The New York Giants have improved in several key areas during their current two-game winning streak.
Eli Manning’s willingness to throw interceptions, which was often in the 0-6 start, disappeared against the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles. Overall, the Giants offense has not turned the ball over during this modest surge after coughing it up an astonishing 22 times (16 interceptions, six fumbles) in the first six games of the season.
Also, Big Blue’s defense is once again formidable, having not allowed a point in two games. If my math is accurate, this is a much better performance than the 181 points they surrendered in their six losses (this number excludes special teams and defensive touchdowns allowed).
Oddly, though, a disturbing trend has arisen in unison with the season’s first sniff of success; New York suddenly can’t find the end zone when they are in or close to the red zone.
New York made 20 trips inside the opponent’s 30-yard-line during the first six weeks of the season and managed to score a touchdown 11 times. Against the Vikings and Eagles, Big Blue had 10 such drives but only scored two touchdowns.
This sudden offensive inefficiency can be corrected with better execution and more diverse play calling in the passing game. In addition, eliminating penalties at inopportune times will also help these ventures deep into enemy territory end in touchdowns instead of field goals.
Before dissecting the problems to draw up a solution, let’s look at what unit is surprisingly not at fault—the running game. The Giants rushing attack is generating only 69.9 yards per game, which is fourth-worst in the NFL, on a minuscule 3.2 yards per carry. However, they are not the reason for the recent red zone area issues.
While New York has managed a mere 28 yards on 12 carries inside the opponent’s 30-yard-line over the last two games, they also have not been stuffed on a third- or -fourth-and-short situation or at the goal-line on any of those totes. Actually, they were successful the only time they were faced with one of these plays—a goal-line carry by Peyton Hillis in the third quarter of the Vikings game that resulted in a touchdown.
The failures have come for a variety of different reasons, and mainly fall on the Manning-to-Nicks connection, but it is all happening on the same play—a go-route towards the right and left corner of the end zone.
First let’s take a look at the lone play that involves Cruz. In the image below, you see that Manning’s first down throw on a fourth quarter drive in the Vikings game hits the Salsa King right in the hands.
Cruz, however, is unable to haul the pass in, resulting in a blown chance for a touchdown.
The next image shows the first of five missed opportunities on the go-route to Nicks. This one is a clear overthrow by Manning on a third-and-16 pass in the first quarter against Minnesota, though it does scrape the veteran receiver’s fingers.
Back to the fourth quarter in the same game. The failure on this third-and-10 play appears to be simply good coverage by the Vikings cornerback, who forces Manning to throw it to Nicks a few feet out of bounds.
Over to the first quarter of the Eagles game, with tight coverage on another third-and-10 play, this time towards the back, left corner, the main reason why Manning and Nicks are unable to connect.
A quarter later, Manning misfires on a second-and-goal pass to the back, right corner. The coverage is pretty good here as well, but an accurate pass likely means a touchdown.
Finally, in the fourth quarter of the Philadelphia win, Nicks and Manning hook up on a second-and-eight pass to the back, left corner but Nicks’ feet land out of bounds. Tight coverage is once again why this play doesn’t work.
A lack of execution is certainly a main reason why these plays all resulted in incompletions. Better throws and surer hands would have led to three touchdowns.
However, trying another play may not be a bad idea either. Failing on the same route six times in two games is the definition of insanity.
Not once did Manning target Cruz or Nicks in the middle third of the end zone on any of the red zone area drives we are analyzing. Whether this is an effort to avoid interceptions in traffic, or because of a perceived advantage on single-coverage routes to the outside, is irrelevant. The offense is overly predictable if the Giants two best receivers are repeatedly targeted in the end zone on the same play.
|Seasons||Touchdowns||Games Played||Touchdowns Per Game|
|2010/2011||15||32 (playoffs included)||.47|
While the passing game deserves most of the scrutiny for the red zone area failures, penalties in the Eagles game were a big reason two drives ended in field goals and not touchdowns.
The first drive in question occurred at the start of the second quarter. The Giants were set up with a 1st-and-goal at the Eagles five-yard-line. Peyton Hillis churned out a three-yard run on first down, but the play was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on rookie right tackle Justin Pugh. Due to the infraction, 2nd-and-goal from the two-yard-line turns into a 1st-and-goal from the 10. New York fails to gain another yard on the drive.
The other drive took place in the fourth quarter and included two red zone area penalties for your viewing displeasure.
The first was another illegal formation penalty, this time on fullback John Connor, on a first down play from the Eagles 17-yard-line. The Giants now need 15 yards to get a first down, but a 13-yard reception by Cruz on the next play gives Big Blue a very manageable 2nd-and-2 from Philadelphia’s nine-yard-line. The good vibes are quickly erased, however, due to a delay of game penalty. Now faced with a 2nd-and-7, the offense only manages to gain five yards on the next two plays.
Penalties in-or-near the red zone hurt more than on other parts of the field since yards are harder to come by in the tight confines near an opponent’s goal line. Therefore, going backwards is especially demoralizing in these situations and can make gaining the yards again very difficult.
If the Giants want to give themselves any chance of capturing the NFC East title, winning at least eight games is probably necessary. With five of their remaining eight games against teams with a record of .500 or better, they are going to need some quality victories to get to 8-8.
Avoiding turnovers and being stingy on defense will certainly allow Big Blue to be competitive against good teams. However, defeating the likes of the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, all of whom are averaging over 25 points per game this season, with field goals is unrealistic.
A more imaginative, well-executed passing game and eliminating momentum-killing penalties in-or-near the red zone will lead to Josh Brown capping drives with an extra-point instead of salvaging them with three points.
This could be the difference between a division title or another season of watching the playoffs from home.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of ESPN.com.