With the hiring of Ben McAdoo as the team's new Offensive Coordinator, the Giants are headed for an infusion of radical change on the "broken" side of the ball. Tom Coughlin has stated that the Giants would attempt to "compromise" the new system McAdoo will bring in by retaining elements of the existing system.
While no real-world NFL offensive system is completely pure to its on-paper philosophy, the core system McAdoo has spent his entire professional career in has been Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense, specifically the variation developed by Mike McCarthy. The Giants in the Coughlin-Manning-Gilbride era have been running a variation of the Run 'n Shoot Offense that dates back to Mouse Davis, the USFL, and Warren Moon's Houston Oilers.
These systems are radically different from each other, from overall philosophy to style (conservative vs. aggressive), personnel, roles, blocking schemes, etc.
The question is, how can the essential DNA of these systems be "compromised" to create a new offense that takes the best from both and minimizes the flaws?
West Coast Offense Recap
Bill Walsh's innovation centered around substituting the run with the high-percentage pass, and seeking to pass first to (a) build a lead and (b) set up the run for late in the game.
By nature, Walsh's offense is very conservative and risk-averse, revolving around short, timed passes and heavily scripted plays. It is dynamic in its execution because the ball is in the air a lot, and spreads around to halfbacks, fullbacks, and tight ends. The offensive line typically employs a zone blocking system.
The ideal WCO quarterback is a highly accurate passer with a quick release and good mobility. He is fed plays by the Offensive Coordinator and sticks to the script. The WRs tend to be bigger and stronger and can catch the ball in tight spaces, with yards-after-catch potential.
Run 'n Shoot Offense Recap
The Run 'n Shoot, in theory, is built around the idea of spreading the field with 4 WRs, utilizing only 1 RB, and no FBs or TEs. The offensive design is very simple in concept, with a small number of designed plays, but complex in execution as the WRs have freedom to adjust their routes on the fly; the QB has to read and react to what he sees, and has freedom to improvise in response to the defense.
This offense is philosophically aggressive and looks to get the ball down the field as the receivers create their own space and get vertical.
Because there is no fullback, the RB is an all-in-one, bellcow type of back who is big and strong enough to protect the passer, yet dynamic enough to run through the wide holes the spread offense produces, punishing smaller DBs as he gets to the second level of the defense.
The RNS quarterback is ideally highly intelligent, strong-armed, and mobile, and the WRs are also intelligent, small, quick, and explosive.
Now the Giants clearly do not run the Mouse Davis version of the Run 'n Shoot, and the Packers do not run the Bill Walsh version of the West Coast Offense. Both run variations that have veered away from their core philosophies - and thankfully, closer to each other.
So how do these two systems come together into a coherent approach that takes into consideration personnel and philosophy?
1. Conservative or Aggressive?
This is where I see philosophical overlap occurring between the Packers and Giants. Both teams like to get the ball down the field, so I believe McAdoo can easily satisfy Coughlin's desire to be aggressive and go vertical. However, the Giants under Gilbride seemed to take shots downfield at odd times and get into 3rd and long situations far too often.
As such, I can see a change in approach on 1st and 2nd downs - more short passes to running backs in space, to try to get into advantageous 3rd down situations.
Overall, though, I think the McCarthy variation of the WCO and the Coughlin-Gilbride variation of the RNS seem to mesh well philosophically, with the new wrinkle being throwing the ball to running backs far more often, developing a screen game, and throwing to the TE far more frequently.
2. How Is the Quarterback Used?
This is the 100 million dollar question. Can Eli Manning successfully operate in a system that will require shorter step dropbacks, much greater accuracy and timing, and less improvisation? Can he become good at executing screens?
With the coordinator's role elevated in the WCO, I can see much quicker play selection, simplified play calls, getting to the line quicker, reading defenses and making adjustments with a lot of time left on the clock. I can also see more of a hurry up style - none of the tempo features go against either the WCO or RNS philosophies. In fact, speed enhances them.
I believe play action is going to be key in this new offense, as Eli thrives off of it. If McAdoo can find creative ways to create play action off of some of the classic elements of the WCO - i.e. fake screens in strange formations - we could see Eli thrive in a whole new way. He can be highly accurate and move the chains on 1st and 2nd downs, and then create the conditions for taking shots downfield.
What we know is that Manning has to change to run this offense. A borderline insane focus on mistake reduction and QB fundamentals will be key, because accuracy is extremely critical in the WCO. McAdoo has evidently made his coaching bones on being obsessed with fundamentals - so we'll need every ounce of that energy brought to bear here.
3. How Is the Running Back Used?
Here's where a lot of decisions and personnel changes are likely to be made. The Run 'n Shoot concepts center around a big bellcow back in a 1-back offense, while the WCO puts great emphasis on the fullback, especially on being able to catch the ball.
Fortunately, the Giants' variation of the RNS did make use of the fullback - just not as a pass catcher. The Giants' FB position seems to be to act as a hedge against some of the risks and excesses built into the RNS philosophy - namely those that expose the QB to more danger.
I can see the Giants using the WCO's two-back system, featuring both a big bellcow back AND a pass-catching fullback who can move around and create mischief. The difference will come in play design. The fullback will actually be thrown the ball on a regular basis. The RB stable will offer a mix of styles, but all will be proficient in catching the ball and running screens.
I can see the Giants looking for big, brutalizing-type running backs who will bring power to attack the second level of the defense and offset some of the blocking that will be lost at the TE position. The hybrid Cobb-McCluster slasher type will also be critical to have as part of the mix for big plays in the screen game.
4. How Is the Tight End Used?
The TE does not exist in the pure Run 'n Shoot offense - and in the WCO, he is primarily used as a receiver. However, the TEs were very important in the Coughlin-Gilbride variation of the RNS, mainly as blockers and secondary outlets for the QB.
That all changes now.
The TE is essentially going to become a jumbo WR who can create mismatches and catch the ball in tight spaces within a 15-yard range, and also get vertical when needed.
This is where I believe McAdoo has his greatest chance to innovate. The Packers at times kept 4 or 5 TEs on the roster. McAdoo used to be a TE coach. I believe McAdoo can bring a major change here by blending the TE position with the 4 WR concepts of the Run 'n Shoot. I can see short yardage power formations where we are running 3 or 4 TEs on the field at the same time, spreading the field with the power and speed that uniquely exists in the TE position. This is where Belichick and Chip Kelly seem to be going as well - I am personally rooting for this kind of revolution to occur, and I hope it occurs first with the New York Giants.
5. How Are the Receivers Used?
The major change here seems to be that the receivers will be running, and sticking to, scripted routes with much less freedom to vary. The receiver type would seem to skew toward bigger and stronger, but with yards-after-catch capability. The routes will change from a downfield emphasis to more of a slot-type game, catching the ball over the middle of the field in shorter routes, and creating second-level blocking conditions for them to shake loose for big yards after the catch.
Most likely our personnel will need to change a bit at the WR position. We have some great pieces, especially if Jerrel Jernigan can play the Randall Cobb role - but need more. Ironically, a Hakeem Nicks type would be ideal to migrate over to an Anquan Boldin-style WCO role. Oh well.
Because of the new emphasis on throwing to the TE and RB positions, however, the Giants may not need to add much more at WR, particularly depending on what is done with personnel at TE.
6. How Is the Offensive Line Used?
The WCO emphasizes athleticism and technique above size. That concept seems to fit Will Beatty and Justin Pugh well, but it appears the front office will need to do major work on the personnel to fit the scheme. I would imagine moving to a Zone Blocking System and almost completely rebuilding the line to fit the system, through both free agency and the draft.
In looking at the situation more closely, because of the variations Mike McCarthy made to the WCO, and Coughlin and Gilbride made to the RNS, I'm optimistic that the two philosophies can be blended surprisingly seamlessly at most points, but I would like to get a sense of an overarching theme that McAdoo is going to bring. "Uptempo and attacking" sounds good, but is vague. I believe this offense will certainly become sleeker and faster at the OL and TE positions, but possibly more punishing and power-oriented at RB than it currently is. I believe there is an opportunity to innovate using multiple TEs or even dual FBs. Conservative, power-based, but dynamic and creative - with an eye downfield.
As always, the QB will be central to its success.
If that happens, maybe all this offense will need is a cool name.