From a football nerd standpoint, few things are more satisfying than tooling around the game play finder in Pro Football Resources and finding new dirt to throw on a division rival like the New York Giants. No, this is not about the Giants having the 2nd worst turnover ratio in the red zone in the last three years even though the Eli Manning is still being heralded as a franchise quarterback in New York. This is about a leaky defense and its leaky secondary.
In 2017, the Giants ranked tied for 3rd in plays of 40 yards or more allowed in the passing game while also being tied for 1st in touchdowns allowed of 40-plus yards through the air. This is just the cherry on top for a defense that ranked 31st in passing yards allowed per game and 27th in yards per attempt allowed. Despite the dam breaking, the Giants did nothing to add talent to the secondary while allowing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to seek employment elsewhere.
Taking a look at how these plays of 40-yards or more came about, it’s important to note that this is not a new trend for the Giants, nor one that died down in the second half of the season. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is the second consecutive year the Giants ranked in the top 5 for this category and while they allowed only 2 plays of this nature in the first 7 games, they collapsed down the stretch with 11 big plays in the last 9 games.
It doesn’t take a football scientist to tell you this is a busted coverage. The two linebackers closest to Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end OJ Howard chase Cameron Brate over the middle, along with a safety joining in for triple coverage, activating their deadly cover none coverage against Howard.
To be fair, this is a sneaky good design by the Bucs, one that according to legend they had never practiced and had only existed on paper to this point. It’s also a play-call I would like to see the Eagles bust out in 2018 with “Philly” Goedert and Zach Ertz.
Let us fast forward to Week 9 against the Los Angeles Rams where the Giants only allowed a stifling 51 points and 4 plays of over 40-yards via pass.
This is 3rd & 33. Let that sink in for a moment. Third down and thirty-three yards to go and a simple screen to Robert Woods gets taken to the house. Four defenders get blocked up downfield and safety Landon Collins takes a poor angle allowing Woods get to space. From there, Sammy Watkins gives cornerback Eli Apple enough reason to literally stand idly by while Woods races for the end zone. This is a theme I noticed throughout; defensive backs taking poor angles, getting stuck on blocks, and an unwillingness to get their nose dirty as tacklers.
Shortly after this play extended the Rams lead to 17-7 in the 2nd quarter, the Giants busted on a common play-action pass.
Excuse the crude MSPaint job, I’m not trying to take Jimmy Kempski’s throne, that’s not a war worth fighting nor is it winnable. This is the Yankee concept and it will show up again in the next play. It’s a two-man route combination designed to stretch the defense horizontally and vertically. Landon Collins rotates to a mid-deep third late and Rodgers-Cromartie is playing a deep zone with outside leverage. One of them is responsible for carrying Watkins deep post.
Starting with Rodgers-Cromartie on the bottom of the screen, he’s shuffling with his eyes back to the quarterback. Watkins gives him an outside nod and Cooper Kupp flashes in front of him simultaneously, causing him to sit down and take the crosser. Collins drops to his deep zone, eyes to the quarterback and veering towards Watkins. This is simply misjudged by Collins, who played the route far too shallow and allowed Watkins to speed by for a 67-yard touchdown.
You can’t have an article with a Yankee concept without including San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Thankfully, only one week later the football gods and the Giants gifted me a reason to include him. This time the cornerback Janoris Jekins and Collins take away the deep route, but the crosser in the intermediate area of the field is left completely abandoned, allowing for a big gain on Shanahan’s money play.
The Giants linebackers couldn’t cover last year, this is known, but even still imagine a 2017 where a Celek, in this case Garrett Celek, is a YAC king. He had some help, particularly from Jenkins who as the last line of defense performs well enough for me to call-back to the portion of the article where I mentioned the theme of poor tackling from the Giants secondary.
The Giants show blitz and bring blitz with Collins coming, leaving Rodgers-Cromartie to help in the deep half with the speedy Marquise Goodwin working on Jenkins. The outside leverage of Jenkins would lead me to believe the DRC should be providing help, but he sits on the underneath route and leaves a ton of green grass to exploit behind him. If I’m wrong about that, than Jenkins leverages himself out of the play as he doesn’t even sniff Goodwin flying by.
Yet another coverage breakdown in a season riddled with them for the Giants and ultimately, poor coverage, poor tackling, and poor effort all led to a 31-21 loss to a 49ers team that was still starting CJ Beathard.
Moving on to Week 13 against the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants would pad Dak Prescott’s stat line by allowing Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Rod Smith to each have their longest receptions of the year.
The Giants struggled to pressure the quarterback all year, so like the last clip, the Giants decide to bring some heat. Inside the two minute warning with 2nd & 6, they bring three defense backs and four defensive lineman, aka the house. Bryant makes a house call of his own, beating cornerback Brandon Dixon on a slant, and staying upright through contact for the eventual walk in score.
Unless the Giants can significantly improve upon their pass rush to aid their secondary, things are looking bleak for a defensive backfield that busted at an alarming rate in 2017. With key pieces like Collins and Jenkins struggling to keep plays in front and Eli Apple returning as a projected starter, Giants fans would be right to worry. Without any significant pieces added, the wise bet may be more of the same, which will force Eli Manning and company to keep pace in track meets.