It was a new system in 2014 for Eli Manning and the Giants offense. What used to be a downfield passing game turned into a West-Coast-style aerial attack under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
As we anticipated heading into the 2014 season, McAdoo’s system gave more control to Eli Manning. In the past, the Giants had used lots of option routes where receivers would read the defense and adjust their routes based on the type of coverage being played. This led to some explosive plays, but it also led to lots of incompletions and turnovers when Manning and his receivers didn’t see the defense the same way.
With fewer option routes in McAdoo’s system, the success of each play was based more on Eli’s ability to read the coverage than before. If a receiver’s route didn’t look good against the coverage, the route wouldn’t necessarily change. Instead, Eli looked elsewhere or changed the play at the line. This gave him the ability to attack the soft spots of the coverage for some easy completions instead of forcing the ball downfield to the best personnel matchup quite as often.
This type of system got the ball out of Eli’s hands much quicker than before on a greater amount of short and easy completions. In 2014, the result was a higher completion percentage and fewer turnovers for Manning. In fact, Eli quietly had one of his best seasons, completing a career-high 63.1% of his passes and firing 30 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions.
McAdoo’s offense also took care of another weakness on the team, the offensive line. The Giants had problems at both tackle positions in pass pro last season, and their interior line was inconsistent. However, the Giants only allowed 30 sacks, good for 9th best in the NFL.
The offensive line is still something that needs to be addressed this offseason, though. When the Giants’ passing game did struggle, it was largely due to the protection. The problems with the offensive line also translated into a subpar running game. The Giants failed to move the line of scrimmage regularly, which was a problem considering the type of running backs they had. Rashad Jennings can’t create much on his own. Rookie running back Andre Williams is a good north-south runner with more physicality than Jennings. But if the line is leaking and he’s forced to stop his feet or move laterally, the play is done.
Odell Beckham Jr. was in many ways a savior for the offense. He was an impact player right away with his quickness, sharp route-running, and unbelievable hands. Teams started rolling coverage his way and even double-teaming him, which created more 1-on-1 opportunities elsewhere as shown below.
In addition to Beckham, there are two players who could determine if the Giants offense can take off and become an elite unit in 2015: wide receiver Victor Cruz, and newly-acquired running back Shane Vereen.
If Cruz can recover and become close to the type player he was before he hurt his knee last season, pairing him with Beckham will give defenses nightmares. It will also give McAdoo the ability to be more imaginative.
Shane Vereen creates similar potential. He has some of the best ball skills of any running back in the NFL. This allowed the Patriots to use him in many ways in New England. The Patriots not only used him out of the backfield, but they lined him up in the slot as well as on the perimeter. Doing so, helped decipher the defense for Tom Brady.
When a running back aligns on the perimeter, the defender over him almost always tells the quarterback what the coverage is. If it’s a cornerback, that likely means the team is in zone coverage, and the quarterback can then locate his mismatches and the soft spots of the defense elsewhere. If it’s a linebacker or safety aligned over the running back (as shown below), that’s an indicator of man coverage because safeties and linebackers don’t normally line up on the perimeter in zone. The quarterback can then look for his best matchup and attack it. Often times, because of Vereen’s skills, he is the best matchup.
If used correctly, having Vereen at his disposal will give Eli Manning more options and help improve his decision-making. It will also put defenses on their heels when they play the Giants.
The G-Men still have some holes to address on their offense. But with Beckham’s development, the addition of Vereen, and one season in a new system already under Eli Manning’s belt, there’s no reason to suspect that this unit can’t be a dominant one in 2015.