One of the biggest questions facing the New York Giants is when, or even if, they will mount a pass rush. Ever since Jason Pierre-Paul's injury, the Giants' pass rush has been in doubt. And rightly so: not only has JPP been one of the league's best run defenders, he is also the kind of pass rusher that offenses has to respect.
With Pierre-Paul out of the lineup for the foreseeable future the Giants were left searching for another pass rusher to step up across from Robert Ayers.
It has long been expected that Damontre Moore would be that pass rusher, particularly with the arrival of the much more aggressive Steve Spagnuolo. However this season he has seen his pass rush productivity decline.
So that begs the question: What's up with Damontre Moore? Well, I decided to take a look at a random sampling of Moore's snaps so far in the season to see what we can find out.
Week 1: Giants vs Dallas
We start out with an interesting play design by Steve Spagnuolo.
The Giants are in the nickel package, and lined up in a variation on a 3-4 front. The down linemen are Robert Ayers (right defensive end), Cullen Jenkins (nose tackle), and Damontre Moore (left defensive end). The linebackers are Devon Kennard, Uani' Unga, and Jonathan Casillas. Brandon Meriweather is down in the box as a psuedo-linebacker as well, while Landon Collins plays the free safety.
At the start of the play, Unga, Kennard, Casillas, and Meriweather are all crowding the line of scrimmage. After the snap, Kennard and Unga drop back into coverage while Meriweather comes on a B-gap blitz, while Casillas blitzes the A-gap.
Moore and Ayers both take outside rushes. Ayers does an "okay' job against Tyron Smith. He gets him moving backwards into the pocket, however Smith is able to re-anchor and stop the rush before it can really pressure Romo.
On the other side, Moore is lined up in the "Wide-9", and gets a good jump off the ball. While he isn't able to get a hit on Romo, Moore does beat Doug Free off the snap, forcing a breakdown in the tackle's technique as he lunged and stopped his kickslide.
Moore's rush could have had more effect if there wasn't such a well-defined pocket in front of Romo. The combination of Meriweather, Jenkins, and Casillas fails to generate any movement or penetration of the pocket at all. That allows Romo to step up into the pocket and avoid the rush.
Fortunately, Prince is in excellent coverage on the slant. Also, the combination Moore's rush and Kennard dropping into coverage seems to force Romo just off his spot and into throwing behind the receiver. That gives Prince the opportunity to knock the ball away for the incompletion.
This play sees the Giants once again lined up in the nickel, but this time they are using a more front with 4 down linemen.
Once again Moore is the LDE, George Selvie is the RDE, while Jenkins and Ayers line up at the defensive tackle positions -- both are 3-technigues, between the guards and tackles.
This play only has one read for the offense: Dez Bryant lined up on the slot against Trumaine McBride. You can see that Romo keys on that read right of the snap and never comes off it. This is really a very quick pass, Romo only takes a two step drop (with a hitch) before throwing the pass as Bryant crosses across the offensive formation.
The speed of the pass doesn't give the pass rushers nearly enough time the defensive front nearly enough time to get home, but they got hung up on their blockers anyway.
For Moore in particular, he doesn't beat Doug Free off the snap this time around, although is able to keep Free from locking in his block. That means that if the Giants were able to lock up the read and force Romo to hold onto the ball -- a tall order for Trumaine McBride -- then Moore would have been able to beat Free and force either a throwaway or get the sack.
That doesn't happen, so Romo is able to complete the throw to Bryant for the 5 yard gain.
Giants vs Atlanta
Another nickel situation, the Giants are lined up in a four-man front, but they are showing -- and bring -- a very heavy blitz. The line consists of George Selive at LDE, Jenkins and Ayers at defensive tackel, and Moore at RDE. The Giants also have Jonathan Casillas and Uani' Unga at linebacker.
Both linebackers come on the blitz, as well as Trumaine McBride on the slot blitz. With the Giants bringing seven rushers and the Falcons only keeping six blockers, McBride gets a free rush at Matt Ryan. However, this is -- again -- a quick pass. Bringing Meriweather on the blitz frees up the slot receiver.
Moore loops inside to take on the center. This rush isn't exactly expected to succeed. Instead, the purpose of Moore's inside move is to create confusion and a route for McBride to get to the QB. It is successful, as McBride comes half a second shy of getting the sack.
However, Ryan recognizes the blitz and does the veteran move and throws into the teeth of the blitz. The downside of any blitz is that if you are sending an extra rusher, it means you have one less player in coverage. So if a quarterback recognizes the blitz and has the nerve to face it head-on, they can likely find an open receiver over the blitzer's head . That is, if the receiver looks for the ball soon enough and the blitzer doesn't get pressure too quickly.
Yet another 3rd down, yet another nickel situation. The Giants line up with Moore, Jekins, Ayers, and Selvie on the defensive line, while Unga and Casillas are the linebackers.
On the defensive line, Selvie and Jenkins succeed in collapsing the pocket and getting some pressure. Moore is able to get off of his blocker with the second effort. However Ayers isn't able to push or penetrate the pocket. The lack of serious interior pressure lets Ryan maneuver in the pocket and buy enough time for the running back -- who had leaked out as a safety valve -- to get open from Casillas.
By that time both Moore and Jenkins had mostly worked past their blockers, but Ryan was able to get the ball out. Also, the center, who was mirroring Ayers, went back to the offenses' right side, and closed Moore's route to the quarterback.
These are the kinds of plays that have killed the Giants' defense so far this season. The coverage isn't quite able to keep the ball in the quarterback's hand, while the pass rush isn't quite able to get home fast enough to force an off-target throw.
This is an example of the other kind of play that has plagued the Giants' defense though the first three weeks. The Bubble screen. If you've ever watched Jon Gruden's QB Camp around draft time, you've seen him rail against how the bubble screen has taken over college football.
Well, there's a reason for that:
You don't go broke making a profit, and bubble screens are next to impossible for defenses to stop.
Here you get to see why. The Giants defend this play about as well as possible, as Prince Amukamara starts off in either a zone or off-man coverage, then comes crashing downhill to limit the gain to just a couple yards. However the stacked receivers to the outside are able to lock in their blocks on the defenders in man to allow the receiver who gets the ball room to make a bit of positive yardage.
From a pass rush perspective, Matt Ryan catches the ball in the shotgun, then immediately throws it out to the screen. That means that there is basically no time for a pass rush, short of a completely missed assignment and an incredibly timed jump on the snap.
Giants vs Washington
There isn't much here to say on this play. Once again, the pass rush has absolutely no time to do anything on this play. This is a really quick catch and throw to the slot receiver on a screen play.
The Giants send linebacker Devon Kennard as well as Mcbride on a slot blitz. Had McBride stayed home, it might have lessened the gain, however Uani' Unga does a nice job of getting into position to limit the gain to just 5 yards, but a block from the center cuases Unga to miss his tackle. Devon Kennard does a great job of hustling from the rush to make the tackle.
Damontre Moore is a complete non-factor on this play. Even if he wasn't blocked at all, he wouldn't have time to get to Cousins before the pass was on its way.
The Giants show a bit different defensive line from what we've seen on this play.
Damontre Moore is once gain on the right side (LDE). However this time Kerry Wynn is on the left side (RDE). Johnathan Hankins and Jay Bromley are on the inside, while Jonathan Casillas is blitzing the B-gap, between the right guard and right tackle, from the linebacker spot.
The Giants force an incompletion on this play with a combination of good pressure up the middle and solid coverage on the back end.
On one side, Kerry Wynn gets nowhere against Trent Williams.On the other side, Moore had gone for the bull-rush against the right tackle. However the tackle is able to (pretty quickly) anchor against the rush and stymie Moore.
On the inside Bromley and Casillas combine to occupy three blockers on the inside, with Brandon Scherff left looking for SOMEBODY to block. In an impressive feat for a 330 pound defensive tackle, Hankins manages to slip right past the left guard without the guard getting a hand on him. Part of that is Hankins' impressive quickness, but another is Bromley looping his rush to the (offensive) left, drawing the left guard's attention.
Once Hankins is able to chase Cousins out of the pocket, Moore is able to disengage from the right tackle's block and get the hit on Cousins just after he threw the ball away.
The Giants only rush for on this play, and the defensive line is Selvie, Wynn, Jenkins, and Moore from left to right on the offensive line.
George Selvie is the first Giant to beat his blocker, slipping past the left tackle and chasing cousins out of the pocket. Once the quarterback is out of the pocket, Jenkins is able to give chase until Cousins throws the ball out of bounds.
Focusing in on Moore, it's notable exactly how much attention Washington pays him. While they only commit a single blocker to Selvie, Wynn, and Jenkins, Moore has to deal with three separate blockers on this play. First he has to deal with a tight end, as he delivers a chip block before slipping out into the flats as a receiver. Immediately after, Moore has to deal with the right tackle. While Moore is dealing with the right tackle, Brandon Scherff comes across to block him as well.
This was a pretty common theme throughout the Giants' third game: Without the threat of Robert Ayers on the field, Washington was largely free to roll protection to Moore's side.
Watching Damontre Moore's tape, a few things become clear.
First: The problem isn't quite that the Giants don't have any pass rushers, so much as that they don't have enough pass rushers. At times the Giants pass rush is very reminiscent of 2014 when Mike Patterson and Mathias Kiwanuka consistently failed to get pressure on the quarterback. That allowed an relatively clean pocket for quarterbacks to step into. Now, particularly when the Giants have to play Selvie and Wynn and not Ayers, the same problems crop up again. Offenses can put a hat on a hat and occupy rushers with a single blocker, which allows them to roll protection to Moore's side.
Related to that, when the Giants use a "light" defensive line, with 3 or 4 defensive ends, the interior rushers haven't been able to penetrate or push the pocket. That has meant that when Moore beats his blockers, the quarterback has largely been able step up, away from his rush.
Second: The Giants' opponents have schemed to get the ball out very quickly. This is an old tactic against the Giants that the Cowboys first rolled out in 2012. At the time it was effective because Perry Fewell's preferred coverage schemes waited for offenses to make a mistake. Now they are effective because Steve Spagnuolo is using off coverages to defend more ground while he sends blitzers after the quarterback. The Giants are accepting short passes as the price of defending the run, sending blitzes, and not getting beaten down the field.
It should also be noted that the defensive scheme is still very new. Spags is still keeping tricks up his sleeve to keep from overwhelming his players. Also, with the absence of Jon Beason, communication has largely fallen to a pair of rookies. While Unga and Collins have performed admirably, the are still inexperienced.
It becomes something of a viscous circle: The Giants don't have the rushers to get pressure on the quarterback quickly, so Spags has to send extra rushers. But sending extra rushers means fewer defenders in coverage, which means quick completions are there in soft coverages -- or big plays are there if the defense plays tighter coverage and the rush doesn't get home.
Third: For Moore in particular, he doesn't seem to be playing quite as quickly as last year. Part of that is because offenses recognize him as one of the Giants main pass rushing threat, and treating him as such. But he also seems to be more disciplined and trying to pay more attention to his responsibilities as a run defender. It could also be that since this is a new defense, Moore is still thinking more than playing.
Whatever the reason, Moore IS a talented pass rusher. The Giants need to figure out how to put him in position to bring that talent out.