The fade route to Hakeem Nicks has not clicked in 2012.
However, when inside the 20-yard line, the Giants’ usually powerful offense tends to hit the brakes, as the team has only converted 48.9 percent of its red-zone trips into touchdowns in 2012 (ranked 22nd in NFL).
In Weeks 7 through 10, the Giants red-zone struggles were particularly evident. Over that time, New York only cashed in on five-of-12 trips—four of which were goal-line carries by Andre Brown from inside the 2-yard line. In all, Brown has accounted for eight of the team’s 23 red-zone touchdowns in 2012 (34.8 percent).
Now that Brown has landed himself on the injured reserve/"designated to return” list after breaking his fibula against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday night, the Giants are without their biggest red-zone weapon. But in Week 12, New York showed signs that the red-zone offense had made vital adjustments over the bye week.
Against the Packers, the Giants went five-for-six on red-zone trips, relying little on their record-chasing kicker, Lawrence Tynes. New York’s efficient play in scoring position was the result of the offense’s ability to keep the Packers’ defense off-guard with exceptional play-calling.
Brown provided the Giants' first red-zone score with a two-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive, but the team struck again two drives later, this time from 16 yards out.
On the play, quarterback Eli Manning connected with rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle for the first touchdown reception of his career. The play developed as follows:
The Giants lined up in a three-wide, shotgun formation with one in-line tight end (Martellus Bennett) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw lined up in the backfield. With Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz lined up together on the far side, Randle was split out alone on the near side. It was 3rd-and-five, and the Packers were expecting a pass.
Packers cornerback Davon House was marked up on Randle in man-to-man coverage. House thought he had help over the top, but safety M.D. Jennings was also responsible for the tight end if he released deep.
At the snap of the ball, Randle faked outside to establish inside positioning on House. He and Bennett ran downfield, parallel to each other, outside the right hash. Bennett broke in near the 5-yard line, and Randle redirected his route toward the post in the back of the end zone.
The Giants’ offensive line provided Manning with a clean pocket to watch the play develop. He could see that Bennett’s route was attracting Jennings’ attention, leaving Randle in single coverage with House, who was already in a trailing position after biting on the stutter step at the line of scrimmage.
With his eye on the target, Manning took a swift step to the left to avoid some late pressure from Packers linebacker Erik Walden. He found a clear throwing lane and arced the ball over the Green Bay defense, into Randle’s waiting arms—a perfectly executed play.
In the second quarter, the Giants lined up in a similar formation on their opponent’s 9-yard line. This time, Manning found Cruz, who released from the slot position, on a slant in front of Jennings. The score put New York up by more than two touchdowns.
Later in that quarter, the Giants’ offense outsmarted the Packers’ overcompensating defense. From 13 yards out, Manning ran a draw play to Bradshaw, who followed a convoy of well-executed blocks on his way to the end zone. The play unfolded as follows:
Manning and the Giants came out in a three-wide, shotgun formation that was nearly identical to the ones they lined up in on the previous two red-zone scores. It was 1st-and-10 with 50 seconds left in the half, and the Packers were expecting Manning to drop back to pass.
Manning received the snap, and left guard Kevin Boothe pulled around the right side, as right guard and tackle, Chris Snee and Sean Locklear, double-teamed Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy. Center David Baas held off defensive tackle B.J. Raji, left tackle Will Beatty sealed off the backside, and tight end Martellus Bennett prevented Walden from making the play.
Locklear’s execution was pivotal to the play’s success. After helping Snee on the double-team, Locklear released downfield to take out linebacker A.J. Hawk at the second level. Bradshaw utilized a well-timed jab step to fool linebacker Brad Jones into thinking that he’s bouncing outside, leaving a clear path to the end zone.
Packers safety Morgan Burnett was the only player with a clear shot at Bradshaw, but he was too preoccupied with covering Cruz to notice that the veteran back was running the ball in for a touchdown just behind him. The score gave New York a three-touchdown lead going into halftime.
The Giants’ final successful red-zone trip came in the third quarter. On that score, Manning threw to his most established receiver, Nicks, who had to stretch out to break the plane for a 13-yard touchdown. Nicks’ impressive individual effort was on third-and-goal, so it saved the Giants from settling for a field goal attempt.
In past seasons, Manning has gotten away with heaving the ball up for Nicks in the corners of the end zone, but so far this year, that look hasn’t been there. Not much changed against the Packers; as The Newark Star-Ledger’s Jenny Vrentas points out, Manning tested the fade route to Nicks four times, but misfired each time.
The plays that worked, instead, were the ones that required a bit of creativity in the play-calling. The individual execution on those plays was essential to the Giants’ red-zone success, and the team should look to build on that as it attempts to iron out the game-plan wrinkles in the weeks leading up to the playoffs.