With the exception of their 36-9 loss to the 49ers, the Giants have played their opponents tough every single week this season. They are also improving on both sides of the ball each time they take the field. For weeks, we’ve heard Joe Judge and the Giants organization say this, despite loss after loss. While Giants fans might have been tired of hearing about these weekly moral victories with nothing to show for it in the actual win column, competitiveness and the ability to improve are not small things for a young football team. Over their last 5 games, these attributes have finally translated into wins.
The secondary in particular continues to make great strides. They did an outstanding job on 3rd and 4th down against the Eagles on Sunday, holding them to just 1 conversion in 12 attempts (including 0-for-9 on 3rd down). This was where the game was ultimately won, and it was largely due to the great coverage played in the secondary.
On too many occasions across the NFL, we see teams play zone coverage and wind up with defenders covering nothing but green grass. The best zone-coverage teams do a good job of reading and reacting to route combinations and knowing when to abandon their zones to lock on to receivers. When they played zone against the Eagles on Sunday, the Giants were much better in this area.
On the below 3rd-and-1, focus on cornerback Isaac Yiadom on the left side of the screen.
Here, the Giants were playing cover-3, which meant Yiadom was responsible for the deep outside third of the field. However, the Eagles were in a closed formation with no receivers outside tight end Dallas Goedert (#88). His was the only route threatening Yiadom’s zone. Yiadom recognized this. So instead of retreating to his empty zone when Goedert broke inside, he stayed with him, drove on his route, and broke up the pass.
It seems like a straightforward play, but you’d be shocked how often we see defensive backs do the opposite of what Yiadom did there in zone.
The Giants were also great in man coverage on Sunday. Below, Philly faced a 3rd-and-3. The Giants aligned in man-free coverage. Focus on James Bradberry at the top of the screen against Jalen Reagor.
To beat the man coverage, the Eagles called for a pick or “natural rub” play to try and separate Bradberry from his man. But watch Bradberry cleanly fight through the traffic and get his hand on the ball.
That’s just a tremendous play. Also notice that the Giants dropped 8 into coverage and got their hands on receivers at the line wherever possible to disrupt their routes. You have to find ways to disrupt passing games in today’s NFL, and the Giants did that often on Sunday.
You can see some more of that aggressiveness in coverage on the 3rd-and-11 below. The Giants ended up playing 2-man here (2 deep safeties, man coverage underneath). This coverage enables the underneath man defenders to be more aggressive in jamming and undercutting their receivers since they know that there is help over the top. Watch the Giants’ defenders all get underneath their receivers with the exception of Darnay Holmes, who had the running back out of the backfield.
Carson Wentz had no option but to dump the ball off short, where Holmes was able to rally up aggressively and make the tackle.
I love the approach by Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham. He has shown that you can be aggressive without being stupid on 3rd-and-long. There is no rule in the NFL that says you have to play soft zone and make life easy on the offense just because they’re in a tough down-and-distance situation (as too many defensive coordinators love to do). Force the offense to make a play in order to convert.
Later in the 4th quarter, with the Giants leading by 7 and the Eagles facing a 4th-and-10, Big Blue closed the door on the Eagles with more 2-man coverage. Focus on James Bradberry again at the top of the screen against Jalen Reagor.
Bradberry played this perfectly. Instead of immediately undercutting Reagor and quickly defining for Wentz that this throw should be over the top, he ran stride for stride on Reagor’s inside for the first several steps of his route.
With a safety over the top and Bradberry on the inside, this forced Wentz to attempt a back shoulder throw. But Bradberry would end up undercutting the route because of the 2-deep safety help to his side. Without the fear of getting beat over the top, he was able to play under control, read Reagor, and wait until the last possible moment to get his hands up and head around to make a play on the ball.
The Giants took a two-score lead on their next possession, all but sealing the win.
Let’s keep things in perspective. The Giants are a 3-7 team for a reason. They are not a Super Bowl contender. Yes, they can easily sneak into the playoffs this year because of how bad the NFC East is. The more encouraging thing for the Giants and their fans should be that this team is well coached and competitive. We all knew it would be tough for the Giants to do anything of significance in 2020. The hope was that they could develop into a team that is a good offseason away from contending. With each passing week, they appear to finally be headed in that direction.
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