Davis Webb read the tweets.
It has become one of the more common tropes on everyone’s favorite social media website. Usually implemented when an athlete is struggling to perform to their standards, those watching and live-tweeting the game start to get their digs in. However, if and when the athlete turns their performance around, other users are quick to chime in with “[Insert name here] read the tweets.” The implication being that the athlete in question saw what was being said, and was somehow inspired to play better.
I mean …
Matt Ryan read all your tweets in the huddle.— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) January 13, 2018
Perhaps Twitter users have a somewhat overinflated sense of importance, but that’s an issue for another time …
However, one might believe that New York Giants’ quarterback Davis Webb read the tweets after his rebound performance against the Detroit Lions. After a preseason debut that saw Webb struggle against the Cleveland Browns, the second-year quarterback turned in a much more impressive performance against the Detroit Lions, completing 14 of 20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, with the short touchdown pass to Wayne Gallman capping off a lengthy 17-play drive that saw Webb make a few impressive throws. After his performance against the Browns, many evaluators — myself included — were wondering if Webb could improve in certain areas. As I concluded in this piece:
Everyone should approach a game with a gameplan, so here is mine for Friday night. I will be watching for two things from Webb: Consistency with his release point, and decision-making. Improvement in those areas will perhaps ease some of the consternation that has been felt the past few days. However, if Webb still struggles in those areas, then perhaps even silver linings will fail to ease the anxiousness.
So while Webb’s production was improved from the first preseason game, how did he fare in these areas? As we will see, the improvement was there as well.
You really did not need the film to conclude that Webb missed on some throws against the Browns, completing just 9 of 22 passes can lead someone down that road. But when you turned on the tape you saw that the young QB was missing on throws, particularly high, and even on some of the passes he completed, the throw seemed high. Perhaps he was too “amped up” for the debut, but when looking at his game I found an inconsistency in his release point. Some passes were thrown with more of an “over-the-top” delivery, while others were delivered with a lower release point, much closer to his ear/helmet.
The consistency I was hoping to see? That returned against the Lions.
Webb’s first impressive throw of the night, and perhaps his best, came midway through the first quarter on a 3rd and 17 play. The Giants come out with Webb (5) in the shotgun and in a 2x2 formation, with Evan Engram (88) and Sterling Shepard (87) in a wing alignment on the left. The Lions show Cover 1 on this play with cornerbacks in press alignment to each side of the field:
Shepard runs a corner route, working against man coverage. Nevin Lawson (24) is the cornerback in coverage, and he is in very good position here, right on Shepard’s back hip. This requires Webb to make the perfect throw ... and he does:
What stands out is the release point. Webb shows a very crisp release here, much closer to the ear. With this throw under his belt I wanted to see if later throws in the game were delivered with the same type of release.
Later in the game Webb connected on a deep shot to Russell Shepard. Watch how the release point on this throw mirrors the corner route to Sterling Shepard:
As you can see here, both on the live shot and the replay, Webb’s release point is very similar to the release point on the earlier throw. This consistency in release point will contribute to a consistency in ball placement. Both of these throws were put in a perfect spot, and it begins with the release.
In a moment we’ll talk about the decision-making process from Webb against Detroit, but on both of these plays you have to be impressed with the decision-making and execution as well. On the first, Webb knows he has Cover 1, so he goes to the best man coverage beater on the play, the corner route from Shepard working away from safety help. On the second throw, Webb uses a pump fake, as well as his eyes, to influence the safety to one side of the field before dropping in a perfect throw to Russell Shepard on the right side. Very well done.
While the thought process on the previous two plays showed an improvement over the first preseason game, I want to highlight two other plays from Webb against the Lions that show similar progress. The first is a first-and-10 play later in the first quarter, during New York’s lengthy 17-play drive that culminated in a touchdown pass from Webb to Gallman. The Giants come out with Webb under center and with 21 offensive personnel in the game, in an offset I-formation:
Look at the defensive alignment. Because of the down-and-distance, as well as the offensive personnel, the Lions have their base 3-4 look in the game, and walk the strong safety down toward the box over Engram. Detroit is expecting a run.
But the Giants use a play-action pass here, and after coming out of the fake Webb looks immediately to Cody Latimer (12), the receiver on the right side of the formation, who is running a Bang-8 post route:
What I love about this decision is two-fold. First, Webb identifies a defensive weakness in the pre-snap phase and immediately exploits it. When Detroit walks their strong safety down toward the box over Engram, that creates a window to the other side of the field, where Latimer is running his route. Had the formation been different, with Engram on the right side, the SS would be in that alley, taking away the throwing lane. Second, Webb’s decision is immediate. Because he sees the defense pre-snap and reads it well, he knows that he has the throw to Latimer. So he comes out of the play-fake firing, and the Giants move the chains.
The touchdown pass to Gallman highlights the potential of this Giants offense to create mismatches, regardless of who is lining up under center. Facing a third-and-goal at the Detroit 8-yard line, the Giants line up with Webb in the shotgun and implement a 3x1 alignment:
Here is where the Giants can be very difficult to defend in the red zone. New York goes with a “Y-iso” formation here, putting Engram alone on the left in the 3x1 formation, with Gallman in the backfield next to Webb, shaded to the left. Up in the booth before the snap, Chris Spielman, a former NFL linebacker himself, begins talking about how a defense needs to “highlight” Engram in this situation, given his size and ability in the red zone.
Detroit runs Cover 2 Man Under on this play, and as Engram releases vertically he draws not only the cornerback, but he also draws the attention of the safety to that side of the field. That leaves Gallman isolated on second-year linebacker Jerrad Davis (40). Gallman runs a quick Angle route, flashing to the outside before cutting back on a diagonal across the middle, and the young linebacker overcommits to the outside:
Easy throw, easy catch. Again, Webb sees the mismatch in the pre-snap phase and knows exactly how to exploit the situation.
Webb’s outing against Detroit was certainly a step in the right direction. Whether he can build on the positives from that performance remains to be seen, but Giants fans should feel a bit more optimistic about the second-year passer as the season approaches.
Or you can just keep tweeting. Maybe Webb really does read the tweets ...