Film Room: Paul Perkins

Film Room: Paul Perkins
Film Room: Paul Perkins
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Cian Fahey

Despite the obvious appeal of the Brock Osweiler-Connor Cook matchup in Houston on Saturday, the biggest game of wild-card weekend will take place on Sunday evening. The Packers will welcome the New York Giants to Green Bay in a matchup that features two teams with legitimate shots at making it to the Super Bowl. Both teams have obvious flaws, but neither is so far behind the Dallas Cowboys or Atlanta Falcons that they wouldn't be viewed as peers in later rounds.

As the home team with a quarterback who has played better football over the past two weeks than anyone else has all season, the Packers are deservedly the favorites. If the Giants are to upend the Packers, they will need their impressive defense to play to its potential. Even in that scenario, the Giants can't expect a low-scoring game. The Packers haven't scored fewer than 30 points since December 4. They haven't scored fewer than 20 points since October, and that was the only time this season when they did it in a home game.

The Packers offense ranks fourth in DVOA, whereas the Giants rank 22nd. Eli Manning has struggled more this season than in recent years, but his play on the whole has still been mostly positive. Where the Giants have had real issues on offense is on the line. Left tackle Ereck Flowers is a liability in pass protection, and the right tackle spot hasn't been significantly better regardless of who has played there. Manning has regularly adjusted to his poor protection to perform well against pressure, but any quarterback who faces that level of pressure will ultimately make more mistakes. The edges of the line have been majorly problematic in pass protection, but the whole line has had issues run-blocking all season long.

Not only do the Giants rank 26th in rushing DVOA, but they only ran for 88.2 yards per game during the regular season. Twenty-eight teams ran for more yards per game than the Giants.

That often overwhelmed offensive line caps how effective the Giants' running game can be. Putting Rashad Jennings behind that line only made matters worse. Jennings isn't necessarily a bad running back, but he's not equipped to create yardage. He runs hard and will make good decisions more often than not, and he's also a reliable receiving option, but he lacks the short-area quickness and vision to elude defenders in tight spaces. Jennings has spent much of this season running straight into a brick wall and pushing forward for 2 or 3 yards.

If the Giants are going to keep pace with the Packers, they can't afford to waste touches on unproductive Jennings carries. That doesn't mean Jennings shouldn't get touches, but he shouldn't be force-fed the way he has been at times this season. Jennings carried the ball 18 times in Week 17, while Paul Perkins carried the ball 21 times. Perkins is a rookie whose usage has grown throughout the season. He was initially used sparingly because he couldn't be trusted in protection. Once he proved himself in that area, his value as a runner could be realized.

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Perkins had a 22-yard run against Washington last week. Not only was it a huge gain, it was a huge gain that came about in such a way that guaranteed it wouldn't have happened if any other Giants running back was on the field. The key to this play was the right-side edge defender. No. 94 is Preston Smith. Smith dominates Flowers on this play. He establishes himself on the edge initially, bumping Flowers back slightly while extending his arms and anchoring his weight off his outside foot. Smith has taken away Perkins' ability to run outside. Perkins understands this and initially presses the hole in front of him. As Perkins presses the gap between his left tackle and his left guard, his eyes are up. He is looking at the arriving safety in front of him and can likely see Smith coming inside of his left tackle. Jennings typically doesn't play this way. If he sees that kind of gap in front of him, he immediately hits it regardless of whether it is opening or closing.

Smith was tempted inside; you can see his movement based on where his helmet is in the first freeze frame to where it is in the second. That left the edge open for Perkins, but he needed to commit the safety before cutting outside.

Having the awareness to set up this run is one thing. Perkins had to press the middle before breaking back outside to give himself the opportunity. Having the physical talent to make the transition from pressing inside to turning the edge is another thing. At UCLA, Perkins' balance and lateral agility made him a star. These types of cuts were devastating for college defenders trying to react to his movements, and NFL defenders have suffered similar fates when he's been given opportunities this year -- even a former Defensive Player of the Year.

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A late rotation from No. 22 William Gay destroys the design of this play for the Giants. Gay occupies left tackle Flowers, leaving No. 92 James Harrison unblocked from the very start. This should have been a 3-yard loss for Perkins because Harrison had the angle to close off the space around him before tackling him to the ground. Despite his age, Harrison is still one of the better defenders in the NFL in this situation. It's rare that you will see a running back make this kind of cut to such effectiveness. Perkins' initial footwork draws Harrison in before his jump cut allows him to get to the outside. It takes the running back a moment to compose himself, but his general quickness allows him to plant his foot before aggressively finishing the play against contact.

The above play was a 6-yard gain that should have been a 3-yard loss. It was one of Perkins' most impressive runs of the season. His longest run of that game had come before that.

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For that 18-yard gain, Perkins was put in a perilous position as soon as he got the ball. The Giants were blocking zones up front, but the center didn't initially get enough of the nose tackle, Stephon Tuitt, before going in search of his own man. That sold out the left guard, who had no chance of stopping Tuitt from penetrating downfield. The positioning of Tuitt meant that Perkins wasn't going to be able to run to his right. Tuitt could chase him down if he moved in that direction. If Perkins ran directly up the middle, he would be running into the waiting arms of the defender. This meant that Perkins' only chance of creating yardage in this situation was with another jump cut.

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In the above GIF you can see how Perkins puts both of his feet in the air and extends his right foot as far as possible so he can get maximum momentum in his jump cut. Again, it again takes him a moment to compose himself before accelerating downfield, but such is the aggressiveness of his cuts that is to be expected.

These are yards that Perkins is creating. He isn't being contacted on these plays, but his actions before the line of scrimmage are masking the missed assignments of his blockers upfront. These are the types of plays that Rashad Jennings or Bobby Rainey struggle to make, and the types of plays that former Giants running back Andre Williams was never capable of making.

Perkins adds an explosiveness and dynamism to the Giants backfield that they haven't had for a long time. Shane Vereen was supposed to do some of what Perkins is doing, but Vereen hasn't been able to stay healthy in New York and hasn't been a featured player when he has been healthy. Vereen also didn't offer the same physicality and violence through contact that Perkins does.

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Although not a huge back, Perkins has good weight for his size. He is officially listed at 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds. More important than his listings is how he runs. Violence is an important aspect of being an NFL running back. Adrian Peterson is a supreme athlete with the density to blow through any defender who tries to tackle him, but that athleticism would carry little value if he was submissive at the point of contact. With his high knees and violent upper body, Peterson has been one of the most intimidating runners in the NFL for the past decade. Marshawn Lynch carried similar violence and activity in his running style. Perkins not only attacks contact, but he works against it. He uses his low center of gravity and balance to accelerate through defenders while making use of his arms to break tackles. In the above GIF you can see him use his right arm to burst through the defensive tackle who attempts to catch him with his shoulder.

With his low center of gravity, balance, and acceleration, Perkins can also create natural power to shed defenders.

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Fletcher Cox penetrates to the point that he can pull Perkins' hair before he accelerates upfield. The running back not only deals with that relatively easily, he is able to stay in a body shape that allows him to break the tackle that immediate follows. That contact barely even slows him down as he accelerates onto the second level for a good gain.

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Perkins consistently drives his legs through contact, and he also understands how to avoid contact whenever possible. He gets the most out of his small frame.

The one thing Perkins doesn't offer the Giants is much versatility as a receiver. He can work comfortably out of the backfield, but hasn't shown off the ability to line up out wide and run different routes against linebackers. That hurts your ability to create mismatches, but in the Giants offense that should be less of an issue with the abundance of receiving talent they have available.

The Packers did rank 14th against the run and 22nd against the pass in DVOA during the regular season. If the Giants look to attack them with a more pass-heavy game plan, Perkins should be able to contribute enough to stay on the field. His pass protection has been exemplary more often than not despite concerns early in the year. He has shown off some route-running ability…

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… comfort transitioning from catching the ball to making defenders miss underneath…

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… and the ability to create big plays on screens.

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The weaknesses of the Packers' pass defense are primarily on the outside. Taking shots deep against the cornerbacks should be a priority more than working the short middle where the team's linebackers are. The Lions receivers exposed the Packers cornerbacks on a number of different occasions last week. Odell Beckham in particular should be able to get free downfield with relative ease.

Ancillary pieces are often pushed into positions to have a greater impact at this time of the year. This especially applies to younger players, because they have a season of development behind them, or are physically fresher from not having their bodies beaten for the previous four months.

Perkins is a prime candidate to have a big impact on any playoff run that the Giants go on. Even if he doesn't, he is in position to be the Giants' primary back in 2017. He and fellow rookie Sterling Shepard will be fixtures alongside Odell Beckham in Ben McAdoo's offense moving forward.


7 comments, Last at 06 Jan 2017, 4:27pm

1 Re: Film Room: Paul Perkins

"In the above GIF you can see how Perkins puts both of his feet in the air and extends his right foot as far as possible so he can get maximum momentum in his jump cut"


The standard is the standard!

7 Re: Film Room: Paul Perkins

Agreed. Doesn't make much sense in terms of momentum unless Perkins were to cut to the right. It does, however, make a whole lot of sense if he were simply selling the misdirection of his move. Wonder what Fahey meant? Love his analysis otherwise.