It was a dismal performance by the Giants Defense in Week 1. Dak Prescott looked like Joe Montana, finishing 25 of 32, for 405 yards, 4 touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. While he deserves much of the credit, Big Blue’s defense made his day a lot easier than it had to be. The Giants didn’t generate any turnovers. The pass rush was nonexistent. They allowed an atrocious 7 pass plays of 20 or more yards. They were simply not competitive, and it happened for a multitude of reasons.
The Giants’ pass rush was a major question mark heading into the season. Week 1 did nothing to alleviate the concerns in this area, as Dak Prescott threw from a clean pocket all afternoon. You’re playing with one hand tied behind your back as a defense if you can’t put pressure on the quarterback. However, the Giants’ secondary did nothing to help their own cause. We saw blown assignments, poorly executed coverages, free releases and terrible tackling all game.
The Cowboys’ first touchdown pass came against a blown coverage. Focus on safeties Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers below.
Bethea rotated down at the snap. Based on the way the rest of the underneath coverage reacted, he was correct. This was supposed to be cover-3, and Jabrill Peppers was supposed to rotate to the middle of the field, as illustrated below. This would have taken away any deep middle routes here.
Peppers didn’t move though, leaving the middle of the field wide open for an easy Blake Jarwin touchdown reception.
The other possibility here was that this was quarters coverage, and Bethea was not supposed to rotate down. In that case, he would have been responsible for the #3 receiver to the other side of the field (Jarwin). Either way, this was bad communication and a blown coverage.
Later in the game, the Giants surrendered an easy 45-yard completion to Amari Cooper on what was a combination of poor execution and blown coverage.
Below, you can see Antoine Bethea over Amari Cooper in the slot. Sorry, that is not a 1-on-1 matchup any defensive coordinator would draw up. But Bethea wasn’t just playing Cooper in pure man coverage. He was playing to his cover-2 safety help over the top (the safety, Peppers, was off screen here, but he started in the middle of the field before rotating to Bethea’s side at the snap).
The disguise did not work well, though.
This was largely due to poor execution. Take a look at safety Jabrill Peppers below. Look how deep he was with the ball in the air.
At that point in the play, there still wasn’t a Cowboys receiver within 10 yards of him. Who exactly was he covering or helping out with? Again, this is an example of flat-out poor execution. Bethea was clearly playing as if he had help over the top. He did in theory. In practice, Peppers was defending the 100-yard Tecmo Super Bowl deep ball.
It also didn’t help that cornerback Antonio Hamilton (#30), playing on the other side of the field, was slow to get react and get deep. The two tight ends to his side stayed in, meaning he should have then been looking to hunt up any routes entering his deep area of the field. More on him in a bit.
Two plays later, the Giants again ushered the Cowboys into the end zone. This time, they were playing cover-2, with the two safeties each covering a deep half of the field. This particular coverage is susceptible to routes down the middle that split the two safeties. So how do you prevent teams from attacking there with ease? There are a few different components: the middle linebacker needs to be able to run down the seam; any inside receivers must be redirected at the line of scrimmage so they can’t attack the deep middle so quickly; and you need to get to the quarterback with your front-4. The Giants did none of these things.
Focus on Alec Ogletree and Grant Haley below. Both were held initially by the play-action. Both were oblivious to Randall Cobb breezing down the middle of the field.
Alec Ogletree was also influenced (too much) by Jason Witten’s shallow crossing route.
That’s way too easy.
The Giants had everything going poorly on Sunday. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton (#30) had himself quite the day of terrible tackling.
If you’re going to play off coverage, you’re doing so to keep everything in the passing game underneath. You can’t miss tackles and let easy completions then turn into big plays.
Here’s Hamilton missing another tackle, this time on a pivotal 3rd down.
And for good measure, here’s Hamilton taking a bad angle and not being aggressive in pursuit of the ball carrier.
On each of these plays, you didn’t see much aggressiveness out of Hamilton in his attempts to make a tackle. He took bad angles and was on his heels. If you’re going to play soft-zone coverage, your corners have to be able to tackle. Hamilton does not exactly inspire much confidence in this area.
Not to pile on, but there were more bad signs for the Giants’ secondary on Sunday. Rookie first-round cornerback DeAndre Baker really struggled. Perhaps he’s not fully recovered from the knee injury he sustained this preseason. Perhaps it was just a welcome-to-the-NFL moment for him. But he got beat badly for three big plays on Sunday.
On this first play, a 36-yard reception by Michael Gallup, Baker was at the bottom of screen in position to play press man. Two things here; first, he did not get his hands on the receiver at the line; Second, he slowed down as he turned back for the ball instead of continuing to run and feeling the receiver behind him.
On this next play, a 21-yard touchdown pass, watch Baker against Amari Cooper. Once again, he didn’t get his hands on the receiver. Once again, the receiver got on top of him with ease. Baker looked outmatched physically. Look how hard he was straining just to keep pace with Cooper.
If you don’t have the speed to stay with a receiver like Cooper in man coverage, you have to get your hands on him. Simple as that. Baker failed to do so.
Later in the game, Baker was playing soft zone (the Giants were in a cover-3 defense). He got beat badly once again by Michael Gallup.
Here, Baker turned his hips to the outside, thinking that’s where Gallup was taking his route. When Gallup brought it back inside, Baker was slow and stiff to turn and transition out of his break. He was standing almost straight up at the top of Gallup’s stem.
Again, maybe this was just a case of first-game jitters. Maybe there was a lack of certainty in what he was doing, leading to a lack of confidence and commitment to his movements. Maybe that knee is still impacting him. Either way, this was a rough debut for the rookie cornerback.
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, believe it or not, has some good disguises and schemes up his sleeve. We wrote about this during the offseason. Given the lack of talent, experience, and a pass rush on this defensive unit, the Giants aren’t going to be able to just align straight up and have the talent to beat most offenses. They need to do things to be disruptive. Employing good disguises is more critical than ever. But it takes great communication to be effective. It takes every player being on the same page. Against the Cowboys, the Giants were neither.
Another thing we have to see moving forward is the disruption of receivers at the line of scrimmage to throw off the timing of the passing game. We simply don’t see enough of that out of Bettcher’s defense. On Sunday, its absence was a main culprit in the blowout.
Whatever they do, the Giants need to get things turned around in a hurry because we’ve seen these bad starts quickly spiral out of control in recent seasons.