The New York Giants loss on Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals elucidated an unfortunate reality; with 10 days to prepare for a Cardinals team that was traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. ET start, the Giants allowed two first-quarter rushing touchdowns to Chase Edmonds, which dug the team into an ugly hole. The Giants won the time of possession battle, had more first downs, total yards, and held star rookie sensation Kyler Murray to 104 passing yards, while home favorites with extended rest, yet came up winless, due to countless penalties, three turnovers, miscommunications along the offensive line, and poor in-game management by coach Pat Shurmur.
Edmonds, a second-year running back out of Fordham, was handling the vast majority of snaps over David Johnson, finished the day with 27 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher relied heavily on the Giants big front to stop this Arizona rushing attack on the road, but rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury utilized pre-snap movement, motion, and fake jet sweeps to displace the linebackers from executing their run fits at a high level, while forcing the secondary defenders to also second guess themselves. It also doesn’t help that the Giants provided a favorable box for the Cardinals to explore through rushing the football; according to NextGenStats, Edmonds did not have a single rush into an eight-man box or more throughout the game.
We are going to take a look at all three of Edmonds’ touchdowns and see what exactly happened. Outside of those three long touchdown runs of 20, 20, and 22, Edmonds had 64 yards on 24 carries (2.7 yards per carry), so what caused those busted plays?
The first touchdown is going to be to the boundary side of the field, but check out the alignment to the field; safety on the hash with two corners, and the pre-snap fake jet sweep from the play side receiver expands the field linebacker, Alec Ogletree, away from the play.
Ogletree (47) follows that fake jet sweep, excellent scheming to eliminate a defender from the play. There’s a ton wrong with this play from a Giants’ standpoint. The Giants have Olsen Pierre (72) at the 3T, with rookie Oshane Ximines (53) as the 6T to the boundary. The Cardinals pin Pierre with the tackle, who blocks him backward, and then Arizona pulls the play side guard, backside guard, and the center towards the boundary. The Cardinals saw a weakness in the run game with Pierre and Ximines towards the boundary and they attacked it with three pullers. Here’s what went wrong with the play: Ximines could not set the edge and gets turned completely out of the play by tight end Maxx Williams; the fake jet-sweep made Peppers hesitate and by the time he realized where the pullers were going, Pierre was already blocked to the second level, which accidentally provided a block on Peppers, so essentially D.J. Humphries (74) eliminated both Pierre and Peppers from the play; Michael Thomas (31) acted as the contain defender when that did not appear to be his responsibility. Both Thomas and DeAndre Baker went for Justin Pugh, who was the outside puller, but it was Thomas who was likely supposed to fill the gap and take out A.Q. Shipley (53). That did not materialize, nor did Peppers getting to the outside, and that is why there was a gaping hole in the Giants defense.
The Giants found themselves in a similar situation later in the quarter. Another huge run on first-and-10, after an 11-yard pick up the play prior.
The Cardinals motion Edmonds to the pistol and have Charles Clay (85) as an H-Back to the play side, which is the field. Dexter Lawrence is at 1T in the play side A-Gap, Ogletree is in the play side B-gap and Peppers in the backside A-Gap. There are a few keys to this play, Lawrence is one of them and center A.Q. Shipley does a very good job ignoring him and climbing to the second level to locate Peppers, who tries to go inside of the block, but is a step too slow to locate. Lawrence gets a step upfield, due to Shipley not touching him, and then gets aggressively down blocked by J.R. Sweezy (64), who displaces the rookie. This block provides a gigantic hole for Charles Clay to easily locate Ogletree, who was dropping back into coverage due to a slight look Murray gives to the wide receiver before handing the ball off to Edmonds. That slight look was the second key to the play, for it forced Ogletree to avoid attacking downhill and instead flow towards the receiver, which means he was too late to execute his run fit and stop this play. Once Clay locates Ogletree, only Bethea has a chance to stop Edmonds, albeit with a tough angle. Bethea couldn’t come through, and another six points are put on the board for the Cardinals.
Misdirections, draw plays and screens have been an issue for the Giants all year. Here’s the delay in slow motion:
Hard to defend, yes, but top defenses can execute their assignments, despite misdirections or a change of the first look the defense may see. The Giants, on the other hand, have struggled with this all year, and it’s no wonder that teams continue to implement a lot of movement and misdirections against this defense.
The third touchdown was another favorable box to exploit, which was maximized by the defensive play call of having Ogletree contain on the field side hash mark, which eliminated him from the play side. The Cardinals ran a zone read with the play side guard and center pulling outside towards the boundary once again. Lawrence is at the play side 1T, and yet again he struggled to handle that responsibility when down blocked by a lineman that has space to locate him; Lawrence flows with the pullers, but is abruptly stopped and put down by Humphries, which leaves Lorenzo Carter on the edge, Peppers coming from the secondary, and Mayo as the play side linebacker against a tight end and two pulling offensive linemen. Carter gets kicked out just enough to provide a gap for Edmonds, as Shipley is met near the line of scrimmage by Mayo, but the crease is still large enough for Edmonds, as Baker runs downfield with Byrd and Bethea is not in a position to make a play from the middle of the field, due to the angle and his declining athletic ability.
The Giants have shown these favorable boxes in the past. On that last touchdown, one can see there are only two down linemen in the game, with Golden and Carter playing that outside linebacker/defensive end role, which leaves the defense vulnerable against the run.
Each touchdown had two true down linemen on the field; whether that be Lawrence, Pierre, Hill, or Tomlinson while rotating Golden, Carter, and Ximines as the outside “down linemen,” a front which has been exploited and is not going to be effective against the run consistently. The Giants have been finding themselves in nickel sub-packages a lot, and the Cardinals took advantage on those three big rushing plays when the Giants lined up in their 2-4-5 look.
Personnel has been an issue, but the Giants have to do a better job stopping these big runs and not providing the offense with favorable boxes for the majority of the game. It’s easier said than done, and the Giants have stopped the run in that 2-4-5 look before, but it does rely so heavily on everyone executing their assignments and run fits perfectly, which we have not seen this season, especially when misdirection plays are implemented by the opposing offenses. The Giants can keep rolling out that familiar look, which has had success but don’t be surprised when one defensive error leads to a huge touchdown run, which we saw three times on Sunday.