In general, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is a positive person.
That’s why when he speaks of the area on the field between the opponent’s goal line and the 20-yard-line, he doesn't refer to it by its common name, the red zone.
Rather, he’s chosen to call it the “green zone” because, as he told the New York Times last year, “Green is go and red is stop. What are you trying to do in the green zone? You’re trying to score.”
Regardless of what Coughlin prefers to call that area of the field, the Giants have not had very much success scoring, so far, in the 2013 season.
Through eight games, the Giants have made 19 trips inside of the opponents’ 20—with all due respect to Coach Coughlin, we’ll call it by its common name, the “red zone”—and have come away with just nine touchdowns while settling for eight field goals.
How concerning are those numbers? According to Team Rankings, the Giants are generating just 2.4 red-zone scoring opportunities per game (28th).
Playoff-caliber numbers? Not even close.
The question is why have the Giants, who went 0-2 in the red zone against the Philadelphia Eagles, struggled so much inside of the red zone?
Obviously, execution—or lack thereof—is a top reason for failure to convert inside of the red zone.
Dropped passes, failures by receivers to get open, cutoff routes, etc. are all issues that one can point to as being factors behind the Giants’ red-zone issues.
A good NFL team should be able to overcome the occasional gaffe inside of the red zone. However, against the Eagles, the Giants' two red-zone failures were more of a result of multiple breakdowns than a single play.
Before we go into the specifics, something needs to be said about the theory that players on offense are not on the same page, even after eight games.
There just might be some merit to that belief. According to NFLGSIS (login required), the Giants have fielded 120 unique lineups, this, no doubt, due to injuries ripping through the running backs and offensive line.
Consider this astonishing statistic from the Elias Sports Bureau that was passed along to members of the Giants beat writers in the team's daily notes:
The last time the Giants started 7 different running backs or fullbacks in their offensive backfield was 1999, according to Elias. #nyg— Paul Schwartz (@NYPost_Schwartz) October 29, 2013
What this instability appears to have done is kept the Giants from establishing any kind of chemistry, and this has affected the play on the field.
Worth noting is that the Giants’ most common offensive lineup, their "21 personnel" shown in the table below, has been used just 7.13 percent of the time this season.
|Running Back||Peyton Hillis|
|Receivers||Rueben Randle, Hakeem Nicks|
|Tight End||Brandon Myers|
|Offensive Line||Will Beatty, David Diehl, Justin Pugh, Kevin Boothe, Jim Cordle|
Source: NFL Game Statistics Information System
By comparison, the Denver Broncos, who currently lead the league in red-zone touchdowns scored per game with 3.6, have fielded just 70 unique offensive lineups, while turning to their favorite lineup 19.31 percent of the time.
What can we draw from this data?
Obviously, the Broncos haven’t had as many injuries to their offense as the Giants, but more importantly, they've found a combination that they have mostly stuck with through the first half of the season.
That combination has built chemistry and, behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, it leads the league in yards per game (466.4), first downs per game (28.1) and third-down conversion percentage (50 percent).
Let’s now look at what happened in Giants' two red-zone opportunities in the Eagles game, where New York came up empty as far as scoring touchdowns.
Red-Zone Drive No. 1: Second Quarter, 12 plays, 48 yards, resulting in a 33-yard field goal by Josh Brown
Three plays at the end of this drive meant the difference between three and seven points. Here’s a look at them in order, along with what happened.
1st-and-10 at the Eagles' 10: Manning's pass intended for Randle is incomplete
On this play, Randle’s only target of the game, he ran a simple crossing route against safety Nate Allen.
The problem, though, is the ball hit Randle in the hands, and he dropped it just as Allen was about to hit him.
2nd-and-10 at the Eagles' 10: Manning's pass intended for Nicks is incomplete
On this play, Nicks is covered by cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Interestingly, Fletcher allows Nicks to get a free release off the line of scrimmage.
As a result, Nicks manages to get a little bit of separation against the defender, as seen in the three-frame strip above.
The problem, though, is that Manning’s pass is overthrown. Nicks tries to reach out to make a one-handed grab, but even if the ball was closer, chances are, it would have still been incomplete.
Meanwhile, Fletcher has caught up to Nicks and can be seen getting his hands on him as the ball starts its fall to the ground.
3rd-and-10 at the Eagles' 10: Manning's pass intended for Donnell is incomplete
Donnell, circled in blue, simply needed to run 10 yards before cutting across the middle of the Eagles’ logo in the end zone (blue line).
What he did was run his pattern and then drift (yellow line) backwards, completely unaware of where the back of the end zone was. This is as blatant of a mental error as one will find on this drive.
As the two Eagles defenders, circled in red, dropped back into a loose zone, in the frame on the right, Donnell can be seen slipping behind the second defender and beginning to separate.
If he had stayed in bounds, he would have recorded his first career touchdown reception.
Red-Zone Drive No. 2: Fourth Quarter, nine plays, 32 yards, resulting in a 27-yard field goal by Josh Brown
This drive was mostly punctuated by mental lapses, starting with fullback John Conner’s illegal-motion penalty called on the play in which Manning now famously had to waive jumbo tight end James Brewer to the other side of the formation.
Let’s look at the two key plays that stunted this red-zone scoring drive.
2nd-and-2 at the Eagles' 9: Penalty—Delay of Game
Recording his fifth “delay of game” penalty, this one is actually not Manning’s fault; rather, this one looks to be on Conner.
Once Manning has identified the “Mike” (middle linebacker), he calls an audible.
In this frame, Manning (circled in blue) is seen turning around to relay the new call back to Conner, circled in red.
The problem, though, is that Conner either didn't hear the call or wasn't sure what to do.
Normally, when Manning lifts his leg up, that is the signal to the designated motion back to go in motion.
The replay showed that Conner didn't pick up the signal, and Manning can be seen, once again, turning back to presumably yell out the call again.
Because the start of the play has commenced too late, the play clock expires, and the Giants are flagged for the delay of game.
In this frame, Manning can be seen throwing up his hands in disgust.
In the replay, he can also be seen stomping his feet in frustration over the setback that turned a 2nd-and-2 into a 2nd-and-7.
3rd-and-7 at the Eagles' 14: Manning's pass to Myers complete for five yards
Myers, circled in blue, runs a crossing pattern over the middle.
However, the blue line shows the path he took, which ended up being a couple of yards shy of the first-down marker.
The yellow line shows the path he should have taken, which is a slightly deeper drop.
Note that Myers had a wide gap of space between the hash marks available to exploit, this designated by the yellow box.
All he had to do on this play was to drop two yards deeper to get to the first-down marker, and the scoring drive would have continued.