In our first in-depth breakdown of a play from the New York Giants 2018 season, we took a look at the offense and how deception and good play design can allow the Giants to put their playmakers in position to succeed.
This time we will turn to the defense.
Giants’ defensive coordinator James Bettcher is known for his aggressive and creative blitz schemes. And while the Giants did not have anything like the defensive production they hoped they would last year, there were still good and informative plays to study. Let’s take a look at one of the more exotic blitzes Bettcher has dialed up — and see how even when a pass rush doesn’t get home, it can still be a positive play.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the play, let’s just take a look at the play.
This is on the Giants’ first defensive series (the Eagles first offensive possession). The Giants scored a touchdown to open the game and are looking to get the ball back for the offense on a third-and-10. True to his nature, Bettcher called an aggressive, and exotic, blitz to try and rattle the quarterback, if not come up with the sack.
Yeah, there is a LOT going on with this play, and in motion it looks like nothing so much as (barely) organized chaos. So let’s take a look at a still diagram and start at the very beginning.
There are several remarkable aspects to this play, and we’ll start with the personnel and alignment. The Giants are in a dime package, with six defensive backs on the field (Janoris Jenkins, B.W. Webb, Grant Haley, Curtis Riley, Landon Collins, Michael Thomas, and Sean Chandler) and only four front seven players.
Notably, they line up with only one down lineman, EDGE Lorenzo Carter, who lines up at nose tackle. The Giants field no defensive linemen in this package, with EDGE Olivier Vernon and linebackers Alec Ogletree and Tae Davis rounding out the personnel grouping.
The next is the blitz design itself. The Giants are obviously showing blitz, but with as many as seven potential rushers, it is difficult for the opposing quarterback to know from where the pressure will come.
Ultimately, the Giants bring five rushers, all from the defensive right (offensive left) in an overload blitz.
Philly accounted for this, calling a quick wide receiver screen to get the ball out before the pressure could get to Carson Wentz. The blitz design reveals that the Giants expect the offense to use a quick pass away from the rushers (to the offensive right) to try and beat the blitz.
As the coverage Chandler and Collins retreat into shallow coverage on the defensive left at the snap of the ball while the deeper coverage rotates to the right. Because of the quickness of the offensive play, it’s difficult to say for sure what kind of coverage the defense is running.
Initially, the motion of the right cornerback reacting to the movement of the running back would suggest man coverage. However, it becomes apparent after the snap that they are running a zone defense behind the blitz
I originally thought the defense might be using a pattern match Cover 4 coverage scheme, but given the speed of the play, it’s tough to be sure. After consulting with Mark Schofield, it is probably a Cover 2 coverage scheme.
Note: “Pattern matching” is a coverage strategy which was (as far back as I was able to find) first conceived of by Nick Saban when he was on the Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff as a reaction to the emergence of explosive spread offenses. The concept of pattern matching allows cornerbacks the freedom to react to the offense based on the most common route concepts run by the offense.
So, while a Cover 4 is a zone coverage — both deep safeties, as well as the outside corners are in zone coverage, dividing the field into quarters, while the linebackers are in zones underneath — pattern matching rules allow cornerbacks to play man coverage if that is the best counter to the offensive concept. It isn’t a perfect defense, but it has become a popular counter to spread concepts at both the college and NFL levels.
Generally speaking, Cover 2 is a zone coverage scheme as well, which turns out to be a great call to counter this particular play.
After the snap, we see Landon Collins initially bail for about two steps before coming downhill to defend the screen pass. On the outside, Webb takes outside leverage, suggesting his job is to funnel that receiver back toward the middle of the field and the coverage zones there. Those two moves provide clues to the coverage.
Curtis Riley sprints over to cover tight end Zach Ertz releasing down the field, playing the role of the right cornerback while Janoris Jenkins blitzes. On the back end, Haley and Thomas rotate to split the deep middle of the field.
End zone view
Landon Collins ultimately makes a nice open field tackle to limit the screen to just 5 yards — well short of the first down marker. He can make the play because Sean Chandler does a good job of engaging the two blockers positioned to pick up both he and Collins. Had they done so, the screen might have picked up enough yardage to keep the drive alive. But with both blockers occupied, Collins was able to secure the tackle and get the defense off the field.
Concepts in use
- Sub packages - dime package in particular.
- “Multiple” look front - one down defensive lineman.
- Overload blitz
- Zone coverage
- Rotating coverages.
Why I like this play
There are a few reasons to like this play. The creative design, the unconventional personnel grouping, and the team defense are all reasons to go back and take another look (or a few) at the play.
But looking toward the future, this might also an example of how the Giants will look to create pressure in 2019. The Giants’ defense is light on proven pass rushers, and they might be looking to scheme pressure rather than rely on natural four (or five) man rushes from their defensive line and EDGE players. This is likely part of the reason why Giants quadrupled down on young options at cornerback with Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine.
Blitzing is a risky proposition, because in order to send extra rushers, defenses need to take players out of coverage. Had the Eagles used a different play, the outcome could have been radically different. If they had thrown into the teeth of the blitz, they could have exploited the match-up of Curtis Riley on Zach Ertz. Aggressive blitz schemes demand reliable coverage in order to succeed, and the Giants hope to have dramatically improved their pass coverage.
Plays like this could not only give us an insight into how the Giants might scheme their defense into 2019, they also let us look at how some uncommon defensive concepts look in practice.