Not a lot went right for the New York Giants offense in Week 1. Against the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants averaged 4.4 yards per play and managed just 13 first downs across 10 drives. It all started early when the Giants went three-and-out on their first offensive drive of the night. The breaking point was a third-down sack from DeMarcus Lawrence on a stunt that really set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Giants faced third-and-4 from their own 12 and came out with 11 personnel featuring Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Evan Engram, and Shane Vereen. But the Cowboys basically treated Engram as a wide receiver and countered with a dime defense -- six defensive backs, one linebacker, and four defensive linemen. Rookie Chidobe Awuzie (33), the extra defensive back on the play, lined up next to Sean Lee (50) and was responsible for Engram.
On the defensive line, Dallas spread out with Lawrence (90) lined up in a wide-9 technique on the outside of Engram. The defensive end on the other side, Benson Mayowa (93), was also lined up fairly wide, more than a body length outside of Ereck Flowers.
At the snap, as Engram went out for a pass, Bobby Hart dropped back into his pass set as Maliek Collins (96) worked to the outside of John Jerry.
As Hart prepared for Lawrence, the defensive end was able to make first contact and push Hart back. Meanwhile, Collins directed his rush towards Hart with Jerry on his inside shoulder. The push from Lawrence, along with the rush from Collins, allowed him to start his loop back into the interior.
Collins continued his rush up the field and when he got deep enough, Hart switched to pick him up. Jerry stayed engaged, though, as Lawrence worked the stunt. By the time Jerry released from the block, Lawrence already had a clear path to Eli Manning.
It wasn’t long before Lawrence closed in and hit Manning for the sack.
Here’s the full play in slow motion:
Even in the preseason, the offensive line of the Giants had trouble stopping stunts. There’s time when the offensive line struggles blocking just one-on-one and stunts have been an even more surefire way of getting pressure on Manning.
From my unofficial timing, there were around three seconds from snap to sack on this play. That’s not an especially fast sack and it’s nearly a half-second more than the average time Manning took to throw last season (2.53 seconds), per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. It was also nowhere near as fast as the 2.56-second sack Charles Tapper had on Manning in the third quarter, which was the overall fourth fastest sack of the week.
But while this play certainly could have been blocked better up front, that’s not the whole story of the sack. Dallas should get credit for using the extra defensive back because there was nowhere for Manning to go with the pass and he had enough time to attempt three reads on the play.
The first read was to Brandon Marshall, but as he crossed the middle of the field, Orlando Scandrick (32) was ready to close in on the route.
Manning then turned to the other side of the field and looked for Engram. The tight end ran a quick out then cut up the seam, but Awuzie was deep enough that the first cut had no impact on his coverage and he was able to keep Engram in front of him.
Further outside, Roger Lewis looks to have separation on Nolan Carroll (24), but Carroll kept his focus on Manning’s eyes. With the quarterback looking for Engram, Carroll didn’t have to pay as much attention to the receiver behind him.
With Engram not open, Manning came back to the field, this time for Shane Vereen. Vereen ran an out route from the backfield, but when he and Marshall crossed paths, Scandrick changed directions and stayed with Vereen as Marshall was passed off to Sean Lee. As Manning also found Vereen to be covered, Lawrence was just a few steps away from the quarterback.
Overall no one on this play really looks great. The right side of the line misplayed or miscommunicated the stunt, or both. The receivers were able to get little separation on a Dallas secondary that ranked 19th in pass defense DVOA last season. Manning missed the one receiver who might have been able to get open and gain a first down on the play.
This play alone didn’t sink the Giants on Sunday night, but it was an unfortunate indicator of what was to come later. Up next the Giants will face a Detroit Lions defense that played surprisingly well against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1. Though time will tell whether Detroit’s defense is improving or if the Arizona offense was that bad. The same questions could be asked about the Dallas defense and Giants offense too.