Things started off well enough for the Giants on Sunday. The Saints came out playing mostly straight forward and soft zones. The Giants came out looking to get the ball out of Eli Manning’s hands quickly. They marched down the field for a touchdown and an early lead. That’s pretty much where the day ended for Big Blue’s offense.
Eli Manning did not look good against the Saints. Coming off his Week 3 performance, this was kind of a surprise. His throws were erratic. He missed a few wide-open passes that should have been easy completions. Below, you can see one of them.
That completion has to be made. Yes Manning had his own lineman being driven back into him, but that’s about as wide open as it gets in the NFL.
This next throw isn’t quite as obvious of a miss for Manning. It’s a red-zone pass to tight end Rhett Ellison. The issue here is that spaces are tighter in the red zone. Stick throws into tight windows are required to have success. Instead, Manning made another inaccurate throw.
Again. This wasn’t an easy touchdown that Manning missed or anything. But a touchdown was definitely possible here. That ball has to be put on Ellison’s body when he’s in traffic like that. Eli had a clean pocket, and there’s no reason the throw should have sailed on him like it did.
Manning’s accuracy has been erratic at times throughout his career, so some of this is nothing new. The bigger concern right now, though, is his unwillingness to hang in the pocket and let his routes develop downfield. Maybe his arm is bothering him and he doesn’t have confidence in his ability to push the ball downfield. Maybe he doesn’t trust his offensive line after years of getting pounded behind less-than-adequate protection. Either way, it was a problem for this offense last Sunday vs New Orleans, and it will continue to be a problem if Eli doesn’t adjust.
Look at the below play to see what we mean. Here, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-14. The Saints were playing Tampa-2 coverage. Focus on the trips bunch formation at the top of the screen.
This grouping would be running a 3-level stretch concept – 1 deep route, 1 intermediate route, 1 short route, all to the same side of the field. The idea here was to put Saints defenders in conflict.
The deep route occupied the deep safety. The short route was there to potentially eat up the flat defender.
As you can see below, Odell Beckham Jr. was running the intermediate route, in between the deep safety and the flat defender.
The flat defender in cover-2 is responsible for the flat area of the field up until 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.
At this point in the play, it didn’t look like any receiver would be attacking the deep area of his zone. One big reason for this is that the receiver who actually would be attacking the deep part of the flat zone, OBJ, took his route far inside to the middle of the field. The flat defender didn’t see him as a factor, and instead eyed the receiver running to the flat near the line of scrimmage.
Eli had the time to let this play develop. Look at that protection.
All he had to do was look at the flat to hold the defender, and then fire the ball to OBJ beyond the first-down marker.
Instead, he got rid of the ball to the flat just after the top of his drop.
Eli was way too quick to get the ball out of his hands there.
Later in the game, the Giants faced another 3rd down. This time, they were in the red zone. Eli ended up forcing a ball to Saquon Barkley, aligned on the perimeter vs. a cornerback. Not exactly a mismatch. What’s more is that Eli forced this pass, and basically threw it away. He had time, though. Had he calmly waited and moved through his progressions, he would have seen Odell Beckham sitting right in front of him for an easy first down, and possibly a touchdown.
The Saints didn’t exactly attack the Giants with complex coverages or pressure schemes. They predominantly played straight forward and soft zones. It was surprising that Eli couldn’t take advantage, especially with the time he had all afternoon. The Saints clearly came into this game aiming to take away the deep ball. How do you combat that as an offense? You make them pay on underneath throws. Eli’s inconsistencies in this department did not allow the Giants to do this.
Despite the example described earlier of the Giants’ routes breaking down the Saints’ coverage, we were not impressed with Pat Shurmur’s passing concepts this week. Similar to two weeks ago vs. Dallas, the Giants’ routes did not put Saints defenders in conflict consistently. They didn’t seek to confuse responsibilities or create mismatches vs zone. They didn’t do anything to create big plays vs man. The overall offensive attack was not balanced either. Saquon Barkley, the #2 overall pick by the way, had just 10 carries.
For this offense to work, Eli Manning needs time to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. When he’s given time, he needs to stand in the pocket, work through his progressions, and make his throws. The Giants haven’t been able to put all elements of their offense together very often this season. They are quickly running out of time to do so.