In an earlier thread, I wrote an analysis of the Manning-to-Manningham 38 yard completion that drove the Giants to their Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. I had so much fun doing so that I have decided to follow it up with a breakdown of the Victor Cruz 99 yard touchdown catch against the Jets. As before, I am attaching two videos with which readers can use to help follow the play. One video is an HD game version from Fox Sports. The second is a homemade utube version which, although of much poorer quality, better shows the defensive coverage. I hope that you all enjoy it.
The date is Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011. The Giants, as the visiting team, are playing the Jets at MetLife Stadium. With a 7-7 record, the Giants, with a loss, will be eliminated from the playoffs. With 2:27 left in the half, the Giants trail the Jets, 7-3. The Giants have the ball, third and ten, on their own one yard line. The ball sits on the left hash mark.
The Personnel: Giants
Line: LT David Diehl (66) LG Kevin Boothe (77) C Kevin Baas (64) RG Chris Snee (76) RT Kareem MacKenzie (67)
Receivers: Hakeem Nicks (88) Travis Beckum (47) Victor Cruz (80) Ramses Barden (13)
Single Back: Ahmad Bradshaw (44)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (10)
The Personnel: Jets
Line: Marcus Dixon (94) Calvin Pace (97)
Linebackers: Aaron Maybin (51) David Harris (52) Josh Muaga (53)
Defensive Backs: Darrelle Rivas (24) Antonio Cromartie (31) Donald Strickland (30) Kyle Wilson (20) Brodney Pool (22) Eric Smith (33)
Pre-Snap Strategy: Giants
The Giants are pinned back against their own goal line with a third and ten. They could opt for a run play to give Pro Bowl level punter Steve Weatherford more breathing room, but they do not. Instead they decide on a pass play that hopefully will pick up a first down. If successful, the Giants, with three timeouts remaining, could go into their two minute drill and perhaps move down the field for a score. At the least, a successful pass would allow the Giants to control the clock and prevent the Jets from scoring before the half.
Pre-Snap Strategy: Jets
The Jets’ intent is to stop the Giants short of a first down, force a punt, and get the ball back in good position to score before the half ends. As such, they will put pressure with two defensive linemen and two linebackers, with a third linebacker in place to either blitz or else spy on Bradshaw. With six defensive backs, they will try to keep the Giant receivers in front of them, stopping any completed pass short of a first down. Except for an interception or a sack for a safety, their best hope is for an incompletion that stops the clock. Otherwise, their aim is to press the Giants receivers, keep the play in front of their defensive backs, and stop the Giants short of a first down, forcing a punt.
Pre-Snap Formation: Giants
The Giants show shotgun formation, with a single split left, trips double slot right. The receivers are, left to right, Hakeem Nicks (88), Travis Beckum (47), Victor Cruz (80), and Ramses Barden (13). Single back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) lines up five yards deep in the guard/tackle gap. Manning is slightly deeper, six yards in back of the center.
Pre-Snap Formation: Jets
The Jets line up in a 4-1-6 dime package. They show two defensive linemen and two linebackers as their front four. Defensive tackles Marcus Dixon (94) and Calvin Pace (97) both play a three technique, lining up on the respective outside shoulders of Chris Snee and Kevin Boothe. Linebacker Aaron Maybin (51) lines up as the left defensive end, outside of Kareem MacKenzie; linebacker Josh Muaga plays RDE outside of David Diehl. Middle linebacker David Harris (52) sits four yards deep, directly opposite Ahmad Bradshaw.
The Jets secondary line up in a man-2-man “Cover One.” Left corner Antonio Cromartie (31) is in press coverage, directly up on the line, using an “outside technique” on the inside shoulder of Wesley Barden. Right corner Darrelle Rivas plays a “lazy man” five yards opposite Hakeem Nicks. Rivas uses an outside technique, inside of Nick’s right shoulder. Inside slot cover Donald Strickland (30) in up on the line, using an outside technique inside of Travis Beckum’s left shoulder. Outside slot cover Kyle Wilson is also in an outside technique, three yards off the line and opposite Victor Cruz’ left shoulder.
As stated above, the Jets are in a “Cover One.” This means that a single safety (Brodney Pool, #22) has deep responsibility and must cover the entire deep end of the field. The second safety, Eric Smith (33) is nine yards deep, off the outside shoulder of Victor Cruz. This set, which I like to refer to as a “Cover One and a Half,” is classic safety play right out of the Vince Lombardi play book. Smith has “roll up” responsibility. By that I mean that he must stay deeper than the receivers on his side of the field, correctly read the intended receiver, and “roll up” into a double coverage. His primary responsibility is Cruz on the outside, Barden to the inside. The Jets in general, and Smith in particular, must know that Cruz is the true threat to this side of the field.
Pass Rush and Blocking
All Ryan family pass rushing schemes, be it Rex, Rob, or Buddy, involve movement and deception, and this play is no exception. Just prior to the snap, Maybin moves out of his LDE position and lines up a yard off the line into the center/RG gap. At the snap, LDT Dixon spins out of his gap to the outside of MacKenzie, the location previously vacated by Maybin. Harris and Maybin run a crisscross blitz, with Harris rushing into the RG/RT gap and Maybin into the center/LG gap. Muaga fakes rushing to the outside of Diehl, steps back, and shadows Bradshaw, who has slide to the right side of the line. Pace first starts into the LG/LT gap, then slides right, coming hard onto the outside of Diehl.
The Giants use a slide/zone pass block scheme. MacKenzie stays home and successfully pushes Dixon to the outside. Snee also stays home. He picks up Harris and pushes him to the outside. Bass buries the blitzing Maybin to the ground, then slides right to stay with Muaga, who has continued moving parallel to the line of scrimmage. Diehl stays home and successfully fights Pace to the outside. Bradshaw correctly reads the overload to the right and rotates to that side. The blocking in front of him is successful, and he takes no part in the play. Kevin Boothe makes a mistake. After correctly handing Pace off to Diehl, he shadows Muaga. Maybin gets up and rushes into the vacated hole. But he is too late, as Manning has already released the pass. All-in-all, a good job by the Giant line.
The Play: The Pass
The Giant route tree is designed to free up Victor Cruz to the outside. Nicks will run a deep go route down the left sideline. Beckum and Barden will run post patterns, forcing the Jet coverage to the inside. Cruz will run straight up the field ten yards, then cut to the outside in a classic “square out” pattern.
At the snap, Nicks pushes up field as Rivas backs off. Nicks shows a slight hesitation move, then continues up the field. Strickland blankets Beckum, who continues his pattern across the field. Cromartie has Barden in his back pocket, but Barden also continues his pattern. The success of this play will fall upon four players: Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Kyle Wilson, and Eric Smith.
Take a click-by-click look at the videos. Both show that Eric Smith is calling out the coverage assignments. In the homemade utube video, concentrate on the four players listed above. Also keep an eye on Brodney Pool, the single high-hat safety. At the snap, the Jet defensive backs are in the correct alignment. As Manning collects the ball, both Jet safeties are looking in on Eli. Manning looks left, towards Nicks. Brodney Pool bites, rotating over to double up on Nicks and giving up the entire right side of the field. Smith has dropped back to the twenty yard line. He has also drifted slightly to the inside. Kyle Wilson clearly believes that he has outside help from Smith, but Smith is too far away. Cruz runs ten yards up field and cuts hard to the outside. At this point (three seconds into the utube video and about 1.5 seconds into the play), the Giants will, provided the throw and catch is executed properly, successfully pick up the first down. It is now that Eric Smith makes a poor decision that leads to the touchdown. Prior to the pass being thrown, Smith inextricably gives up his outside responsibilities and decides to double up on Beckum. Cruz makes his cut to the outside. Wilson tries to close, but is too far away. As the pass is thrown, Cromartie, smelling the danger, releases off of Beckum and tries to help with Cruz. Wilson misses Cruz. Cromartie, an excellent athlete, attempts to change direction and make a tackle. Unfortunately for him and the Jets, his momentum is towards the middle. The best he can do is fall onto his knees and swipe his right arm at Cruz’ legs. Cruz, an athlete possessing incredible balance and agility, easily leaps over Cromartie’s outstretched arm. No Jet is now positioned between Cruz and the end zone. Eric Smith, too late, tries to catch up with Cruz. The best he can do is to get close enough to also wave an arm at Cruz’ legs, a move that Cruz also easily leaps past. Touchdown Giants.
The Cruz touchdown gave the Giants game momentum that they never ceded back to the Jets. The Giants thrashed the Jets throughout the second half, winning in comfortable style. The Giants went on to pound the Cowboys the next week, giving them a 9-7 record which won them the NFC East title. The Giants then went on a playoff run for the ages that culminated in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots. It can be argued quite successfully that it was the Manning-to-Cruz 99 yard touchdown play that vaulted the 2012 Giants into the history books.