There’s been some embarrassing losses for the New York Giants this season. Perhaps the biggest of which was Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. At every point in the game, the 49ers looked like the better team and the San Francisco offense had its way with the Giants defense for much of the afternoon.
On no play was that more evident than the 83-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin in the second quarter. Goodwin’s story heading into the game was incredible and heartbreaking. Goodwin and his wife Morgan lost their child, delivered stillborn at just 19 weeks, near 4 a.m. Sunday morning. It was Morgan who convinced her husband to play later that day, a decision that led to the emotional kneel from Marquise in the end zone after he scored.
Goodwin has been no stranger to long touchdowns in his career. He’s the epitome of a deep threat -- he ran an official 4.27 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2013. Over his four year career with the Buffalo Bills and the 49ers, Goodwin has seven receiving touchdowns. One of them has gone for fewer than 40 yards. The former Texas Longhorn has little problem getting behind a defense, but on Sunday’s touchdown, the Giants gave him a little help.
San Francisco faced a third-and-8 on their own 17-yard line. The 49ers came out in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) with Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne (84), and Aldrick Robinson (19) as the three receivers. Garrett Celek (88) was the lone tight end on the field and he aligned as a fullback offset in the backfield in front of Carlos Hyde (28).
The Giants countered with a nickel package (five defensive backs) that at first looked normal. Darian Thompson initially lined up as a single-high safety. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was in the slot on the two-receiver side with Janoris Jenkins on the outside. Ross Cockrell was the outside corner across from Robinson on the other side.
While the secondary looked rather normal, the line of scrimmage was anything but. The Giants showed blitz with seven defenders crowding the line. That included Olivier Vernon in a two-point stance out wide, Avery Moss as a defensive tackle, linebackers Curtis Grant and Jonathan Casillas up at the line, and Landon Collins lurking behind in the box.
Both of those initial alignments were disguises for the defense. Just before the snap, Rodgers-Cromartie dropped back from the slot to a two-deep safety look along with Thompson. At the snap, Grant and Vernon dropped away from the line of scrimmage and into coverage.
With Grant and Vernon in coverage, the Giants still brought an extra defender with five pass rushers. Both defenders who dropped back were on the left side of the offense, so the Giants looked to overload the offense’s right. The problem came when neither player in San Francisco’s backfield went out for a pass. Both Celek and Hyde stayed in to block, so the blitz efforts were thwarted. Collins and Casillas got through the line, but Collins was easily blocked by Celek and Casillas was taken out by a cut block from Hyde. That left Moss double teamed on the left, Jay Bromley doubled teamed in the middle, and Jason Pierre-Paul one-on-one with right tackle Trent Brown, but with a pile of players in front of him as he tried to cut inside.
49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard stepped over to his left in order to get away from the mess and when he set his feet to throw, there was no threat of a defender closing in. Quarterbacks dream of clean pockets, this was better than one of those.
Getting to the quarterback was a struggle for the Giants all game. A week after the Arizona Cardinals tallied 16 quarterback hits against Beathard, the Giants managed two on Sunday. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, no lineman was even remotely close to pressuring Beathard on a consistent basis. No Giant finished closer than an average of five yards from the quarterback, while the league average is 4.47 yards. To compare, three 49ers defenders finished an average below four yards from Eli Manning.
With the seven players in to block the Giants’ failed blitz, the Niners had just the three wide receivers running routes. The Giants dropped into zone coverage with their six defenders. As the routes developed, Robinson and Bourne ran deep comebacks as Goodwin took his route all the way down the field.
As Bourne took his route into the middle of the field behind the first layer of zone coverage from Vernon and Grant, he took the attention of Rodgers-Cromartie. Thompson drifted towards Robinson, the lone receiver on his side of the field. Jenkins stuck with Goodwin, but kept outside leverage with the safety in the middle of the field.
Bourne broke off his route, but Rodgers-Cromartie still kept his attention on the slot receiver. Meanwhile Goodwin had started to sneak behind him and with Jenkins’s alignment on the outside, there was plenty of separation created for the receiver to start his break free down the field.
As the ball is released, Goodwin is well in front of Jenkins and he’s more than 15 yards past Rodgers-Cromartie.
Jenkins, to his credit on this play, makes an effort to catch up with Goodwin as the ball is in the air, but too much separation was already created and Jenkins wasn’t able to make the stop. With the reception made, there was nothing stopping Goodwin from the end zone.
Here’s the play in full:
This play encapsulated almost everything that has gone wrong with the Giants defense this season. There was miscommunication between Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie, a cornerback playing safety, in zone coverage -- though in Rodgers-Cromartie’s defense, if he had left for Goodwin, Bourne would have been open for a big gain with the hole in the zone anyway. There was a failed blitz on a third down while the team’s best pass rusher dropped back into coverage.
So far this season, the Giants have been killed with big plays and on third downs. This touchdown combined them both. The Giants are allowing opponents to convert 43.4 percent of third downs this season, the sixth-worst rate in the league. Last season, the Giants had the third-best third down defense, allowing just 34.4 percent of plays to go for first downs.
The Giants are also tied for the second-most pass plays allowed of 20 or more yards with 35. Last year, despite the great defense, the Giants also struggled with big pass plays, allowing 59, which was the second-most in the league. However, of those 59 plays, only eight went for touchdowns. Through 10 weeks of the 2017 season, the Giants have already allowed nine 20-plus yard touchdowns through the air.
There have been a lot of problems for the Giants on defense this season. Just about all of them showed up against San Francisco, the league’s 30th-ranked offense heading into the week by DVOA. It’s unlikely these problems will be a quick fix, considering they’ve been apparent all year. That’s not going to be a good sign when the Kansas City Chiefs, the No. 2 offense by DVOA, comes to the Meadowlands in Week 11.