It’s pretty remarkable, really. Despite having three known ballhawks on their defense in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, and Darian Thompson, The New York Giants’ defense hadn’t forced a single turnover through the first four games of the season.
They had been close on a number of occasions, but the ball always seemed to bounce the other way. An interception just out of the defensive back’s reach, or a fumble bouncing back to the offense. It didn’t seem likely that they’d get their first interception against Aaron Rodgers, who is one of the NFL’s most efficient quarterbacks and very rarely turns the ball over at home.
Play 1 - Q1, 7:48
The Packers open this play in a spread formation with four receivers and a single tight end. The Giants are in their nickel set, in which they played most of the day. The defense has just two down linemen with Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul lined up as stand-up rushers while the back seven are in zone coverage across the board.
Spagnuolo throws a curve ball by walking Landon Collins down from his safety position and playing him as a corner while dropping Janoris Jenkins into a deeper zone — almost a safety position. While having Jonathan Casillas and Collins in underneath coverage on receivers is a risk, it gives Jenkins the ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and come down to help either player.
This pass is very nearly picked off, the throw just high enough to glance off Jenkins’ hands.
The gamble of flooding the field with zone coverages pays off and the Giants have a numerical advantage on both sides of the field. On the play side, specifically, Rodgers is throwing into the vicinity of three defenders. Casillas’ coverage squeezes the throwing window, taking away the middle of the field, and forces Rodgers to have to throw the ball over his left tackle. And while Olivier Vernon likely wasn’t credited with a pressure here — though another second and JPP would have been — he does force the left tackle into Rodgers’ throwing lane, forcing the high throw which Jenkins very nearly (and probably should have) picked off.
Play 2 - Q1, 0:11
Once again we find the Packers with a short field, just outside of the red zone at the Giants’ 21-yard line. Their formation and play should look exceptionally familiar to Giants’ fans after two and a third years with Ben McAdoo calling plays. The Packers are in the shotgun formation with 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end). They have a rub/pick play called at the bottom of the screen, designed to beat the Giants’ man coverage. At the top they have the receivers stacked to help get separation for Jordy Nelson, who will run the crossing route just beyond the first down marker.
The Giants are in their nickel defense, showing a pair of linebackers as B-gap blitzers. They’ll drop back into zone coverage at the snap, but before the snap it looks as if the middle of the field could be wide open.
The Giants are in a Cover - 1 shell, with undrafted rookie safety Andrew Adams as the lone deep defender.
The Giants’ pass rush has Rodgers under heavy pressure with the pocket collapsing as he releases the ball. Olivier Vernon was supposed to be double teamed on the left side, but manages to slip one blocker and push the left tackle back. JPP has done the same thing, pushing the right tackle back on the other side. In the middle, the Giants defensive tackles are doing a good job of preventing Rodgers from being able to work up in the pocket and clogging the throwing lanes in front of him.
The idea is to fit the ball over the two zone defenders in the middle of the field and underneath Adams in the deep middle. There is a void there, but the collapsing pocket doesn’t let Rodgers have the accuracy he usually shows, and the ball sails a bit. Jenkins does a terrific job of getting off his receiver, which turns into a block, and reads the pass to make the interception.
Play 3 - Q2, 10:47
The Packers are showing a heavy run formation here. With a 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) set and a close formation, this looks like it’s going to be a running play. It turns out to be a play-action pass deep down the field. They have Slant-Go (Sluggo) routes called on either side of the formation.
The Giants are in a 4-3 Over look, a departure from their usual 4-3 Under and the nickel package they used for most of the night. They have a Cover 2 shell called over the top with man coverage underneath.
Most of the Giants bit hard on Green Bay’s play-action pass, but Jenkins and Adams kept their discipline and stayed with their assignments. Jordy Nelson is running free at the top of the screen, but Adams recognizes where the pass is headed and is coming down in coverage.
Once again Jenkins read the play and came off his assignment to make a play on the ball. Rodgers delivers a good deep throw, but he either anticipated Nelson running his route deeper or Adams influenced the route because he overthrows the receiver slightly, enough for Jenkins to nearly come up with a third interception. The Packers got lucky here, and there’s enough traffic that the ball just slips through Jenkins’ hands and glances off his shoulder pad.
This was a good play by the Packers, and almost worked for a huge gain. Jenkins and Adams, however read it well.
Play 4 - Q2, 3:13
There’s a lot that goes on in this play that happens after the snap, but here’s the pre-snap set-up. The Packers are in their customary shotgun alignment with three receivers, a single running back and a tight end. The tight end and a receiver (Jordy Nelson) run vertical routes while they have a rub concept on the bottom of the play.
The Giants are in a 43 Over defense showing a single blitzer. That linebacker is in coverage on the tight end, whole the other linebacker is on a “Green Dog” blitz. He starts to blitz but then drops into coverage when the running back releases on a route.
Safety Andrew Adams isn’t actually blitzing, but drops into zone coverage, only to come down as a pass rusher once the play breaks down.
Rodgers was under heavy pressure this play, just getting away from Vernon and Johnathan Hankins. On the back end the Giants have tight coverage all over the field, so Rodgers elects to use his legs to buy time for his receivers to work open rather than throw the ball away.
Devante Adams flashes open underneath, and Rodgers throws the ball to him with Andrew Adams barreling down on him. Rodgers probably sees all the open field in front of his receiver and forces the play, but Jenkins quickly steps in front of the pass and comes up with the diving interception, his second of the game.
Play 5 - Q4, 12:24
Once again the Packers are showing a run with a 21 personnel set, running back and fullback in an “I” formation and an in-line tight end. Of course, it turns out to be a play-action pass.
The Giants are in a base defense with zone coverage across the board in their back 7. They have a Cover-3 shell with both safeties and the corner at the top of the screen retreating into their zones at the snap, while Jenkins and the three linebackers spread out into zones underneath.
The Giants’ pass rush blows this play up for the Packers. Hankins quickly and easily beats his blocker, getting pressure on Rodgers just after he fakes the hand-off. On the left side. Meanwhile Vernon gets pressure from the left defensive end position.
We don’t know where Rodgers intended to look, but after making Hankins miss, he looks downfield to Devante Adams who is coming across the field. Andrew Adams read the quarterbacks’ eyes and got a great jump on the ball.
Devante Adams did a good job of turning into a defensive back, knocking the ball away at the last instant. He had to, otherwise Andrew Adams stood a good chance of picking Rodgers off.
There are complaints about the Giants’ pass rush, or lack thereof. Those are valid, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs to do a better job of generating pressure while the rushers themselves need to figure out how to get off their blockers.
But nobody can complain about the play of the Giants’ secondary. Weakened by injury, they stepped up and held a dangerous Packers’ offense in check. Janoris Jenkins, who had a pair of interceptions and almost came up with two more, and Andrew Adams deserve praise in particular.
For an undrafted rookie making just his second start, his play was every bit as impressive as that of Jenkins.