Does a piece on a wide receiver regarded as one of the best in the league need to be written? With the recent buzz of trade rumors regarding this high profile athlete, Twitter and the media in general have exploded with remarks on his worth as a locker room guy (we as outsiders have very little clue) to general manager Dave Gettleman’s thought process (which is impossible to really know). Film study can provide concrete historical evidence for what has happened, leading potential extrapolations for what may happen in the future. Immediately many will cry “man lands on moon!”, but this piece promises to not just show Odell Beckham’s prowess as a Pro Bowl wide receiver. Everyone knows that he is really, really good.
Instead, this piece will somewhat serve as a Part 2 or follow up to my first take on Pat Shurmur’s offense, and it will look to nail down how Beckham’s game can enhance Shurmur’s play calling and vice versa.
Okay, let’s get into the easy one first: slant routes. My first Shurmur piece went into detail as to how his slant was often different from ex- head coach Ben McAdoo’s. But the McAdoo reign was not all bad. Going back to 2016 season, 4 out of Beckham’s last 12 touchdowns have been off slants, and two of the remaining 8 were slant and go’s. Back in 2016 against the Cowboys, he torched cornerback Brandon Carr from the X position for a TD:
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Very few other players can provide YAC (Yards After the Catch) in such a devastating fashion. Pat Shurmur, while in Minnesota, called many slants as well. Here, WR Adam Thielen runs one from the same X wide receiver spot (against pressed Daryl Worley, now an Eagle), and completes it for a nice gain of 14, but he obviously lacked the explosiveness after the catch that Beckham has.
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Speaking of Worley, the Eagles acquired him just recently for his ability in press coverage to maintain physicality throughout the process. In the two matchups with the Giants last year, the Eagles secondary was decimated by the slant partially due to the very soft cushions the corners play, as well as the chinks in guys like Ronald Darby‘s armor when playing close to the line of scrimmage. This acquisition gives insight into a divisional foe’s fears with a coach like Shurmur now in town to push the accelerator.
This idea of pressing cornerbacks brings up one of Beckham’s weaknesses, physical defenders in either press or playing close to line of scrimmage, particularly with inside leverage. It’s hard to even type the previous sentence with the above example of Beckham toasting Carr fresh in the mind, and there are many examples of corners missing a jam and Beckham making them pay. But digging through the film I found that his balance is vulnerable to tight coverage in early and middle stages of the route, especially ones in isolation. He appeared almost lazy or frustrated as he occasionally struggled to get downfield or gain separation. What does this look like? See below, noting all examples are from the 2016 season:
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In some ways this is a reach of a critique, and more important for those valuing Beckham in relation to other high profile wide receivers. But let’s stick to what the tape has told us. More than likely Shurmur’s initial remedy is to move Beckham around the formation and into the slot, as he did with Adam Thielen at times (which was done in an almost purposely randomized way) through the 2017 season. But this will not want to be a permanent fixture, as the slot is obviously Sterling Shepard‘s area of expertise. What is a bit more important and the second part of Shumur’s remedy is more switch releases, particularly from offset stack formations to free up space for both receivers to the middle of the route untouched. See below when McAdoo called a drive route for Beckham from the X spot back in 2016 against what would be press coverage for Cleveland:
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There may not be anyone in the league who can defend Beckham on a crossing route in man coverage. Quite frankly, most of the offset stack releases in the past couple of years has looked like this, with no switch and simply relying on Beckham’s speed and athleticism to gain separation:
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As was stated in the first part on an examination of the Giants, this is not meant to bash McAdoo’s play calling or offense in general. But there was a certain rigidity found in watching play after play lining up in 11 personnel with a 2×1 wide receiver spread look, occurring on 17 of Beckham’s 41 completed receptions charted in 2017, or 41%. MetLife Stadium is due for a little shake up.
One of the more surprising aspects of Vikings tape from last year was the number of deeper routes down the field. There were games Vikings quarterback Case Keenum went without completing a ball travelling more than 20 yards in the air, but still found wins (for example the Atlanta game in Week 13). But most of the time he was pushing the ball downfield with a 40% completion rate (top half of the league), with 6 TDs, 3 INTs and a 91.7 QB Rating. As fans, it’s easy to remember the aggressive poor throws he made under pressure, or the games like at home against Baltimore in Week 7 where players were open but he was just off. The bottom line, though, was that Shurmur had him producing downfield successfully when the entire season was taken into account. One of the deep combination routes that Shurmur used is the smash concept, which could be particularly deadly for the Giants. Here the wide receiver to one side runs a stop route, while the seam slot wide receiver or TE to that side runs a fade, or in some cases a corner. This play can also be used in the red zone as the Vikings illustrated below:
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The real excitement here could actually stem from Beckham running this route as a lone Z wide receiver, with tight end Engram to his side running the seam fade. Deep safeties could no longer rely on a physical corner denying Beckham the inside routes and making him more on dimensional. The dynamic of defending the deep third of the field could change as a slippery tight end threatened. This opens the other side of the field (probably two wide receivers and or a running back) to either a Cover 0-ish man look for route combinations, or room in the flat for RB routes if its zone or a deep safety designation over the top.
The last example will be the scissors concept, a combination route run from the same lone Z and near TE or slot receiver basically running a post and a corner at the same time. This example pulled from the Chicago home game this year showed WR Stefon Diggs on the post route:
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In all honesty, this investigation was started with the mandate to find simple examples to justify trading Beckham for a high asking price. Further examination showed that he excels in many areas tied to what Shurmur’s offenses have done on tape. The key is the past tense there, and the unknown new ways to create space for a player with YAC ability like Beckham are scary. However, having worked in the hedge fund business for almost 8 years, its a bit of an art trying to draw out the best bid or best offer for your party. Sometimes in doing so, your goal is simply to go back to your base and give them the best options possible and then make a decision. And look, Beckham could be traded to an aggressive team like the 49ers tomorrow, we simply do not know what the future holds. As long as Gettleman’s asking price for Beckham reflects the value we see in the film (along with all the other inputs) and remains high, the Giants will be successful.