If we know one thing about New York Giants’ defensive coordinator James Bettcher, it’s that he is very enthusiastic about blitzing on third down. That’s the challenge facing the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles’ offense on Thursday; getting those extra blitzers picked up stuffed to allow Carson Wentz to work his magic.
The Eagles third down conversions have dropped from 44% to 37% success since last year and the Giants, for all of their problems, are hanging in there with a not-too-shabby 34% rate (11th). The key for the Giants will be getting free runs at Wentz, which they attempt will do with extra men quite often. We know this because it’s all over his Giants film and it was the same story when he was with the Arizona Cardinals. Last year, Bettcher sent a blitz on 37% of his defenses’ third down plays.
Who does Bettcher send on these blitzes? Pretty much anybody and everybody. He sent defensive backs at the league’s 6th highest rate last year. In New York he sends Alec Ogletree a good deal and has a pretty good safety named Landon Collins that he likes to unleash.
The other aspect of blitzing is the coverage. In 2017, Bettcher’s unit deployed a cover 1 scheme at a top 5 frequency and he will use that to his advantage to play with quarterback’s heads. That’s exactly what he did last week against the Carolina Panthers.
Down 27-16 in the fourth quarter and facing a key 3rd & 8 from their own 43-yard line, the Giants needed a stop to keep the game alive. In these situations, you’ll often see a defensive coordinator default to their favorite designs. In Jim Schwartz’s case, you’re likely seeing cover 0 with man coverage across the board. That’s his baby. For Bettcher, his baby is bringing pressure but also adding deception on the back end.
The Giants have their defensive tackles lined up wide as 3-techs, with the ends even wider. Linebacker Ogletree is mugging the A-gap over the center and Collins is threatening the B-gap. From this look, Bettcher is showing “man-free”. If that were the case, there would be a deep safety with man coverage and Ogletree/Collins on a “2-on-1 funnel”. To explain the funnel aspect, if running back Christian McCaffrey releases to his right, Ogletree picks him up and Collins would drop into a hook zone and vice versa.
On this occasion, Bettcher only has Ogletree threaten to come which holds the center while bringing Collins through the B-gap.
The twist by the 3-techs cause the Panthers to pinch from guard-to-guard and Ogletree momentarily holds the center’s attention by threatening to come. This leaves a huge window for Collins to run through. McCaffrey is responsible for the pick-up, which is the match-up Bettcher desired, and he whiffs on a cut block. Pressure gets to Cam Newton in a blur which causes him to throw an errant pass that’s intercepted by Janoris Jenkins.
But wait, weren’t the Giants in man-free? Why is Jenkins there? Good question. The answer is it’s not man-free, it’s a three deep zone with three underneath defenders. Again, Bettcher will play mind games with his pre-snap looks. This is how the coverage plays out.
I won’t assume to know if Newton thought Jenkins was going to continue in his man coverage, but it doesn’t matter, him dropping off into a zone put him at the right place at the right time.
This is just one type of pressure package design the Eagles will face on Thursday Night Football. If they expect to survive the night without giving up a number of sacks, not only will the offensive line have to play their part, but the running backs will have to step up their game in pass protection. Expect Bettcher to test them early and often.