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What happened on the sack heard around Giants’ Twitter?

What was the miscommunication on this much-discussed sack?

New York Giants v Miami Dolphins Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

The offensive line is the impetus behind the New York Giants' early-season struggles. Through the first five weeks, only Washington signal caller Sam Howell has been sacked more than Daniel Jones. Under pressure, Jones is 26 of 49 passing for 185 yards with a 53.1% completion rate and three interceptions. The offense is a dysfunctional mess with the current state of the line.

According to Pro Football Focus, of offensive linemen who have played at least 50% of their team’s snaps, five Giants’ offensive linemen are graded in the bottom 32. Evan Neal is second in the league in pressures surrendered, and both Mark Glowinski and Joshua Ezeudu are tied for the second-most sacks conceded (5) in the NFL.

One play, in particular, created plenty of dialogue on X, formally known as Twitter. The Giants’ third-and-7 sack with 44 seconds left in the first quarter was the subject of the discourse. Here is the play:

Fans and analysts alike have opined on the play. The opinions ranged from vitriol toward the much-maligned Evan Neal to slander against Daniel Jones for not throwing hot. I want to explore what I think happened in the play based on the All-22 and conversations I have personally had with those smarter than I.

My initial thought

Watching it live, I originally attributed fault to Jones, not for the collapse in protection around him, but for not throwing to the running back. The initial angle of the play I saw floating around social media made me believe this was “scat.” Here is that angle:

In this context, ‘Scat’ protection is a five-man half-slide that requires Evan Neal to double-read off a free-releasing running back to the flat. The idea is that Neal reads Jerome Baker (55) to Emmanuel Ogbah (51), and he would take the most dangerous man, who is always the inner defender (Baker). If the inner defender blitzed, then Jones would throw to the running back in the flat with the end man unblocked. Baker did blitz as the fifth defender, Neal secured the B-Gap, but no throw was made.

From the angle above, we do not see the center or possible protection threats left of Marcus McKethan’s A-Gap, as Christian Wilkens (94) quickly came into frame. Considering this evidence, my original assumption of scat made sense. However, after watching the All-22 angle, certain aspects of that assumption didn’t add up.

What happened?

Miami aligned with four defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage with a nose tackle over Ben Bredeson (68). They had a 5-technique to the left side of the line and two wider-aligned rushers, with Baker as the possible fifth rusher just before the snap.

Let’s try and focus on what happened other than the overtly poor protection from Wilkens’ club through the A-Gap, to the free rusher, and the twist that isn’t picked up after Zach Sieler (92) did his best impression of 49ers’ great Justin Smith with the defensive hold.

If this were scat, why wouldn’t Daniel Jones be wary of the 270-pound unblocked defender screaming off the edge? He’s been hit enough; certainly, that would be on his radar, for it’s not a non-traditional rusher or a disguised blitzer.

Some posited that Bredeson was expecting inside help from McKethan. It doesn’t appear as if Bredeson shaded to the defender’s left, forcing him into McKethan; rather, he just lost, surrendering a path in that direction to a very quick and powerful rush from Wilkens.

I also questioned McKethan’s eyes and how they flashed toward Baker, not just at the snap but also while McKethan was actively engaged with Wilkens. There were four eyes on Jerome Baker, and McKethan wasn’t eager to double Wilkens even after the Dolphins’ defensive linemen directly intersected with his path. Some kind of miscommunication on the line seems apparent, but what?

Here’s a decelerated version of the presnap phase of Fox’s broadcast tape. Watch center Ben Bredeson with 10 seconds left on the play clock. He looked to his left, and saw Justin Bethel (20) walk outside the hash over Darren Waller (12):

The All-22 doesn’t provide defensive movement before the snap, but Bredeson is clearly looking in Bethel's direction in the broadcast tape, which prompted him to give this signal:

Bredeson gave a 5-0 protection, which is often called when the center and both guards are covered. Bredeson is covered with a nose, but neither guard is covered by the four-down linemen. A 5-0 call is simple. The five offensive linemen will block the five defensive players. There were nine seconds left on the play clock when Bredeson displayed the call to Jones and communicated it to his right.

A second later, McKethan received and echoed the call by signaling 5-0 to quarterback Daniel Jones. Bredeson clearly signals the call, and it’s heard loud and clear by McKethan. However, I don’t believe Neal ever received the 5-0 protection call. Here’s how this five-man protection should have looked from a responsibility standpoint:

Neal never signals the call, and he still executed scat rules, which left Ogbah unblocked into the pocket. Jones had little to no chance to make anything happen, as he hit his back foot and was quickly engulfed by a sea of ravenous Dolphins.

I speculated this could be one reason; that the Giants initially identified No. 20 (Bethel) as the MIKE with the safety directly behind him and a three-versus-two to that side as Bredeson dealt with the zero-techinque.

That protection would require a slide, and double-fanning that far left with a nose tackle is impractical. However, the Giants got up to the line of scrimmage with about 15 seconds on the play clock; Bredeson called for 5-0 with 10 seconds left, so I’m not certain that was the case.

The camera on the broadcast was a few seconds late to capture if Bredeson identified anyone as the MIKE before switching to 5-0 protection. It’s possible that he did. Regardless, Neal believed he was double-reading, so he secured the B-Gap upon Baker’s blitz. All the other blockers were attempting to execute their 5-0 responsibility.

Final thoughts

I am speculating about this assessment, but there is a clear 5-0 call that wasn’t conveyed to Neal. It’s a miscommunication on a line in the absence of their left tackle and starting center. Without rookie John Michael-Schmitz, the Giants don’t have a natural center, and they’re entrusting their protection calls to a guard. Eleven offensive linemen have received snaps on the Giants in 2023; for reference, the Eagles have six, the Commanders have seven, and the Cowboys have nine. The lack of continuity for the Giants up front is evident.

This sack knocked the Giants out of Graham Gano’s field goal range, as the kicker missed the 55-yard boot wide left. New York’s offense currently ranks 31st in points per game with an average of 12.4. They’re barely ahead of the Patriots. Negative plays on the opponent’s side of the field have been an issue for the Giants all season.

I do want to say one thing, though, it’s easy to bash Neal for this mishap, especially after last week’s comments. Maybe he should have received the call, maybe not; there’s no way for me to know if he could hear McKethan in the hostile environment.

Still, other than the last drive where Neal was very bad, he looked much better in this game. He framed his blocks well, varied his punches, readjusted while hand-fighting promptly; his timing/placement was deliberate, he was quicker out of his stance to cover ground and cut off wide-angled rushers, and he appeared more certain in his attack strategy.

Throughout the season, when the offense establishes a small groove, penalties, blown assignments, and other mistakes hamper that progress. Getting into opponent territory is difficult enough, but the Giants keep suffering self-inflicted wounds. This third-and-7 was yet another wound.