When you have the NFL’s 32nd-ranked running game, you will inevitably face a lot of 3rd-and-long situations. And expectedly, throughout the NFC playoffs, the Giants have. But unexpectedly, New York has somehow overcome those predicaments and converted at an incredible rate.
On 3rd-and-6+, the Giants converted 5/8 against ATL, 5/6 against GB, and 5/11 against SF. That’s 15/25, or 60%.
Eli Manning’s numbers on those downs were remarkable: 18/21 for 287, 1 TD, 0 INT
ATL: 7/7 for 113
GB: 5/5 for 79
SF: 6/9 for 95, TD
Defenses strive to get offenses into 3rd-and-long. They work their butts off on 1st and 2nd down so they can set themselves up for a prime opportunity to get off the field. Every time the offense converts and remains ON the field, the defense loses a little spirit. The reality of facing a fresh set of downs is exhausting, if not demoralizing.
Typically, the offensive catalysts for success on 3rd-and-long are:
1) Pass protection
2) Multiple threats at receiver
3) Poise and timing at quarterback
For New York, these three things have worked in concert throughout the postseason. The trifecta of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham at WR discourages the defense from blitzing, which helps the pass protection. With solid protection against 3 and 4 man rushes, Manning can find one of his three WRs working through a zone, or against a Cover 2-man scheme. If the defense blitzes, Manning quickly diagnoses it, and exploits the mismatch outside.
On the go-ahead, 4th quarter touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Manningham in the NFC Championship Game, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-15.
The 49ers rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. The result was no pressure on Manning. Because of the eight-man coverage, there weren’t many open targets or windows to throw a pass. Nicks, Cruz, and tight end Jake Ballard were all well-covered. But all Manning needed was ONE option.
Manning calmly stood in a well-formed pocket and delivered a strike into the weakness of the defense, with Manningham breaking to the inside against a deep-third, outside-leveraged defender. The play put the Giants up 17-14. It was an excellent play call and perfect execution by New York.