The Cowboys Pressure Schemes Against the Giants

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The New York Giants had a rude awakening in a primetime slot against the Dallas Cowboys, their arch divisional advisory. Although there is a new coaching staff, offensive line, and running back in place, we saw the same woes with the offense; Big Blue struggled to run the football, move the chains, and finish drives.

For the Giants, these endeavours were far too similar and the vicissitudes of the trenches for the divisional rivals favoured the Cowboys. One has to acknowledge Rod Marinelli, who manipulated and confused the Giants pass protection all game, which resulted in Eli Manning being sacked 6 times, losing a fumble, and creating several memes all over the Twittersphere.

Let’s take a look at some of these pivotal plays and how the Cowboys were able to create pressure through scheme and superior play calling. Here’s the Giants first 3rd down of the game, a 3rd and 4 that they convert on a mesh concept, which is one of Pat Shurmur’s go to plays:

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The Cowboys show a double A-gap plug blitz pre-snap, with two 3-techniques and two 5-techniques, while the Giants will run a high/low concept to the field and a mesh concept over the middle. Right before the snap, Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee bail into underneath coverage and the Cowboys go into a Cover 3 defense.

Odell Beckham uses his exceptional athletic ability to catch a pass that was thrown behind him, make a man miss, and extend the drive by picking up a first down.

While Dallas didn’t bring the pressure on this specific play, it encouraged the Cowboys to force the issue a bit more on these pivotal downs. On the Giants next drive, they faced a 3rd and 13 situation and the Cowboys brought a four man pressure package, while dropping the rest into a Tampa 2 look.

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Again, the Giants have a high/low concept to the field, with the two outside receivers running corner routes. Marinelli lines his defensive front up with a 1-technique and two 5-techniques while bringing a slot blitz from the field, the same side of Giants’ offensive tackle Ereck Flowers. The Miami product has to engage the 5-technique and it’s Demarcus Lawrence‘s job to shoot inside and try to lead Flowers astray, which would allow the slot blitz to tee off on Manning.

However, Flowers does a good job diagnosing the blitz post snap and effectively altering his route to the quarterback. Since the Cowboys dropped into a deep Cover 2, the Giants were forced to check down to Wayne Gallman, which forced a punt.

We’ve witnessed the steady increase pre and post snap of potential pressure and quality disguises by Marinelli and the Cowboys; now let’s take a look at the next time the Giants find themselves in a 3rd and long situation.

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The Cowboys bring six men on this pressure, while lined up in man coverage with one safety over the top and both Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith utilizing a twist on a LB blitz. This is an excellent play call from Marinelli and if you look at the alignment pre-snap, you’ll see just how hard this was to block up.

The Giants come out in 11 personnel, with TE Evan Engram to the strength of the formation to help Ereck Flowers out with Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys’ best pass rusher. Marinelli has both Lawrence and Taco Charlton lined up as a 6-techniques, Charlton has no tight end so he is just wide off of Manning’s blind side protector Nate Solder. Both Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins are lined up as 3-techniques who open up to the outside of the guards; this isolates the Giants center, Jon Halapio (who was injured later on in this game) and RB Saquon Barkley on the double MLB twist.

Barkley does a very good job picking up Sean Lee, but the interior pressure forces Manning to flush to his blindside. This is where the miscommunication comes into play. Solder thought Barkley would handle Charlton on the edge, since the young running back was directly behind him, which would allow him to help Will Hernandez with Crawford, who was shooting the outside hip of Hernandez.

Barkley read the MLB twist and had to go pick up Sean Lee, who was by far the most dangerous man and that left Charlton unblocked, which resulted in a Dallas sack. This is an excellent play design by Marnilli and everything from the alignment, positioning off the ball, and the reactions of the Giants players worked to perfection for the long time coach.

On the Giants ensuing drive, they found themselves in two fourth and one situations. The Cowboys backed off the blitz on the first 3rd down of that drive, a 3rd and 6, but brought a T/E stunt to Ereck Flowers’ side, which forced the quick dump off to Saquon Barkley. On the subsequent 3rd down, the Giants caught Dallas in man coverage once again and Eli Manning made an excellent decision to read the off man coverage by Jeff Heath on Evan Engram. Manning put the ball in Engrams chest through a drag route and the Giants set up a 4th and 1, which they would convert. However, I have to show you what Marinelli had in store for the Giants on that third down.

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More MLB blitzes. One definitely has to applaud Barkley for doing a good job picking these blitzes up, despite him being a rookie. Here we see Charlton isolate Solder on the far right side by taking a wide angle to the quarterback. This sets up Sean Lee to be a “hammer.” His job is to crash the inside shoulder of Hernandez, which takes the young guard out of the play and removes the center’s chance to pick up additional blockers. But most importantly, it clears a wide open alley for Jaylon Smith to loop around the outside of Lee and have a wide open shot at Manning, but Barkley showed a precocious ability to find the blitzer and stop Marinelli’s plan.

Yet again, another excellent play design by Marinelli; he is challenging the Giants offensive line, their rookie running back, and their ability to communicate and operate under pressure.

After Manning and the Giants picked up the 4th and 1, the Cowboys sacked Manning on 1st and 10 with a five man pressure package that was schemed to be picked up off a play action fake from Manning. Giants fullback Shane Smith was tasked to block the fifth man, but was beat by a defensive back, Kaywan Frazier, for the sack, which…well…was not ideal.

Marinelli kept the pressure coming on ensuing third down situations and he was targeting Ereck Flowers’ side of the line by combining concepts that we already went over. The very next third down after the Frazier sack, Dallas ran a similar strong side nickel blitz, only this time he incorporated a T/E Stunt on the same side, while showing double MLB plug once again. The Giants offensive line was constantly on its toes and its inability to give Manning time marred them throughout the evening.

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The tell tale sign of a strong side nickel blitz happens right before the snap. The strong safety rolls down and covers the nickel about six yards off his backside, while the free safety rolls to a deep one look. Both linebackers drop off just before the snap into middle zone coverage and Charlton does the same to cover the flat to the boundary.

If Eli Manning doesn’t get rid of this football when he does, he was going to be decapitated by the stunting Lawrence and the blitzing Anthony Brown, who were both unblocked due to Flowers and Omameh being occupied with Crawford, who shot the B gap hard to occupy the two lineman.

Dallas knew that the Giants were one big play away from making this a field goal game after half time; since Big Blue is equipped with so many offensive threats, the Cowboys forced the issue via pressure. Dallas forced the Giants to fumble the football, effectively ending their opening half drive; they achieved this goal through an overload pressure to the field and banjo coverage in the secondary. Manning had little chance.

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The Giants are lined up in 12 personnel with 2 tight ends and Barkley to the boundary, which is Demarcus Lawrence’s side, but the overload blitz is to the field and the Giants offensive line cannot pick up the linebackers. Right before the snap Smith traces the backside of Antwaun Woods, while Woods is lined up as a 1-T that slants to the opposite guard. Smith attacks the outside shoulder of the center in the blitz side A gap, which forces help from Hernandez, who was too late to recognize Damien Wilson blitzing the B gap. There was no blitz side tackle help with Taco Charlton going high up the arc to remove Solder from blitz protection. This was yet another excellent blitz package by Marinelli, which resulted in a fumble and helped deflate the Giants into obscurity.  

Then there was the 3rd and 9 to start the third quarter, where the Cowboys earned one of their six sacks. This is a four man pressure where the 3-technique stunts around the 1-technique and the wide rusher who is slanting hard inside.

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Dallas loads up on Ereck Flowers side with a 1-technique, 3-technique, and a 6-technique, while the backside has Chalton lined up as a 6-technique as well. You can see how Crawford stunts all the way around the tackle and waits for Taco to slant inside and knock Will Hernandez off balance.

This is a two way E/T stunt exchange that worked to perfection; both of the ends slant hard inside, which creates traffic and confusion and allows the Giants guards to be obstructed from their assignments. This happened to Hernandez and led to an easy sack for Crawford. An excellent play design was assisted by Flowers’ struggle to contain the inside slant of Lawrence.

Dallas put on a pressure clinic against New York on Sunday Night Football and they executed this through many different means. One must tip their cap to Marinelli and hope that the Giants have a better game plan throughout the season or this could be another very long year.

But these struggles shouldn’t stain Pat Shurmur and the Giants team; I see people already comparing Shurmur to McAdoo and using these troubles as a way to spark a correlation point, but I would point to the larger issue at hand and it’s the same issues I have been writing about for years: offensive line play and depth at key positions. It’s a foundational issue in the organization that can be rectified through key free agent pickups and the development of draft picks, but that takes time to materialize.

Giants Nation must hope that through time, the offensive line will be more cohesive and execute their assignments with more communication and competence and this is entirely possible. This is a weekly game filled with specific game planning and adjustments, so let’s see what the Giants have in store this week against another potent pass rush.

Nick Falato wrote this article. Follow him on twitter @nickfalato and check out his other work here, including his breakdown of Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor and a look at USC quarterbacks of the past and how it applies to New York Jets QB Sam Darnold.

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