So much went wrong for the New York Giants on offense against the Detroit Lions, no one would be at fault for forgetting what went right. Those plays were few and far between on Monday night. One of them, though, was Evan Engram’s touchdown to start the second quarter on a play-action pass.
The best designed play of the night was set up by another Engram catch on the previous play. On a third-and-6 from the Detroit 35, Engram was in-line on the right side of the formation. At the snap, Engram ran a deep out and was able to beat safety Tavon Wilson (32) on one of the best timing throws from Eli Manning during the night.
That play ended the first quarter and set up and first down from the Detroit 18 to start the second. The Giants came out in their reliable 11 personnel -- three wide receivers -- which included Odell Beckham Jr., but those receivers served little purpose other than to spread the defense across the field.
Before the snap, Engram motioned from in-line on the left hand side of the line, to an H-back alignment on the right. Once Engram moved from the left and into the backfield, the safety on the left side, Glover Quinn (27) started to cheat up towards the line of scrimmage.
On the Monday Night Football broadcast, Jon Gruden pointed out that the Lions defense should have known this was going to be a pass because Engram isn’t the type of tight end who is going to be used as a lead blocker out of the backfield in the run game -- at least not yet. But this type of run look was set up by an otherwise useless third-and-13 draw play on the Giants’ first drive of the game following the first sack of the game.
Eli Manning was in shotgun with Shane Vereen offset to his his left. Engram motioned from in-line on the left into the backfield in front of Vereen. Engram was the lead blocker on the play and while the run served little value in terms of trying to gain a first down, it gave the Lions an early look that there are run plays the Giants can run with Engram as the lead blocker in the backfield.
Another effect Engram’s motion had on the eventual touchdown was a shift up front by both of Detroit’s defensive tackles. When Engram settled in the backfield, both Haloti Ngata (92) and A’Shawn Robinson (91) slid over a gap towards Engram’s side.
That little shift had a few consequences on the play. First, it opened up the gap between the left tackle and left guard where the play-action was designed to go. That opened gap is part of what caused Quinn to cheat up toward the line of scrimmage because there was a huge hole in the line had that actually been a run play.
Ngata’s small shift on the right also shaded the linebackers towards the middle as he controlled the defense’s left. His movement also opened a straight release for Engram up the seam. Had Ngata stayed in his original place, it wouldn’t have made a big difference in where Engram went, but with the gap in front completely free, Engram had no wasted movement heading toward the end zone.
On the play fake, all four of Detroit’s defenders in the middle of the field bit on the run. Wilson, the safety on Engram’s side, also started to creep up to the line before the snap and when Engram released up the seam, he had no problem beating four defenders who all had their eyes in the backfield.
By the time Wilson and linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) realize it’s going to be a pass, Engram was already four yards behind them and there was no hope the defenders could keep up.
Engram’s separation increased as the the linebackers tried to change direction, but it was too late and Engram had nothing but an open end zone in front of him. Only a ludicrously bad pass would have prevented this play from resulting in a touchdown.
Here’s the full play:
The touchdown briefly tied the game 7-7, but the Lions would take a 14-7 lead shortly after and only build on it throughout the rest of the night. The eight-play, 75-yard drive was undoubtedly the best drive of the Giants’ season thus far, albeit one that has not produced many productive drives. Through two games the Giants are 28th in yards per drive, 30th in points per drive, 26th in time of possession per drive, and 29th in 3-and-outs per drive. And even with the Engram touchdown, they’re just 20th in points per red zone trip.
Plays like this do give some hope that the creativity and ability to produce is still in this offense somewhere. But so far this season it hasn’t shown up all that often.