Why can't the New York Giants complete any deep passes?
Back in the Days of Gilbride Eli Manning made a living -- and won two Super Bowls -- throwing the ball down the field. Check downs and interceptions be damned! The ball was going down the field whether receivers were open or not, and it was up to them to make a play. In the new era, the Days of the Mac Attack, it's all about efficiency. It's about finding completions. It's about quick drops and quick throws. It's about getting the ball out giving receivers a chance to create after the catch. Interceptions are evil, to be avoided at all costs.
This, actually, is a change for the better in many ways -- even if it has led the general manager to claim that Manning and new coordinator Ben McAdoo are being too cautious. The problem through eight games is that the Giants have not gotten enough yards after catch --YAC in the modern parlance. And, for whatever reason, even when they do allow Manning to take down field shots they seem to have zero ability to complete them.
Per ESPN, Manning was 0-for-7 Monday against the Indianapolis Colts on passes that traveled more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, something commonly referred to nowadays as "air yards." By the way, I'm an old guy but do we have to have a fancy term for everything?
On the season, Manning is now 5-for-31 on passes that travel more than 20 "air yards." That's a brutal accuracy percentage (including drops) of 19.4 percent. For comparison, Manning was 21-of-70 (34.3 percent) on such throws last season. In 2012, he was 27-of-68 (42.6 percent). In 2011, he was 43-of-109 with eight drops (46.8 percent). That season, incidentally, 'Air Gilbride' was at its finest. The 109 deep passes were 20 more than any other quarterback in the league attempted.
What Is Going On?
If you look at the number of attempts, the Giants are on pace to try 62 deep shots. That's only eight fewer than last year and six fewer than 2012. So, while the occurrence of deep shots is down a bit from the last two seasons it's hardly true that the Giants don't take shots down the field. What's true is that they are just bad at it.
Which brings us back to the original question. Why?
Examining Monday Night's Game
There were actually four occasions on Monday vs. the Colts where the passing offense worked exactly the way McAdoo envisioned it in his dreams. There were four short to intermediate passes that Giants' receivers turned into "explosive" plays of 20 yards or more. Odell Beckham had a 59-yarder, Peyton Hillis a 26-yarder, Andre Williams a 24-yarder and Corey Washington a 20-yarder.
Then there was that 0-for-7 when Manning and the Giants tried to pass that mythical 20 air yards barrier. In actuality, there were nine passing plays in all that could have gone for more than 20 yards, seven thrown deeper than 20 yards and a couple thrown just short of that mark that could have turned into bigger plays had they been completed.
Let's look at all nine plays to see what we can learn.
Play 1 -- Giants' first series, second-and-9 at their own 47. Manning tries to hit Beckham 1-on-1 with Greg Toler down the right sideline. Beckham isn't open, not even close, but Manning gives him a chance and Toler breaks up the play. You can argue here that Manning might have been able to lead Beckham another step. You can also argue that had Manning done that the Colts' safety who was closing on the play would have had a clear shot at breaking Beckham in half.
Play 2 -- The very next play. Manning is pressured and begins to move. He sees Rueben Randle with acres of open space between Randle and the safeties and tries to lead him there. Unfortunately, Randle doesn't see what Manning sees and continues running across the field. The result? An ugly incompletion.
Play 3 -- With 6:13 left in the first quarter, Manning tries to hit Larry Donnell on a deep crossing route about 18 yards down field. Donnell is double covered, but has about a half-step on the two trailing Colts' defenders. Manning throws this ball perfectly, lofting it over the defenders to where only Donnell has a shot at it. He stretches, but can't reel the ball in. Donnell had gobs of room to run if he brings this one in. It's one of those difficult plays that has to be made to win games.
Play 4 -- Third-and-12 at the Giants' 18-yard line late in the first quarter. No shotgun draw or anything conservative here. Manning looks deep down the field, but has no time of course, because this is what happens when you try to throw deep on third-and-forever. Thankfully, he doesn't force anything. He just chucks this one out of bounds and the Giants punt.
Play 5 -- Second quarter, 12:07 remaining, Giants at the Indianapolis 37-yard line. Rueben Randle is isolated 1-on-1 with Colts' star corner Vontae Davis and runs a go route. Manning fires the ball on target to the end zone, but Davis is draped all over Randle and gets his hands on the ball. Randle tries, unsuccessfully, to haul in a left-handed catch. Randle got zero separation from Davis, but you could have predicted that at the start of the play. Davis is one of the best corners in the game. Randle? Not one of the premier receivers.
Play 6 -- Second quarter, 2:18 left. Manning again tries Randle deep down the left side in a 1-on-1 match-up with Davis. Randle is nowhere near being open, with Davis basically pinning him to the sideline. Manning is forced to sail the ball out of bounds. The question here is, what the heck was McAdoo thinking? Challenging Davis straight up with Randle? With no deception? No crossing receivers? No motion? No bunch formation to give Randle a release? If you're going to challenge one of the best corners in the game straight up you at least have to put your best receiver, Beckham, over there.
Play 7 -- Third quarter, 10:33 left, Giants at the Colts' 24-yard line. McAdoo decides to try Davis 1-on-1 AGAIN. This time he at least lines up Beckham to challenge him. Beckham runs the obligatory go route, trying a stop-and-go move along the way that Davis refuses to bite on. Beckham doesn't get within five yards of the ball as Manning's pass falls harmlessly to the turf.
Play 8 -- Third quarter, 4:05 left, second-and-8 at the Giants' 22. Manning tries Preston Parker matched up deep down the right sideline against free safety Darius Butler. No dice. Parker gets no separation and the pass is incomplete.
Play 9 -- Fourth quarter, 2:52 left and the Giants hopeless at this point. On first down at the Giants' 30 Manning heaves one deep down the right sideline for Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree is double covered and Indianapolis free safety Sergio Brown bats the pass away.
Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo haven't been able to solve the riddle of the deep pass. [Noah K. Murray -- USA Today Sports]
What can we learn here? Well, a lot of words have been used to make one essential observation. Aside from Beckham, who is destined for stardom if he isn't already there, the Giants' receivers just aren't good enough. Without Victor Cruz, and to a lesser extent Jerrel Jernigan, the guys Manning is throwing to just aren't up to the task of consistently generating big plays.
There's little to no ability to get separation down the field unless the opposing defense makes a glaring error. Manning has made a career out of giving players chances to make plays down the field, even when maybe it looks like those players aren't necessarily open. He is still trying to do it, though maybe less frequently than in years past. To this point, though, no one is stepping up and answering the quarterback's call.
As for McAdoo, the rookie coordinator came under fire recently from Jerry Reese for not taking enough shots. To his credit, in a game where he had to against the high-scoring Colts, he did call for some deep shots. He just didn't do it very well. You can't attack the other team's best player with straight go routes, not unless you are lining up Dez Bryant or Calvin Johnson as your receiver. You have to do a better job of creating deception, creating movement, creating mismatches down the field. Right now, the Giants just don't have enough guys who can win on their own.