The New York Giants offense needs to remember that green means 'Go.'
If you are talking about traffic signals green means 'go' and 'red' means 'stop.' That has to be why New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin calls that area inside the opponent's 20-yard line the green zone. Everyone else, of course, calls it the red zone.
The Giants offense seems confused by this whole concept. Maybe the players have forgotten the traffic laws. Maybe they are color blind. Maybe ... ah, maybe ... ah, whatever. Point is, the Giants offense has not done a good job the past couple of seasons taking full advantage of scoring opportunities.
Ernie Palladino has the numbers, pointing out that that the Giants were just 35-of-69 (51%) in green zone situations last season. You know it's an issue. I know it. The coaches know it. The players know it.
"We have to put the ball in the end zone when it is fourth and one. We have to convert the two third and one's," said coach Tom Coughlin (full transcript). "Anytime you are 0-3 in the green zone, obviously you need to get touchdowns instead of field goals. And so we continue to make that a matter of emphasis."
"It is not really a green zone or red zone problem, it is a third and short problem," he said.
So, what is the problem here? The Giants have a 270-pound running back, one of the game's best offensive lines and a terrific blocking fullback. You would think they would be able to jam the ball down an opposing defense's throat and get a yard when they need one.
"We just assume that on third and short we are going to be able to run and be able to get it," said Manning.
Problem with that, to me, is that as good as the Giants offensive line is it is not a power, straight-ahead line. It excels at pulling and working in space, which is not typically the way short-yardage plays are blocked. Also, Brandon Jacobs is not exactly shifty in terms of squeezing into a small crack.
What can be done?
So, I'm not a football coach and Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride know more about this than I do. Here, though, are five suggestions for how the Giants can try to improve this situation.
1. Pass the ball more
From Tom Rock of Newsday, who is rapidly challenging Mike Garafolo and Ralph Vacchiano for the title of my favorite Giants beat writer, comes the play-by-play of the Giants three trips into the green zone against the Redskins.
First-and-10 from the 20 -- Pass to Jacobs +8
Second-and-2 from the 12 -- Jacobs run left +1
Third-and-1 from the 11 -- Toss right Bradshaw NG
First-and-10 from the 12 -- Pass to Smith +7
Second-and-3 from the 5 -- Jacobs run right +2
Third-and-1 from the 3 -- Jacobs run left NG
Fourth-and-1 from the 3 -- Jacobs run middle NG
First-and-10 from the 13 -- Holding -10
First-and-20 from the 23 -- Pass to Bradshaw +6
Second-and-14 from the 17 -- Inc. pass to Bradshaw
Third-and-14 from the 17 -- Pass to Bradshaw +7
A penalty stalled the third drive, but the first two were halted by an inability to pick up short yardage while trying repeatedly to simply run over the Redskins' defense. Out of those three drives, the Giants got six points. They could have had 21. Obviously, that would have made a huge difference, turning a fairly close final score into a rout.
I agree with Rock, who advocated more passes in those situations. I would particularly like to see some play-action. Some coaches consider it a sign of weakness if you have to pass to pick up a yard. I don't care, as long as the job gets done.
Manning also hinted at the possibility of passing more.
"We have to throw the ball a little bit more possibly in some of those situations," he said. "But, down there we're a team that is going to be physical, we have a big back, and we should be able to get that surge and should get a first down in those situations."
2. Spread the field
By now, I think the evidence is pretty clear that the Giants don't do their best work in the mano-a-mano 'heavy' formation situations. So, spread the field. Go three wides, even four, move Kevin Boss into the slot. Don't let the entire defense sit in the box and wait for Jacobs to come slamming up the middle. That way, you can run when you are at even strength with the defense.
3. Change the blocking personnel
On the fourth-and-one play where Jacobs got stuffed by Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins, Boss was the lead blocker. Sorry, but that's not gonna work. Boss has become a good edge blocker, but he can't be leading critical plays like that. Where is Madison Hedgecock, who gets paid to do that? Better yet, get one of the tight ends out of there if you choose to go 'heavy' and get an extra offensive lineman in the game. I really don't care which one, but an offensive lineman has a better chance of moving the pile than Boss or Darcy Johnson.
4. Run to the edges
Those kinds of plays, where maybe you can pull a guard, are the kind the Giants line seems to block the best. Maybe it takes a tad longer to develop, which is dangerous in short-yardage, but it is the kind of play the Giants run best. Play to your strength, not your weakness.
I know these two rookies have a ways to go before they earn the trust of the coaching staff. But, these are the types of situations Barden and Beckum were drafted for. Barden is a physical mismatch for any corner in a jump ball situation, and Beckum is a mismatch for most linebackers. As the season unfolds, the Giants need to find ways to take advantage of the talents possessed by these two young guys.
I don't think the Giants will solve this overnight, and they have proven they can win a lot of games even if they never figure it out. It sure would make things a lot easier, however, if they could take advantage of more of these situations. Hopefully, we will see some of the things I have suggested in future short-yardage situations.