For three quarters last Sunday it looked like the New York Giants would be able to hang with the Seattle Seahawks. The Giants were moving the ball well and scoring points on offense. And while they weren't stopping the Seahawks, they were generating turnovers, particularly when Russell Wilson tried to take to the air.
But then an interception with 57 seconds remaining in the thid quarter changed the momentum. That oppened the door for three full quarters of being almost completely unable to stop Seattle's rushing attack to take its toll on the Giants' defense.
But what happened with the Giants defense on Sunday? How could a team with two of the best run defending linemen in the league -- Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins -- let a team with few passing threats set records on them?
It's my unfortunate duty to drag out the film and see what went so wrong.
For our first play we're going to start with a five yard gain by Robert Turbin. In this play, the Giants actually do a lot right despite the solid gain by the Seahawks.
On the left side of the offense, JPP and John Hankins do a good job of standing their men up and sealing the edge. On the back side, Devon Kennard comes off the edge and completely accounts for Russel Wilson and the read option. At left defensive end, Robert Ayers breezes right over the right tackle, and does a great job in pursuit to make the play from behind.
The problem, and the reason why this wasn't a 0-2 yard gain, was that Marcus Kuhn just couldn't hold up. He was pushed so far to the left that it almost looked like he had the outside contain. That opened up a canyon that Turbin could have driven a truck through.
Fortunately, both Ayers and Antrel Rolle beat their blockers, otherwise there was only Stevie Brown roughly 20 yards down-field to make the stop.
Now we get into the painful plays.
Here we see a combination of perfect execution by the Seahawks and a serious lack of discipline by the Giants.
First off, the Seahawks do a fantastic job of selling the power run to the inside. Between the fullback and Wilson's own body, the Giants can't see that Wilson has the ball until it's too late.
That being said, Mathias Kiwanuka bites and bites hard on the play-fake. Given that they not only know that Wilson is a dangerous runner, but that he has already hurt them with his legs this game, Kiwi has to ignore the down block and account for Wilson.
Kuhn and Jacquian Williams are in good position to defend a cutback by Christine Michael, leaving the quarterback to Kiwanuka. Instead, Kiwanuka crashes down on the inside run fake, giving Wilson acres of field to exploit. Had this been a play-action pass play instead of a quarterback run, they could have hurt the Giants for even more than a measly 13 yards.
While Kiwanuka probably couldn't keep up with Wilson, his job was to keep him in front until help -- likely Williams -- arrived to help secure the tackle.
This is another play that could have gone for little to no gain, but a couple mistakes lead to a big gain.
For this play the Giants line up in a 3-man front, though Kiwanuka is at the line of scrimmage as a stand up rusher. Once again Ayers beats the right tackle off the snap and moves to close the hole opening between himself and Cullen Jenkins -- who, for some reason, is the nose tackle in this front.
Unfortunately, Ayers probably did too good of a job, because the right tackle recovers quickly enough to push Ayers past the play. Instead of occupying the hole long enough for the blitzing Jayron Hosley to (attempt to) tackle Lynch, the hole is re-opened and Lynch narrowly avoids the blitz.
Jameel McClain also takes a false step to the outside to account for Russell Wilson. Given that Wilson had repeatedly burned the defense on keepers or option runs, that is an understandable reaction. However, Wilson made no attempt at a fake or mesh point. Had he moved to fill the gap right away, this might have been a shorter gain.
Unsurprisingly, here is another big run given up by the Giants' defense. The Giants are in their base 4-3 alignment, with JPP and Kiwanuka at the ends, Hankins and Patterson are in the middle.
To start with, Mike Patterson gets blown off the ball by the right guard, opening up a huge hole for Lynch to run through. At the second level, McClain starts to come up to fill the gap, but he bites on the play-fake and starts to the outside. That is a mistake by McClain, who is responsible for Lynch, and is supposed to come up to fill the inside gap. Wilson is Kennard's responsibility, and he plays the option well. He keeps his eyes on the mesh point and only commits inside when it is obvious that Wilson doesn't have the ball. McClain's indecision gets him hung up on the right tackle, who he should have been able to beat to the gap.
On the other side of the play, Jacquian Williams does a nice job shedding the block by the center to come up and make the tackle on Lynch from behind.
The Giants gave up a record number of rushing yards to the Seahawks. Part of that -- a big part -- was some excellent execution by the Seahawks. Credit where credit is due there. Their offensive line largely played well, Lynch was decisive and powerful (ie: Marshawn Lynch), and Russell Wilson's ball handling was legitimately brilliant. There were a few plays where he faked out everyone in the stadium, including the cameramen.
But the more pressing matter was the combination of poor personnel decisions and undisciplined play. I don't argue the validity of using a 3-4 front as in Play 3. However, against a team like the Seahawks using a light-weight front with Cullen Jenkins as the nose tackle makes no sense. Nor does having the defensive end account for the quarterback instead of a more athletic linebacker.
But regardless of the schemes or play calls, the players themselves failed to play good, disciplined football. Inside, John Hankins was the only defensive tackle who could reliably maintain his blocks. Outside, edge players consistently over-played the run and failed to play their assignments. The way to defend the read option is to be patient and disciplined in your assignments. The defense needs to prolong the mesh point for as long as possible, and the defender who is responsible for the quarterback needs to keep him in front of himself to prevent the big run.
What's more, the Giants were undisciplined in their fundamentals. Tackling is atrocious league-wide, but against a back line Marshawn Lynch, players simply can not try to "hit" him or arm tackle him. That just won't work.
All that being said, most of these problems are correctable. These players are all experienced professionals (even if they didn't look it in Seattle). They know their fundamentals, they should be aware of their assignments, and they know how to play with discipline. They just need to do it.
The only issue that isn't correctable is the personnel at the defensive tackle. John Hankins is a stud. The rest, however, leave something to be desired. Last year, between Linval Joseph, a healthy Cullen Jenkins, and John Hankins, the Giants had a dominant defensive tackle rotation. They were able to control the line of scrimmage and keep the linebacker clean to make plays. That didn't happen, at all, against Seattle.