Each week we’ve been going over one spotlight play from the previous game, either a turning point in the game, a huge gain, or something really well designed. For as painful as this Giants season has been, there’s at least been a worthy play each week, even if it came from the opponent. But, whew, was that not the case this week. So instead, we’ll do a spotlight player and focus on rookie defensive lineman Avery Moss.
Moss saw extended time against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday (44.7 percent of the defensive snaps) and while he played more against the Denver Broncos in Week 6 (51.9 percent), he made his biggest impact of the game this past week.
The Giants started Jason Pierre-Paul and Kerry Wynn at defensive end for this game, as has been the case with Olivier Vernon sidelined. While, Moss got most of his run when when Wynn got injured towards the end of the first quarter, he saw his first action with 7:21 remaining in the first quarter, the Giants’ 10th defensive play. It was 3rd and 5 and Moss slid in on the right side of the defensive line for Wynn, across from left tackle Rees Odhiambo (70).
At the snap, Moss set up an outside speed rush against Odhiambo. Moss’s speed is enough that he got some penetration, but Odhiambo never let him get an advantage to the inside. Still, Moss’s presence is just enough to force Russell Wilson to step up in the pocket, but unfortunately Pierre-Paul was taken to the ground on his rush and Wilson was able to avoid Robert Thomas to find Doug Baldwin for an 11-yard gain and a first down.
Moss got in on some of the action during the never-ending goal line stand in the first quarter and he made an impact on two of the final plays. On 3rd-and-goal from the 2, the first play following the injury to Wynn, Moss was in at right defensive end. He was across from Jimmy Graham, which proved to be an advantage for the defender. The play was a handoff to Thomas Rawls and at the snap, Moss worked his way inside against Graham. He worked far enough inside and was able to get his left arm free to make initial contact on Rawls, which eventually helped Damon Harrison in to help with the tackle to set up fourth down.
On the fourth-down play, Moss got a free release off the edge. He hesitated just slightly to make sure Rawls didn’t get a handoff, then jumped out in front of Wilson’s pass to Graham.
With a straight line to the quarterback, Moss might have been able to tip the pass or alter Wilson’s throwing angle. But even without a technical play-action handoff, the entire offensive line blocked like a run play, so it’s hard to fault Moss for defending against the run first.
On Seattle’s next offensive play, Moss made his biggest impact. It was a run for Rawls and Moss was initially blocked out of the play by Odhiambo. But the rookie didn’t give up on the play. Odhiambo was taken out by a hit from fullback Tre Madden, who fell from a hit by Keenan Robinson. That allowed Moss to chase down Rawls. Moss’s helmet made perfect contact with the ball and it was knocked out into the arms of Landon Collins.
The tackle attempt was well executed. Moss took out the legs of Rawls with his arms, while his helmet went right to the midsection and was just enough to force the fumble. The fumble and return from Collins set up the Giants’ only touchdown of the day.
On Seattle’s next drive, the Seahawks faced a second-and-20 from their own 8-yard line. Moss was again the right defensive end. At the snap, he swiped at Graham to make sure he wouldn’t be chipped by the tight end. Again Moss tried to go around Odhiambo, but the left tackle was able to keep him deep enough to not get to the quarterback. But the presence of Moss and the rush from Pierre-Paul on the other side was enough to flush Wilson from the pocket. This ends up as a sack for a majority of quarterbacks in the league, but Wilson was able to escape and fire a strike to Amara Darboh for a 16-yard gain.
Wynn returned to the game with about nine and a half minutes left in the second half. When he did, he took back his spot in the rotation in front of Moss. With 7:51 remaining, the Seahawks faced a first-and-10 just over midfield. Moss stepped in for Pierre-Paul on the left side of the defense against right tackle Germain Ifedi (76). Again, it’s the outside speed rush and Moss eventually got around Ifedi. Wilson recognized the pressure and stepped up in the pocket to find a wide open Graham down the sideline. Fortunately for the Giants, the pass was dropped. This was another instance, though, of Moss at least forcing the quarterback to move in the pocket.
Four plays later, the Seahawks faced a 2nd-and-26. With six Giants along the line against six blockers, Seattle called a run. But the Seahawks didn’t block all six Giants. Instead, the left guard and center double-teamed Pierre-Paul, who was lined up in the interior, but in a two-point stance. That left Moss unblocked on the backside and the end was quick enough to catch up with Rawls and split a tackle with Jay Bromley.
During the second half Moss mostly saw time in just obvious passing downs, but as the Seahawks’ lead increased, the number of obvious passing downs decreased. Overall Moss played fairly well. He made his biggest impacts during the stretch he saw regular playing time with Wynn sidelined. He also flashed more than Wynn did during their respective playing time.
There’s certainly potential there for Moss. Against another quarterback, some of his pressures could have been sacks. Maybe you’d like to see a little more power in Moss’s game, perhaps a little more arm movement to break contact with the offensive linemen sooner. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Moss leap over Wynn in the defensive end rotation during the second half of the season, regardless of whether Vernon comes back healthy soon or not. The Giants have just been 19th in defensive pressure rate per Football Outsiders after finishing eighth in 2016. Some of that is due to Vernon not being on the field, but it will help to have a pass rusher who can step in as the third option and Moss could be well on his way to being that piece.