The defense of the Philadelphia Eagles has not been messing around this season. Through Week 14 Philadelphia ranked third in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and fourth in both yards and points allowed per drive. They’ve gotten there by putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles only rank 18th among defenses with a 6.2 percent sack rate, but they are fifth in pressure rate among defenses.
Typically Jim Schwartz defenses excel and rely on getting pressure with the front four, but Schwartz has called upon an extra rusher or two a little more often this season. They’re blitzing on 25 percent opposing pass plays, which ranks 18th in the league, after rushing four on a league-leading 79.3 percent of the time last season.
On Sunday the Eagles went to that blitz early, but the Giants were ready for it. The early handling of Philadelphia’s extra rushers set the Giants up to score early and hang around for most of the game. In past seasons, the Giants offense has relied on the slant as means for Odell Beckham doing something spectacular. Against the Eagles, it was a key component of slowing down the pass rush.
It started on the Giants’ first play from scrimmage. The Giants were in 21 personnel (two running backs) with Orleans Darkwa and Shane Smith in the backfield. Roger Lewis motioned in tight to the formation from the outside left to signal run, but at the snap, Eli Manning took a quick drop and released the ball to Sterling Shepard on a slant for an early gain on six yards. The pass was so quick, the Eagles didn’t even have time to get their blitz beyond the line of scrimmage.
Early on, the Giants also hurried up between plays after completed passes and runs in an attempt to slowly wear down the Eagles’ defense.
On the next play, the Giants came out in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) with all three receivers to the left. Before the snap, the Eagles shifted their defensive line to have six defenders threatening to rush. Left defensive end Brandon Graham (55) shifted to line up between the tackle and guard as safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (95) lined up to his left.
Manning sent Tavarres King in motion from the tight left to the outside right and when Jalen Mills (31) followed, it indicated man coverage. Manning knew if extra pressure was going to come, it would be from his right so he looked quick to his left and hit Shepard on another slant for a gain of seven.
A few plays later, the Giants faced a second-and-9 from their own 39. Again the offense was in 11 personnel, but Sterling Shepard motioned from the right slot to the backfield behind Wayne Gallman.
Again, the motion tipped off man coverage and Manning knew if pressure was coming, a quick pass would likely be open and that’s exactly what happened. The Eagles had seven possible pass rushers near the line and sent Jenkins and linebacker Nigel Bradham (53) while defensive end Vinny Curry (75) dropped back into coverage. Gallman crossed over in the backfield to pick up Jenkins, but that gave Bradham a clear path to Manning. But the quarterback was ready to release the ball and found Evan Engram matched up on Kendricks for another quick slant and a gain of six.
The Giants would convert the short third down and would take a 6-0 lead nine plays later on a one-yard touchdown run by Orleans Darkwa.
On the next drive, the Giants faced a third-and-5 from their own 30. They came out in 12 personnel (two tight ends) dressed up like 11 personnel with Engram in the slot. It was another quick pass -- another slant to Engram -- that opened up perfectly. Wayne Gallman released from the backfield, which brought Malcolm Jenkins away from the middle of the field. Along the offensive line, center Brett Jones picked up Fletcher Cox (91) and pushed him far enough to the outside to open the throwing lane to Engram.
The drive ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King -- against a five man rush. There’s multiple parts that made this play a great one and an easy, wide open touchdown for the Giants. First is going to come on the outside. King was lined up against Jalen Mills, who has been one of the better cornerbacks in the league this season. Through Week 14, Mills ranked fifth among 70 qualified cornerbacks in yards allowed per pass (5.5) and 28th in Success Rate (56 percent) per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders.
But on this play, Mills got beaten badly because he tried to jump the slant the Giants had been working against him up to that point. King’s initial steps off the line were to the inside and Mills was super aggressive in an attempt to jump the route. When King made his move back to the corner, the single-high safety was too far away and King had a clear path to an easy catch in the end zone.
The bite from the cornerback made the play easier, but it was really set up before the snap. Philadelphia had seven men in the box with five along the line of scrimmage. As Manning read the defense, he singled out Malcolm Jenkins as the likely blitzer -- pointing to him twice. At the snap, Wayne Gallman crossed over to pick up Jenkins, but the offensive line and Manning shifted away from the blitz and towards King’s side of the field. The subtle pocket movement from Manning gave him a good passing lane and he got the ball off before Fletcher Cox beat Jon Halapio around the outside.
Quick passes were key to the Giants’ game plan. Manning took an average of 2.38 seconds to throw on Sunday, per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the quickest release for any quarterback this week and Manning’s quickest single-game of the season. He’s already had one of the quickest releases over the course of the year, an average of 2.51 seconds to throw, which is tied for the fifth-lowest among quarterbacks.
Over the course of the game, the Eagles backed off the blitz and relied more on the four-man rush with seven defenders in coverage. The Giants still got the ball off quickly and it mostly worked. The offense averaged 42 yards per drive after coming into the game averaging 25.55 yards per drive, the second-worst mark in the league.
Next week the Giants face the Arizona Cardinals, who blitz even more than the Eagles -- 33 percent, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. However, they’re only 18th in pressure rate through Week 14. Either way, this offensive game plan might carry over for another week. Against a defense that hasn’t been as good, the Giants have a chance to see success again.