The New York Giants expanded their passing attack under the nascent tutelage of head coach Brian Daboll and wunderkind offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. Their passing designs and concepts were copious, scripted well, and were outlined to exploit the tendencies of each opponent. One design we saw throughout the season was the smash concept.
Smash is a two-man route concept where the outside receiver (the number one) runs a shallow route - typically a hitch, but not always - and the inside receiver (typically the number two) runs a corner route (also known as a seven route in the vernacular of an Air Coryell system).
(Courtesy of Throwdeeppublishing.com)
These are mirrored smash concepts from a 2x2 set out of 11 personnel with the tight end in line. The smash concept can work against several defenses, but is dangerous versus Cover 2, for the outside flat defender is put into conflict and is High-Low’d.
Here’s my exceptional artwork from a 2020 article about the Cover 2 defense, with the smash concept to the left side of the play, and a dagger concept to the right. Some zone Cover 2 defensive cornerbacks are weary of the smash concept, for the number two receiver (corner route) has ample leverage to the outside versus the deep-half safety.
However, nickel defenses can cover the concept better than the base personnel that would likely not respond to an 11-personnel package in modern football.
To combat the vulnerability in what is known as the Honey Hole (the space between the flat CB and deep-half safety in a Cover 2 defense), the CB may use peripheral vision or even tilt his backside slightly toward the sideline to see the intentions of the number two receiver. The CB has to gain depth to force the quarterback to throw shallow, which prompts that same CB to rally and tackle - rather give up the quick hitch than the deep corner.
I also appreciate the dagger on the backside, for the strong safety is put into conflict from a more reduced set inside the numbers. An athletic tight end can threaten the seam (peers at Darren Waller). Depending on if the defense executes a Tampa 2 technique with their linebacker, and if the receiver running the dig can hold the strong safety to the outside, either the streak or dig could be open for a big gain.
However, the smash is a concept and not two specific routes. The corner route doesn’t change, but there are plenty of variations of the number one receiver’s route in the two-man concept. Offenses have used whip routes as depicted well below by Winwiththepass.com:
TheSpreadOffense.com shows the concept mirrored with out routes out of empty five-man protection with a middle-of-the-field post. Dangerous if the blocking can hold up:
Then there’s the way the Giants employed it down the stretch of the season last year; neither of the two plays below is against a Cover 2 defense. Let’s start with the Week 16, Christmas Eve, game against the Minnesota Vikings:
New York didn’t mirror the concept but ran it at the top of the screen, with the number one receiver Darius Slayton (86) running an in-breaking route. Daniel Bellinger (82) ran the corner route, but Jones saw safety Harrison Smith (22) bail off the line of scrimmage to cover Bellinger in the defensive five-man pressure with man coverage, a rat in the hole, and a middle of the field closed safety.
Jones initially checked the smash boundary side and then came to the switch release in-breakers to the field side, after the Vikings did not execute a BANJO technique on the switch. A good read by Jones. Isaiah Hodgins (18) was open against Patrick Peterson (20) as he sat in the void on this third-and-10, crossing the backside of the apex defender and forcing Peterson to work over the top of that same defender. Unfortunately, Eric Kendricks (54) batted the pass down at the line of scrimmage.
A week later against the Colts, the Giants went back to the boundary smash with Hodgins running a slant against a safety from depth to the field side, and Bellinger taking his cornerback deep. Indianapolis brought five on the pressure with the Giants having only five in protection. Slayton operated as the one in the smash, running a quick inside-breaking route with Richie James (80) on the corner.
The wrinkle added to this smash concept was the running back in the flat; a very important aspect of the play. It’s second-and-thirteen, with the Colts in man-match coverage. Zaire Franklin (44) was tasked to wall off any inside-breaking route from the boundary. Initially, it appeared that Franklin, and Julian Blackmon (32), were going to play James with an inside-out technique, with Stephon Gilmore (5) in MEG (man everywhere he goes) against Slayton. That’s, of course, only if Matt Breida (31) stayed in as a pass protector, which did not happen.
Breida went into the route, which prompted Franklin to push his assignment to Blackmon since Franklin had to deal with the traffic from the two boundary receivers. Blackmon had a tough assessment to come down from depth and tackle Breida in space. Jones quickly recognized the push, saw Gilmore go inside with Slayton, and took the yards and space.
It’s easy to see James streaking down the field after the throw and be frustrated by Jones’ decision, but it’s five-man protection against a blitz, and the quarterback erred on the side of caution to position his offense in a third and manageable.
However, in an ideal world, seeing Franklin push Brieda outside as the linebacker went to wall off inside breaking routes with no leverage to cover a corner against James, with Gilmore staying on Slayton, and the initial drop of the middle-of-the-field closed safety, it’s not unreasonable to say, with a little bit of patience and a brief peer to the outside, Jones would have had a much bigger play to James. It’s not unreasonable, but I don’t have DeForest Buckner charging at me as I sit in my cozy chair typing this out.