As we get deeper into the season, these spotlight plays have become harder to come by. After the Seattle game, we went with a spotlight player instead of one play because there weren’t a lot of positives to take away from the game. There wasn’t even a big defensive breakdown to look at, they were just beat -- a lot. There wasn’t a lot of good in the New York Giants’ 51-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, either, but before things really went off the rails, there was a five-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in the first quarter.
The Giants faced third-and-goal from the 5 and came out in 11 personnel (three wide receivers). For as much grief as the use of 11 personnel has gotten over the past year, the Giants have used it far less in 2017 than they did in 2016. Per Sharp Football Stats, the Giants have used 11 personnel on only 58 percent of offensive plays this season. Just like last year’s 92 percent rate was mostly due to the available players, the same is true for the decrease in 11 personnel and increase in 12 personnel (two tight ends, now at 20 percent of plays) this season.
This third down play was also the first play the Giants used 11 personnel since first-and-goal was set up at the 10. On first down, the Giants used 12 personnel with Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram to the right side of the line in a bunch with Sterling Shepard. The result of the play was a one-yard run for Wayne Gallman.
On second down the Giants kept the same personnel, but split Ellison out wide to the left. This kept the same defensive personnel on the field, but gave the defense a wildly different look. The play was a five-yard pass to Sterling Shepard.
The Giants went with 11 personnel on third down, but like second down, used a tight end out wide to give off a four-wide look with three wide receivers on the field. This time it was Engram, who was initially outside in a stack with King to the right of the formation.
Engram did not stay stacked, though. He motioned, but only over to the slot, but it was enough to bring linebacker/safety Mark Barron (26) over with him. It also forced rookie safety John Johnson (43) to move further inside.
After the motion, the Giants had a spread four-wide look with Shepard and Roger Lewis to the left, Engram and King to the right and Shane Vereen in the backfield to the left of Eli Manning.
While the Giants spread the field with four-wide, they really cut it in half by only focusing on the right side of the field -- Manning’s reads were only to Engram and King. On the surface, the Giants had a disadvantage in the numbers game -- three defenders to two receivers. But the use of route combinations and Manning using his eyes to hold defenders helped open up the play.
From the slot, Engram runs an out to the sideline, while King loops around towards the post along the back of the end zone.
Off the release and before either receiver breaks, none of the three defenders have their eyes on King. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) is watching Manning’s eyes, while both Barron and John Johnson focus on Engram.
As Engram breaks outside, Barron goes with him. Trumaine Johnson holds his ground still watching Manning and John Johnson switches his focus from Engram to Manning while King starts to slip behind him. At this time Manning keeps his eyes on Engram, long enough to hold both Johnsons in their place.
At this time, the Giants are allowing Manning’s eye manipulation to happen by holding up well in pass blocking. Because the Giants are four-wide, there’s no help in terms of an additional tight end to help block any Rams defenders. But the Giants do have a numbers advantage here with six blockers for five defenders, which will allow for a double-team on someone.
The double-team the Giants elect, and rightly so, comes from Ereck Flowers and John Jerry against Aaron Donald. With the play going to the right, the Giants let Shane Vereen take on Matt Longacre (96) off the backside edge. Center Brett Jones is responsible for linebacker Alec Ogletree (52), while D.J. Fluker and Bobby Hart get one-on-one matchups with Michael Brockers (90) and Connor Barwin (98).
What makes this an even easier block for the Giants is Ogletree’s assignment was to cover Vereen out of the backfield, so when Vereen loops out to take on Longacre, he also takes Ogletree out with him, clearing the middle of the line and the eventual throwing lane.
When Manning’s attention in the pocket moves from Engram over to King, the receiver already has a step behind Johnson in the end zone.
With a clean pocket and the receiver broken open, Manning has the ability to reset his feet in the pocket for the pass. As Manning releases the ball, Johnson has no chance of getting to it and the pass easily sails by his diving attempt for a deflection.
This touchdown tied the game 7-7 before the Rams scored 17 points in a row and the game got out of hand. The red zone has been one of the few places where the Giants have seen success on offense so far this season. Through nine weeks, Manning has the highest passer rating in the red zone among quarterbacks.
That’s impressive, but both red zone performance and passer rating can have a high variance in small samples. And as important as the red zone is, success there is not indicative of future success inside the 20 or other parts of the field. It’s one of Football Outsiders’ basics, as they note:
Although play in the red zone has a disproportionately high importance to the outcome of games relative to plays on the rest of the field, NFL teams do not exhibit a level of performance in the red zone that is consistently better or worse than their performance elsewhere, year after year. The simplest explanation why is a small(er) sample size and the inherent variance of football, with contributing factors like injuries and changes in personnel.
And even with that success, the Giants were only 15th in points per red zone trip and 16th in touchdowns per red zone trip heading into Week 9. What should be taken out of these plays, though, is some of the creativity in formations and playcalling that occur near the end zone and nowhere else. To this point some of the Giants’ best plays have come inside the 20, including this one and Evan Engram’s Week 2 touchdown from the backfield. If more of that creativity could be used on the other 80 yards of the field, maybe there’s a chance the offense can open up a little more over the second half of the season.