As Bill Parcells used to say when he was Giants Head Coach, â€œWe’re very predictable around here.â€ And under Tom Coughlin, the modern incarnation of the Giants isn’t much different. They run the ball on obvious downs. Especially on 1st downs. So far this season, 56% of all New York’s rushing attempts (on any down) have come on 1st down. It’s a safe, methodical brand of football.
Knowing this, the Eagles were very aggressive with their run-stopping blitzes on 1st down last week. As a result, they held the Giants to 18 rushing yards on eight carries on first down during the course of the game (or 2.25 yards per carry on 1st down). In fact, the longest rush of those eight carries was a six yard Eli Manning scramble.
When the Giants did pass on 1st down, Eli Manning was very efficient (11/14 for 82 yards with two touchdowns and one interception). Other than the interception the Giants offense had a high success rate passing on first down.
The simplest tricks can often be the most effective
So the Giants entered Sunday’s game against Jacksonville with a clear idea for their first offensive play: a play-action pass, guessing correctly that Jacksonville would be keying on the 1st down running game.
At the start of the play (1st and 10 at the Giants’ 19 yard line), Jacksonville defensive back Rashean Mathis (circled in red) is lined up outside of the 20 yard line marker and over a receiver, but is playing a short zone (which probably explains why he’s looking in the Giants backfield and not at his man).
Jacksonville linebackers Justin Durant and Kirk Morrison (circled in yellow) are set to play short zones too (negating anything over the middle). However all of their actions immediately following the snap would quickly indicate what their expectations were from the Giants.
The Giants faked a handoff to running back Brandon Jacobs (number 27 who can be seen running away from Eli Manning). Manning then took the ball on a quick sprint back to the right. As elementary as it seems, this simple fake drew almost every Jacksonville defender in coverage out of position since they thought they were seeing the same old predictable Giants running on first down.
Mathis (whose movement’s charted with the red arrow) is now on the inside of the 20 yard line marker and closer to the line of scrimmage. This enabled Giants receiver Derek Hagan (highlighted with the orange dot on the bottom of the screen) to run open underneath the deep safety (whose out of the picture 15 yards up-field).
On top of this, both linebackers (Durant and Morrison) have been sucked in and are now impossibly placed to stop Giants tight end Travis Beckum (with the light blue dot) on a go-route. (It’s also worth mentioning that the coverage is equally horrible on Mario Manningham at the very top of the screen, but I didn’t highlight it since Eli rolled out to the opposite side and was very unlikely to throw back in his direction.)
Eli was able to rollout away from any Jacksonville pass-rush and accurately hit Hagan on the right sideline at the Giant 35 yard line for an easy 15 yard pickup. All of that stemmed from a simple play-fake that completely crossed up the Jaguars secondary. When used well, the play-action is very effective.
Giant defense unleash blitzes to make the pivotal stop
Keeping Jacksonville off balance was critical on defense as well. Leading 24-20 with only minutes remaining, the Giants gave up several early passes and an untimely defensive holding penalty despite getting a good rush at quarterback David Garrard on the Jaguars final drive.
Finally, as the Jaguars got a 1st and 10 at New York’s 29 yard line, the pass rush made a difference. Taking advantage of the guaranteed double team on right defensive end Osi Umenyiora, the Giants blitzed safety Antrel Rolle in-between the Osi and the defensive tackle (Chris Canty). Since the Jaguars were determined to double team Osi, Rolle’s blitz came in unblocked as the guard blocked Canty. This forced Garrard right into the onrushing Justin Tuck for a loss of 11.
In the next two plays (both of which resulted in sacks including a game ending fumble), the Giants went to their always successful 3-3-5 alignment. Though David Garrard knew the Giants were going to bring pressure, he was unable to identify where it was coming from in time to make proper adjustments.
In the above picture, Barry Cofield (red dot) is the only player at this point who’s a â€œdown linemenâ€ (in an actual three-point stance). Osi and Jason Pierre-Paul are lined up standing on each side of Cofield and Justin Tuck has assumed his familiar place in this alignment (yellow dot) in a roving linebacker position.
Looking at the defense, Garrard must have been unsure of almost every player’s role close to the line except for Terrell Thomas (orange dot) who appears to be in coverage lined up over the slot receiver.
Right off the snap of the ball Garrard’s pre-play predictions are shattered. The two men he would have expected to rush, Tuck and Osi (yellow and blue dots), are dropping into coverage in front of the area he’s looking to throw in.
Furthermore, the Giants blitzed all four players on the left side of their line, including Terrell Thomas (orange dot) who had appeared to definitely be in coverage. This created an unblockable overload for Jacksonville and Thomas broke clean through, stripped the ball from Garrard and, thanks to Antrel Rolle’s recovery of the fumble, ended the game.
The Giant’s ability to stay aggressive and unpredictable with their defensive play-calling was a risky move on such a critical drive (since Tuck and Osi are obviously not as good in coverage as Thomas and Rolle). Yet the tactic fooled Jacksonville and created a mismatch which New York gratefully exploited.
On top of this, the offenses ability to go away from their preferred strategy and use play-action on 1st down kept the Jaguar defense off-balance. This actually benefited the running game more than anyone because it forced Jacksonville to be more conservative in their blitzes (unlike what happened in Philadelphia).
Ultimately though, the players themselves determined the outcome, not strategy. Justin Tuck’s halftime speech and his play on the field (along with the rest of the team from Eli down to special teams) showcased a complete turnaround in the second half. The Giants will need to continue to play both with emotion and tactical intelligence as they go into next Sunday at home versus divisional rival Washington.