After taking a close look at the simple, yet extremely effective, Giants passing attack, it's time now to look at defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and New York's pressure scheme. The sack numbers may not be there right now (just nine on the season), but with its wide variety of zone-pressure schemes the Giants' defense orchestrates ways to affect opposing quarterbacks. Spagnuolo attacks from different angles with second- and third-level defenders in every area of the field, and the Giants do a great job of winning the "numbers game" in protection.
Shot 1 - Great design by #Giants & Spagnuolo. 3 DEs in a 'Bear' look. 5 potential rushers on right. DAL slides, but Landon Collins wins 1v1. pic.twitter.com/T1CNVpcYBP — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 4, 2016
This is a "speed" package from the Giants, where three defensive ends line up in a type of Bear front with the center and both guards "covered up" by the three pass rushers inside. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott sees both the threat of interior pressure as well as the sheer volume of potential blitzers from the defense's right side. He slides the protection that way. This leaves the running back one on one with a safety off the edge, which works for the offense. Well, safety Landon Collins wins this one on one to get a hit on Prescott. If Collins didn't get home, the Giants had another defensive back coming from the secondary uninhibited on his way to the quarterback. This is a great example of type of third-down pressure the Eagles and Carson Wentz may see on Sunday afternoon, with three defensive ends inside and multiple defensive backs coming from the weak side of the protection.
Shot 2 - "Cover 0" look from #Giants D. All-out blitz and RB busts in protection. DBs coming from depth aren't accounted for. Sack on Flacco pic.twitter.com/0LLOKK7nTa — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 4, 2016
On this play against the Ravens, the offense slides the protection as the Giants show an overload look, but this isn't just a four- or five-man zone pressure from Spagnuolo. This is an all-out Cover 0 blitz that results in a sack of Joe Flacco. With a heavy 21 personnel grouping on the field, the Giants were able to send what ultimately looked like eight defenders on the blitz. In reality? Two of the eight were actually in man coverage on the two running backs. The right tackle ends up blocking nothing but air and grass, and Collins breaks free for the wide open sack.
The running back also "busted" in protection there, meaning he had a missed assignment. He was unable to read the pressure coming from the second- and third-level defenders in New York's blitz package, which resulted in Collins coming in clean. This is a common theme in a lot of New York's blitzes (and the blitzes of most good defenses, for that matter). Defensive coordinators are always trying to break down protections, and if you can't get a defender in clean, the next best thing is to get them one on one with a running back. Why? They're smaller, and typically not as strong in protection compared to a tight end. They're also the closest players to the quarterback.
Shot 3 - Great zone pressure as #Giants again force OL to slide one way. RB busts in protection, which is a common theme vs this defense pic.twitter.com/7iHRaym1Bl — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 4, 2016
Here's another example of the running back blowing the protection. With two linebackers mugged in the B gap, the Rams slide the protection that way. This means the back has to cross the formation to pick up the most dangerous rusher from the left. He's far too slow to get there, as his eyes first look to the right. Collins comes through free and forces an incomplete pass from quarterback Case Keenum.
One common theme here is how Landon Collins is utilized as a blitzer. The second-year safety has been very productive for the Giants this year, and they're using him perfectly considering his skill set. Collins' strength is not in the deep part of the field as a coverage player, but when you keep him closer to the line of scrimmage his aggressive nature and physicality make him a disruptive player. Collins leads this defense with 57 tackles to go along with two sacks, four tackles for loss, five pass breakups, two interceptions and a touchdown on the season.
Shot 4 - Picture perfect zone pressure. Buzzing DE takes away throw from Brees. RB busts protection, blitz comes from weak side. Sack #NYG pic.twitter.com/Yfp7EgE8AD — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 4, 2016
Against New Orleans, the Giants show pressure from the left, causing quarterback Drew Brees to adjust. The protection slides that way, playing right into Spagnuolo's hands. Defensive back Leon Hall, who appears to be playing man coverage on the tight end before the snap, bluffs and attacks the quarterback. Veteran running back Mark Ingram does not account for him, and Hall comes in clean. Brees looks to hit a hot receiver to the side of where he thought the blitz was coming from, but has his throw taken away by a buzzing defensive end, who dropped in coverage. Brees turns back, sees Hall blitzing and makes him miss late in the down, only to be sacked by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. This was a picture-perfect zone pressure from Spagnuolo, reminiscent of the defenses he was a part of here with legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
Shot 5 - One of the reasons why Spags and #Giants have been so aggressive? CB play. Janoris Jenkins & DRC playing well on the back end. pic.twitter.com/Siu4IXe5cW — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 4, 2016
One of the main reasons why Spagnuolo can be so aggressive this year is the play of the secondary, which the Giants haven't had over the last couple of years. While this group is prone to giving up the big play because of its aggressiveness, the pressure scheme often forces quick throws. Quick throws mean the cornerbacks can sit on three-step passing concepts from offenses, and when you have players like Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Apple and Leon Hall, all of whom either have great quickness or savvy instincts, it results in a lot of pass breakups and disrupted throws on the back end.
On the defensive line, the Giants spent a lot of money on pass rusher Olivier Vernon. The sack production isn't there, but he's been very disruptive in spurts on tape. Inside, they also signed Damon Harrison away from the New York Jets to provide more of a run-stuffing presence inside at nose tackle. Well, next to Harrison, Johnathan Hankins is bigger and stronger than he's ever been. The former second-round pick is a house inside. His ability to hold up at the point of attack while also disrupting plays in the backfield and out toward the sideline help make this a pretty tough group up front. The Eagles' offense and Carson Wentz must be prepared to handle the New York Giants' personnel as well as their pressure scheme.
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.