Last night, David Wilson ran 84 yards for a touchdown on the Giants first play from scrimmage. Without being touched. How does that happen? Let’s start with a look from the end zone right at the snap:
The Jets are lined up with four down linemen: from left to right, you can see DE Muhammad Wilkerson, first-round tackle Sheldon Richardson, backup NT Damon Harrison, and outside linebacker/edge rusher Garrett McIntyre. At linebacker, we see Calvin Pace, David Harris, and Demario Davis — the new starter whom Rex Ryan has compared to Ray Lewis — tight inside the tackles. Left cornerback Kyle Wilson is off screen, covering Rueben Randle on the Giants right, while the Jets show a single-high safety look: Dawan Landry, the free agent addition from Jacksonville, is 13 yards off the line of scrimmage, while safety Antonio Allen (the Jets 7th round pick a year ago and expected starter in 2013) has creeped towards the line. What’s not shown: a few seconds earlier, the Giants motioned TE Brandon Myers to the offense’s left before the snap, causing Antonio Cromartie to line up right in the face of Hakeem Nicks and Allen (39) to drop down closer to the line of scrimmage (he was ten yards off the line before Myers moved).
The Giants know what is coming: a handoff to David Wilson, who will read the Jets defense to determine whether he bursts up the gut or bounces outside. From a numbers game, the Giants like what they see: even after Allen comes down, the math looks even. Assuming Nicks can handle Cromartie (he will), the Giants have the center, left guard, left tackle, Myers (a yard off the line) and TE Bear Pascoe (playing the traditional fullback slot) to block five Jets – Harrison and McIntyre on the line, Harris and Davis in the second level, and Allen.
In theory, you would think the Giants would have the C block the NT, the uncovered LG would make a beeline towards Harris (52), the LT would take care of McIntyre, and Pascoe and Myers would be assigned to Davis (56) and Allen (39). Some of that happens — the center (backup Jim Cordle) handles the nose; he also gets an assist from LG Kevin Boothe, who nudges Harrison away from the play a second before he manhandles Harris (a mismatch for most linebackers, so we can’t be too harsh on Harris). LT Will Beatty also overpowers the RDE, McIntyre, unsurprising considering (1) Beatty is a pretty good player and McIntyre is a backup 3-4 OLB, and (2) Beatty outweighs him by 64 pounds. Credit the Giants for good blocking, but blocking your assigned man doesn’t turn into 84-yard runs very often. The real cuprit on the play is Allen, but he was only the last domino to fall.
I italicized “in theory” in the last paragraph when I said the Giants have five blockers for five defenders (excluding the Nicks/Cromartie matchup). Because in reality, the Giants assigned the RG and RT to double down on Richardson (91), and had Pascoe move away from the play to impede the unblocked LDE Wilkerson. This leaves the Giants with four men to block five players. More precisely, it leaves one — Myers — to block Davis and Allen, after we remove the Cordle/Harrison, Boothe/Harris, and Beatty/McIntyre matchups. Leaving Wilkerson completely unblocked is risky — he’s talented enough to chase down Wilson for a loss in the backfield — so the effect of double-teaming Richardson means the Giants need to have Pascoe move off the play side.
Let’s take another snapshot, this time about a second into the play:
You can see the NT (94) getting handled by the center, and RG Beatty nudges him before coming right at Harris (52). In addition, McIntyre (50) has no chance against Beatty (and you can say much the same about Cromartie against Nicks).
But that blue blur in the middle of the field is Pascoe running across the offense to get to an unblocked Wilkerson (96). At the snap, Davis (56) was watching Pascoe and Wilson; now he sees two huge gaps and Pascoe taking himself out of Davis’ path. As an inside linebacker, you’re coached to plug up the holes from inside out, so Davis correctly plugs the gap right in the middle of the field: if he hadn’t, Wilson would have run right up the middle and probably picked up an easy first down unless Calvin Pace (97) got to him (spoiler alert: he wouldn’t have). Wilson is watching Davis the whole way: Wilson starts to run inside, but once he sees Davis crash down, he quickly bounces to the outside.
So far, the Jets don’t look good — everyone who the Giants hoped to block is getting blocked, and in some cases, embarrassingly so — but still, that doesn’t explain an 84-yard run. The big problem is that Allen (39) sees the same gap in the middle of the field that Davis does, and begins creeping to his left. He takes two steps to the inside of the play, which is two too many; by the time he realizes that Wilson is bouncing outside because of Davis, he’s now a sitting duck for Myers to overpower (as a general rule, if the blocker gets his hands on you a half second after you stop to change direction, you’re not going to win that battle). He’s now crossed the hash marks, leaving the outside exposed.
This third photo shows how Allen (39) got caught too far inside, making him an easy block for Myers. Davis (56) plugged the gap, but has no chance of getting into position to make the tackle, as McIntyre (50) has made no progress whatsoever on Beatty. And Nicks has moved Cromartie about three yards off the play, making the hole even wider for Wilson.
At this point, Wilson’s speed takes over. The last line of defense is the single-high safety, visible at the very bottom of the photo. But Landry (26) hesitated for a full second before crossing the field and doesn’t have the athleticism to prevent this from being only a 20-yard gain. Instead, Wilson’s athleticism turns this into an 84-yard touchdown.
You can take a full look at the play here: the end zone cam view starts at 35 seconds. All photos and video courtesy of NBC and Giants.com.
As you might expect, an 84-yard touchdown is often the result of excellent execution by the offense and multiple breakdowns by the defense. Wilson’s speed (and Allen’s indecision) makes this a long touchdown and not a 20-yard gain. Nicks and Beatty formed a huge hole with excellent blocks; Cromartie should not get overpowered like that, while McIntyre simply can’t be expected to win that battle (this play might have looked much different if the Jets normal starter, Quinton Coples, was healthy). The left guard handled the middle linebacker, the running back correctly read the playside backer, and the box safety failed to plug his gap. The only member of the secondary who doesn’t make a mistake is Wilson, who made up for that with plenty of mistakes over the rest of the game.
This was an excellent play for the Giants, and a terrible one for the Jets. But it was just one play, so let’s not forget the other part of the story: The Giants had seven more drives in the first half, featuring their first-team offense against the Jets’ first-team defense. The Giants gained just 97 yards and scored only three points on those 31 plays.