The New York Giants’ quest to find a true offensive center seems akin to the Lord of the Rings or Stand by Me. Big Blue has cycled players at other positions along the offensive line to center their line of scrimmage over the last decade. While some were very respectable, the desire for a lynchpin centerpiece to anchor the line is at the forefront of many Giants fans' minds as we transition into NFL Draft season.
Two Big Blue View readers asked questions for the Big Blue View Mailbag pertaining to draft prospects and the New York Giants' diverse rushing scheme. Here are those questions:
John Latini: I’m intrigued with locking down a center early in the draft if Gates is not the option. What are your thoughts on the type of centers to fit the Giants' scheme? They like mobile and pulling centers and not sure Schmitz and Avila are those types. Maybe Tippman and Wypler might be better options in the 2nd or 3rd rounds that have good mobility. The question really is, what is our scheme?
Tom Hall: I try to read as many of BBV’s Draft Prospect and Free Agent Profiles as I can. Focusing on interior offensive linemen, those profiles often specify that a player would be a better fit in either a power blocking or a zone blocking scheme. What type of blocking scheme does the Daboll offense use and what type of interior offensive line prospects (power, zone, or other) best fit that scheme?
John, Tom, thanks for the questions. Two questions about this Giants rushing scheme, love it!
I haven’t studied all of the draft prospects yet, but I have watched John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota) and Steve Avila (TCU). Schmitz will be selected before Avila, and it’s easy to see why; the Golden Gopher’s range and mobility are excellent and would connect well with what the Giants did in 2022.
Presuming that the Giants rushing attack stays the same irrespective of Mike Kafka’s employment, a mobile center is very important because of the amount of pull-lead rushing plays New York ran with Jon Feliciano. Locating a center with foot speed, body control, a fundamental understanding of angles, and short-area quickness could take this rushing attack to another level in 2023.
Now we should answer this ... how exactly did the Giants employ their rushing attack in 2022? How did they go from 24th in rushing yards in 2021 to fourth overall in 2022? Daniel Jones was a huge reason why, but Saquon Barkley also had a much more efficient season this past year.
Here’s one big question that I see a lot pertaining to coaching staffs and rushing philosophies: Are they power/gap or zone? For the Giants, it’s not that simple. It’s important to note that Brian Daboll and his staff are adaptable coaches who would use different game plans based on their opponent.
The Giants were flexible, they adjusted, and their rushing style against an ODD front team would differ from an EVEN front team. Let’s go through some of the rushing approaches employed by the Giants.
One more thing, it’s important to note that rushing schemes can be flexible. I wouldn’t think of each inside zone or power play as the same exact thing; they have their core principles but there can be adjustments to the scheme that makes them look different.
Let’s start with a power-gap concept referred to by some as the pull-lead. The Giants ran this concept several times through the season, and we’ll see the importance of athletic ability at the center spot when deploying this rushing approach.
These two plays against the Titans can also be referred to as G-Lead because the play side guard is leading the attack by pulling around the play-side tackle who is blocking down on a 3-technique. This is a closed side run (strong side) where the play side guard kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS), and the center lead blocks with the tight end climbing to the second level.
Few things in life are as excellent as a cohesive well-timed offensive line; the first play provides a great example of what I’m referring to. Mark Glowinski’ (64) adjusted his path and picked up the safety right as Saquon Barkley (26) was squeezing outside of Daniel Bellinger’s (82) block.
Bellinger did a great job adjusting on the second play; Bud Dupree (48) squeezed inside, so Bellinger pinned him to Andrew Thomas’ (78) down block and Joshua Ezeudu (75) no longer had to kick him out of the play. Both the plays above were run out of 11 personnel, but a good coaching staff can successfully implement rushing concepts with different personnel groupings against varying defensive fronts.
New York ran toward the triple-Y side in 13 personnel. Thomas did a great job adjusting his block, for the defender attacked his outside shoulder from a 4i-shade; Thomas created the seal, all three tight ends did a fantastic job on their assignments and Barkley achieved a successful run.
Kafka would incorporate the wildcat into some of his power-lead concepts. On this play, Ben Bredeson (68) is the play side guard tasked to kick out the EMOLOS, and he does so effectively. Barkley follows Feliciano before cutting back inside of Nick Vannett’s (89) block for six.
These two plays are similar power-lead concepts, but they’re different than the earlier plays. There’s no actual toss element to the plays; it’s a shotgun zone-read play with jet motion. The objective for the Giants is to kick the play side tackle into space with the center pulling. The jet motion causes the defense to hesitate as they struggle to see the mesh point between Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones.
The jet motion causes indecisiveness and can also act as a lead blocker for Jones if he decides to keep the football. These plays will be run with reduced receivers tight to the tackle, which allows them to block down on the EMOLOS. Isaiah Hodgins (18) does that in both clips; this allows the tackle to freely get into space, isolated on a poor cornerback.
Houston was using an UNDER front, putting their 3-Technique (outside shoulder of guard) to the weak side; this gave the Giants the necessary angles to block down on the 1-technique with the play side guard, and block down the EMOLOS with the wide receiver, allowing a center and tackle to lead block in space for Barkley.
Power: Single puller
The Giants didn’t run as many single-pulling power runs toward the end of the season. I’m curious if the injury to Joshua Ezeudu was the reason. New York did run some throughout the season with Glowinski, who is fleet of foot. However, Ezeudu seemed to be their backside guard of choice, which makes sense since he ran so many of those concepts at UNC, and he's very quick to orient his body in the desired direction.
One subtle aspect I appreciate on the first play posted above was that the run was designed to Barkley’s side. Running out of shotgun typically tips the defense off in terms of direction. Not many teams run to the same side as the running back’s alignment, but the Giants schemed a boundary shotgun run to the side Barkley was aligned with Ezeudu lead blocking.
Use of full-back
Who doesn’t remember this sequence of plays? Kafka dialed up this same rushing play several times, and Jacksonville could not stop the concept. New York didn’t have a true full-back on their roster, so they used tight end Chris Myarick (85) as the kick-out block on the EMOLOS, while Ezeudu pulled from the backside. There’s still a pulling element, but the Giants beefed up personnel and used one of their tight ends as a traditional fullback.
This was a cool adjustment that I loved from Kafka and Bobby Johnson. DeForest Buckner (99) is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league. Blocking him one-on-one is an issue, so the Giants used Bellinger as a full-back on this interesting rushing concept.
Bellinger aligned directly behind Glowinki, with Buckner as the 3-technique. It was a boundary run with Feliciano kicking around Bredeson. Since Buckner was to the backside of the run, Kafka tasked Bellinger to cut Buckner at the line of scrimmage, which allowed Glowinski to climb up to Bobby Okereke (58).
Thomas followed the EMOLOS, Feliciano kicked around the down block from Bredeson, Hodgins crack-blocked the apex defender, and Stephon Gilmore (5) followed Hodgins' release, removing him from the area. Barkley followed the blocks from Glowinski and Feliciano to a solid gain; a very subtle, yet brilliant adjustment from the Giants' coaching staff.
Bellinger’s play above is similar to a wham block, albeit Buckner wasn’t blindsided, but the methodology is the same: allow your offensive lineman easy access up to second-level defenders. A trap block is when a defender on the line of scrimmage is deliberately unblocked by the offensive lineman that is covering him pre-snap; that offensive lineman climbs to the second level, and another offensive linemen earholes the initial unblocked defender. Here’s a quick picture from my buddy Ryan Dukarm over at Inside the Pylon:
A wham block is essentially the same thing only it’s a smaller offensive player throwing the block: a fullback or a tight end, typically. Here are three variations of these tags ran by the Giants this season:
This is a double trap. Both Bredeson and Glowinski go to trap, while Evan Neal (79), Bellinger, and Thomas climb to the second level.
This is a trap and a wham with Bellinger aligned behind Neal and Glowinski. Nick Gates (65) traps the EMOLOS to the field side, while Thomas climbed to Zaire Franklin (44). Feliciano gets a free release to Okereke, and Grover Stewart (90) absorbed the wham block from Bellinger. Barkley did a great job sifting through the blocks for a solid gain.
This is a trap and wham with Bellinger in motion toward his assignment. Glowinski stepped to Daron Payne (94) to force the defender to respect him before trapping the EMOLOS with Neal climbing to the second level. Glowinski’s step toward Payne allowed Bellinger to contact and steer Payne away from Barkley’s path. Feliciano received the free climb to the linebacker, and the run was well blocked up by the Giants.
Traps and whams aren’t a running scheme, per se. They’re tags and adjustments made by the coaching staff and offensive line. Teams who have faith in their offensive line’s ability to handle varied responsibilities tend to successfully attempt these rushing tags. Bobby Johnson and Tony Sparano Jr. deserve credit for the Giants' diverse and effective rushing approach.
There are several different types of counter runs. It’s a staple of power-rushing attacks, and the Giants could not defend it in 2022. A counter-run is deceptive; the running back starts one way and then breaks the other direction behind blockers pulling in the intended direction.
The Giants were masters of deception with their rushing attack in 2022. Jones understood how to disguise and hide the football on certain plays throughout the year. In these three plays above, watch how purposeful Jones is showing defenders the football as the running back initially steps in the wrong direction. The third clip is a bit different because it’s run out of shotgun, but the step outside by Barkley gives his blockers the time to get into their positions to execute their assignments.
Counter runs stress those defenders to fit in a timely fashion. On GH counter - the one commonly run by the Giants- the backside guard and a sniffer (H-Back, TE) pull to the front side; the guard kicks out, sniffer lead blocks. It’s a great concept that’s a good change-up to have in your arsenal. The Giants also ran a play that looks like the counter runs above, but without the deliberate nature of the fake:
The motioning sniffer goes before the guard and kicks out off the backside of the sixth offensive lineman, although the Giants ran this plenty with only five offensive linemen. Joens doesn’t stress the fake, but he opens away from the handoff and Barkley stays square to the line of scrimmage until he has the football; that’s when he breaks to the field side and follows his blockers. These plays are classified as just power, but there are similarities that are evident.
We just went over a lot of power/gap types of concepts and tags. The Giants are a varied rushing attack - they want to keep their opponents on their toes, and they love to adjust to opponents. However, Saquon Barkley ran the second most power/gap runs of any running back in the NFL. Josh Jacobs of the Raiders was number one.
New York ran a lot of inside zone, but not a ton of outside zone. Outside zone is a rushing concept made popular by Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs. Shanahan’s son, Kyle, along with his good friend, Sean McVay, have helped proliferate the rushing concept around the NFL.
Outside zone stretches the defense horizontally and can create cut-back lanes through a defense. All the offensive linemen step play side of the run, and it’s on the back to read the defense and find the advantageous path. An offensive line doesn’t have to be complete bullies in this scheme; fast-flowing linebackers and undisciplined defenders can prove to be gigantic liabilities against well-oiled outside-zone teams. Here are three outside zone runs from the Giants in 2022:
The Giants use split-zone on the first two plays, meaning a player from the play side is responsible for the initial unblocked EMOLOS. Not only does this mitigate backside pursuit, but it can also remove a defender at the second level, as it did against Washington in the first clip. The third play was run to the field side of a double-Y (two tight ends on one side) set.
The good ole’ inside zone or DUO argument! Both rushing concepts aren’t easily discernable, but I’ll give it a whirl, I guess. Both create vertical movement at the line of scrimmage that is initially established off double teams that climb to the second level. DUO blocks are more about vertical displacement than inside zone. Coaching staffs may have different rules or terminology on how blocks are communicated or designated.
It’s difficult, at times, to fully know if a play is inside zone or DUO, but here are some tips I lean on to help detect the answer. For inside zone, each offensive lineman is responsible for his play side gap; if there’s no one in his play side gap, then he checks his backside gap. If that’s clear, then he climbs to the second level. The rules are simplistic, and also allow offensive linemen to adjust if the defensive lines stunts.
DUO is slightly different. I’ve seen DUO deemed as Power without the Puller. It’s typically always run toward the tight end, which is one reason why blocking liabilities at tight end rarely have success running DUO. The center typically works to the backside (depending on front), not the front side, and the backside offensive tackle assumes Big on Big on the defensive end.
Former New York Giants offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz has an informative breakdown of DUO vs. Zone on his Youtube channel. He discusses how the WILL is identified by the center, not the MIKE. Schwartz also discussed that the running back’s read is the MIKE in DUO; in zone, it's the defensive line to the MIKE. Here are three inside zone plays run by the Giants this season:
And here are three DUO plays:
John and Tom, I hope this answered your questions about the Giants rushing approach - it’s diverse and pliable. Thank you again for your questions. The more talent and athletic ability the Giants can acquire on their offensive line, the more fun they can have trying new adjustments and tags. An influx in talent could realistically lead this progressive coaching staff to more innovative ideas. Daboll, Kafka, and Bobby Johnson deserve credit for their diversified rushing approach. I expect the Giants to maintain their flexibility as long as Brian Daboll is their head coach.