Tuesday morning, I watched a guy ride his bike the wrong way up Aramingo Avenue, cigarette in mouth, with a roll of scrap metal slung over his right shoulder.
“Hmm.. why make it so difficult on yourself?” was my first thought.
It’s the same thought I had on Sunday afternoon, when Eli Manning was slicing and dicing the Eagle defense for 434 yards.
Why make it so difficult? Why play soft coverage? Why allow the underneath garbage? Why not press these second stringers at the line of scrimmage and make them work?
There were reasons for the game plan in the first Giants matchup, namely the absence of Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, and Corey Graham. Rookie Rasul Douglas and Chris Maragos were forced into starts while Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall were still healthy and playing football.
Don’t get beat deep, keep ’em in front, make the tackle.
It made a lot of sense to do it in Week 3, but the scheme was really lacking on Sunday against Pro Bowlers like Roger Lewis and Tavarres King.
For this week’s breakdown, I’ll stay away from the video clips, since I hammered seven of them into Monday’s takeaways. Instead, there are a lot of decent quotes to take a look at, beginning with Rodney McLeod’s appearance on 94 WIP Monday afternoon.
Ex-Eagle Jon Ritchie asked McLeod a series of questions about Sunday’s defensive performance:
Ritchie: Is the Giants offense a bad matchup for your defense?
McLeod: “I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say that. They just executed their offense a little better than they had previously this year. It was just one of those days. Just one of those days.”
Ritchie: What can be done to better defend the slant game?
McLeod: “One thing you can do as a (defensive) lineman, knowing you’re not going to get to the quarterback, is get your hands up. Linebackers can get in the passing lanes. Cornerbacks just have to read 3-step (drops) and keep their eyes on their work. At the end of the day, the quick game isn’t going to beat you. Explosive is going to beat you in this league. That’s one thing we have been good at all year. You have to eliminate the explosive plays.”
Ritchie: What’s the thought process behind the cornerbacks playing ‘off’ coverage so much, as opposed to pressing at the line?
McLeod: “That’s just how we play. You look at the film all year, our corners play off and do a good job at it. That’s what makes them a good group. Jalen Mills can break on the ball well. They all do a good job of reading the quarterback and playing off the receiver. All year, nothing’s changed. They’ve always played well and done a good job all the way and will continue to do a good job.”
Ritchie: With the physicality, is it an adjustment that works, playing bump coverage and disrupting routes?
McLeod: “Yea, it could, but that’s not our scheme. Corners have to be comfortable. You have to allow those guys to play and they have good instincts and they know when to play off and when to press based on situational football.”
“That’s not our scheme.”
That’s… concerning. I think McLeod makes a lot of good points otherwise, but to suggest that you can’t make an adjustment because of design purposes is the very last thing you want to hear.
All game long, this is what the coverage looked like:
3rd and 2, Jalen Mills seven-yard cushion, Patrick Robinson no contact within five yards.
New York just ran a dinky three-yard out route, untouched, for a first down:
Robinson doesn’t get a hand on Sterling Shepard when he makes his break and winds up two yards off the ball on a pitch and catch.
Going back to the quotes, McLeod is right about the linemen and linebackers playing a role in the slant game. Nigel Bradham dropped an interception on Sunday after jumping a passing route. I don’t recall any balls being batted down by Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, or Vinny Curry. Jernigan and Curry have zero passes defended this year. Cox and Graham have two each, good for a tie for 281st place in the NFL.
For reference, Oakland’s Denico Autry leads all defensive ends with 7 passes defended. Jacksonville’s Abry Jones and Dallas’s David Irving are tops for tackles with 6 each. The Birds just don’t bat down a lot of balls at the line of scrimmage, and you’d think that number might be higher since they face more passing attempts than most NFL teams.
And the point about physicality is fair, too. The Eagles, up to this point, had been very good at closing the gap and making tackles in space, which was not the case on Sunday. Instead of “bend, but don’t break,” it was “bend, and then break anyway.”
During Week 3 they limited the Giants in those “explosive plays,” but this time around they gave up passing completions of 67, 57, 28, and 25. This all happened while the run defense performed at its typically high level, holding New York to just 75 yards on 23 carries. They made the other team one-dimensional again, but got gashed by the Giants’ only true offensive weapon.
The defensive coordinator
Jim Schwartz spoke on Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference.
Q. What was up with what some of the corners did on double moves? Is that just a thing because that’s what the Giants do a lot of? (Jeff McLane)
We were giving up plays up front early. When we tighten down to start being more aggressive, the down part of that is you become susceptible to double moves. We’ve got to play both. That’s part of the job description of a corner is you have to be able to defend short passes and deep passes. You have to be able to recognize some situations. We didn’t do the greatest job in the first three series of recognizing some situations where there was potential for them to throw a double move. Not all of them are identifiable, but some of them I think we could have been a little bit better there. When we have chances to play the ball and get the ball, we have to take advantage of those. We had three different times in that game that we had balls that hit our hands. If we make those plays, then we’re feeling a lot different. Even though the final score probably wouldn’t have been the same, or the result maybe wouldn’t have been the same, we still win the game, but we stop those drives a little bit earlier.
Okay, I lied, just one video, the double move that Ronald Darby bit on early:
McLeod is playing single-high safety there, so Darby doesn’t have cover-2 help over the top. Malcolm Jenkins is responsible for the tight end coming off the line.
Q. <question was about Darby’s issues> (Jeff McLane)
“I wouldn’t say they’re Ron Darby’s issues. I would say it’s secondary issues. Ron gave up some plays in this game, but I think everybody in our secondary other than Corey Graham gave up at least a play. It’s not a one man game. Ron can play better than he did and he knows that. He’s another one who had a chance to make an interception in the end zone. Those are the plays he can make. He made that interception (earlier) and that helped spark us. We were struggling. That interception had a lot to do with us getting back into the game. I give him credit for that also. But it wasn’t just a Ron Darby thing. all of our corners gave up plays.
Q. Is he in shape? (Jeff McLane)
“I don’t think its conditioning. We played a lot of snaps on defense and he played every single one of them. That goes for what we do in the NFL.”
Q. Is he still learning some of the scheme? (Dave Zangaro)
“I would categorize his stuff more as technique-wise in this game. When you get more experience you do get more comfortable and communication happens quick. We mentioned the no-huddle and that could play a part. But when you look at it from a coaching standpoint, you look at it from a technique standpoint. That’s where he can play a little bit better.”
Darby didn’t play well, but nobody really did. He’s bringing out the blocker on “half way” fans:
For the half way fans that sit around and wait for mistakes to talk trash will be getting blocked starting today . We nothing but human . 🦅🦅 pic.twitter.com/1YjZlLULEK
— Ronald Darby (@realronalddarby) December 19, 2017
To his credit, he did have the key interception to swing the game and get the Birds back in it.
On this play, he got enough of a jam on Lewis to throw off the slant route and force the incomplete pass:
Jenkins is assigned to the guy in the flat there. It’s a run/pass option, similar to what the Eagles do on offense, and the Giants are trying to rub one of the defenders on this play.
Q. You mentioned the quick passes. It seemed like the slant, at least early, was a problem. You’ve been really good with that for most of the season. What do you think happened there? (John McMullen)
Well, a lot of those were run plays and they were RPOs, and they were ripping them out of there.
I think we were just a little too back in coverage, but again, there’s a fine line. All of a sudden you come up, and you get double moves over your head. It’s a terrible cliché, but it took us three series of getting punched in the mouth before we responded and started playing more consistently. That’s something we can’t allow to happen. We have to come out early and say, ‘Hey, we’re on top. We played those RPOs before. We’ve played run game before.’
Again, every game’s going to be different challenges. We got to find a way to win the game. Fortunately we were able to do that in this game.
Q. The tackling has been good for most of this year, was that a problem here as you were playing off coverage? (Zach Berman)
“No, I don’t think.. you look at the first play of the game where Jalen Mills allowed a completion and that was an RPO, I think a 6 yard gain or something. He made a good, strong tackle but it was still 2nd and 4. There’s ways to be able to play off coverage to be able to still stop short passes. A lot of it has to do with underneath coverage stuff. There’s a great example, one of the same plays that got us early in the game, Nigel Bradham stepped in front of and had a chance to seal the game right there. We didn’t get it done. But there’s other ways to be able to help on those short passes and our linebackers and underneath covers have a lot to do with it. Defensive line can have a lot to do with it, too. A knocked down pass somewhere along the lines can go a long way. We’ve done that in the past as well.
Schwartz is saying the same thing as McLeod there. They need help from the front four and the linebackers as well.
Q. Do you consider changing things up based on what other teams do, or at this point in the season do you just do what you do? Can you change your identity if it’s necessary? (Geoff Mosher)
“Yea. Our scheme is big enough to play it however we want to. We went to some other coverages early in that game. We blitzed a little bit early in that game. What really got us out of it was nothing to do with any of those. What got us out of that was urgency and the feeling of giving up three touchdowns. It shouldn’t take that. It shouldn’t take giving up three touchdowns. We need to come out with more fire. If we’re disappointed in anything, let’s be disappointed in that.”
“Our scheme is big enough. We’ve had games this year where we blitzed. I’m sure you guys were like, ‘wow, they’re a blitz team this year.’ Then other games it’s, ‘well, you got burned with the blitz.’ Every one is a little bit different.”
That answer should make you feel a little bit better about what McLeod said on WIP… I think. It’s one thing for the scheme to be “big enough,” but can the proper adjustments within that umbrella be made?
The head ball coach
Doug Pederson was asked about the defensive issues Monday:
Q. Do you think that the problems that you’ve had on defense the last couple weeks could have something to do with maybe some certain players being tired? (Nick Fierro)
“I do know this: It’s been a rough three games. We’ve been on the road. There was a West Coast trip in there with Seattle and L.A., and then [we were] up in New York. I think back to when we played the Broncos. I believe the Broncos were on the road for three games in a row at the time we played them and you saw what happened there.
I think there’s something to say about that, being on the road, and traveling. All of that can affect coaches and players. I do my part during the week to limit the amount of reps that we’re taking and try to get the guys on and off the practice field and make sure that they are getting rest and all the proper hydration, nutrition, whatever it takes, this time of year, to stay as healthy as possible.
So it may appear that guys are fatigued at times, and I think it’s just a compounding interest of everything that’s sort of taken place in the last month of our season.”
Q. I know with DE Bryan Braman here someone had to be down. Why was CB Rasul Douglas the guy that was down? (Zach Berman)
“Well, when you look at the whole picture, again, special teams, you have to look at everything. And then you have to look at defensively who gives us the best value, if a safety goes down, if a corner goes down, if a nickel goes down and of course [S] Jaylen Watkins is kind of in that mix right there of being that guy. And we’ve juggled that back and forth from week-to-week. So that what was kind of reason.”
I think Douglas could have helped. He closes the gap and tackles well, and he’s a ball hawk. He picked off Eli Manning in the first game and has a ton of experience playing soft bullshit zone from his 3-3-5 days at WVU.
Q. What was your impression of how CB Ronald Darby played and how he’s played since he came back? Obviously he made some big plays. What was your overall impression of him? (Reuben Frank)
“Obviously the interception was huge, so a big play there. A couple PBUs during the game. I think he’s still sort of learning the scheme. I think there’s times where, do I think he can be more aggressive? I do. I think he can. I think he knows that.
But at the same time, he’s still fighting through a little bit of injury with the ankle but yet he’s out there practicing every single day, putting in the time and wanting to get better. We have a lot of confidence in him and what he’s done and what he’s brought to this football team, and we’ll just continue to work.
“Be more aggressive.”
That’s what you wanna hear.
Q. Is the Giants passing game a tough matchup for your pass defense and going forward, do you think teams are going to look at what they did and try to do it? (Zach Berman)
“The second part of the question, if we’re scouting the Raiders and a team goes hurry-up, yeah, we can say, ‘We want to go hurry-up.’ But if it’s not part of what you do, it’s really hard just to change during the season, to change your whole game plan. The Giants kind of go up-tempo. They have in their past. They did in their first game and obviously they did it yesterday.
And for them, too, I think with their injury situation on offense, it’s a great way for [Giants QB] Eli [Manning] to get the ball out of his hands. They still can be explosive. Some of it was RPOs. A ball was out fast on a little play-action RPO or a little run action.
They do a nice job on third down with some of their pick routes and different moving parts there, some of their mesh routes and mesh schemes. And that was their plan obviously, was to go tempo and get the ball out of his hand and use the run game when they needed to.”
Remember the Giants’ second touchdown?
This pick went uncalled:
Come on ref, you’re blowing the game! Get some glasses! You can’t see shit!
So on, and so forth.
Q. Do you think the defense is missing Jordan Hicks a little more than maybe we thought it would? (Les Bowen)
“It’s tough when you lose your starters. It’s hard and then, [LB] Joe Walker has missed some time and so there’s your one and two guys that have missed some time. Yeah, it can be a little disruptive defensively.
But listen, we don’t use those as excuses. We still figure it out and try to find ways to win and we’ve been able to do that.”
They miss Jordan Hicks the tackler and playmaker, but it doesn’t change a ton from a scheme standpoint. The Eagles don’t play a lot of their 4-3 base defense to begin with. They’re usually in nickel with five in the secondary.
My takeaway is a glass half-full kind of thing. I really think they were a bit ragged from playing three road games in a row. The routine was different with the week in Los Angeles. Some guys are dinged up. I think they can adjust and finish strong, but that McLeod quote is deeply concerning and puts the onus on Jim Schwartz to figure it out, or else Drew Brees might be dinking and dunking all day long at Lincoln Financial Field in January.
I’m not scared, and you shouldn’t be either, but the defense needs to make a statement on Christmas night and show everybody that the last three weeks were one continuous aberration.