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Steelers Film Room: Stop the big play, Stop the Giants

The New York Giants have a feast-or-famine offense: if they get a big play, they usually score. But the opposite is equally true.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants’ offense is...confusing.

They have a true franchise quarterback, two playmaking receivers and a few others who are more than capable, and a running game that is at least solid. And yet, they exhibit one of the oddest characteristics: they are simply unable to move, methodically, down the field. It’s not a trait that makes them bad, just very inconsistent.

The reality is this offense relies heavily on being able to make big plays, usually from seemingly inane, short throws. Through 11 games this year, the Giants have conducted 121 offensive drives. Of those drives, 33 contained at least one play on which the offense gained 20 yards or more. Of those 33, 28 resulted in points, good for an 85 percent scoring rate.

On the other side of the coin, they have run 88 drives without managing a gain of 20 yards or more on a single play. Of those, just 10 ended with points. That’s just 11.4 percent. And two of those drives began inside their opponents’ 40-yard line. Of the other 78, 32 lasted no more than three plays. This is not a team that moves the ball well and controls the clock.

They just surprise the heck out of their opponents a few times each game by breaking off a huge gain on what should have been a routine play. And, when that happens, they usually score points.

Normally, of course, the offensive preview focuses on specific techniques or concepts. But, because the Giants’ offense is built around the big play, and because those can take so many forms, we will instead look at three of their biggest plays so far this season, and see how they came to be.

Week 3, 1st quarter, 6:57 remaining - 2nd & 7

The biggest key on this play is when the Redskins’ middle linebacker takes off at a dead sprint down the near seam. That’s a dead giveaway that this is cover-2, and it opens a gaping hole in the defense. There was no way to know for certain that Washington would be in that particular coverage, but it’s a safe call on 2nd & 7, when the offense could call just about anything. The screen to Bobby Rainey was probably the best possible play to have called at this point, and it shows.

When the linebacker turns his back to the play, here, that left two blockers on just one linebacker. To his credit, he makes his best effort at splitting them, but he was at a huge disadvantage from the start.

Once the outside linebacker had been dispensed of, the left guard is able to get out in front along the sideline and seal off a lane that ends up gaining running back Rainey an extra 10 yards or so.

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard would score on a second big play just a few snaps later, on a 23-yard catch.

Week 6, 3rd quarter, 2:22 remaining - 1st & 10

One of the biggest things to note here is that the Giants trailed the Ravens, 13-10, just before this play. This was a huge moment in a game the Giants would end up winning by four.

At first, it looks like a flood left, as three receivers break left about three to five yards downfield. This draws the free safety, who is playing single-high, to drift to the offensive left — and away from Odell Beckham, Jr., who had initially turned to his left. but ultimately turned almost 360 degrees around after faking a curl and started back downfield. The strong safety who had been tasked with covering him wasn’t able to remain in contact distance by the time Beckham got to full speed, and quarterback Eli Manning dropped the pass in perfectly, hitting Beckham in stride and at full speed. From that point on, all he had to do was break a single, desperation tackle attempt and outrun the pursuing free safety.

Week 12, 4th quarter, 7:29 remaining - 2nd & 6

You can chalk this one up, at least in part, to the Browns being the Browns.

Now, I’m not implying that a defensive back from any other team should have been able to keep up with Beckham through the numerous moves he makes on his route. That would have been tough for anyone. And Manning’s throw was exactly where it needed to be because of the defender underneath. It was very good execution by both the receiver and the quarterback.

But there were three defenders around him, and all converging on him. The worst was, obviously, the safety, who was too aggressive, and could have given up a few yards in order to have a shot at actually tackling the guy with the second-best jump cut in the NFL. He closed the distance too quickly, and that prevented him from having time to set his feet and react. In the open field, that is absolutely critical to ensuring a clean tackle.

So, while this one was partly about execution, it ultimately went for 41 yards because Beckham juked a defender out of his jock strap.

Steelers teams in the past have done an excellent job of limiting big plays. They are giving them up at a higher rate than usual in 2016, though. The last two weeks, against admittedly bad teams, they’ve shown signs that they are turning that around. It remains to be seen, though, if that can continue against a legitimate top-10 quarterback, two very good veteran receivers, and one very impressive rookie.