New York Giants Receivers: Z-Factor

Most teams with formidable passing attacks have a true X receiver, that receiver who is split far out from the rest of the line and is usually a dominating receiver like Dez Bryant or Julio Jones. But the Giants break that mold and have a strong passing attack with a slew of Z receivers. Joseph Ferraiola breaks down how they do it. 

The New York Giants receiving corps is one of the most interesting in the NFL, as they lack a true X receiver, but have three starting receivers capable of playing the Z receiver or slot receiver positions. Odell Beckham Jr. highlights the receiving group along with rookie Sterling Shepard and veteran Victor Cruz, who is finally healthy after battling injuries the last two seasons. All three of these receivers rely on their quickness to succeed, and the Giants will use that to their advantage this season – this type of personnel/skill set can work in the West Coast offense that head coach Ben McAdoo runs.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Quick Slant

The quick slant is a staple of the West Coast offense. The quarterback will usually perform a one or three step drop and then hit the receiver running the slant. This is a high-percentage throw because the offense is usually taking what the defense is giving them.

New York’s receivers all possess the quickness to gain separation on the slant route. In the Giants Week 1 game against the Cowboys, Shepard picked up 14 yards with a slant route on the Giants first scoring drive. Shepard was the best slot receiver in the 2016 NFL Draft class because of his great quickness to beat opposing slot corners at the line of scrimmage to gain separation; he’s a perfect fit for McAdoo’s offensive scheme.

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The Giants are in 11 personnel, and Eli Manning is under center with a single back behind him. The Cowboys have their corners pressing at the line of scrimmage. Shepard is in the slot with Orlando Scandrick lined up across from him. Scandrick is shading toward the outside of Shepard, which provides the receiver with an easier path to the inside. At the snap, Manning fakes a handoff to Rashad Jennings, and immediately looks to Shepard. The rookie out of Oklahoma fakes outside before breaking inside opening up Scandrick’s hips. Shepard now has complete inside leverage and makes one quick step to the inside to gain separation making the pass an easy completion for Manning.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Hitch

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Another route commonly run in the West Coast offensive system is the quick hitch. Much like the quick slant, the quick hitch depends on what the defense is giving the offense. On this play Dallas’s corners are all playing off coverage with New York in 11 personnel. Cruz is lined up at the bottom of the screen with CB Brandon Carr (#39) playing off coverage across from him. At the snap, Manning immediately drops back from the gun and throws to Cruz. Cruz sprints vertically as if he was running a go route, but stops abruptly and turns around to catch Manning’s pass for a short gain.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Rub Route/ Pick Route

New York scored two of its touchdowns on rub or pick routes. Both were in the red zone, which has the least amount of space to work with. Z and slot receivers often give up physical strength for quickness, and quickness is more valuable when there is space. That is why the Giants rely on rub routes to free their quick receivers open in the redzone.

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New York is losing 9-7 on 3rd and 3 on Dallas’s 10-yard line with 13 seconds left in the first half. This is a crucial play that is the difference between scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal. New York is lined up in 11 personnel with Beckham and Shepard aligned to the right side the of the formation. Beckham and Shepard have Morris Claiborne (#24) and rookie Anthony Brown (#30) playing press man across from them, respectively. At the snap Manning drops back and eyes the right side of the field. Shepard breaks toward the outside while Beckham runs inside. Where the receivers and corners intersect, Beckham purposely stops without making contact with Brown, but this pick gives Shepard the right amount of separation as he’s running into the end zone. Manning throws a fade to Shepard who makes a tough, contested catch for his first career touchdown.

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With 6:19 remaining in the 4th quarter, the Giants face a 3rd and 3 from the Cowboys’ 3-yard line, trailing 19-13. Once again New York is in 11 personnel with Cruz and tight end Larry Donnell (#84) to the left side of the formation, and Shepard and Beckham to the right. Running back Shane Vereen (#34) is also lined up to the left of Manning in the shotgun. The Dallas corners are playing press at the line of scrimmage including safety Byron Jones playing across from Donnell.

When the ball is snapped, Manning drops back in the gun and looks at the left side of the field. Vereen runs a route to the flat with Sean Lee defending him. Larry Donnell runs straight into Jones as Cruz breaks inside for a slant. Because of how New York positioned its offense and ran its routes, Carr cannot break to the inside with Cruz because he has Lee and Donnell blocking his way. The Cowboys only hope of defending the pass is for linebacker Justin Durant (#56) to get inside quicker, but he cannot, and Cruz makes a catch for the touchdown.

Pick plays are subject to being flagged for offensive pass interference because the man receiving the ball is often pre-designed, like on this play, and can sometimes involve a receiver to intentionally run into, or block the defender. The play was designed for Cruz with Donnell intentionally blocking the defender, Jones, from the beginning of the play. Jones was knocked to the ground and at the end of the play he threw his arms up looking for a flag, but no flag was thrown.

Despite the lack of a true X receiver, the Giants should have no trouble scoring points this season with their quick group of receivers. This offense will take what’s given to them according to how the defense lines up, as well as take their shots down field with one of the NFL’s most talented receivers in Beckham. Expect rub and pick routes when space tightens in the red zone as they’ll want every opportunity to be able to utilize  their receivers’ quickness. The only concern with the group is its depth, as they are relying on Cruz, who has not proven he can stay healthy.

Check out more of Joseph’s work here, including a look at Dak Prescott’s first start. the offense Doug Pederson will run with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Stanford Cardinal‘s unbalanced run schemes.

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