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Giants’ pass protection: The good, the bad, and the Eli — Film study

How well did the Giants’ pass protection really hold up against San Francisco?

NFL: New York Giants at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t often that young, quality starting offensive linemen become available after the first wave of free agency. It is even more rare that they become available halfway through the season.

So it was an incredible stroke of luck for the New York Giants when right guard Jamon Brown was waived by the Los Angeles Rams. Not only is Brown a good starter in the NFL, but his natural position is one at which the Giants desperately needed an upgrade. Once the Giants acquired him, he was almost immediately inserted into the starting offensive line, spawning yet another new combination.

He got his first start for the Giants against the San Francsico 49ers, a familiar foe from the NFC West.

This was a great situation for the new lineman. Not only were the Giants coming off a bye week during which he could get acclimated, but they were facing the league’s 16th ranked pass rush.

After the game, Pat Shurmur credited Brown, and the Giants’ pass rush as a whole, with the Giants’ win. Was that just coach speak? How well did they really perform, and how big of an upgrade was the Giants’ new lineman?

Obviously, we had to go to the tape and take a look.

The good

First quarter - 2:43, third-and-8, SF 10-yard line

We pretty much had to start with this one, the play that almost immediately endeared Jamon Brown with Giants fans. This might have been the offensive line’s best rep of the game.

The 49ers are lined up in a 4-man front while also threatening a double A-gap blitz.

Both blitzers drop back into zone coverage in an effort to create confusion along the Giants’ offensive line. In an attempt to add to the confusion, the defensive tackle and end on the defensive left (offensive right) execute a TEX stunt. All too often over the last two years, that simple, routine stunt would have resulted in a sack as most of the Giants’ guards were completely unable to pass off the tackle and pick up the end.

Brown, instead, makes great use of his hands to first create plenty of separation to pass the defensive tackle off to Chad Wheeler, then deal with the end. He isn’t able to stop him cold, instead pushing him past Manning to the other side of the pocket. For Manning’s part, he does a nice job of staying patient with his pass protection, waiting for Brown to clear out the defensive end before climbing the pocket to avoid some late pressure as the right defensive end makes a second effort to get past Nate Solder.

The end result is a touchdown to Odell Beckham Jr.

Third quarter - 8:01, First-and-10, NYG 47-yard line

Spinning ahead to the second half and an absolutely critical drive, we see what is more typically thought of as great pass protection.

After a first half which saw the Giants’ offense largely spin its wheels with ineffective runs and short passes, the Giants decided to open things up in the second half. This play sees the Giants run a 7-man protection scheme, with tight end Rhett Ellison and fullback Eli Penny staying back to block while Saquon Barkley releases into a route. Interestingly, the Giants use two sources of misdirection on this play, with a run fake to Penny while Barkley and the offensive line fake as if it is an outside-zone play. Meanwhile, Beckham is running a deep crossing route through the middle of the 49ers’ zone coverage.

It is a bit of a slow developing play and the misdirection doesn’t fool the defense for long. The Giants need this play to get off on the right foot and Eli needs his pass protection to hold up so he can find Beckham down the field.

San Francisco sends five rushers with one outside linebacker in a Green Dog blitz (he rushes, but drops in coverage as soon as it is evident that Barkley is releasing into a route). That gives the Giants two and then three natural double teams. The first is with right tackle Chad Wheeler and Brown on the 4i-technique defensive tackle. The other comes up when Solder, Will Hernandez, and C Spencer Pulley are able to gang up on the other defensive tackle and right defensive end. Rhett Ellison and Penny are able to usher the left defensive end far around the pocket.

The Giants’ linemen all execute their blocks well, with most staying balanced and not allowing any penetration by the 49ers’ pass rushers. Manning has plenty of time and space in the pocket and is able to execute a pinpoint throw to Beckham to get the vital drive going.

The bad

By this point in the season, we are well acquainted with the Giants’ deficiencies in pass protection and hardly need to spend much time on them. We should, however, note that while the Giants’ pass protection was much better against the 49ers than in at any previous point in the season, it wasn’t perfect.

Fourth quarter - 9:44, Third-and-7, NYG 26-yard line

Here we see an all-too-familiar failure on behalf of the entire offensive line.

The 49ers have an interesting play called, lining up just three down linemen, with one aligned directly over the center while the defensive ends are in four-point stances as “wide-9” techniques. Meanwhile, they are showing blitz on the defensive right (offensive left). All five rushers come, but rather than running straight up the field, the right defensive end loops all the way from the left C-gap to the right B-gap while the nose tackle attacks the right A-gap.

The Giants only keep five blockers back, releasing both the tight end and running back into routes. But theoretically, there is a blocker for every rusher and Manning should have enough time to find his hot route. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. With the blitzers occupying the left guard and tackle, and the nose tackle splitting the A-gap (and occupying both the center and right guard in the process), it creates a free rush for the right defensive end.

Meanwhile, it isn’t a good rep for the Giants’ tackles either. Linebacker Curtis Marsh, lining up as the left defensive end, is able to get under Chad Wheeler’s pads and drive him back into the pocket. Meanwhile LB Malcolm Smith is able to force Nate Solder back as well, further constricting the pocket and giving Manning nowhere to go.

The Eli

As much attention is paid to the offensive line for pass protection — and holding pass rushers at bay is certainly central to it — the scheme and quarterback also play significant roles.

In that regard the Giants have been inconsistent at best when it comes to helping out their offensive line. The team has only infrequently schemed measures to neutralize pressure, such as roll-outs, RPOs, or the motion game. Likewise, sometimes a quarterback has to be able to navigate a dirty pocket, throw quickly (and accurately) in the face of a free rusher, or make plays outside of the pocket. Eli Manning is capable of those things, but he hasn’t done them consistently or often. He has been sacked 32 times through the first 9 games, surpassing the total from 15 games in 2017, and some of those have been due to him holding the ball too long or going down to avoid a bigger hit (or put the ball in danger of being intercepted).

That being said, he did those things well against San Francisco. We already saw him climb the pocket to avoid pressure before throwing the first touchdown of the day, now let’s take a look at him making a play outside the pocket with a pair of free rushers.

Second quarter - 6:25, Third-and-4, SF 45-yard line

Here we see the Giants run a some deception to deflect most of the pass rush away from Eli. The offensive line goes all out to sell an outside zone run while Eli rolls out in a naked bootleg and Barkley releases in to a route about five yards down the field.

The object of the play is to get the 49ers defensive front flowing to the left, away from Manning and Barkley. Meanwhile, Sterling Shepard and Corey Coleman run deep post and slant routes (respectively) to clear coverage out deep, Beckham runs a shallow cross back across the formation to occupy the slot defender and free safety.

All the motion and route combinations have the desired effect, and Barkley is wide open down the field.

Unfortunately, a pair of defenders, cornerback Antone Exum and DE Solomon Thomas aren’t fooled and pursue Manning in the backfield. The pursuit forces Manning to throw on the run, and he does a pretty good job. The defenders are closing too quickly for him to set his feet and deliver a completely accurate pass — it is a bit behind Barkley — however he is able to line himself up and involve his lower body in the throw. Mobility has always been considered to be Manning’s weakness as a QB, but he performs better than many would expect here.

All told, this is a solid play design and execution from the offense as a whole.