One of the most fascinating parts of the upcoming season for the New York Giants will be how they sort out all the new offensive toys they have, and how offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride chooses to play with them.
Mentioning Gilbride's name, of course, almost always guarantees an emotional reaction from Giants' fans. He is the guy Giants' fans love to hate -- and the guy who we love to blame every time anything goes wrong offensively.
Gilbride is the man of many nicknames among Giants' faithful -- none of them complimentary. Kevin KillDrive and Kevin GilGarbage come to mind. You guys probably have a few others, some of which I might prefer not to hear.
Long-time BBV readers know that I like Gilbride. He is far from perfect and he sometimes makes me wish I could go all Buddy Ryan on him, but all-in-all Gilbride is pretty darn good at his job. I think the overall offensive numbers, the fact that the Giants won a Super Bowl with him calling the plays and the respect Gilbride has around the league speak to that.
Let's take a closer look at the Giants' offense last season, then we will turn our attention to what we miight see in 2009.
The numbers tell you the Giants had a very good offense in 2008.
- They tied for third in the league in points per game at 26.7 with the high-flying Arizona Cardinals. So, if the Cardinals' offense was 'high-flying' what does that make the Giants?
- They led the league in both average per rushing attempt (5 yards) and yards per game (157.4).
- Football Outsiders ranked the Giants as the second-most efficient offense in the NFL.
- The Giants were in the middle of the pack with their passing game, but Eli Manning did establish career bests in completion percentage (60.3) and quarterback rating (86.4). And yes, I know QB rating is a horrible stat.
- In one eight-game stretch in 2008 the Giants scored 30 or more points six times.
Love him or hate him, objectively you have to be willing to give Gilbride at least some of the credit for these accomplishments. When you go to kvetch about Gilbride, and I know you will, just remember how much better the Giants have been offensively since KG took over the reigns from the truly incompetent John Hufnagel.
Gilbride is highly thought of around the league. The Sporting News, using a panel of former NFL scouts, recently ranked Gilbride at the fourth-best offensive coordinator in the league. Many of you probably just spit up your orange juice reading that line. Here is what TSN said about KG.
He couples power runs with downfield passes. His philosophy relies on big, athletic man-blockers on the line to wear down defenses with the run and set up play-action passes. The Giants control the clock with a basic and conservative offense that capitalizes on defensive mistakes.
Gilbride's Giants.com bio is, admittedly, not an objective look at KG, but it does show that Gilbride has coordinated some highly successful -- and even imaginative -- offenses throughout his career.
That said, we all know Gilbride has his flaws. In their last six games of 2008 -- roughly the post-No. 17 era -- the Giants scored more than 30 points just once.
I'm not buying the argument that seven or eight weeks is not enough time for a veteran NFL coach to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the players he has remaining and make adjustments to his game-planning and play-calling to fit those players. There were adjustments that needed to happen at the end of last season, and they weren't made. That brings me back to those Gilbride flaws.
- There is an alarming inability sometimes to deviate from his plan and make in-game adjustments.
- There is an obsession with balance that sometimes leads him away from things that are working (read, giving the ball to Brandon Jacobs) in the name of trying not to be predictable.
- The Giants are, by nature, a traditional, conservative offense. There is, with KG, an annoying tendency to let his creative side come out at bad times -- like a drive-killing reverse to Mario Manningham or a direct snap to Derrick Ward at an inopportune time.
- Most damning of all, to me, there is a tendency to ignore the wintry Northeast elements (read Giants' Stadium winds) and ask Manning to attempt throws that have little chance to succeed. Yo, Kevin, you're not in sunny Jacksonville. Or in a dome in Houston. You are in New York. In late fall and winter. Figure it out. And keep it simple
I honestly don't think it is fair to kill Gilbride for an individual play call, or for a play that simply doesn't work. Every coach has made decisions they regret. Besides, players sometimes screw up. Bad stuff happens.
Overall, Gilbride's body of work has been a good one.
That said, let's turn the page to 2009. Obviously, Gilbride will have a much different set of weapons to work with in 2009 than he had the past two seasons.
Can he figure out how to maximize the strengths of Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith? Can he figure out what Hakeem Nicks does well and how to turn the Giants' No. 1 pick into a play-making threat? Can he figure out what to do with the freakish Ramses Barden, aside from throw him Red Zone fade routes? Can he figure out how Mario Manningham can contribute? Can he figure out a way to create mismatches with Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum?
Can he take advantage of the talents of Ahmad Bradshaw, and the other guys who will back up Jacobs?
The Giants may not have a guy on the outside who consistently needs to be double-teamed, but they do have a plethora of talented weapons. They should be able to create mismatches with the varied talents of the players they have.
That will be Gilbride's primary challenge in 2009. The success and failure of their offense, and largely their season, rides on his ability to figure it out. There will, I am sure, be bumps in the road. I have to believe, however, that
(NOTE: I hesitated to write this because I know KG generates some emotional responses. Please do better than 'Gilbride sucks' in your comments. Let's have a rational discussion).