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Film breakdown: Wan’Dale Robinson and the Giants’ use of motion

Second-year WR a key to motion-heavy approach

New England Patriots v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots, 10-7, on Sunday to enter their bye week on a two-game winning streak. On The Chris & Nick Show preview of the matchup, Chris Pflum and I discussed how the Giants would attempt to attack the Patriots’ defense with pre-snap motion, jet-sweeps, and other methods to expand the defense and create traffic. Second-year wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson was the catalyst for this approach.

Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka frequently moved Robinson in various ways to keep the offense moving. Tommy DeVito had answers to the quick defensive adjustments or lack thereof.

Robinson’s promising rookie season ended with a torn ACL in Week 11 against Detroit. Ironically enough, Robinson recorded over 100 yards in that game, and he was the last receiver to do so in the regular season for the Giants until Jalin Hyatt in Week 12 of this season (Isaiah Hodgins had 105 yards against Minnesota in the playoffs).

Robinson led the Giants’ receivers with a 77% snap share in Week 12; he motioned on 55% of those snaps. Kafka’s offense isn’t shy to motion. Motions and shifts can help establish offensive leverage/momentum, act as a deception to help set up subsequent plays, and provide critical defensive indicators.

In every game plan, the Giants’ offense loves to use Robinson in this role. Still, it was a point of emphasis for the Giants against this oversized Patriots defense.

Robinson’s statistics don’t jump out like Jalin Hyatt’s, but the second-year wide receiver caught four of five passes for 26 yards. However, statistics don’t always tell the story, and football is a team sport, so let’s dive into the film and see how Kafka leveraged motion to position his offense advantageously.

First drive

It was comforting to see the Giants’ loyalty to the game plan after DeVito (15) and Robinson (17) botched the second attempt of this nature in the game. However, on the first play of the game, Robinson motioned from the open side (no tight end) boundary (short side of field) to the closed side (tight end side) field (wide side of field).

The Patriots responded by shifting the linebacker outside the hash and rotating the field cornerback to a deep half. This is just about precisely what Kafka wanted (he may have preferred Peppers to rotate and Jonathan Jones to stay down).

Nevertheless, with Daniel Bellinger (82) releasing toward linebacker Jahlani Tavai (48) and Sterling Shepard (3) assuming Peppers, the Giants had a hat-on-hat with the next closest defender not on the line of scrimmage starting on the far hash. Deatrich Wise Jr. (91) was the read defender and did a good job of tracking Robinson down for a gain of six.

Four plays later, DeVito and Robinson failed to handle the exchange on a jet-sweep attempt, resulting in the game’s first turnover. Still, a boundary jet-sweep to the double-Y side has recently worked for the Giants, who ran several jet motions to help set up the run and/or temporarily occupy the defenders' eyes, as we saw throughout this Patriots’ game. Here are some examples from the entire game:

The last one is a motion-to-lead block for the Giants’ GH counter run, which prompted the Patriots to rotate a safety down from the original motioning side. The safety that rotated down filled well, as Davon Godchaux (92) stole Ben Bredeson’s (68) lunch money.

Still, adding a lead blocker to the GH-counter staple gives more bodies to the front side of the play and is a method employed by teams like the 49ers and Dolphins, not just on counter runs but zone ones as well. Let’s see how the Giants responded on their second drive from the fumble.

Motion to set up pass

New York starts the drive with mirrored stacks before motioning Robinson to the field. This forms a bunch to the field side and expands the defense to that side, forcing the safety to the boundary to gain more depth away from Jalin Hyatt (13) on the lone receiver side. The motion also confirms a zone defense, with a strong indicator that it’s Cover-2 based on the alignment.

DeVito has done well against Cover 2. He’s not shy to attack the honey hole (spot between flat defender and deep half-safety). The pre-snap motion tip was accurate; it was zone, Cover 2, and DeVito - as he stated during the week - loves throwing to vertical routes.’

Hyatt does an exceptional job maintaining the red line while also expanding his route enough away from the Cover 2 flat defender to give DeVito space to fit the football.

Great understanding of space by Hyatt, and a good ball by DeVito to allow the rookie receiver to get his feet in bounds for a 22-yard gain to start the Giants’ second drive. Unfortunately, the drive stalled after DeVito took a first-down sack, but Kafka attempted to use the motion out of EMPTY to give Saquon Barkley (26) a lead blocker to help spring a screen:

The Giants are not a good screen team, but I appreciate the attempt to remove Barkley’s primary defender from the play via motion and an aggressive Robinson block. The motion did force a defender down near the box; in a perfect world, Barkley secures this catch and bounces it toward the numbers where Bellinger is blocking Jones. The safety who rotated down would be picked by Robinson’s block of Myles Bryant (27), and the veteran running back would have ample space to work with on the outside.

Instead, the throw is a tad bit too high, and Barkley just flat-out drops the pass to set up third-and-long. It didn’t work out, but can we applaud Robinson for being First-Team All-Toughness as he drove Bryant into the ground. It wasn’t the only impressive blocking effort from Robinson, who did an admirable job against 290-pound Keion White (99) with this chip:

The Giants ran mirrored stacked motion to the field bunch again to set up a DeVito sprint out:

The Patriots were confirmed in man coverage. Bellinger stayed to block, as DeVito discerned the coverage and found Robinson for a short gain. Bryant, who was in on the coverage of Robinson, gained depth as Robinson sold the vertical route; the receiver stopped at the bottom of the numbers and flowed outward, giving him space to operate. Bryant made a good open-field tackle, but the Giants picked up seven yards on the play.

The motion forced the man-covering defender to work through traffic to close width on Robinson. Bryant did a solid job, but the play call gives the offense leverage to the outside, giving them an advantageous situation.

On third-and-17, the Giants motion Robinson wide to stack behind Hyatt in man coverage. This creates a wall for Jalen Mills (2) to work through, as his assignment - Matt Breida (31) - runs outward to make an easy catch, but the Giants do not convert the third-and-long.

White records this second-and-eleven sack, but the Giants flooded the Cover 3 zone and forced a mishap that failed to be seized. Robinson motions to the boundary side - the same side as Barkley and Bellinger at the nub. Robinson runs four yards and goes to the sideline as Barkley sits at the numbers. Both the deep third and curl/flat defender take Robinson, which allowed Bellinger to streak past both of them with leverage, but DeVito was sacked before a throw could be made.

The Cover 3 defense can be susceptible through seam routes. DeVito and the Giants had Bellinger for a second, in part because the late addition of Robinson to that side of the field forced hesitation. All an offense needs in football is a split second of hesitation, which can be the difference.

Orbit motion

Kafka is not a stranger to orbit motion. The Giants use the orbit - which is motioning a skilled position player behind the entire offense - to add a check down route to the progression while forcing defenders near the line of scrimmage to create more space behind them.

On first-and-10 to start the second quarter, the Giants confirm zone and motion Robinson - the original No. 3 - in orbit back to his original side. Not only did this confirm zone, but it forced the curl/flat defender (Bryant) up to the line of scrimmage while the Giants clear out the deep third of the Cover 3 with Hyatt’s inward leaning streak.

With Hyatt clearing the zone, and Robinson holding the curl/flat, Shepard releases outward to the sideline from the No. 2 WR position, effectively high-lowing Bryant. DeVito’s pump fake to Robinson forced Bryant to over-play his position, leaving the window open.

The rookie UDFA quarterback delivered a good pass away from both Patriots’ defenders, but Shepard could not secure the ball. This is a very well-designed play against zone coverage. If it were man coverage, Robinson’s orbit would have created traffic for his covering defender, and the two stationary wide receivers would have likely run something to the inside to create traffic for more Robinson leverage to the outside. Kafka goes back to orbit motion with 52 seconds left in the third quarter:

Love this play design against man, which Robinson’s orbit motion confirms. DeVito picks up three yards with this scramble on first-and-ten, but look at Robinson's space at the bottom of the screen. Darius Slayton (86) gets in Bryant’s way, and Robinson is wide open as Slayton occupies two defenders.

Unfortunately for the Giants, DeVito had his eyes on Barkley, who was matched up against Tavai; the LB had to work over the top of traffic but did a solid job staying in relation to Barkley. A bigger play was to be had here, and it was due to the orbit.

Final thoughts

The Giants’ use of motion provided them valuable leverage on some plays, confirmed man or zone, and forced defensive hesitation. Wan’Dale Robinson wasn’t the only player to run motion, but it’s clear the Giants trust him with that specific role. Previous coordinators and offenses failed to utilize pre-snap movement and relied more on static receivers and routes. It’s refreshing to see a more fluid approach operated to maximize the probability of successful offensive plays.