Digging in to Eli Manning’s great night against the Jets
Since the New York Giants hired Pat Shurmur to be their new head coach and fix their broken Offense, fans have waited to see what he could do, whether he could bring the magic he worked on the Minnesota Vikings’ offense to New York.
When Shurmur was hired, Odell Beckham Jr. excitedly tweeted that he was “geeked!” by the hire.
Giants’ fans finally got to see what the excitement was about when the Giants faced the New York Jets in their annual meeting in the third pre-season game. As the game which coaches use to simulate a regular season game week, we finally got to see more than the outline of the Giants’ new offense. And even with game-breaking playmakers Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined for the game, Eli Manning was unleashed like we have only rarely seen him these past few years.
So, how did Shurmur and Mike Shula simultaneously get Manning’s completion percentage to a mark he has only matched seven times since 2014, while also having the most yards per attempt since Week 3 of 2016?
Attacking all levels of the defense
Over the last four years, Giants fans have become accustomed to seeing routes run in isolation. The previous offense consistently sought to put receivers in one-on-one situations for the quarterback to complete high-percentage throws. Usually that meant short passes based off the slant route. That lead to problems when faced with certain coverages or when they couldn’t feed the offense through Odell Beckham or Sterling Shepard.
Under Shurmur, the Giants’ offense looks to help receivers by scheming them open, creating conflicts for defenders, and creating simple reads for the quarterbacks. This will clearly be a feature of the offense and was on display from Manning’s first pass of the night.
The Giants open with a variaton on the “sail” concept. The sail concept overloads one side of the defense, in this case the defensive right, with receivers at (roughly) 5, 15, and 25 yards.
In this case the Giants run the concept with a pair of crossing routes from the bunch formation to the offensive right, with Sterling Shepard running the underneath crosser while Engram runs the intermediate route. Cody Latimer runs the third element of the concept, the vertical route, on the left side of the offensive formation.
The Jets seem to be running a Cover 3 defense here, which happens to be particularly vulnerable to the sail concept. The concept puts the free safety Marcus Maye in a difficult conflict. The passing concept forces Maye to choose between staying Deep and defending the vertical route or coming down to help pick up the deep crossing route.
Just before the snap, Maye retreats to a deep center field position, and at that moment Eli knows that he will have Engram open in the intermediate. Other than the coverage on Latimer, which looks as if it could be press coverage until the corner turns to make a zone drop just before the snap, this looks as though it will be zone coverage. across the board — which it is.
The vertical route from Latimer pulls the outside corner and free safety deep, vacating the sideline for Shepard and Engram. Meanwhile, Jonathan Stewart comes up to pass protect before releasing into a short check-down route. That freezes the underneath coverage on his side slightly, and forces a mistake when the inside linebacker doesn’t pick up Engram as he passes through his zone. Instead, he lets Engram go, apparently expecting him to be picked up by a free safety who isn’t there. Either way, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, as Engram’s speed in the open field is too much for most linebackers to match.
The end result was an easy read for Manning, who delivers an accurate pass in rhythm to a wide open Engram for a 15-yard reception.
Take what the defense gives them
Shurmur’s offense is flexible and varied, borrowing ideas from every offensive mind he’s worked with. But it’s foundation is still the West Coast Offense, and abides by the Tao of Bill Walsh: You don’t go broke making a profit.
The Giants’ new offense features far more aggression and vertical elements than Ben McAdoo’s, but they’ll pick their spots for those plays.
Here, we see the Giants taking advantage of the defensive call to find a completion and establish a lead with a field goal.
The Jets are showing a Cover 4 defense with four defenders in deep zone coverage (quarters coverage), and just four rushers.
The route combination on the bottom of the screen uses two receivers to clear out the three defenders to the offensive right. Eli keeps his eyes to that side of the field, using the vertical route to pull the safety and outside corner into the end zone. He then moves his eyes to the middle of the field, pulling the other safety and the two inside linebackers to TE Scott Simonson, who is running the inner of the two hook routes.
Wayne Gallman immediately goes out as though for a swing pass, pulling the outside linebacker toward the sideline.
All of this creates a big void for tight end Jerell Adams on the outer of the two hook routes. It’s an easy pitch-and-catch from Manning to Adams, and a very safe play.
Considering the circumstances — a pre-season game in which top tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison have already left the game, and the offense is missing Beckham and Barkley — taking the conservative option is forgivable. The play is unlikely to score or result in a first down, and in a regular season game this is likely more of a second-and-9 play than third-and-9.
It did, however, give the Giants another chance to see a young kicker in Aldrick Rosas who is trying to prove that he should keep his job.
Manning has always been at his best when he can attack the defense down the field. That doesn’t mean that he wants to sling the ball down the field on every pass like he did in Kevin Gilbride’s final year. However, Eli seems like a more engaged and energetic quarterback when he knows he has the option to try and throw the occasional haymaker.
Once again going back to Bill Walsh and the original WCO, the run-action fake (or play-action) has long been considered to be the safest way to attack deep. Even if a team can’t ‘establish the run game,’ a well-executed play fake forces a defense to freeze, slowing a pass rush and taking defenders out of position in coverage.
Here we see the Giants use a simple three-man route based off of play-action to deliver a body blow to the Jets’ defense.
The Giants used pre-snap motion — with fullback Shane Smith motioning from a wide receiver position to the backfield — to establish that the Jets are in a zone coverage, in this case Cover 3. The free safety is so deep that he isn’t on the screen.
After a good punt return, the Giants decide to take a shot down the field and really challenge the Jets deep for the first time in the game.
With eight potential rushers, the Giants keep seven players back for pass protection while the play develops.
To this point the Giants have not been able to run the ball effectively at all, with Jonathan Stewart losing yards on average. However, that doesn’t stop the Jets from reacting to the play fake, with all eight box defenders either attacking the run or freezing. Manning takes advantage of the opportunity to target Cody Latimer running the deep post. Latimer’s size and speed downfield get a couple steps of separation on Morris Claiborne while Trumaine Johnson is forced to respect the deep crossing route, keeping him from helping Claiborne in coverage.
This play could — and probably should — have been a touchdown for Manning. However, he doesn’t fully step in to the throw, under-throwing the ball by a yard or two. That could have been influenced by late pressure as rookie defensive lineman Nathan Shepard is never properly picked up and gets in Manning’s face as he throws the ball.
This is a new and different offense from what we’ve seen from the Giants. It does have elements of previous offenses, such as the basic tenets of the west coast offense and most passing plays feature at least one vertical option, as in Kevin Gilbride’s offense. But unlike either McAdoo’s or Gilbride’s offense, Shurmur and Shula blend concepts and philosophies to create a varied and versatile offense.
It is an offense that strives to create conflict on the defense while putting offensive players in position to maximize their skill sets — such as using Latimer deep or Engram in space against a linebacker. All that makes for relatively easy reads for Manning while letting him take care of the ball or indulge in his desire to attack the defense deep when the opportunity presents itself.
The end result? 17 for 23 (73.9 percent) and 188 yards — a line that could easily have been better if not for the under-throw and a pair of drops by Hunter Sharp.
Manning looked like a rejuvenated quarterback, quickly making his reads and delivering the ball on time and in rhythm. Manning certainly seems to enjoy playing in this offense, and with the team betting on their 37 year old QB having gas left in the tank, it was what they needed to see.