great snapshot of what we're seeing from the Giants this year. Manning is under center. It's 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends), and the two tight ends are in a closed formation running vertically down the field off of play-action. Opposing defenses very, very rarely saw looks like this from them in 2016, but it's a part of their attack now.
The Giants aren't doing anything revolutionary. That's not the point. The Eagles have faced two teams already this year in Washington and Kansas City that are much more diverse in their looks from both a formation and personnel standpoint. The point is that this is not what we've seen from the Giants in the past. The Eagles' defensive coaching staff has a limited source of material to work off of to formulate their game plan since it's so early in the season. Tendencies that this team showed in 2016 could now be moot. That's what makes creating the game plan, from a coverage standpoint, a bit of a challenge going into the weekend.
There's one final wrinkle I want to show that has been rolled out in a few different ways this year, and that's the use of Shepard in orbit motion before the snap.
On both plays, Shepard gets the football, once in the run game and once in the passing game. The Giants are using him in different ways this year to get him the football because of his quickness and ability to pick up yards after the catch. On the second snap, off of play-action, Shepard was late in the progression for Manning. The ball should have gone to Engram over the middle of the field, but when Manning didn't like the throw he was able to get down to his third progression in Shepard and dump the ball off for a first down. No matter where he lines up, Shepard is a weapon for this Giants offense. Getting to Manning and disrupting his timing will be paramount for the Eagles' defense because that's been key for the opposing units - Dallas and Detroit - so far this fall.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.