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Giants rewind: Third Down Blues

Last Sunday against the Seahawks, the Giants offense was absolutely pathetic on third down.  Their third down conversion percentage was EIGHT percent.  Yes, this is correct.  EIGHT percent.  Why were they so pitiful on third down?  Let us examine the facts.

The Giants had a total of 17 possessions.  They had eight possessions in the first half.  And nine possessions in the second half.  Two of the first half possessions were touchdown scoring drives.  Another two drives were stalled because of fumbles.  On the sixth possession, Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw an interception.  After watching the NFL Rewind and listening to Fox analyst Troy Aikman.  Eli’s errant throw was the reason for this interception.  Instead of throwing the football toward the sideline,  Eli’s pass was thrown toward the hash marks.  This enabled Seahawks safety Earl Thomas to pick off the pass. 

In the second half, the Giants finally converted a third down.   Incredibly, it took them this long to convert.  Interestingly, the conversion was the result of the Victor Cruz miraculous circus catch.  On a third and 13 on the Giants 32,  Eli heaved a pass down field. This desperation pass reminded me of the days when Danny Kanell was the quarterback of the Giants.  In 1997, frequently, Kanell would throw deep down field to his favorite target WR Chris Calloway.  Either the Giants would benefit because of defensive pass interference or Calloway would make a catch.  If the ball was intercepted it would equate to a punt.  And if the ball fell incomplete, it kept defenses honest.  Although they did not have a potent offense, defenses had to keep in mind the Giants would take their chances by throwing deep.  In this case, Eli’s desperation pass was tipped and Cruz happened to make a tremendous play.  He then scampered into the end zone for a touchdown.  There you have it.  Only one third down conversion.  It came on a freak play.  On the other possessions,  the Giants were not able to convert because of down and distance, repetive use of same formations, and the inabilty to run the ball.   
 With the down and distance, we will call third and long eight yards or more.  How many third and longs did the Giants have?  On six out of their seventeen possessions, they faced a third and long.  (3rd and 9, 3rd and 11, 3rd and 10, 3rd and 26, 3rd and 13, and 3rd and 12) Therfore, thirty five percent of their third down attempts can be classified as third and long.  Yesterday, Robert mentioned the inexcusable dead ball false start penalties.  Did the Giants lack of execution contribute to these third and longs?  Yes.  

Another Eli Mannning delay of game penalty caused the Giants to have a manageable 3rd and 4 to a third and NINE.  On a 3rd quarter possession, starting LT William Beatty was called for holding.  A  Seattle sack on the subsequent play, set the Giants back even further.  They had a 3rd and 26.  Early in the fourth quarter, Giants WR Hakeem Nicks was flagged for offensive pass interference.  This negated an Ahmad Bradshaw 18 yard gain.  This pass interference once again backed up the Giants.  Facing a 3rd and 13,  Cruz takes over with his ball skills.  If it was not for Cruz, the Giants would have been zero for 13 on third down conversions.  Going back to Robert’s observations,  the penalties in the red zone snarled both fourth quarter drives.  TE Jake Ballard’s and LT William Beatty’s false starts were costly.  Going into the game against Seattle, the Giants were number one in the league in red zone touchdown percentage.  They were eight for 10.  This is an incredible 80 percent conversion rate.  Throw in the two red zone touchdown scores in the first half, the Giants were a stellar 10 out of 12.  However, the lack of discipline in the fourth quarter was their undoing.  Ballard’s gaffe had the Giants moving backward.  They had a first and goal on the seven.  Now, they were up against a first and goal on the twelve.  Needless to say, the Giants had to settle for a FG.  On the other red zone possession,  the Giants had a first and goal on the five yard line.  Beatty’s blunder cost them 5 yards.  Instead of having a first and goal on the five, the Giants had the ball on the Seahawks’ ten yard line.  Next came, Eli’s pick six interception.  Surrounded by three Seattle defenders, Eli threw the ball in Cruz’s direction.   Yes, Cruz slipped.  And Eli must be extremely cautious in the red zone area.  How many times has he been careless in the past? And on Sunday, he continued the error of his ways.   His pass was tipped several times and went into the hands of Seahawks defensive back Browner who took it 94 yards for the game clinching touchdown.  Indeed, Robert’s observations were correct.  In four instances, the Giants self infllicted wounds forced them into third and longs.  Count Nicks penalty.  This would be five.  As mentioned, Cruz bailed him out.  Without out a doubt, all of these penalties prevented the Giants from getting into an offensive rhythm. 

Speaking of rhythm, two weeks ago, Andy wrote a glowing post about Kevin Gilbride.  Gilbride implemented an excellent game plan against the Eagles.  Unfortunately, there was no carry over affect in this game against Seattle.  Thus far, the Giants are struggling to run the football.  This is a bit odd because Giants GM Jerry Reese has called his offense a power running team.  Right now, the Giants cannot get their running game on track.  Against the Seahawks, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw gained a paltry 58 yards.  His longest run was for 13 yards.   Take away the 13 yard run and the Giants ground game was stifled by the Seahawks defense.  What is the root of the problem?  

From what I can discern on the NFL Rewind, the Giants ran the ball effectively on their first drive.  This first drive which culminated with a touchdown was their best drive of the entire game.  The reason?  Gilbride mixed up the formations.   For the first two plays, the Giants started off the drive with a two TE, two WR, and one running back formation.  In this formation, offensive tackle Stacy Andrews (former Giant Shawn Andrews’ brother) is a tackle eligible. The Giants were able to open up a hole  for Bradshaw. On the Giants second play from scrimmage, Bradshaw gained 13 yards. Right guard Chris Snee was pulling and got to the second level (linebackers).  And WR Mario Manningham threw a good downfield block.  This worked last year with Shawn as the tackle eligible.  On the next play, the formation was two WR, one TE, FB, and running back.  Bradshaw gained 5 yards on this play.  With right guard Chris Snee pulling, Bradshaw was able to gain positive yards.  On the Jake Ballard 28 yard reception,  the Giants were in a one WR, two TE, FB, and running back formation.  Ballard was able to get behind the linebackers and find a opening in the Seattle zone defense.  On the touchdown grab by Ballard, the Giants had a 3 WR, one TE, one running back set.  In this drive, Gilbride mixed up the formations.  The Giants executed their game plan.

However, Gilbride did not go back to this formula. This seemed odd.  Again this is Gilbride. He went away from what was working.   From what I reviewed, subsequently, Gilbride
did not mix up the formations.  On the Giants fifth possession of the first half, Gilbride utilized the same formation FOUR times.  He went back to his old roots: the run and shoot offense.  The Giants were lined up in a 4 WR and one running back formation. On the third down play, the Giants had five blockers. The Seahawks sent six guys to rush the passer.  The outcome: a low snap which caused Eli to fumble the football.  Kevin Boothe, a reserve offensive lineman, was playing center pounced on the football.   With this predictablility, the Giants drive stalled.    

After their first impressive scoring drive, the Giants offense was out of sync for the remainder of the game. This was mainly can be attributed to Gilbride not following the adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If the Giants plan on improving their ground game, Gilbride has to be committed to sticking with a two TE formation.  Because without a two TE formation, the Giants offensive line is not getting a push.   

In summary, the Giants have talent on this offense.  They must limit the bone-headed false starts, delay of game, and holding penalties.  More importantly, Gilbride has to stick more with the two TE formation.  Otherwise if Gilbride chooses to go back to his pass happy roots, the Giants are not going to win many more football games.