The beauty of being an NFL fan today - or even an NFL writer - is that you can learn new ideas, or even new ways of framing the game, from a variety of very smart people from different walks of life. Recently a number of analysts, including Matt Caraccio from the Saturday 2 Sunday podcast, and J. Moyer from the Matt Waldman Rookie Scouting Portfolio, have taken to discussing the game by analogizing it to a series of problems to solve. This is something that can be done at both the micro, and the macro level.
Using this line of thinking we can frame a series of questions facing the New York Giants’ offense this season on both the macro and micro levels. The questions? How will the Giants construct their passing offense without Odell Beckham Jr.? How will this offense look with either Eli Manning or Daniel Jones under center. With those big picture questions in mind, we can turn to the micro.
Constructing the offense might be the macro level question, but on a micro level - a play by play basis - how can we best put the players on the roster to succeed? If you think about a single play of football as a problem to be solved, from the quarterback position, it is much like taking a multiple choice examination. You have a number of choices in front of you before the snap, and as the play unfolds you use the context in front of you to get the right answer.
Yet, is this not an oversimplification of football? After all, the “questions” a defense presents to you are not static, they change over the course of a single play. So in reality, a well-constructed play should, from the QB’s point of view, have multiple right answers for the multiple questions a defense might throw at him during a single snap.
And that is how the Giants will answer the overall questions of their passing game.
Take a look at this play from the Giants’ third postseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals:
This slant route to Russell Shepard (81) on a third-and-6 play is a great example of this concept. Facing this third down, the Giants put Manning (10) in the shotgun formation using a 2x2 alignment. Shepard (81) is in the slot to the right:
Here is the offensive design:
This is a quick game concept with a slant/curl combination to the left, and a Tosser concept - or double slant - to Shepard’s side of the field.
Now let’s look at the defense. Cincinnati is in a 4-2-5 nickel look with one linebacker on the edge outside the left tackle, and the other linebacker in the middle of the field. The cornerbacks are in press coverage and they have also brought the strong safety into the box:
Usually on this design, Manning will read that linebacker over the ball and make his decision off his reaction. That linebacker usually - but not always - will open to the three-receiver side, and if he does Manning will throw to Shepard on the slant. But here, that linebacker blitzes, making the throw to Shepard easier:
If that linebacker instead opens to Shepard’s side of the field, Manning will work the other side of the formation, from the inside slant route to the curl on the outside.
Multiple answers for multiple questions.
Here is another example, again from the Cincinnati game:
The Giants come out for this second-and-9 play with three receivers to the left, and a single receiver split right in Cody Latimer (12). This is the offensive concept they draw up:
To the three-receiver side the Giants have a sit/slant/wheel combination, and on the backside Latimer runs a quick Bang 8 post route. Again, Manning has different answers for different questions. If the Bengals come out in a zone coverage he can work that backside post in the soft areas of the zone, down to the sit route over the football. Against man or combination coverages he can again work from that backside post to the slant and wheel combination on the three receiver side of the formation. Here, the Bengals are running a version of the Seattle Seahawks’ Cover 3, with the corners in man technique on the outside but the rest of the defense running a Cover 3 zone. So Manning tries to squeeze the post in the seam. It falls incomplete, but was the right read - and answer - for the question posed.
If the macro level question is, in essence: Who is the go-to receiver in a post-Odell world?, then the answer might just be “the open one.” By giving the quarterback multiple right answers depending on the coverage shown by the defense, you are essentially giving your QB a go-to receiver on each snap.
This translates to the vertical passing game as well:
This throw from Jones (8) to Brittan Golden (83) was one of the more impressive throws from the rookie QB this preseason, but once more we see how the play design gives the young quarterback multiple right answers to the questions he faces on the play. This is the route design:
Jones has a comeback and a post route to choose from on the right, with a double-move on the left. If, hypothetically, the Bengals are in a Cover 3 scheme here, he can work the comeback route on the right side which is a perfect route against that coverage. If the Bengals are in Cover 2, he can split those safeties with the post from Golden. If they are in a Cover 1 or straight man scheme, he can work the double-move as well as the post, depending on what the safety does.
Here, the Bengals are in a Cover 1 scheme with a free safety deep. Jones looks at the double-move to get the safety to bite to that side of the field, and it creates space for the post route from Golden which the QB drives in on a line.
Now, this idea of having multiple options based on the coverage is not exactly revolutionary, or new to the NFL. But you would be surprised how many playbooks and plays, even from offensive visionaries, have plays where there is just no option for the QB if he sees a specific coverage look. Take this example from an old Steve Spurrier playbook:
This is from his “Mills” concept, which he named after Florida wide receiver Ernie Mills given how successful he was running the design with him. This post/dig combination is not something Spurrier invented, although he is most commonly associated with it. But while this concept has answers for Cover 3, or Cover 1, or Cover 0, look at the coaching point for the quarterback against Cover 2:
Giving your quarterback an option for every possible scenario he might face on a given play gives him a go-to receiver on each snap. For years in Foxborough who has Tom Brady’s best receiver been? The open one. Implementing that kind of philosophy is the answer for the macro level question in this case.