Why Giants’ Red-Zone Woes May Stand in Way of Winning NFC East

Over the last two weeks, the New York Giants have had a massive problem offensively: punching in the football when the field gets shorter. Against the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins, the team scored two touchdowns in eight red-zone trips, which doesn’t even include their decision to knee out a series and kick a field goal for the win against the Saints.

Point blank, if New York only converts 25 percent of its red-zone drives into touchdowns, they won’t be winning a majority of their games this season. According to TeamRankings, the Giants had the third-worst red-zone percentage in the league last season with a 44.4 percent touchdown rate.

The only teams equal or worse than New York? The Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, who combined for a 12-36 record in 2015. Something has to change, and it has to change quickly.

The root of their problem is simple: They want to run their offense through receiver Odell Beckham, their top pass-catching target, and running back Shane Vereen, their top backfield threat. On paper, that makes sense, but when put into execution, balls are being forced.

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On their opponent’s side of the field this season, second-round rookie receiver Sterling Shepard—not Beckham, who has zero touchdowns—has been the team’s top big-play threat. Why is that? Because when Shepard gets the ball in his hands, it is typically based out of concepts rather than isolated routes.

In the way the league is built in 2016, most NFL defenses play a majority of their time, even in the red zone, in single-high safety looks, with either Cover 3 or Cover 1 concepts. This gives a “middle of the field closed” look to an offense, which negates for the potential of a post route thrown into the middle of the field.

There are two options to go from there as a passing game. You can either play one-on-one vertically down the sideline, betting on your own outside receiver, or you can try to use a combination of routes to send a man open, depending on if it’s a man (Cover 1) or zone (Cover 3) look post-snap.

Even against the Cowboys in Week 1, when New York was two-of-two converting red-zone drives into touchdowns, their mentality was clear. They wanted to get the ball to Beckham vertically.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked for them this season, a reflection of their results of 2015. For example, the squad went with a back-to-back fade route and speed out route to Beckham in the fourth quarter against Dallas when down six points.

The problem is that only gave the Eli Manning-to-Beckham connection around five yards from the sideline to make their magic work. The margin for error on plays of that nature is very, very small, and led to back-to-back incompletions.

While red-zone calls, by nature, involve constricted space for passing lanes, the Giants weren’t helping themselves by calling plays with the primary read being a speed out, utilizing only five yards of space horizontally, when they could have ran concepts that tested the other 48 yards on the field with more room to breath.

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On 3rd-and-goal, head coach Ben McAdoo ditched the sideline approach to passing the ball, instead calling Manning’s third throw to come from a …

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