You know it’s been a particularly frustrating game for the New York Giants when, in response to the question, “What went wrong?” you will usually get one of the following answers:
“I don’t know; I’ll have to look at the tape.”
“They scored more points than we did.”
“We just didn’t execute or make any plays today.”
At this point in the week, the Giants know what went wrong against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5, but because they’re on a quick turnaround—they play the Chicago Bears on Thursday night—they’re looking forward and not back.
However, the problems that resulted in their fifth straight loss on Sunday seems to be ones that have been popping up not just in this game, but right from the start of the season.
There are many problems that one could find with a comprehensive review of the tape. However, here are three issues that seem to be occurring on a weekly basis during the Giants' dry spell.
Reason No. 1: The “Spy” is Exposed (or “Where the Heck Was the Adjustment?”)
Whenever a defense knows it’s going to face a mobile quarterback such as Michael Vick, it’s customary to assign a spy to shadow his every move, the goal being to limit the yards the quarterback can get on the ground.
Failure to adjust not only results in personnel mismatches, but, as was the case in this game, it can lead to allowing big plays.
When Vick had to exit the game early after suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter—he appeared to injure himself on the 34-yard run that came after the Giants accepted a holding penalty on the Eagles that turned a 3rd-and-9 into a 3rd-and-20—defensive coordinator Perry Fewell made no adjustments.
Linebacker Spencer Paysinger, assigned to be the spy against Vick, inexplicably continued in this role once Nick Foles entered the game.
Not surprisingly, the failure by Fewell to adjust came back to bite the Giants, especially in the fourth quarter with New York down 22-21.
Let’s look at the play that essentially broke the game wide open for the Eagles: a 25-yard touchdown pass from Foles to tight end Brent Celek with 10:26 left in the game.
The Eagles run a play fake, which causes safety Ryan Mundy, whose assignment appears to be covering Celek, to briefly pause.
By the time he realizes that Foles still has the ball and it’s a pass play, Celek (boxed in black, above frame) is now a few steps past him.
Because Paysinger is the spy assigned to keep an eye on the quarterback instead of attacking anyone who comes near him, Celek simply runs past him, gaining just enough separation as Mundy tries to adjust and get after the tight end.
However, it’s too late. Celek, seen in the cutaway image in the top left corner of the above frame, clearly has a step against Mundy as Foles heaves a nice high throw aimed at Celek’s back shoulder.
The result? An all-too-easy touchdown reception that put the Eagles up 29-21.
Reason No. 2: Lack of a “Bracket Buster”
The New York Giants offense seems to live and die by the deep ball.
And why not? They have two speedy receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz who are capable of getting down field in a hurry, and a quarterback in Eli Manning who has the arm strength to get the ball to them.
So what opposing defenses have done to take the deep ball away from the Giants is to bracket one of those receivers, usually Cruz, with a safety over the top and a cornerback underneath.
In this game, the Eagles deployed that very same strategy, leaving Nicks single-covered and bracketing Cruz. As a result, the Eagles might have given up over 100 yards to Nicks in single coverage, but he didn't burn them with any touchdowns, which is really all that matters at the end.
Also, by bracketing Cruz, the Giants' No. 2 receiver was held to five receptions (out of 12 targets) for 48 yards, his second-lowest total of the 2013 season.
The way for an offense to “bust” the bracket is to have a tight end that can break free into the seam. If he can win his matchup, then the opposing defensive coordinator might think twice about bracketing a receiver deep and instead bring the safety back into the intermediate range to help shore up the middle of the field.
What happened for the Giants, then, is that tight end Brandon Myers (who was later revealed to have suffered an ankle injury) was unable to beat the single coverage by the linebacker.
With Myers under control, the Eagles could then afford to devote a safety to double up against Cruz.
Let’s look at an example from the third quarter, a 2nd-and-10 with 5:38 left.
In frame B, Myers is jammed repeatedly by Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, as he attempts to shed the linebacker and get out into a pass pattern.
Because Myers can’t disengage from Barwin, who by the way is no threat on this play to rush Manning, the tight end is no longer an option underneath.
During his scanning of the field, Manning has no doubt seen Myers struggle to disengage from Barwin. He is now looking for the deep ball to Cruz, who is streaking down the field along the sideline.
In the above frame, Cruz has a half-step against cornerback Bradley Fletcher. The problem is that safety Nate Allen is coming over the top to bracket him, so that even if Manning’s pass hit Cruz’s back shoulder, Allen is in a great position to break up the pass, which he did.
Cruz finished the day catching five of the 12 passes thrown his way for 48 yards, while Nicks, who was left to single coverage, had a productive day in terms of receiving yards, finishing with nine receptions for 142 yards—but no touchdowns.
Because the Eagles had success with a linebacker jamming Myers, they were able to bracket Cruz deep down the field.
Reason No. 3: Crumbled Communication
Take, for example, the Giants offensive line. This is a unit that has had a different configuration in all but two weeks of the season, and boy, has it shown in their play.
The members of the offensive line will tell anyone willing to listen that they sit in meetings all day and are on the same page when it comes to the line calls and such.
Yet when it comes to going out on the field and executing, all it takes is for one of the five linemen to forget something or become confused by something he sees.
The result? A breakdown in communication and, usually, a failed play.
In this game, the Giants offensive line had numerous failed plays resulting from a breakdown in communication. Manning’s stat line was 24 of 52 (46.1 percent) for 334 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and one sack for a 56.1 rating.
Let’s look at a fourth-quarter play coming at 10:49 on a Giants 1st-and-20. The result of this play is an 18-yard interception by Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, the play that preceded Celek’s 25-yard Eagles touchdown reception, as described in “Reason No. 1.”
The Giants run a play fake and Manning drops back, looking for running back Brandon Jacobs, who is headed toward the flat.
The Eagles, meanwhile, run cornerback Brandon Boykin on a delayed corner blitz to threaten the left edge, which is left tackle Will Beatty’s responsibility.
In the above frame, the Giants have three offensive linemen—left guard Kevin Boothe, center Jim Cordle and right guard David Diehl—blocking one man.
On the play, it looked like Boothe (black square) wasn’t sure whom to block, so he took the inside man who was already well under control by Cordle and Diehl.
That left Beatty (circled) to try to block two men, which, of course, he was unable to do.
Boykin’s (red arrow) sack hit home, and Manning’s pass, which hit Cordle in the helmet, bounced straight up into the air and into Kendricks’ waiting arms to set up the score that ultimately sent the Giants to 0-5.
Head coach Tom Coughlin deserves a lot of credit for volunteering to fall on the sword for his team’s struggles to date. He is the man who oversees every aspect of the team, from game plan conception to practice to execution (or lack thereof).
However, he can’t do it all by himself; at some point the assistant coaches need to get in line to fall on the sword just as much as the players who are failing to carry out their duties.
If they don't, they're going to find themselves in the exact predicament they're in today, and that is in the cellar of one of the worst NFC East divisions in recent memory.