With the Giants on their bye week it’s as good a time as any to take of the state of the team heading into the second half of the season. On the one hand, the Giants have to be happy enough with their 4-3 record that has them very much in the thick of the NFC playoff chase. In particular, they have to be happy enough with their current record based on the fact that they have played one of the tougher schedules in the entire league to date. Indeed, their opponents through the first 7 weeks of the schedule have a combined W-L % of 58%*. The Giants also have to be more than just a little relieved that they are currently above .500 despite the fact that they have a net turnover figure of minus 7, which for the mathematically challenged works out to an average of down one turnover every game! And that’s giving one’s self a pretty big mountain to climb.
The Giants also have to be pretty happy with the way the defense has played through the first 7 weeks of the season. The pass rush still isn’t where the Giants would like it – they are 28th in the NFL with just 9 sacks – but overall they are 14th in total defense and 10th in points per game allowed. What they have been getting on D is some Pro Bowl-type performances by guys like SS Landon Collins and CBs Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; in addition, they have gotten plays from a whole bunch of players in the back seven as the LBs and DBs have been rallying to the ball and tackling well.
Getting the D back to being at least competitive of course was part of the Giants master plan prior to the start of the season. Combine that with last year’s explosive offense and the thinking was the team should be very much back in contention. However, while the defense has done its part, the offense obviously has not. The Giants are currently ranked only 20th in total offense and just 25th in scoring so far this fall. And over the past 4 games its actually gotten worse as they averaged just 16 first downs per game over the last month, while the running game has all but disappeared averaging less than 50 yards per game and just 2.8 yards per carry in that stretch.
Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo has promised to a full review of the entire offense during the break including everything from the play-calling to the overall scheme. To help him out, we spent the past couple of days reviewing the game tapes from the past few weeks and a few things kind of jumped out.
First, Eli just has not been very comfortable in the pocket literally since the 3rd quarter of the Washington game when he took a real pop in the ribs. In particular, Eli just hasn’t been setting his feet; he’s dancing around and looks like he is bailing on just about every throw instead of stepping into his passes. As a result, too many of his pass attempts are thrown off his back foot resulting in a lot of high passes, less velocity and less accuracy.
One certainly gets the feeling that Eli really isn’t trusting his pocket these days. And while the offensive line has taken its lumps when it comes to whom or what is to blame for the Giants current offensive, the bottom line is that while there have been opposing defensive linemen around Eli a lot this year, the fact is he really hasn’t actually been hit all that much. Indeed, the Giants rank fifth in the league in fewest sacks allowed and third in fewest QB hits overall.
One adjustment that McAdoo could consider in that regard is to increase Eli’s drops. Right now the Giants appear to be running almost exclusively a three-step drop when Eli lines up under center and five when he works out of the shotgun so it should be possible to give him an extra step or two to allow a little more room to step up into throws and to find a check-down receiver if needed.
The bigger issue we noticed, though, revolves around the routes Giants receivers are running. Indeed, we have been trying to come up with a word to summarize what we were seeing and the only words that easily came to mind were along the lines of awful, bizarre, and incomprehensible. They just don’t seem to make a ton of sense.
For starters, the Giants’ routes almost all appear to be individual, vertical routes with little co-ordination. Against the Rams, for example, we saw only one route that could loosely by described as a rub route, while there was nothing that even resembled a pick or a clear-out route. There were also very few crossing routes.
In fact, too often routes seemed to be actually working at cross purposes as secondary receivers ended up bringing defenders to the ball rather than away from it. One example of that that kind of stood was the outlet pass to Rainey that went for a loss near the end of the first half. The Giants had two WRs bunched on the wide side of the field and what should have worked theoretically was that those two guys go downfield and take the defense with them allowing the RB to curl out of the backfield and into what should be some space. However, both Giants receivers just went up field 5-6 yards, turned around and stopped making it very easy for the DBs covering them to come up and nail Rainey in the backfield.
Ironically, the other play that really rankled was actually the Giants key offensive play of the game. After Collins made his second pick early in the 4th quarter the Giants had a third and three inside the Rams 25-yard line. They lined up Odell, Shephard and Roger Lewis in a bunch on the left side. Now the theory of bunching receivers is that two go tearing downfield taking their covers with them while the third takes a very different angle and forces his defender to both have to fight through the traffic as well as potentially have to go a long distance to have any chance of making play. (On an aside note if McAdoo want to figure out how it’s actually supposed to work they might think about watching some Patriots’ tapes to see how they find ways get Edelman and Gronk free on very simple crossing routes out of a bunched set.)
What the Giants did, though, was have the two inside receivers (Shepard and Lewis) run 5-yard outs (and stop which is a recurring theme when watching Giants’ receivers). Meanwhile, Odell headed upfield alone and was immediately picked up by the CB assigned to him who was clean without any traffic to work through; in fact, #13 was actually then doubled by a safety working over the top. Odell was able to outjump them to make the completion at the 6-yard line that set up the game winning TD. However, the bottom line of a set of bunched receivers is that you throw to a guy that comes open, not somebody who’s doubled! Otherwise, what’s the point.
All that leads to a bigger question about the Giants’ overall offensive scheme. Indeed, right now, the Giants’ offense looks like something put together by a committee. And one could take it a step further and suggest that the game plan the past few weeks was something put together by a committee that didn’t have a quorum!
Certainly we have been mightily disappointed in new head coach Ben McAdoo to date. If there was one thing that drove us crazy during the Coughlin years was that Giants ‘did what they did because that’s what they did.’ Coughlin had his system and players were made to fit the system. If they didn’t fit they didn’t play. And if something didn’t work then you just worked harder at it. During the past couple of years, though, we heard a lot from offensive co-ordinator McAdoo that what he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one system, that he wanted to take advantage of the skills of his players and find ways to create mismatches. However, having takeover as the head coach McAdoo has morphed into a younger version of Tom Coughlin by running arguably the most vanilla, least creative offense in the league that has used the same base set on just about every and who’s only answer to the Giants’ offensive woes seems to be ‘we have to establish the running game!’
Problem in that regard is that this Giants is unlikely to ever run the ball all that well. The OL isn’t particularly strong drive blocking, they don’t have a FB on the roster, none of the TEs can block (in fact it does not appear that any of the TEs can do much of anything particularly well), while they don’t have a true #1 feature back that can make can the jump-cut into a secondary whole and make yardage on his own.
In fact, what McAdoo is going to have to do is identify what the team actually does well and build around that. And what this team is built to do is throw the ball. Indeed, the strength of the team is a deep receiver corps featuring three really good WRs – including one great one – along with some decent complimentary receivers. Roger Lewis, for example, has gotten many snaps, but has made plays when given the chance. And the fact that Dwayne Harris has only had a handful of snaps is another real poser after he caught 36 passes including 4 for scores as a late-season injury replacement last year. One would have thought that if nothing else the Giants would want to get him 5-6 touches a game on bubble screens, reverses and crossing routes and the like just to give defenses something else to think about. Instead, they appear to be paying him $3.6M per year to down KOs in the end zone and return the occasional punt.
Bottom line it’s just not that hard to make the case that the most effective base offense for the Giants to run is likely going to be a 4-receiver set. In fact, it is really perplexing why they haven’t run any 4-WR sets at all this year. Even on 3rd and longs all they have done is flex one of their TEs out wide and had him running routes literally as an extra WR. If you are going to do that why not use an actual WR there who can actually run and catch! Meanwhile, we wouldn’t be the first to suggest that the Giants’ TEs – and especially designated starter Larry Donnell who just may be the worst starter if not the worst player in the league period – are contributing next to nothing on other downs too.
The counter argument, of course, that many fans are going to make is if you don’t use a TE – and there is no rule in the NFL that says a team has to have a TE on the field, we checked – who is going to block. Who is going to block who? On the one hand, the Giants’ TEs aren’t blocking anyone anyway! At gthe same time, if a puts four wides on the field, the defense almost by definition has to counter by putting out a 4th corner. They also almost by definition have to put both safeties over the top. That means they’ll have just 5 guys to bring up into the box. And that should give you some opportunities to take your quick RBs like Rainey and Perkins and try and pop them through the LOS for some big gainers.
Speaking of the RBs, one of the Giants other strengths is that they have three guys – Jennings, Rainey and Perkins – who are all very good receivers and they need to be more involved in the passing game as more than just check-down outlets. In fact, both Rainey and Perkins appear to be quick, elusive backs in space with big-play potential. SO GET THEM THE BALL IN SPACE!
In the end, though, as noted above, the strength of the Giants’ offense are the WRs. And that’s where the offense has to start, especially Odell Beckham. In fact, it was kind of frustrating watching the tapes of the past 2-3 games and seeing him lined up on the outside with the corner lined up 8-9 yards off the LOS and going into full back peddle as soon as the ball was snapped. The defenses were literally conceding a 5-6 yard pitch and catch on almost every play, but for whatever reason Eli hardly ever looked that way. However, if they are simply going to give you those 5-6 yards you have to take them. Certainly seems potentially more productive than hitting one’s head against the wall running for 1-2 yards, especially on first down. Then if the corner moves up you go over the top. And if the other team is doubling Beckham then that means almost by definition, there has to be a mismatch somewhere else that you have to take advantage of.
(*Just a note on the remaining strength of schedule. The Giants really have to try and make some hay over the next month as their next 4 opponents have a winning record of under .300. That’s not a misprint as the get the one-win Bears and winless Browns on back-to-back dates on November 20th and 27th respectively. Indeed, the Giants almost by definition need to win three of the next four to have any realistic shot at the post-season as all 5 of their final opponents have winning records in a group that has an overall winning percentage of 64%. Ouch)