When things would go bad for the New York Giants during his coaching tenure Tom Coughlin would eventually be asked about what changes could or would be made. His answer was always the same, roughly “this is our team.”
What Coughlin meant by that was, these are the players we have and a bunch of new ones aren’t suddenly showing up. Also, these are the schemes we have spent months or years crafting and we can’t change them in just a couple of days.
With the Giants at 2-8 and riding a season-wrecking six-game losing streak, current coach Pat Shurmur finds himself answering the “what changes are coming?” question. Especially since the Giants are coming off their bye week, a time when coaches have a chance to self-scout a bit and reflect on what has gone both right and wrong.
Shumur was asked Monday about the idea of making major changes heading into Week 12. He offered an answer that, while more long-winded, was certainly Coughlin-esque.
“Big time changes … Let’s think about it for a minute. What does a bye week entail? You come back from your previous game, you clean that up, you have a couple days of practice and then the league mandates that they’re off for four or five days. Then you get ready for your next opponent,” Shurmur said. “The important thing is to go back and look at the things and try to clean up the things that you’re not doing well, and keep building on the things that you’re good at. I guess my point is there’s not as much time as everybody thinks to make these wholesale changes that sometimes people think may happen.”
What did Shurmur see in his self-scouting during the bye? That the Giants do some good things, they just don’t do them consistently. Basically, they just need to be better at what they do.
“I see what I’ve been talking about all along,” Shurmur said. “There are stretches of games where there’s a lot of really good football that we’re playing, and then there are mistakes that we make that for a team like us, mistakes that cost you to lose games.
“The challenge is to become more consistent in all areas. That’s sort of what I saw.”
What are some of those areas in which the Giants need to become more consistent? Let’s offer a look at a few of those, and perhaps some suggestions on how performance in those areas might be improved.
Running the ball
The Giants are coming off a game in which Saquon Barkley suffered the indignity of running the ball 13 times for a single yard. That is embarrassing for any NFL running back, let alone one the stature of Barkley.
Statistically, the Giants have run the ball for 4.4 yards per carry and 94.2 yards per game this season. That is down from 4.7 and 103.1 a year ago. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you consider that Daniel Jones is getting 23.1 yards per game compared to 1.3 for Eli Manning a year ago and that Barkley’s yards per game are down from 81.7 to 57.4 it has been a problem.
Barkley’s health is, of course, part of the issue. He missed 31/2 games with a high ankle sprain and hasn’t been the same explosive runner since. Improved health, Barkley being Barkley, would make the running game more effective.
There is, however, a strategic tweak I would like to see the Giants make. Get Barkley out of the middle and to the edges more.
Against the Jets, the Giants ran 16 times. They ran directly over center (backup center Spencer Pulley, no less) 10 times, or 62.5 percent. They ran wide one time, for 11 yards.
For the season, the Giants have run 61.9 percent of their plays straight up the middle, from guard to guard. A year ago, that number was 53.9 percent. It may seem like a small amount, but the aim needs to be to get Barkley into space more often, not send him crashing into the 320-pound guys in the middle of opposing defenses.
Limiting the big plays
The Giants have given up 12 passing plays of 40 or more yards, most in the NFL. Only five teams have given up more 20+ yard passing plays than the 41 allowed by the Giants. Only four teams have a worse passer rating against than the Giants’ 103.5.
Much of that has been due to apparent confusion among defensive backs. We can and will point a finger at rookie DeAndre Baker, who has often been the confused party and has admitted that he perhaps doesn’t have the handle on the playbook that he should have. Still, the way the pass coverage has been schemed is an issue for me.
We are heading to Week 12. Do we know what the Giants want to be as a secondary? I don’t believe we do. Are they an aggressive, man-to-man coverage team that wants to sprinkle in some zone? Are they a zone team? If so, what type of zone if their go-to? I don’t think we have answers to any of that, and the mix-and-match what are we going to try this time approach has, to me, been part of the issue.
I don’t have stats to show how often the Giants have been in zone vs. man coverage. Maybe they are out there somewhere, but I don’t have them. It certainly feels, though, like the Giants have relied far too much on zone, especially soft zone. When you have young, inexperienced cornerbacks like Baker, Corey Ballentine, Grant Haley and now Sam Beal doesn’t it seem like asking them to make decisions about who to cover, when to pass a guy off and to trust that the rookie next to them sees the same thing is asking a lot?
Obviously, you can’t simply line up in the NFL and play the same defense over and over. Unless you are far superior to the team you are lined up against. You have to mix things up some. It seems to me, though, that letting these young cornerbacks just use their natural gifts by playing more man-to-man and not having to think quite as much would be beneficial.
Limit those turnovers
The Giants are second-last in the league (thank you, Jameis Winston) in turnovers with 24. They are second-last in the league behind the Miami Dolphins with a -12 giveaway/takeaway differential.
Really, this comes down mostly to Daniel Jones. It’s the “hey, rook, quit fumbling the dang ball” section of our story. Jones has fumbled the ball 13 times this season and thrown eight interceptions.
The reality is that quarterbacks fumble the ball at times when they get hit in the pocket. Watch NFL games and you see it all the time. Huge, athletic men are flying at them full speed, ripping or swiping at the ball, or just plain blasting them into the turf.
The idea is to get rid of the ball before they get there. Better pass protection would help, of course. Still, Jones needs to sharpen his sense of when to get the ball out before danger arrives. That’s really just a feel that we will — hopefully — see the rookie develop with more playing time.
We are not going to see big things like Shurmur giving play-calling to Mike Shula or in-season staff changes. At least, that’s how it looks right now.
Maybe we see some personnel changes. More opportunities for Nick Gates. A first opportunity for Julian Love. A chance for Sam Beal.
There isn’t, though, a whole lot the Giants can change right now in the middle of a lost 2-8 season.