Through the first four games of the season, the New York Giants allowed a worrying 15 sacks, and while they did face some of the best pass-rushing teams during this period, the Panthers would likely have hoped to come away with more than one solitary sack in Week 5 – especially given the Giants had a run:pass split of 30:70. Given this lack of production on Sunday, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the Panthers’ defensive line simply isn’t that good, but the tale of the tape is at least somewhat more complex than that. So how did Eli Manning avoid spending Sunday afternoon lying on his back?
Timing Is Everything
No matter how good a defensive line is, it will always take time for them to get pressure on the quarterback, and one thing the Giants did do well on Sunday was to get the ball out quickly. On 21 of the Giants 38 passing plays, they got the ball out within two seconds of the snap, and while I wouldn’t bet money on my use of a stopwatch, this is at least a strong indication that for at least half the time the failure to get to Manning wasn’t due to the Panthers’ lack of pass rush but rather to the speed of the play. Of course, these numbers can be viewed in one of two ways: either the Panthers’ coverage was so poor that the Giants receivers were consistently getting open within two seconds, or that the Giants were aware that they needed to get the ball out posthaste and looked to work the ball out quickly at the expense of yardage.
In reality, the answer is probably a mixture of the two, as the Panthers over-reliance on off coverage at times is going to allow teams to get quick underneath separation; something that was exposed at times during the preseason. What is also true, however, is that the Giants quick passing attack wasn’t always by choice, and didn’t always work in their favor. For example, on this play here, Eli looks to get the ball out quickly, not out of design, but rather because he is about to get hit in the face by Vernon Butler and the Panthers force an incompletion:
This won’t show up as a sack in the box score, but Butler here is able to force the throwaway and as long as the coverage on the back end is decent, this is likely to be a positive play for the Panthers’ defense. Pressure like this can lead to more than incompletions, with both of the Panthers’ interceptions coming on plays where the Giants look to get the ball out quickly to avoid the rush. This is most evident on the first interception, where Eli is clearly aware of the pressure Addison is bringing on the back side and looks to get rid of the ball to his hot route.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the Panthers have Adams undercutting the hot route and he is able to come away with the pick:
The Panthers could and possibly should have done a better job of taking away the Giants’ quick options underneath, and while they avoided getting burnt after the catch by the Giants’ YAC monsters, this is not something they should take for granted going forwards. Even if the opposing receivers aren’t able to turn short routes into long gains, the Panthers will need to do a better job of forcing opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball if they are to stand a real chance of increasing their sack production.
A Numbers Game
While the Giants did a good job of getting the ball out quickly – for better or worse – there were still 17 passing snaps where the Giants were forced or chose to hold the ball for at least a couple of seconds – it is on these plays that the Panthers should be expected to be getting pressure. However, sometimes the lack of pressure can be rationalized by looking at the offensive and defensive playcalls. On six plays against the Giants, the offense had at least two more blockers than the Panthers had pass rushers; with five of these plays being off play-action, here the lack of pressure is somewhat expected, with the key being the Panthers’ being able to use their significant numbers advantage in coverage to force the quarterback into an incompletion or scramble for a limited gain.
Worryingly, on the three plays where the Panthers had a seven-on-three edge in coverage they were unable to take advantage of this numbers advantage and gave up a combined 63 yards and a touchdown. There are some mitigating factors in this, such as the uncalled hold on this play:
The pressure through the middle forcing the throw off the back foot here:
And the fact that this is an absolute dime against tight coverage that is all-but unstoppable:
The Panthers’ really shouldn’t be allowing consistent completions on these plays, but the failure to force incompletions cannot be placed at the feet of the defensive line, as the breakdowns here are on the back end.
The Panthers did a much better job of defending roll outs, where the Giants had a two-man blocking advantage with the roll out designed to force an overload on one half of the coverage. On the first play, they are able to get pressure with a linebacker coming off the edge; on the second, the roll out is actually forced by the inside pressure from Horton and Poe with Addison getting pressure on the wraparound – and on the third, the coverage holds up well, allowing Horton to regain position and pursue to the quarterback.
These three plays lead to three incompletions, with the Panthers even getting a chance at an interception on the second play, and this is again as much about the coverage as the pass rush. What this does mean though, is that despite attempting 38 passing plays on Sunday, there were actually only 11 plays where the Giants had no more than one blocker more than the Panthers had pass rushers and didn’t get the ball out within two seconds. This stands as a reasonable testament to the Giants’ game-planning around their poor offensive line, but why weren’t the Panthers able to get more pressure on the eleven plays where they had a reasonable chance of getting some pressure?