It is a pretty safe bet that most New York Giants fans have never considered stodgy old Tom Coughlin be to "innovative" when it comes to offensive football. Old-fashioned or unimaginative, maybe, but not innovative. Coughlin, though, said this week that the talents of Odell Beckham, and the way defenses are playing him, are forcing the Giants to be just that in finding ways to get Beckham the ball.
Yes, Coughlin actually said "innovative." Here is the quote from his post-game press conference on Sunday.
"We've got to continue to try to be innovative in that regard."
So, let's look at some of the ways the Giants have been getting the ball to Beckham. Some of these are "innovative," others are just well-designed, well-executed offense. No matter what you call them, it is obvious Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo are continuing to expand their repertoire to find different ways to put the ball in Beckham's hands.
Wide receiver screens
Sure, these are nothing revolutionary. They are, however, an easy way to put the ball into the hands of a wide receiver and see if he can create something. The Giants probably haven't done enough of this over the years, but with Beckham they now are.
Here is one they ran on Sunday:
This one didn't work very well. The timing got messed up a bit due to the high snap from J.D. Walton. The blocking of Preston Parker and Larry Donnell left a lot to be desired here, and Will Beatty didn't get out in front fast enough to help. Still, the Giants ran this play twice on Sunday and it was good to see.
Lining him up in the slot
The Giants original plan was to play Beckham on the outside and Victor Cruz in the slot. That is still the long-range plan. With Cruz gone for the season, though, the Giants have had to move Beckham around more to make it more difficult for opposing defenses to set their coverage.
In the example below, the Giants use a "rub" route with Beckham in the slot. It creates just enough separation against man-to-man coverage for Manning to complete a touchdown pass with a well-thrown back-shoulder toss.
Plain old good quarterback play
Sometimes your quarterback can simply throw a receiver open. At other times, a veteran quarterback can maneuver to get a receiver open with his ball-handling, or simply with his eyes.
In the example below, the 35-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against the Redskins, a combination of a nice play design and tremendous work by Eli Manning make this play possible. Watch the GIF, and we will talk more about the play afterward.
The play design here has Parker in the slot sliding out for a wide receiver screen. You can see that Parker quickly draws the cornerback up, effectively taking him out of the play. Manning, makes a savvy veteran play, selling the screen with his footwork and his eyes, getting the safety to bite and move toward Parker.
Manning quickly adjusts. With Beckham having run right past the helpless safety, Manning hits Beckham in stride. The speedy rookie does the rest, but this doesn't happen without Manning's work, and his perfect throw.
Running the ball
In the Gilbride era the reverse was maybe a once a year play call, and it usually blew up in the face of the Giants. With Beckham, finding a way to give him the ball as a runner is standard operating procedure. Beckham has carried the ball six times for 35 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry.
Five of those carries came on reverses. The sixth came Sunday against Washington when the Giants pitched the ball to Beckham on fourth-and-one. Watch the play, then we will discuss below why it failed.
This a fourth-down play from the Redskins' 28-yard line with 11:30 remaining in the game Sunday and the Giants leading, 17-13. The Giants had failed earlier on third and less than a yard, when a handoff to fullback Henry Hynoski was stuffed by Washington.
I think everybody in MetLife Stadium knew, especially after Coughlin called timeout, that the Giants were going to find a way to get the ball to Beckham here. When he moved into the backfield it was as plain as day that the Giants were going to give him the ball and let him try to run for the first down. The reporters in the press box knew. The Redskins knew. The fans in the stands probably knew. Had the play been blocked a little better the Giants still could have, and should have, gotten the first down.
Justin Pugh gets pushed back into somewhere in upstate New York by Ryan Kerrigan. Daniel Fells doesn't get much of a block. Center J.D. Walton pulls out in front of the play and get a pancake block at the second level. Problem is he runs right by the two unblocked Washington defenders who actually make the play.
This didn't work, but I did like the idea.
Every Giants fan remembers what happened to Jason Sehorn on a preseason kickoff return against the New York Jets. The thought of Beckham suffering a career-altering injury returning a punt, the way Sehorn did returning that fateful kickoff against the Jets, is enough to make anyone queasy when they see Beckham lined up to return punts.
Thing is, Beckham is good at it. Clearly, he is the best option the Giants have for that role. One of the jobs a coach has is to put players in positions to make plays, and returning punts is obviously a place where Beckham can make plays.
"The young man is having outstanding success. When we are getting the ball to him, he's doing very well with it. He's a very good football player. He has the ability to go the distance, I think, any time he gets it - whether as a punt returner or as an offensive player," Coughlin said. "He can run the football; he can throw the football, so we've tried to create a lot of situations. He does have the talent to exploit the defense in a lot of different ways."
Using Beckham as a punt returner means there is only one way the opposition can keep the ball away from him -- kicking the ball out of bounds. Long-term, maybe you don't want Beckham back to receive every punt. It is hard to have a problem, however, with any effort to give Beckham a chance to make a play.