Breaking Down How Evan Engram Has Been Deployed in the Giants' New Offense

Nick Falato

There was a lot of offseason chatter about Evan Engram maximizing his potential in this Jason Garrett-led offense.

Although the sample size is minimal, it hasn’t materialized on the stat sheet or the field, albeit half of the sample size (Week 1) was the worst game Engram had in his professional career.

When healthy in 2019, Engram recorded 44 catches on 65 targets, with an aDot (average depth of target) of 6.46 yards. The expectation was that Engram would be utilized more vertically in Garrett’s offense, and maybe he’d be used a bit less as a blocker.

However, due to the team's circumstances and the two games' context, Engram has been used considerably more as a blocker than he was in weeks one and two of 2019.

Engram also has a shorter aDot of 5.33 yards through the first two games. The usage isn’t quite what we expected, but I do feel like this may change with the injuries to Saquon Barkley & Sterling Shepard. The change of usage will also be contingent on the effectiveness of both tackles: rookie Andrew Thomas and Camron Fleming.

The Giants have been using a lot more multiple tight end sets and have run a lot of play-action with only two or three routes. In these scenarios, Engram hasn’t always run routes.

He’s already pass blocked nine times in 2020; he’s never pass blocked more than 20 times in a season under Ben McAdoo or Pat Shurmur in his entire career.

Garrett loves to use multiple tight ends, and the Giants roster is conducive for that approach. But with playmakers falling to injuries for the Giants, they’ll have to find ways to move the football and get the ball into the hands of their playmakers.

(All clips via NFL Game Pass.)

Vertical Usage

 

Engram is the No. 3 receiver on the strong side hash in the fourth-quarter drive to end the game for the Giants. His job right here is to take the MIKE away from the middle of the field against a MOFC (middle of the field closed) defense.

His vertical speed can command respect and open up the middle of the field, but the robber is there to take away the in-breaking route. This is one way to stretch the field and use Engram’s skill set, but Engram is not the primary target of this play.

I enjoy Garrett's play call, although the result was a penalty against Engram; Giants are in 13 personnel against man coverage and run two double moves to the boundary.

Both Engram and Kaden Smith, who are inline, run out & up in an attempt to get the Steelers to bite down on the out. Engram’s goal is to get to the numbers and turn vertical right before Minkah Fitzpatrick, No. 39, can locate the up.

I believe we can see more of these types of concepts against man coverage, but the offensive line has to protect Daniel Jones long enough for more vertical routes to develop.

Primary Usage

Garrett has used a lot of slant/flat, spot/flat combos against man coverage, and Engram is an excellent piece for that route. His athletic ability can allow him to outrun defensive backs when he has leverage, and his frame is far superior to theirs.

When you run this combination to the field, it gives you more space to operate. And if the slant route does its job in creating traffic for the defender, Engram can take the ball up the sidelines and possibly outrun the safety.

This is a gross look for Engram cause he slips, but it’s advantageous for him in the quick passing game. Engram is supposed to come out of this cut and flow outside towards space since he’s to the weak side of the formation with the ball splitting the hashes.

If Engram kept his footing, he’d pivoted off the hash and into space for a first down. It’s supposed to be a bang-bang type of play, but the slip didn’t help. However, the concept is something that Garrett loves to utilize.

Here we see the same concept from the #2 to the field and a receiver on the backside. Shepard and Barkley both sit and flow outside; only this time, Darius Slayton runs the deep dig behind Barkley, putting a Steelers’ defender into conflict.

In this play, Engram’s job is to run the seven or corner route as the No. 3 receiver, but Mike Hilton, No. 28, plays it exceptionally well and doesn’t bite underneath. Engram could have had leverage outside and underneath the No. 1’s clearout if Hilton wasn’t so disciplined.

This quick 7-yard outside curl from an inside position is one of the more common routes I’ve seen on tape from Engram.

We see it again here, only from a different formation. It’s 3 x 1 with Engram as the lone backside receiver tight to the tackle, and he executes the same route as Kaden Smith, who’s the No. 3 from the field side.

Here’s an extension of that outside curl route against Pittsburgh in week one. New York was running up-tempo 12 personnel and kept spreading or reducing the splits to make the personnel package more flexible and force the Steelers’ defense to be on their toes. Engram is the No. 2 receiver, and the play is designed for his success.

Smith runs a spot inside, and Barkley stands at the line of scrimmage to hold the outside corner. Then Engram releases outside to expand the defender and get his hips flipped and then stops at the bottom of the numbers to curl outside. It’s a well-timed rhythm type of play, but Engram couldn’t secure the ball.

Many teams line up their athletic mismatch tight ends on the backside of 3x1 sets, and Garrett implemented this in Dallas. Now we see it in New York as well. This formation isolates a more prominent target like Engram against a smaller defensive back, with the single high safety more than likely monitoring the three-receiver side or just paying attention to the quarterback's eyes.

Engram here stems outside towards the cornerback whose back is to the sideline; Engram gets into the face of the defender and then pivots inside and draws the penalty. This could be a way to help create mismatches that the Giants may desperately need in the coming weeks.

Garrett has also used man and zone beating plays with things like the mesh concept from a tight BUNCH formation. Shurmur used a lot of mesh last season; it’s common in the NFL. Engram is an excellent player on the drag, for he can outrun linebackers in these situations. The Giants see the Steelers in zone coverage on the play, so they sit in the voided zone areas instead of continuing their cross.

Here’s Slayton's first touchdown in week one where the Giants ran a Yankee Concept from 13 personnel. Engram is the horizontal crosser that Fitzpatrick has to bit up on, which puts Joe Haden, No. 23 into a situation where he has to sprint to cover the middle of the field from the boundary side.

All Slayton has to do is win inside and beat his man while he runs into space and makes the beautiful catch before Haden can get into position. Engram does what he needs to here against this defensive look. Since the Steelers’ linebackers were very aggressive in stopping Barkley, the only player to take away the cross was Fitzpatrick.

Final Thoughts

Engram’s primary usage so far has been in the quick game, but that’s a byproduct of what the Giants are currently doing. I expect more vertical shots in opportune times from New York, but it’s difficult when your second-year quarterback is playing very good defenses, and the offensive line hasn’t held up well.

As far as blocking goes, it will never be a strength to Engram’s game. I admire his effort, but tasking him to block some of these edge rushers is a hard ask.

Engram’s already been targeted well in the offense, and Garrett makes a point to try and get him involved, but his usage is going to spike now with no Shepard or Barkley.

That short passing game may be an extension of the Giants rushing attack since the team can’t establish anything on the ground. I expect Golden Tate, Kaden Smith, and Evan Engram to be the primary beneficiaries of that type of quick passing game. 

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