Analysis Notebook: TNF, Wk 6
Eli Manning threw another three interceptions in the game last night causing the Giants to fall to yet another defeat, this time 21-27 at the hands of the Chicago Bears. The three picks were all different and all showed some of the issues that Manning has been having this season, but for this Thursday Night Football edition of the Analysis Notebook I’m going to focus on the interception that was taken back to the house for a Chicago score.
In the NFL one of the most common forms of interception is basic miscommunication between the receiver and quarterback, and this is a classic example. Most offenses in the NFL use option routes to some degree or other. Rather than calling a play that contains a set route pattern for each receiver, routes are adjusted depending on the coverage a defense presents and can even adjust depending on the leverage certain defenders align with on the play. It’s no longer as simple as the quarterback throwing to a spot and expecting his receiver to get there, it relies on quarterback and receiver both reading the same thing and making the same adjustment to the play. When they don’t, bad things happen.
This is why teams covet smart receivers and why simply being a great athlete, or even a savvy route runner with great hands, won’t cut it in many offenses. It’s why Chad Johnson/Ochocinco was a lousy fit in New England. He could still play, but he couldn’t deal with the complexities of the option routes within that offense. Tom Brady couldn’t rely on him reading things the same way and making the right adjustments on any given play.
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears | Q1, 10.01
The Giants run a lot of option routes, which is why you see a lot of plays over the course of the season where Eli Manning is not on the same page with his receivers. Usually those result in just an ugly looking incompletion, but sometimes it can end up a lot worse, and this is one of those plays.
The reason it is a great example of a miscommunication between receiver and quarterback is because of the way LCB Tim Jennings plays it. The Bears show Eli Manning one thing pre-snap, but Tim Jennings forces a re-think with how he defends on the play. Reuben Randle adjusted one way, Eli didn’t.
Pre-snap the Bears are clearly showing a cover-3 look, with the two corners and FS each dropping off to cover a deep third of the field, and that is indeed the call. Against this defense the hitch route should be open and an easy completion, and that’s what the Giants are set to run. The only issue is that Jennings cheats in his coverage. Instead of dropping off to stay over the top of any vertical route run, Jennings knows the Giants will counter that with the hitch, and has no respect for the threat of the ball going over his head. He sits with his eyes on the quarterback and just waits.
While on the near side you can see RCB Zackary Bowman opening his hips and bailing into coverage over the top of his receiver, when Manning looks to throw the ball Jennings is flat-footed, squatting on the short route and daring the Giants to make the adjustment. At this point Manning simply cannot put the ball in the air. His only read is whether Jennings is honoring his zone or playing with a flat drop and looking to jump the hitch. It’s a simple read that he doesn’t make, or maybe made but still thought he could force the pass in had Randle continued to run the hitch. Either way, at the point Manning either sees that and decides to throw anyway, or misses it completely, he assumes a large portion of responsibility for this pick. Randle for his part isn’t as explosive into his pattern as you might like, and he doesn’t close the cushion on Jennings quickly enough to put him to a decision about whether he needs to bail from his aggressive stance. He does however, see what the corner is doing and this causes a slight hesitation before he decides that he should adjust his route over the top and have a clear path to the end zone. If Jennings isn’t honoring his zone, then Randle knows he can break beyond him and have a deep third of the field all to himself.
The trouble is, however, by the time he has decided what to do, Manning has already made up his mind to throw the hitch anyway. Randle breaks deep and raises his hand to wave, signalling to Manning that he is open, but the ball is already in the air and on its way straight to the waiting hands of Jennings, who can run untouched into the end zone for the score.
This is the perfect example of how one defender can force both quarterback and receiver to make a decision on the fly after the ball is snapped. If they both make the same choice this ball could have gone for a Giants score, but when they make different choices the ball gets air-mailed to the defensive back for an easy score in the other direction.
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