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Giants are bad on offense, and there is a lot of blame to go around

Let’s examine how bad the Giants are offensively, and how they got this way

NFL: DEC 27 Giants at Ravens Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants offense has been staggeringly bad in 2020.

  • The Giants are 31st in points per game (17.1) and yards per game (297.2).
  • They are 30th in yards per play (4.89).
  • The Giants are tied with the New York Jets for last in the league in touchdowns per game (1.6).
  • The Giants are 31st in the league in red zone scoring percentage (45 percent).
  • The Giants are 31st in sacks per pass attempt, giving up a sack on 9.76 percent of passing plays. Giants quarterbacks have been sacked 48 times. Only the Philadelphia Eagles (62) have allowed more sacks.
  • The Giants have just 10 touchdown passes, 31st in the league at 0.7 touchdown passes per game.
  • The Giants are 28th in the league in third-down efficiency (37.7 percent) and time of possession (28:47).
  • The Giants are 27th in the league in explosive play rate (8 percent). Only seven teams have fewer than the five 40+ yard passes the Giants have completed this season.

The Giants have been even worse than those numbers in recent weeks.

  • Over their last three games the Giants are averaging 8.7 points per game.
  • The Giants have not scored 20 points in any of their last five games and are averaging 12.4 points per game in that stretch.
  • They have not scored more than three points in the first half since Week 12, when they scored 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Why are they this bad?

That’s a loaded question. There are many reasons, and these are listed in no particular order other than how they come to mind.

The Saquon Barkley injury. The mistakes of a young, developing second-year quarterback. The lack of imagination/aggressiveness at times of the offensive coordinator. The struggles of a young offensive line that may not yet have enough pieces. The lack of a true No. 1 receiving target.

The Barkley injury

Wayne Gallman has done a fantastic job since becoming the Giants’ primary running back. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and the Giants as a team average a perfectly acceptable 4.4 yards per carry. Gallman is third in the league in Rushing Yards Over Expected (47.4 percent) and Rushing Yards Over Expected Per Play (0.63), per Next Gen Stats. Great stuff, but most of it comes from Gallman pushing piles rather than making defenders miss.

Gallman isn’t Barkley. He doesn’t provide the same ability to turn a 10- or 12-yard run into a home run that Barkley did his first two seasons. In 2019, the Giants had 16 runs of 20 or more yards even though Barkley missed three games and wasn’t healthy much of the year. In Barkley’s tremendous rookie season, the Giants had 24 such runs.

Barkley was 18th last season in Sharp Football’s Explosive Run Rate at 12 percent. Gallman is 46th in that category this year at 10 percent. Barkley was also at 12 percent as a rookie.

This season, the Giants have 11 runs of at least 20 yards. They have a 60-yard Gallman run and an 80-yard Daniel Jones run/face plant, but for the most part the home run just isn’t there in the run game.

Daniel Jones’ ball security

The second-year quarterback has committed far too many turnovers in his young NFL career. In 26 games Jones has thrown 21 interceptions and fumbled 28 times, losing 16. That’s 37 turnovers, or 1.4 per game. Too many. No one will argue that fact.

Thing is, Jones is getting better in this area. He has not thrown an interception in five games. He did fumble three times, losing one, against the Arizona Cardinals. In my view, you can’t hold that game against him. He was a sitting duck who couldn’t protect himself from pass rushers. Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, Jones took a number of big shots and managed to protect the ball while absorbing those hits.

Jones’ injury hasn’t helped. The Giants had scored 20 or more points in six straight games when Jones was injured against the Cincinnati Bengals. They haven’t scored 20 points in the five games since.

Offensive line play

Everyone calls for the Giants to be more aggressive in their passing attack, to take more downfield shots. Thing is, you have to be able to protect long enough for receivers to run those routes and for the quarterback to throw them.

Simply put, the Giants have not been able to do that. There is evidence that the Giants finally have some young, promising players to build with on the offensive line. The 2020 season, though, has been a struggle.

Left tackle Andrew Thomas has shown improvement, but the first half of his first NFL season was ugly. Rookie Shane Lemieux is a promising player with a major weakness as a pass blocker. Nick Gates is becoming an excellent center, but it took a while for him to adjust to his new position. At right tackle, Cam Fleming has shown why he is an excellent swing tackle but probably shouldn’t be a 16-game starter, and rookie Matt Peart has had ups and downs.

There might still be more work to do with this group. Do they believe in Peart long-term? Do they believe in Will Hernandez and Lemieux as long-term solutions at guard. The lack of playing time for Hernandez since he returned from COVID-19 has been mystifying, especially as pass rushers have continually run past Lemieux (5 sacks, 24 total pressures, a 13.8 Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade in 268 snaps).

Receiving issues

I will get to wide receiver in a minute as it’s a major part of this discussion, but let’s spend a minute on the tight ends.

We know that Evan Engram is a Pro Bowl player who has not played at a Pro Bowl level. He makes an occasional big play, but he drops too many passes (9 drops this season, or 8.6 percent of his targets) and doesn’t make enough plays. Giants quarterbacks have a pitiful 59.1 passer rating throwing to Engram.

There is another issue, and for me it really came to light against the Cleveland Browns. The Browns (14 percent) are the only NFL team that uses 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) more than the Giants (10 percent).

The Giants have 61 receptions from Engram, which leads the team. They only have 17 from Kaden Smith and four from Levine Toilolo. All three of Cleveland’s tight ends are receiving threats. Austin Hooper has 42 catches, Harrison Bryant 24 and third tight end David Njoku has 17. The total numbers — 82 receptions for Giants tight ends to 83 for Cleveland’s — is a wash. The distribution, though, has to help the versatility of the offense.

Now, on to the wide receivers.

There are two issues — separation and yards after catch.

There are 127 receivers, tight ends included, who have been targeted at least 40 times. Sterling Shepard is 56th in separation (3.1 yards), Engram is 68th (3.0), Darius Slayton 118th (2.3) and Golden Tate 122nd (2.1). Now, look at the list from Next Gen Stats and some of the best receivers in the league are near the bottom in separation. Still, as a whole this means too many tight-window throws, too many times no one is open and the quarterback is stuck holding the ball too long and not nearly enough easy completions.

When it comes to yards after catch per reception, Engram (4.8 yards) is 52nd, Slayton (3.3) is 108th, Shepard (3.2) is 113th and Tate (2.4) is 123rd.

That means that in a league where offenses are designed to create yards after catch and offenses rely heavily on that yardage, the Giants have a group of catch and fall down receivers.

The numbers for the 32-year-old Tate are particularly stunning. He entered the season with 1,003 yards after catch the past five seasons, most in the NFL. He has long been one of the league’s best at creating yards after catch. Even last season he averaged 5.8 yards after catch. This season, Tate has just 82 yards after catch, and the 2.4 yards he averages is less than half of what he averaged a season ago.

Dave Gettleman

Of course, the general manager has to be part of the discussion. He drafted Jones. If Jones turns out to be the right long-term quarterback, he will look great for that much-debated decision. If not, a quarterback mistake that sets the franchise back will be part of his legacy. In my view, we don’t know the answer yet.

The offensive line struggles are also on Gettleman. This is version 3.0 of his offensive line restructure. There are promising signs with the young talent the Giants have accumulated. Still, it’s fair to say there have been too many missteps and the process of building a competent line is taking too long.

At wide receiver, we have to talk briefly about the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. The trade is not the problem. In my view, it never was the problem. The problem has been not finding a difference-making receiver to put in Beckham’s place.

Gettleman did draft Slayton, and he deserves plaudits for finding a really good receiver on the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft. The more we see Slayton, though, the more evidence we get that he’s a player who can be dealt with by the league’s better cornerbacks or by rotating coverage in his direction. He’s not a true No. 1.

Gettleman brought in Tate to replace Beckham. Signing a fading veteran to a four-year, $40 million contract was always questionable. It has gone badly.

How much influence coach Joe Judge had on this decision is unknown, but the Giants also ignored a talented wide receiver class in the 2020 draft. It’s cherry picking and not a shot at the player the Giants took, but just as an example of what the Giants could have done Chase Claypool and Denzel Mims were both available to the Giants in Round 2 when they took safety Xavier McKinney.

Jason Garrett

The Giants brought in Garrett to run their offense after the Dallas Cowboys fired him after 10 years as head coach. Garrett was expected to a more vertical passing attack to the Giants, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

Daniel Jones has only 9 touchdown passes after throwing 24 as a rookie. His yards passing per game is down from 232.8 to 208.8. All of the various ‘yards per attempt’ metrics for Jones are down — albeit slightly.

Some of the reasons for these things have been detailed above. Still, when the offense is bad the guy who designed it and calls the plays has to take a hit.

Garrett has done a good job figuring out what Gallman and Alfred Morris can do, incorporating Daniel Jones when he was healthy, and figuring out what the Giants can block effectively, in the run game.

Mark Schofield and Nick Falato can do a far better job than I breaking down passing concepts, but Garrett’s route combinations (like four simultaneous ‘stick’ routes) have often been unimaginative. That has to be factored in when you look at the separation and yards after catch numbers for the receivers. They have to make plays, and too often they have come up short when they have had opportunities. Garrett, though, hasn’t always done a great job putting them in position to succeed.

Will Garrett remain as offensive coordinator beyond this season? He may get some head-coaching interviews, but I have my doubts that Garrett will land a new head-coaching gig in 2021. The real question is whether Judge likes what Garrett is trying to accomplish and thinks he just needs better players to accomplish it, or whether Judge believes Garrett is part of the problem.