The Giants are 0-2.
Honestly, everything I type from here on out will likely make this post less popular. Really should just cut it there and let it sit as is.
As I said (horn-tootin’ time) multiple times on Twitter and the Locked On Eagles podcast, preseason predictions for the Giants to win the NFC East baffled me. Having delved into two weeks of tape in preparation for the Sunday battle incoming, it’s worse than I even thought. Nobody on that offensive line looks like a good football player; injuries have made LB go from thin to thinner; Eli has never Eli-ed as hard as Eli is Eli-ing this season.
I’ve got GIFs for this film review, but maybe I’ll just randomly sprinkle in another Manning face or two. They make me chortle.
Then Ben McAdoo offense, somehow, has gotten less complex and cutting-edge over the years. Originally the kid brother of Mike McCarthy’s system in Green Bay (which works because of the most talented quarterback of our generation, for what it’s worth), it has regressed into one-read spacing concepts that a half-decent Madden QB could run. As Eli has aged, his velocity has declined—and, subjugated to constant physical and psychological torture behind that embarrassment of an offensive line, his decisiveness and poise have fallen off the cliff as well.
Let’s look at a 3rd and 4 against Dallas. This is a play the Ben McAdoo offense should convert with ease--this passing game is built to pick up 5 yards with ease. The Cowboys D, however, identified the rub concept given the 2 WR stack to which Sterling Shepard motions. LB Sean Lee and DB Anthony Brown switch when Shepard breaks.
Ideally, Eli sees this and moves to a second read, or a checkdown. But the pressure allowed by the offensive line gives him very little time to make a decision, or an easy alley through which to escape. He puts a bad ball on Shepard, who has no YAC opportunity. 4th down.
That should be routine, but it isn’t. If the Eagles’ secondary, admittedly depleted, can still communicate well enough with one another to avoid these pick concepts, their pass rush should make it impossible for the beleaguered Eli to create anything outside of structure.
Communication will be key for Philadelphia’s defense—duh, it is every week in the NFL. But the Giants offense employs a lot of pre-snap motion, capitalizing on their versatile personnel to gain alignment and matchup advantages. Evan Engram, rookie TE out of Ole Miss, is the poster child for this strategic deployment—but starting TE Rhett Ellison also fits the mold.
By using slot WR Brandon Marshall to block the closing safety, the Giants run as simple of a Lead Iso as you’ll ever see. RB Orleans Darkwa does well to sniff out the cutback lane and pick up a free 11 yards.
This play seems pedestrian—there’s really very little to break down—but it encapsulates the spirit of Ben McAdoo’s offense. It wants to win pre-snap, to get you set up with disadvantageous numbers, alignment, match-ups—something. Execution then becomes simple and mistake-resistant (supposedly). Versatile defenders such as MLB Jordan Hicks and S Malcolm Jenkins must put their multiple natures on full display come Sunday. Their ability to defend the run one play, drop in coverage the next, and blitz a third, while help Philadelphia disguise and mutate their defensive looks.
The Giants will likely look to attack the Philadelphia corners, Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, the latter of which will make his first career start in the Linc. Last week, in the face of a potent passing attack spearheaded by dynamo WR Tyreek Hill, Jim Schwartz dialed up a ton of safe zone coverages (Cover 3 and Cover 4) on the back end. I expect zone coverage again in Week 3, to protect Mills and Douglas from potential man-on-man matchups with Giant WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall.
Given Mills’ and Douglas’ lack of deep speed, hiding them in Cover 2 shells can be expected. In Cover 2, the safeties cover the deep halves of the field, while the corners stay closer to the line of scrimmage and to the boundary, covering the ‘flats.’
On this long 3rd down, New York catches Dallas in a Cover 2 look. A mirrored “Flat-7” concept is dialed up. On both sides of the field, one receiver leaks into that flat area in front of the Cover 2 CB, while another receiver runs the 7 route, or corner route, to the space behind the CB. Eli hits WR Roger Lewis for a first down.
When watching the game, check out the Eagles safeties. If there are two in the back, both on one half of the field, chances are Philly’s playing a Cover 2 concept. Eli and Ben McAdoo will look to attack the gaps in this coverage to find success in the passing game.
The better, but still lackluster unit for New York, the performance of Big Blue’s D on Sunday likely comes down to one thing: health. LB Keenan Robinson seems to be back from a concussion, but both LB B.J. Goodson and stud CB Janoris Jenkins were held out of Thursday practice with a shin and ankle, respectively. While both exclusions may simply be precautionary, these statuses—especially Jenkins—should be monitored moving forward.
Jenkins is an especially important omission, not only because he’s likely their best defensive player, but because his backup—second-year pro Eli Apple—has had a very rough opening to 2017. The Giants like to use pattern matching concepts when they’re spread out by multiple WRs. Pattern-matching, essentially a hybrid between man and zone coverage, allows defenders to change their coverage responsibilities relative to the routes run by the receivers in their area.
On this play, the Giants are pattern matching. Apple, the corner nearest the sideline, is reading the action of the slot WR. Should that WR break toward the sideline, Apple will leave his current WR to close on that slot WR—but, the slot WR doesn’t break outside, so Apple is responsible for the sideline WR, wherever he goes.
The linebacker and safety identified are also making reads: because the slot WR breaks inside, the LB knows he is responsible for him; because that slot WR attacks the deep area of the field (post route), the safety knows he has to climb over top of the post, leaving Apple one on one with the go route and Marvin Jones.
All this goes to say something simple: the Lions got Marvin Jones one-on-one with Eli Apple. Advantage Detroit. Don’t let Matt Stafford’s poor throw distract you from the fact that Jones handily beats Apple. A better ball is a touchdown. Whether or not Wentz can hit that throw remains to be seen.
A throw we know Wentz can hit is the Dagger concept, a staple of offenses such as Reid and Pederson’s. If you missed Fran Duffy’s awesome breakdown of Carson’s development throwing the dagger, you suck. Check it out to stop sucking (bottom of page).
Either way, the Eagles love their Hi-Lo read concepts, and this play run by the Lions definitely shows up in the Philly playbook as well.
The go route from the slot receiver removes the deep safety, and the dig route from the boundary receiver enters that recently-vacated space. On this long third down, Stafford is pressured, and does well to scramble for a first. It will be imperative for Philadelphia’s premier tackles, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, to handle NYG edge rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, giving Wentz enough time in the pocket to hit these long-developing route concepts.
The legend goes that Giants are a tough team against which to run the football—they’re not. DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison is a bastion in the middle, but one defender does not a defense make. The injuries that have maligned the LB corps attribute to this slow start defending the run. In short: the Eagles have an opportunity to gain some traction on the ground in Week 3.
Darren Sproles has been the most successful running back on Philadelphia’s roster, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Sproles finds a lot of his success on zone runs, where his explosiveness and vision serve him well—as does his diminutive frame. The Lions found success running Theo Riddick, a Sproles-esque back, on outside zone concepts, away from Damon Harrison.
Having been killed by the quick screen game (another way to attack pattern matching) the Giants used a 3-3-5 look to crowd the line of scrimmage and take away the bubble screen. Undrafted rookie LB Calvin Munson is the only box defender not head up on the line. He takes a good angle, but Riddick gets skinny and finds a nice little alley for a pick up of 8 yards. Check out the spot-on impersonation of a washing machine there at the end, too.
I don’t care if the primary back for Philadelphia is Beau Allen—for the sake of Carson Wentz’s longevity, they need to attempt less passes. Getting Sproles going as a runner will not only help them create a balanced attack in-game, but ensure Wentz still has an operable shoulder come 2022.