Durkin’s Playbook: Defending Cruz & Nicks On Switched Releases
By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Despite their 0-5 record, the New York Giants still have the pieces to form a potent passing attack.
During their rough stretch, quarterback Eli Manning has been pressing, trying to force plays that simply aren’t there. However, when he runs the offense as designed, they put a lot of pressure on opposing secondaries.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride knows the best weapons in his arsenal are wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Cruz has emerged as the NFL’s top slot receiver and Nicks is dangerous as a split end. Rather than keeping them static in their alignments, Gilbride deploys them from various formations to scheme advantageous matchups. A staple of the Giants passing attack is the “switched” release concept.
Safeties read a receiver’s release to simplify their keys, as there’s only so much space on the field to work with, and so much time for a quarterback to get rid of the ball. So by switching the releases of the route, Gilbride adds conflict and forces safeties to rethink their rules after the ball is snapped.
Let’s go to the film room to take a closer look.
Against the Broncos, the Giants come out in “12” personnel (1 Running Back, 2 Tight Ends) in a 2×1 alignment, with Nicks as the No. 1 (or “X”) receiver and Cruz as the No. 2 (or “Z”) receiver. The Broncos are in their base 4-3 personnel in a Cover-2 shell.
After the snap, Nicks releases inside to the seam area and Cruz releases underneath. The Giants employ run-and-shoot route principles, letting the coverage dictate what breaks they make at the top of their route.
In this instance, Nicks executes an inside streak read. If the safety stays high, he will break off his route to an in-cutting “dig” or ”6” route at 16 yards, otherwise, he will continue vertically. Cruz will push the vertical route and either continue his push, or hook his route back on a “curl” or ”4” route at 12 yards.
The safety is reading Manning’s eyes, but with two receivers to his side and Cruz going vertical, he stays deep and opens his hips to the sideline, creating a big void for Nicks to run the in-cut.
Manning drives the ball into the vacated area, hooking up with Nicks on an easy pitch-and-catch first down.
The next example comes from the Giants-Eagles game. The Giants come out in “11” personnel (1 Running Back, 1 Tight End), in a 2×1 alignment with Nicks as the No.1 and Cruz as the No. 2. The Eagles are in their nickel (5 defensive back) personnel in a Cover-2 shell.
Again, they switch their releases off the snap with the same coverage reads in place.
The Eagles cornerbacks are sloppy in their exchange and rotation, as both of them follow Nicks on the in-cut.
This leaves Cruz wide open on the curl for an easy first-down completion.
The Giants play has been desperate on the field, but so has their play-calling at times. They’ve tended to go for the home run on early downs without success, and put themselves in low percentage down-and-distances on third down. However, when they run what’s made them Super Bowl champs in the past and liberally mix in the deep ball, they’re still deadly.
Questions about this playbook or suggestions for a future playbook? Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin