Film Study: How Church Almost Became a Hero (and why Orlando Scandrick might be better than we think)

This is my first post. I am not a football expert, just a rabid fan. Please feel free to correct if you think my analysis is in error. I'm here to learn.

Remember this play from the Giants game?


Barry Church almost picks off Eli and takes it to the house. Al Michaels commented that Church took a gamble, while Chris Collinsworth said that Eli was fooled by a shift in coverage. Collinsworth was right - this time, at least. How did Rob Ryan put Barry in position to almost make this play? Here's a clue: look at the picture above. Notice the four helmets all in a row at the 20 yard line? (Orlando's helmet is at the very bottom.)

Let's take a look at this exact moment on the All 22 coach's film:


What you see here is a cover three zone, with three men (green arrows) each taking a third of the field in deep coverage. Four men are camped on the 20 yard line, each ten yards deep from the original line of scrimmage (10 yard line); and are responsible for the short and intermediate routes. Given these facts, it raises some questions:

1. Why the hell is Eli trying to complete a pass at the 20 yard line - into the teeth of the defense, when any pass in the short zone (denoted by the blue lines) could be easily completed without being contested? There is a deep area that also seems ripe for the picking.

2. Why is Barry Church in front of the corner? Don't safeties usually provide help "over the top" on pass plays?

Well, this is Rob Ryan scheming the hell out of Eli. Let's go back to the snap of the ball.


The coverage at the snap looks like man-to-man with Claiborne (top), Scandrick (slot), and Carr. The two safeties look like they are giving deep help over the top, with each taking the deep half of the field. Although you can see from this view that Sensabaugh (bottom) is at the 25 yard line and Church is at the 23.

Let's look at the end zone angle.


Here's what I think Eli is thinking.

1. There's a double A-gap blitz coming. Carter and Lee are coming - that makes six total pass rushers.

2. I have 6 linemen and a back to block the pass rushers. That's seven to block six. I'll go to shotgun so I won't have immediate pressure while dropping back [Eli was originally under center, but audibled to "gun"], and I'll tell Martellus and Bradshaw to block.

3. I'm on the right hash, so I'll throw to the right sideline. A throw to the left is longer, plus there are 2 receivers, so there is more traffic and more chances for an interception.

4. The rookie is to the right. I'll call a stop route for Hixon. The safety will be deep, and if Claiborne has tight coverage, I'll just throw it away. I'll look to my left first, just to throw the safeties off, before throwing to the right.

5. Should I say "Omaha"? Should I say "Omaha" twice?

The blitz promised by Carter and Lee never materializes. Let's see how the two linebackers and the three corners react at the snap of the ball. Here's the image right before the snap. Notice the time left on the game clock.


And here's the image right after the snap. The game clock still reads 10:19.


1. This is no bump-and-run coverage. Look at the hips and eyes of Claiborne (top) and Carr (bottom). In the second since the snap (actually, they start to move just before the snap) they have opened their hips and turned, while looking at the quarterback. I believe this is called the bail technique. They have to get deep - they are each responsible for the deep third. Zone coverage requires that all eyes be on the quarterback.

2. Scandrick (32) and Carter (54) - who only have to drop to the 20 yard line - are backpedaling more conservatively, but they are still dropping.

3. Sean Lee (dead center), has opened his hips to the right - because the slot receiver is to that side, plus his zone is to the right of where he started.

4. Church - at the back end - is lurking at the 21 yard line. He has dropped down to cover the far left zone at the 20. It looks like he's hiding from Eli's vision behind the three blockers to Eli's right.

5. Eli is looking to his left to confuse the secondary. Notice there are 7 blockers to block 4 pass-rushers. That means 7 defenders to cover three receivers. Also, the perceived pressure from the fake blitz has kept the back and the tight end in to block, so they can't exploit the wide open zone from the 10 - 17 yard line.

So, we know how the play started, and we know how the play ended. So let's look at the midpoint - let's see how all the players move to their designated spot. Here's the all 22:


Notice again - like in all zone defenses - all eyes are on the quarterback.

So that brings us back to the original image, with Church almost making the play - Ryan basically dictated Eli's pre-snap read and put Church in the position to make the play.

A note on "Grading":

Now, if I have read this coverage right, Morris Claiborne is doing exactly what he is supposed to do - bail, and make sure that he doesn't get beat deep - the deep third is his. But, the play description (on NFL Game Rewind), shows that Claiborne is the man in coverage. That makes me think. How do graders - like ProFootball Focus, K.C. Joyner, etc. - view this play? How do we view this play? Is this a catch "against" Morris Claiborne, that goes against his cornerback metrics? If so, what did he do wrong? And that brings me to my last point, the much-maligned Orlando Scandrick.

Orlando Scandrick:

Let's go back to the second image


The bottom-most player at the 20 yard line is Orlando Scandrick; right in front of him is Victor Cruz. Let's picture this play going a different way, with Cruz hooking back to the 15 yard line and Manning hitting him there. Scandrick was over Cruz at the line of scrimmage and he did mirror Cruz's movements as he dropped back, because Cruz's route started directly at Scandrick. But Scandrick - while mirroring Cruz's route - still has a responsibilty in this zone scheme. He has to get to his landmark at the 20 and guard that rightmost flank. This defense (in my opinion at least) is conceding everything up to the 17 yard line, or thereabouts. So a completion to Cruz at the 15 yard line, while Scandrick is 5 yards away at the 20 yard line is not bad coverage by Scandrick, but the design of the defense. Yet, seeing that at game speed with a limited angle, would cause most fans (including me) and maybe the commentator to scream "Why is Orlando playing Cruz so soft! He sucks! Cruz was wide open!"

Here is an image from the Giants first series, when Cruz dropped the pass that would have resulted in a first down.


My initial reaction: "There goes Orlando again! Cruz shook him again to get wide open! How does that guy get so wide open against Scandrick!"

But look at the all 22, right before Eli releases the ball:


It seems that Scandrick (on the bottom) has safety responsibilities in this defensive alignment, which means he must protect the deep half of the field as well as drive on what is in front of him.

Now look at Victor Cruz 4 yards into his route.


Look at Cruz's body lean and his arms pumping. If you are the last line of defense, and you see that coming at you, you have to backpedal. Really the only way to make a play on the ball that is about to be thrown, is to start driving forward now, or standing your ground. That would take a lot of stones - it would be the result of either guesswork or a lot of film study. And if you're wrong, it's 7-0 in the first series of the first game on opening night. I wouldn't do it in a million years.

As you see below, Scandrick has backpedaled, and is in the proces of stopping the backpedal to drive forward when he sees Cruz break down at the top of his pattern.


Again, in my opinion, this is not bad coverage by Scandrick. It's the design of the defense.

This play was a zone blitz call by Ryan - a blitz by Sensabaugh with zone coverage behind it


Zone blitzes have huge holes, but the gamble is that the blitzer will get the sack, or that the pressure will cause a bad throw. In this case, Eli throws the ball slightly behind Cruz, and he doesn't make the catch. In other words, the blitz worked, and Orlando didn't let anybody get behind him.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.