Every athletic event is predicated on participants either rising to the occasion or failing to succeed, and this of course applies to football. In some cases, games can be determined by a few plays that are just executed better by one side. After every New York Giants game this year, I’ll attempt to highlight the most important plays from the game that either led to the final result, or helped the game script materialize in a specific manner. Here are five plays that were either vital to the outcome of the football game, or important to the game flow. Let’s start with the positives for the Giants.
I could have easily gone with the punt return muff by Pittsburgh’s Diontae Johnson, but the Giants weren’t exactly able to make the Steelers pay from the 3-yard line. If Evan Engram did anything correctly in Week 1, it was drawing the offensive pass interference against Joe Haden that led to the excellent call, throw, and catch from the Giants’ offense below.
The Giants come out in 13 personnel with Engram as the outside tight end to the boundary, all overloaded to that side. Slayton is the lone receiver off the numbers to the field by about 3 yards. He has the necessary spacing to establish inside leverage against the cornerback who’s giving him the inside. Steven Nelson (22) is expecting Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) to have the middle of the field, but the talented safety bites on the horizontal cross from Engram, which opens up the middle of the field for Slayton. Joe Haden (23) is almost able to get to the deep middle from the opposite deep outside third, but the throw from Jones was placed very well and the end result was a touchdown. This gave the Giants a 7-point lead early in the second quarter. The Giants defense followed this drive up by forcing a three and out from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, but the next play slowed the growing momentum of the Giants down drastically.
Jason Garrett was trying to get Engram going. On this first-and-10, the Giants run the quick game but Daniel Jones telegraphs his throw. Watt, who was presumably initially rushing the passer, reads Jones’ eyes and comes off the pass rush to undercut Engram’s route and make an interception. Great play by Watt, but this was devastating for New York. The Steelers end up mounting a 7-play drive that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster. This game could have been a lot different, if a few key mistakes were avoided; one of those mistakes happened before the play above.
This is a sequence of plays, so I’m cheating a bit, but not fully capitalizing on the muffed punt by Johnson was terrible for New York. After a Saquon Barkley run picked up 1 yard, the Giants lined up in 11 personnel with a seven-man protection, and a two-man route combination outside. Problem with this protection is the fact that tight end Evan Engram is tasked with T.J. Watt (90). The play call is fine, the execution was poor. There’s no safety to the two-receiver side, so Garrett has a bubble/slant combo from Shepard and Slayton. What Jones is waiting for is the apex defender (covering Slayton) to expand outside with Shepard, creating a throwing window for an inside breaking Slayton. This is a very common play design and concept that is usually run with slant/flat combos. The issue is protection; when you have a seven-man protection package collapse at the goal line when they’re trying to block five rushers, then you don’t deserve to score. The right side of the offensive line’s splits are tight to prevent the Steelers from shooting the interior gaps; despite the split, Engram still initially sets too far inside and allows Watt to easily run around him, while Andrew Thomas gets his welcome to the NFL moment from Bud Dupree on the opposite end of the line of scrimmage. Saquon Barkley is occupied with Kevin Zietler’s assignment, since the guard whiffed on that, too. Just a very poor showing here from the Giants here. Then, on the next play, Engram gets slightly chipped off his route/release and doesn’t stay outside away from Watt enough. Jones was expecting Engram to flow outside and away from Watt a bit more, but that did not happen. The Giants got exactly what they wanted with the pre-snap motion bringing the safety out of the middle of the field, and the flare route from Barkley dragging the MIKE out of the middle creating a void for a throw to Engram. On both of these plays, the play design was there ... the execution was not.
Another huge opportunity missed by the Giants at the end of a 19-play drive in a 16-10 game. I loved the no huddle, up-tempo, mentality that the Giants were using on this drive, but I am not a fan of this play design after the Giants had success, for once, pounding the rock with Saquon Barkely for 7 yards. A designed play-action rollout to Jones’ non-throwing arm with Bud Dupree as an unblocked pursuit defender is a terrible idea. It also takes Jones way too long to square his shoulders and set his feet. Why even put him in this position? On this roll-out play, the defense flows with the offensive play, so I was a bit puzzled to see the play action be to the same side as the rollout; the defense is already going to be rolling in that direction. It was just a bad play call at the most inopportune time, and Jones has to learn to get rid of the football in that scenario. Instead of putting points on the board, the Steelers mount a 9 play drive resulting in 3 points.
This third-and-9 conversion to rookie Chase Claypool helped extend an early drive that led to the Steelers tying the game at 3. There’s certainly a slight push off by Claypool on the play, but the concentration and throw were still very good by the Steelers. If the Giants come up with a stop here and put together a nice drive after the punt, then they may have been able to go up 10-0, which could have changed the dynamic of the game.
The Giants ended up losing this game by 10 points. If New York came up big in some of these situations, then this game could have been entirely different, and we could have been talking about an upset. That’s the difference between good teams and struggling teams; the former finds ways to prevail and win, and the latter doesn’t. Let’s hope the Giants can learn and grow from these mistakes and beat the Bears next Sunday in Chicago