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Eli Manning vs. Tampa Bay: A sign of things to come?

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The Giants did what they should have done to the Buccaneers

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In Sunday’s 38-35 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers the New York Giants displayed for the home crowd a glimpse of just what this offense could be, whether now or even in the future. Saquon Barkley carried the football 27 times for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and also caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown. Evan Engram had two receptions for 66 yards, including a huge 54-yard reception late in the game to help seal the victory. Odell Beckham chipped in four receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown.

And yes, Eli Manning turned in his best game of the 2018 campaign, completing 17-of-18 passes for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Is this a potential sign of this offense getting unlocked, or is this more of an indictment on the Tampa Bay defense? First, let’s look at some of the best plays from Manning and the offense on Sunday.

The Giants received the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, capping off their touchdown drive with a short throw from Manning to Barkley for the score. But the biggest play on this initial possession was a 41-yard strike from Manning to Beckham, on a very creative design from head coach Pat Shurmur.

Facing a first-and-10 on the Tampa Bay 48 yard line the offense lines up with Manning (#10) under center and with 21 offensive personnel on the field. Due to this offensive personnel package, the Buccaneers keep their base defense on the field:

Shurmur calls for a variation of the Yankee Concept on this play. The Yankee Concept is a maximum protection, two-receiver route combination that pairs a deep post route with a crossing route just underneath it. The Yankee Concept has been used by a number of teams over the past few seasons, but here there is a twist. Instead of running the deep crossing route, Sterling Shepard (87) runs a “Miami” route, showing a crossing route but then breaking back toward the sideline:

The action in the middle of the field creates a bit of traffic, allowing Beckham to extend his separation on the post route from the cornerback. Manning, seeing this, unleashes a perfect strike on this deep post route, dropping it in perfectly to Beckham’s outside shoulder, away from the free safety:

A look at the end zone camera highlights just how perfect the placement on this throw was:

Manning could not drop this throw in any better.

Late in the second quarter the Giants face a third-and-13 on their own 24-yard line, holding a 14-7 lead in the contest. They line up with Manning in the shotgun and three receivers to the right, with a single receiver split wide to the left. The Buccaneers show Cover 2 in the secondary, with two deep safeties pre-snap:

Here is the route concept the Giants dial up:

New York calls a Sail Concept, with a deep post route on the outside paired with an intermediate out route from Shepard and a flat route from the tight end.

As we saw, the Buccaneers showed Cover 2 before the play, but right at the snap they rotate their coverage to a Cover 3 buzz, with a safety dropping down into a hook zone underneath:

This means Manning needs to read the coverage on the fly. But he does a great job diagnosing this rotation, which is evident when he releases this throw to Shepard on the out:

Manning diagnoses the coverage rotation perfectly, and he knows that the single cornerback to the right side will need to stay on the post route until the defender knows for sure that the throw is going elsewhere. That enables Manning to make an anticipation throw on the out to Shepard.

Turning to the third quarter, it is time to give credit to Shurmur for some play-calling. As we saw on the first example the Giants ran a variation of the Yankee Concept, using a Miami route instead of the deep crossing route you usually see on the play design.

But facing a second-and-6 late in the third quarter the Giants run the standard Yankee Concept design, and they hit it for a huge play:

The Buccaneers are in a two-high coverage here, and you can see the safeties stay deep on the post route, having been burned by the play earlier in the drive. But that frees up the opposite sideline for Beckham on his deep crosser route, and Manning hits him in stride for a big gain. Having shown the defense a variation of the Yankee Concept earlier in the game, they turn to the more standard route design on this play and it is wide open for Manning and the Giants. Kudos to Shurmur on setting the Buccaneers defense up for this play, and calling upon it later in the contest.

The Giants’ drive continued into the fourth quarter, and early in the final frame the offense faces a third-and-5 on the Buccaneers’ 8-yard line. The offense lines up with Manning in the shotgun and Beckham in an inverted slot to the right, with Shepard outside of him:

The Buccaneers play a three-deep coverage here, and look at the alignment of the safety in the middle of the field. He is well inside of Beckham, and thankfully for the Giants the offense has the perfect play called:

The Giants run a Flat-7 Smash Concept, with Beckham breaking for the back corner of the end zone and Shepard releasing to the flat. The pre-snap alignment of the safety gives the receiver an advantage on his corner route, and Manning takes advantage:

Easy throw, easy catch and the Giants are on the board again.

Late in the game the Giants need one more scoring drive to ice the contest. They face a second-and-8 on their own 35-yard line, with 4:30 remaining in the contest. Now we can look at Engram’s biggest play of the game. The Buccaneers use Cover 2 here, and the Giants go play-action with Engram working the middle of the field trying to split the safeties. Which, he does:

A play like this is exactly why the Giants drafted Engram. The year before the tight end was drafted, the Giants saw Cover 2 more than any other team in the league, and they struggled against those looks. Plays like this, with Engram matched against a linebacker underneath and attacking the space between the two-high safeties, are exactly why New York made him an early round pick.

What does it all mean?

So, this was the Giants’ offense running about as well as you could hope for. In fact, even Manning’s one incompletion, thrown in the direction of Barkley on a wheel route, was a well-placed throw in my opinion. Manning put the pass to the outside shoulder of the running back, away from the free safety. This game, however, does need a bit of context.

Some numbers: 74.7 percent completion rate. 25 touchdowns. One interception. Quarterback rating of 124.9. Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 9.1.

That is what opposing passers have done against Tampa Bay’s defense this season. A quarterback with a completion percentage of 74.7 percent would be second in the league behind Drew Brees. A quarterback with 25 touchdown passes would be fourth in the league, tied with Brees. A quarterback with just one interception would be tied with Brees and Aaron Rodgers with the fewest in the league among qualified passers. Finally, a quarterback with an ANY/A of 9.1 would be third in the league, behind Brees and Patrick Mahomes.

In essence, the Tampa Bay defense turns opposing passers into Top Five quarterbacks. So while Manning and the Giants offense fared very well on Sunday, given the context, it was a performance that should have been expected.