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Breaking Down Some of the New York Giants Pass Rush Issues

What's up with the Giants pass rush? Coach Gene Clemons went through the tape and has a possible solution to help jump-start the pass rush.

Last season, the Giants defense was called upon to support a lifeless offense. As the team struggled to a 6-10 record, the defense found itself on the field for too many snaps due to the offense’s inability to stay on the field.

This season it seems to be the exact opposite. The offense has been able to move the ball and put points on the board, but the defense has not held up their end. While it is possible to point fingers in many directions, including at the rush defense, one thing is certain; the pass rush has been underwhelming.

What makes the pass rush so important? A healthy pass rush not only sacks the quarterback, that is the quantifiable statistic, but it also speeds up the operation of an offense. It limits where an offense can attack due to lack of time. It turns second and long into third and long and flips third and long into a punting situation.

It creates more possessions for the offense and allows the defense to remain fresher, so they, you guessed it, rush the passer more effectively.

But when the pass rush is ineffective, it makes the defensive backfield cover for longer, creates escape lanes for quarterbacks to scramble through, and most importantly, prolongs drives that usually result in scores. That means offenses will run more and take away the pass-rushing opportunities.

Through their first five games this season, the Giants have struggled to get sacks in the most critical times of possession, second down and long and third down and long. Long is defined by seven yards or more to achieve a first down. 

In the 73 passing opportunities this season on second- and third-and-long, the Giants have only recorded a sack three times. That is four percent of the time. 

We will look at a few plays that illustrate just how ineffective the pass rush has been during these situations.

This first play is against Atlanta early in the game on second down and nine yards to go. The Falcons call a play-action which is designed to slow down the pass rush. Even after the play is diagnosed as a pass, there is no disengagement from the rushers. Nobody is trying to win with speed. 

Even safety Jabril Peppers does not use his speed to avoid the offensive linemen coming to block him. Five defenders are engaged at the line of scrimmage, and none of them get any penetration. 

Matt Ryan is able to survey the field, go through his progressions, and dump it off to the back out of the backfield so he can pick up eight yards, and now they are in third and one.

On this 3rd-and-7, the Giants lined three defensive linemen on the right side shaded on the center, guard, and tackle. One outside linebacker is lined up wide to the left, and another linebacker is showing blitz in the left B-gap. This sets up one-on-one rushing opportunities for everybody. 

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On the snap of the ball, the linebacker showing blitz does not come, but the desired one-on-one rushes are achieved; the problem is nobody wins. Neither edge rusher can turn the corner, and the interior rushers cannot get significant penetration that would bother the quarterback.

This next clip is against New Orleans on a third down and nine. The Giants are showing a five-man blitz. They have the two defensive linemen to the left, lined up shaded inside the tackle, and head up the center. Two linebackers are lined up to the right, shaded outside the guard and wide outside the tackle. The other linebacker is wide to the left, but on the snap, he does not come. 

Instead, the two defensive linemen and the two linebackers to the right both do cross stunts where the interior guy presses outside and the outside guy loops under him. Neither stunt is effective, and it leaves a clean pocket for the quarterback to survey the field and throw a strike to his receiver for a big gain and first down.

This final clip is a second down and seven to go. The Saints are backed up on their 16-yard line. This was an opportunity for the Giants to make a play that would force New Orleans to be conservative on third down. Like the first clip, the Saints run a play-action pass, and the Giants bring five defenders. 

Like in the first clip, none of the defenders are able to get penetration which allows Winston to play fake, set up, make his read, and fire a strike to the receiver for a first down that gets them away from their end zone and pass the 30-yard line. Again, the rushers seem not to be able to detach from a block once they are engaged, leaving the back six to cover longer.

Final Thoughts and a Solution

One of the commonalities in these plays is that the defenders rushing off the edge don’t seem to get pressure that makes the quarterback have to move off his platform. 

A quarterback who is able to sit comfortably in the pocket is a dangerous quarterback. There has been a lot of criticism lobbed at the defensive backs this season, but with little to no production from the pass rush on these critical downs, it is hard to blame the back end. 

A solution to the problem may be for defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to send more zero-coverage blitzes. These allow the defensive backs to play tighter on the receiver and send more five- and six-man pressures with a goal of causing some confusion in the blocking scheme and chaos in the backfield on these critical downs. 


 

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