It was a rough return for Eli Manning as the starting quarterback for the New York Giants. After being benched for Geno Smith last week, Manning took back the reins in a 30-10 loss against the Dallas Cowboys. Manning wasn’t great in the effort -- he throw 46 times for only 228 yards (5.0 yards per attempt) -- and he is now tied with Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer for the second-lowest yards per attempt among qualified quarterbacks on the season, above only Joe Flacco.
Not much has gone right for the Giants for Manning this season, but there was a play midway through the second quarter that gave a glimpse back to the Manning of old, set the Giants up for a big gain, and led to the only touchdown of the day.
The play occurred with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter and the score tied 3-3. The Giants had a first and 10 on their own 44 yard line. With Manning under center, the Giants came out in 11 personnel for a 2x1 set with Sterling Shepard and Darius Powe to the right of the formation and Evan Engram inline also to the right. Dallas countered in nickel and a two-deep safety look.
As Manning surveyed the defense from under center, he changed the play, went back into shotgun, and moved Wayne Gallman to his left.
Even as the Cowboys played a mostly straight forward Cover-2 look, Manning must have noticed something about the defense that he could exploit, likely knowing the alignment of linebackers Anthony Hitchens (59) and Sean Lee (50) so close together indicated some kind of blitz. Twice -- as he walks back into shotgun and right before the snap -- Manning gives a hand signal to the receivers on the right side of the line. Watch his hands closely and Engram looking back for the signal each time.
Dallas does bring a blitz with Hitchens, as well as defensive back Xavier Woods, who lined up across from Shepard in the slot. Lee moved to his left in zone and on the other side of the line defensive end Benson Mayowa (93) dropped back into coverage.
As the blitz comes, both wide receivers on the right side run quick curl routes. Both Dallas defenders on that side of the field rush in to defend the quick pass. That leaves the only deep Cowboys safety on the far hash as Evan Engram released off his route down the near hash.
At this point, the Cowboys have a breakdown in their zone coverage. Lee passes off Engram once the tight end gets past him, but there’s no one to pick Engram up. With safety Kavon Frazer (35) backing up the Woods blitz and biting on Shepard’s hitch and Jeff Heath (38) well out of range, Engram had a clear path down the field. Right before Woods was able to get to Manning on the blitz, he released the ball for his tight end.
At the snap Manning gave a quick glance to his left, but quickly turned and focused on Engram the who way. He held the ball just long enough for Engram to clear Lee in coverage and once it was clear there was no one in front for the tight end, he got the pass off. No defenders were near Engram until Heath was able to come over and knock him out of bounds after a 21-yard gain.
The pass put the Giants just outside of the red zone and six plays later, they would score on a one-yard pass to the other tight end, Rhett Ellison. That briefly gave the Giants a 10-3 lead for roughy 30 seconds of game time before Dez Bryant scored on a 50-yard reception.
On eight drives in the second half, the Giants would cross midfield just twice and result in no points. There was again much left to be desired in play calling, game management, and overall execution. The Giants haven’t been able to take advantage of much this season, but for one play in the second quarter there was a brief showing of what preparation and a well executed play can do.