A 12-9 New York Giants overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs played out exactly how you’d imagine when you read the first part of that sentence. There was a little bit of offense, but not much -- the Giants did need four and a half quarters to score a touchdown and two field goals against the 26th-ranked defense per DVOA. But there were some defensive plays that helped the Giants’ 29th-ranked defense shut down Kansas City’s third-ranked offense.
The Giants did this by forcing Alex Smith to throw interceptions -- he threw two on Sunday after entering the game with just one on the season -- and stopping some of Kansas City’s gadget plays. On one play late in the first quarter, the Giants did both.
Through the early part of the season, in route to the 5-0 start, the Chiefs had the league’s most creative offense. With pre-snap motion and college option style plays, it was hard to figure out where the ball was going on any one play. One of the staples of the early season success was the shovel pass to tight end Travis Kelce. Kansas City went there often in Week 1 against the New England Patriots and continued to use the play through Sunday’s meeting with the Giants.
What made the play so effective is that it could be run anywhere on the field and from various personnel and formations. Let’s look at one that worked Week 1 against the Patriots, first.
Kansas City came out with two tight ends, one on each side of the line and three players in the backfield along with Smith -- Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt to his sides and De’Anthony Thomas behind him. This intentionally loaded the box with Patriots defenders.
Despite the extra players in the backfield, the play started like a typical read option. The play ran to the offense’s right as Kareem Hunt swept across and Smith looked to read an outside defender. Kelce, who was lined up to the left, came across the line as if was a pulling blocker out in front of Hunt on the play. This got enough of New England’s defenders to follow the motion. De’Anthony Thomas ran the opposite way from the backfield, which froze the backside defenders.
Smith didn’t hand the ball off and instead of keeping, he flicked the ball to Kelce, who had a hole created for him in the middle of the field.
When set up well enough, there’s enough room for chunks of yards up the middle. It might not be a huge play, but the 8-yard gain the Chiefs get here on a first down deep in their own territory is not meaningless.
Against the Giants, the Chiefs attempted the tight end shovel pass late in the first quarter. The game was still scoreless and Kansas City faced a second-and-10 on their own 34. Unlike the above play against the Patriots, the Chiefs came out in a more spread look here. It’s 11 personnel (three wide receivers) but not in a typical alignment. Smith is flanked by two backs in the backfield, again Hunt and Hill. Albert Wilson was isolated to the left while Kelce and De’Anthony Thomas were stacked to the left.
Before the snap, Kelce motioned tight into the formation.
With Kelce in tight, the Chiefs had a nine-on-six advantage in the immediate box, though the Giants had Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins close on either side with just Darian Thompson back deep.
Again, the start of the play looked like a typical read option. On this play, though, Kansas City tried some misdirection with the offensive line. The line blocked down to the offense’s right, but right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (76) pulled to the left to get out in front of the run. Kelce trailed behind him.
As left tackle Eric Fisher (72) blocked down, Jason Pierre-Paul pushed him out of the way so he could stay home and defend for the quarterback keeper or the shovel.
Pierre-Paul had his eyes on Kelce as he moved across the formation and as Smith was ready to throw the shovel pass, Pierre-Paul had it mapped out with a clear path to the tight end.
Kelce was doomed before he even touched the ball.
Pierre-Paul only forced the ball out from Kelce. Damon Harrison was the one who got the interception. Let’s look at how he got in position. Harrison was left one-on-one with left guard Zach Fulton. The play did not end well for Fulton. At the snap, Harrison set his feet, threw Fulton down to the side, and was in position just behind Pierre-Paul as the ball popped free from Kelce’s hands.
Here’s Harrison discarding Fulton. It’s ok to watch this on repeat. I’ve done it more times than required to put this article together.
And here’s how the whole play gets set up from Harrison and Pierre-Paul. It’s a great read from Pierre-Paul and a greater show of dominance from Harrison.
After getting the ball at Kansas City’s 26, six plays later the Giants were in the end zone with a one-yard run from Orleans Darkwa. The short field set up an easy score, two things the Giants hadn’t gotten much of this season. Entering this game, the Giants started their average offensive drive from the 26.39 yard line, which ranked 27th. For a struggling offense, starting from a disadvantageous field position isn’t a great combination. There’s not just one culprit here.
The defense is turning the ball over less frequently -- 10.3 percent of opposing drives have ended with a turnover, which ranks 20th, opposed to 12.2 percent last season, which ranked 12th. The defense has also allowed more yards per drive this season -- 34.50 (27th) up from 27.85 (fifth) -- which pins the offense further back when punts are forced. The Giants also have negative value on both kick and punt returns, per Football Outsiders. Only 13 punts have been returned for the Giants this season -- the second fewest in the league -- and on them, three returners have averaged 5.8 yards per return, which ranks 25th.
This is to say these short fields help, but there haven’t been many of them this season. They could be key to getting the defense back on track and it’s never a bad thing to help put the offense closer to the end zone. Without this interception, who knows if the Giants could have scored a touchdown on the day when they relied on field goals for every other score.
It’s these little things that can help put a struggling team in favorable positions. It worked here and the Giants could use a few more of these breaks over the final six games.