For the first time this season, New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s focus has had to shift from his starting quarterback in Daniel Jones to veteran backup Colt McCoy.
After Jones suffered a hamstring injury in the Giants’ Week 12 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, McCoy entered the game - his first of the 2020 season. In the last five seasons the former Texas star has played in just eight NFL games, with three starts.
With 10 years of NFL experience, McCoy is no stranger to the game-like atmosphere. But is he confident under center? That’s where Garrett comes in.
“I think the biggest thing you try to do for a backup quarterback is just try to create a comfortable environment for him,” Garrett said in his press conference with the media Thursday. “That’s what you’re trying to do every week for your starting quarterback. I thought Colt did a really good job last week in the game getting comfortable and allowing us to function as an offense. If he does have to play in the ball game this week, hopefully he’ll be comfortable. You look for things in his past he’s comfortable with. With you or with somebody else. Just so when that ball is snapped, it’s all internalized in him. He’s just going out there and playing football.”
For Garrett, creating a comfortable environment for McCoy means embracing his strengths and understanding his weaknesses. Every offense is tailored to its quarterback and the one that the Giants field on Sunday against the 8-3 Seahawks will reflect McCoy instincts (if he is indeed the starter).
“There’s nothing mentally or physically that Colt is not capable of doing,” Garrett said. “There’s a lot of plays in football. Let’s run the ones that our quarterback likes to run and they’re comfortable running. You’re always trying to do that regardless of who’s playing. You’re probably a little bit more sensitive to that with a backup quarterback who hasn’t had the backlog of reps that the other guys have had. I just think you’re trying to customize it. I don’t think you’re cutting it down in any way.”
Just as the offense will be customized to the quarterback, Garrett will similarly embrace the strengths of all of the position groups - running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen - in order to create the best on-field product.
Garrett said that running backs specifically can be the “heartbeat” of a team. When Saquon Barkley went down in Week 2 with an ACL injury, the Giants and their fans thought the team had lots its pounding heartbeat.
But Wayne Gallman entered and ensured that New York never lost its pulse.
“It starts up front, but it’s really everywhere,” Garrett said. “Tight ends, receivers, fullback and certainly the guy who is running with the football. One of the things about Wayne that’s so impressive is he’s a really good athlete, quickness, speed, elusiveness. He’s also demonstrating a physicalness. His ability to finish runs has really been apparent to us. Certainly helped us a great deal as an offense and as a team.”
One of Gallman’s defining traits has been his ability to fall forward. Garrett comes from a Cowboys team that saw Emmitt Smith find success by managing to fall forward play after play.
“I really think in a lot of ways Wayne Gallman has been doing that for our football team for the last month and a half,” Garrett said. “The O-line has done an excellent job controlling the line of scrimmage. Wayne and the other backs have done a really good job kind of providing that same kind of the physicalness that you’re looking for in your team.”
Garrett stressed the importance of the offensive line in Gallman’s success. The young group of linemen, such as former first-round pick Andrew Thomas and Nick Gates, have progressed throughout the year despite a difficult indoctrination process with no preseason games and tough opposing defensive linemen.
“The best thing those guys did is they learned from their experiences,” Garrett said. “They got knocked around a little bit, there was some adversity. They kept learning and growing individually and collectively as a group. I think they understood more and more what we’re asking them to do. We all know that we’re so far away from where we need to be, but there’s no doubt here we’ve made progress in the last month and a half.”
This young o-line has helped the Giants find success in critical situations, such as fourth down and third-and-short plays. In last week’s win alone, New York successfully converted all three of the fourth down tries it attempted.
“They are not easy situations,” Garrett said. “They are ones that you have to embrace and really you have to convert. I think it starts with the guys up front, and the progress they’ve made here over the last six or seven weeks. I think our quarterback has played well. Our runners have played well. Everybody has got a piece of it. We try to prepare for them as best we can and put our guys in the best situations we can.”
Garrett said that fullback Eli Penny has been specifically crucial in the team’s high conversion rate in short yardage situations.
“Eli has been a really good player for us,” Garrett said. “Whatever we have asked him to do, he goes in and plays and is effective. As a blocker, as a runner, he’s just a good football player. He’s one of those guys that as a coaching staff you’re always saying, we have to find ways to get him more opportunities. Typically, good things happen when he’s out there. He had more snaps in the game the other day and again he took advantage of them.”
Though the Giants are without Barkley and potentially Jones in this upcoming game, Garrett has found a way to lead his offense to three straight wins in recent weeks - a trend that he will hope to continue in this final stretch of the season.