EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With 5:05 remaining in the first quarter, Eli Manning faked a handoff to rookie Saquon Barkley and lobbed a 24-yard floater to Odell Beckham Jr., who was rolling on the ground near the 30-yard line.
It was an unusual moment to see the Giants wide receiver that open on Sunday amid a 20–15 loss to the Jaguars. But the reason he got the separation is also the story of a miniature battle that was waged against Jacksonville’s secondary all afternoon in attempt to get the league’s best wideout in space. On that play, Sterling Shepherd was lined up outside of Beckham, closer to the Jaguars’ sideline. As he began his route, Shepherd tossed his body weight into CB A.J. Bouye and proceeded to drive the miniature pile into the right side of Jalen Ramsey, the cornerback largely responsible with covering Beckham one-on-one Sunday. Ramsey was lined up over Beckham at the start of the play.
With Bouye backpedaling and Ramsey on the ground, Beckham looked back to Manning and watched the ball come at him.
“I think the ref said because I made contact with [Shepherd] they didn’t throw the flag,” Bouye said afterward. “Most of the plays they made on Jalen were when we were in man and they were picking him off. It’s tough, but we learned from it.”
Those scoring the much-anticipated Ramsey-Beckham matchup at home may be quick to see Beckham’s 11 catches on 15 targets for 111 yards as a win for the receiver. But the truth is that Ramsey, and the rest of Jacksonville’s secondary, was dominant amid the chaos that Giants head coach Pat Shurmur tried to cause with the passing game. By my unofficial count, Ramsey marked Beckham on 31 passing plays Sunday and surrendered six catches for 87 yards.
However, 24 of those yards came on the first quarter pick play by Shepherd. Then, another 13 yards came on a fourth quarter, third-down Beckham catch that wound up seven yards short of the marker. Shepherd and Beckham were bunched tight to the line on the right side, and Shepherd began his route by delivering a hard right shoulder to Ramsey. That allowed Beckham to sneak behind his No. 2 wide receiver and start his diagonal route across the field with an extra step on Ramsey in man defense.
Most interesting? Twenty of those yards came on plays where Beckham seemed to purposely swerve his route so that Ramsey would get picked by his own defender (once by safety Barry Church and once by linebacker Myles Jack).
“We won so I’m good,” Ramsey said after the game when asked about Beckham’s stat line. “We’re going home 1-0 and they’re going home 0-1. Like I kind of kept saying, we knew it was going to be a show out there. We knew it was going to be a good individual matchup, but that’s not all the game is about.”
With two long cover corners, the Jaguars knew they could match up well against the Giants in man defense but wanted to sprinkle in zone concepts in an attempt to throw off Shurmur. Bouye said they didn’t stay in zone long because Beckham and Sheperd attempted a lot of double moves to try and break up the coverage. When the Jaguars shifted back to a man defense, the Giants would just try and run plays away from a cornerback’s leverage.
The plan was gleaned mostly from Shurmur’s Vikings tape in 2017, since Beckham did not play in the preseason and offered no window into an offense that depends heavily on window dressing their formations and using their various-sized weapons to create space for the playmakers.
“That’s what teams are gonna do against us from now on,” Church said. “Pick routes, some time of rub routes to get that press coverage off of you. It’s tough to get off the ball when you have Jalen Ramsey right there on you. But they did a good job of getting the ball in [Beckham’s] hands so he could get yards after the catch. But I felt like, for the most part, we bottled them up.”
If there was a moment on Sunday when Beckham seemed to get the best of Bouye, it came on a first-and-10 in the fourth quarter with 4:10 remaining. Ramsey was playing 10 yards off the ball and Beckham ran what looked like a “Go” route into an out breaking toward the sideline. He found a bit of space between Ramsey and D.J. Hayden, then, seemingly for effect, gave his counterpart two quick staredowns en route to the huddle.
Another potential winning play for Beckham with 11 seconds left in the first half was overthrown. It was a true one-on-one, with seven Jaguars defenders blitzing and zero safety help over the top. Beckham had the entire left side of the end zone to work with, but Ramsey managed to negate the disadvantageous coverage well enough to skew the route.
“Anybody can look on tape and see what we do,” LB Telvin Smith said afterward. “The thing is, score on us.”
Maybe it’s that simple, even though each play for the Jaguars’ secondary on Sunday was akin to tiptoeing around a minefield. It was enough to generate some fluffy statistics for Beckham, though Smith, Bouye and especially Ramsey know the truth behind the result.