Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Football Laundromat: New York Giants Edition

Hiya, readers. TC Fleming here. With the Cowboys taking aim at the Giants this Monday night, I thought it might be real neat if we could take a look at the fundamental elements of their run game.

Now, this exercise is even more dicey than normal. And I'd like to re-emphasize how dicey an exercise it is that we're already working with. These are poorly-educated guesses passed off as fact. I just read about football on the internet and then watch plays over and over. I am not qualified to coach a middle school football team. To the extent that I have football knowledge, though, it leans heavily towards the passing side of things. Running games and blocking schemes and stuff seem like there's a lot of things going on, and I'm in constant fear that most of it is passing me by. That said, let's give this a shot.

So far as I have the ability to tell, more than half of the Giants' runs are two plays: the inside zone and the outside zone. Most of what I know about those two plays I learned from this article. Here's a little from that on how both of those zone runs:

There is only so much “zoning” in a zone — much of it is still just blocking the guy in front of you. On all zone runs, the linemen must ask, “Am I ‘covered’ (is there a guy directly in front of me, aside from a linebacker set back a few years)? Or am I ‘uncovered’ (there is no one directly in front of me)?”
If “covered,” there is very little “zoning” at all: The lineman’s job is to block the guy in front of them. Fans, commentators, and even coaches often overcomplicate things. The “zone” aspect comes in with “uncovered” linemen. If “uncovered,” the lineman must step “playside” — i.e. the side the run is going to — and help double-team the defensive linemen along with his “covered” cohort. Once the two of them control that down defensive lineman, one of the offensive linemen slides off to hit a linebacker. It’s not that complicated. Indeed, let’s say the five offensive linemen are covered by five defensive linemen. In that case, each guy (save for maybe the backside offensive tackle) will just block the guy in front of them — there is no “zoning” at all.

As far as the difference between the inside zone and the outside, they're subtle and tough for me to pick up sometimes.

In the outside zone, the running back is aiming for the tight end, but he can cut and choose any lane that opens up. The linemen are trying to get the defensive line moving laterally, kind of driving them towards the sideline and in the course of that, one hopes a crease will open up for the running back to make his one cut and get through.

In the inside zone, the linemen have the same assignments, but instead of pushing the defenders to the sideline, they're looking more to drive-block and get the defenders moving straight back. The running back aims for the outside hip of the guard. If the defense is used to seeing the outside zone and gets flowing one way, there are big opportunities in this play for the runner to cut back and punish the defense for over-pursuing.

Alright, what say we get to some specific plays. In this play, they're running from 21 personnel. This is common for them. They do the great majority of their running from 21 or 12 personnel. Given that these formations feature more run-friendly players, that makes sense, but I know there are teams--like Tennessee, to name one--that have shown far more of a willingness to run from three-wide sets.

In this instance, they run away from the tight end side. I can think of two reasons to run away from the side with more blockers: 1) To prevent the defense from keying to the strong side every time, and 2) because the defense has a defender on the tight end's side to account for him, there's still an adequate number of blockers. But still, they typically do run to the tight end side.

As described above, the blockers are looking to get the defenders moving laterally. The fullback is like another one of the linemen. The right tackle is either just doing a better job than everyone else or he's got the assignment to get his man a little wider. Either way, it gives the fullback the chance to get through the line and block the outside linebacker to that side. So the right tackle has created a sizable hole by getting his man moving, the right guard and center pull an effective double-team the defensive tackle to that side, and that fullback goes out and gets the linebacker. That's the grounds for a very effective play. Those blocks give Bradshaw five yards of room. Steve Smith is the inside receiver, and safety Louis Delmas has come up into the box to cover him. Delmas diagnoses the play quickly and pulls a very impressive olé of Smith.

I've watched the Lions a couple times (because I know how to party), and Delmas is a guy that stands out. He and DT Ndamukong Suh are defensive playmakers of the order Detroit has not seen much this decade. But that's not the focus of this post.

When choosing these plays to break down, I just picked the plays that were good examples of the concepts I was trying to talk about from the games for which we had footage. What we've ended up with here, merely by the limits of those plays for which we have video, happens to be an excellent example of how similar the inside and outside zone runs are, yet they serve totally different purposes. This play is with just about the same personnel and from the same formation. The linemen block the same defenders, and the fullback goes to the same place. The running back even picks the same hole. But this is a different play.

The big difference is the method of blocks. Comparing this play with the previous one, it's very clear that the linemen have two very different ideas about where they want their defenders to go. Also, even though the running back ends up going through the same hole, the design of the play gives him a choice of where to run. In addition, Bradshaw is aiming wider in the first play, and the right tackle is just getting so much movement of his man that Bradshaw runs inside of him. In the second play, it looks like Bradshaw is more cutting inside of the tackle's block. This time around when Delmas comes up to cover Smith, Smith gets a very good block on him. The middle linebacker tries to shoot the gap but just ends up out of position with Bradshaw out of the backfield well before the linebacker can get into it. Once he gets past those blocks along the edge of his lane, Bradshaw is one-on-one in the open field against the lone remaining safety. That safety is able to tackle him, but it's after a 45-yard gain.

The final play is far less successful, but it illustrates the Giants' third-most popular running play. The Giants used this play to bust several long runs this season, but the one for which we have video is not one of those. Still, you can definitely see how the play works. It also illustrates how poor execution can defeat effective design. All of the blockers look to be in the right place, and none really get tossed aside. It's just that when the collisions happen and one of the two players is going to be driven backwards, it's the blockers that allow themselves to be the ones giving up ground.

Anyways, this play, the Power O, is one Bob has talked on before. It's a nice way to bring a lot of blockers to the point of attack. In this instance, the Texans have a linebacker lined up almost right on the line of scrimmage. He doesn't have his hand on the ground, but he's almost lined up as a lineman. That changes things a little.

The idea is to take the last man on the defensive line and get him moving towards the sideline. That's usually the job of the last man on the line of scrimmage for the offense (in this case, tight end Kevin Boss). But with that man now being the strong-side linebacker, he is still being blocked by the fullback as he would have been, only now the fullback is placing a big premium on moving him towards the nearest sideline. And whereas the tight end would have been blocking the defensive end to the nearest sideline, he's now trying to push him inside. The whole idea is to create a running lane with the end man forming one side and the blocker just inside him forming the other. Were he not otherwise occupied, the fullback would go first into that lane and block the most threatening defender. Meanwhile, the backside guard pulls around and also goes into that lane to block the next most threatening defender. So if everything goes well and the right tackle and/or right guard handle their blocks of the defensive tackle, you've got the defensive line blocked up on the play side in addition to the next two defenders, usually linebackers or an adventurous safety.

All of that does happen on this play. Those blockers get in front of those defenders, but when it's not about standing in front of them, it's about moving them. When the offense fails to do that, Bradshaw has nowhere to go, giving a linebacker time to come up and make the tackle. Had the blockers gotten their men moving, this could have been like the last play where the linebacker gets lost in the wash and Bradshaw gets into the secondary.

For the first time in his career, Bradshaw is the primary back. He is averaging 18 attempts per game this year to Brandon Jacobs' 9. With Jacobs being the power back, I guess I always had the impression Bradshaw was more of a speed back. Given that he broke into the league as a kick returner, it made sense to me. Watching him, it's clear that's not the case. He's faster than Jacobs, but he can be caught in the open field for sure. However he's fast enough in short distances to punish linebackers who over-pursue. He's shifty and will have two or three plays a game where he looks to be down before spinning out of what appeared to be a sure tackle. It seems like he might gain 15 yards a game just on plays where the defense lets up because they think he's handled before he spins away to keep running. It's a neat trick.

If the Cowboys are to stop the Giants run game and force the game onto Eli Manning's interception-prone shoulders, they need to do like the Texans did and push blockers into the backfield. They also need to stay in their designated area and not go for the sort of aggressive plays that these running schemes can take advantage of. And finally, when they do get to Bradshaw, they have to make sure to bring him down, not letting him wiggle away as he has shown himself so capable of doing.


Clay said...


Steven said...

I'm a Giant fan and I compliment your analysis. I did not understand the x's and o's as well as I think I do now. Good luck tonight, remember, there is no crying in football (except TO)

Carl said...

Good post about the New York Giants Edition,and about the Emanning's interception shoulder is interesting to read.


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