The New York Giants have undergone a metamorphosis in 2020. Much like 2016 and 2018, there’s a ton of change that has materialized at 1925 Giants Drive in East Rutherford, N.J. Due to the lack of victories through the last two regimes, it’s difficult for Giants fans to maintain that sanguine attitude that was once a staple of this franchise.
I feel pretty good about the direction of the team with new head coach Joe Judge. There’s a lot of uncertainty with a rookie head coach and a relatively new defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham, but I attempt to maintain positivity as the wind of change has engulfed Big Blue once again.
One change is, of course, the hiring of Jason Garrett as the offensive coordinator. As many of you know, Garrett was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, from midway through 2010 till 2019 where his contract with the Cowboys was not renewed. Garrett was the offensive coordinator for the Cowboys from 2007-2010, and before that was the quarterbacks coach with Nick Saban in Miami for two seasons.
He also has a 15-year professional career as a quarterback, mostly as a backup, and even had a stint backing up Kerry Collins from 2000-2003, on his resume. Before I delve into the X’s and O’s of this hire, I want to stress the importance of developing a young quarterback. Garrett inherited a young Tony Romo who had one year of starting experience. Garrett spent just under a decade with Romo and helped assist him with an arguable Hall of Fame career. Insert a rookie 2016 fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State, Dak Prescott, and then one can glean the expertise of Garrett’s ability to develop the position he played professionally.
With a good offensive foundation around him, Prescott was able to throw for 23 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in his rookie season, while having his completion percentage above 65 percent in three seasons, outside of his sophomore campaign. One must credit the development of Prescott to his head coach, who was the constant with Prescott, who played with two offensive coordinators in Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore.
The development of Daniel Jones is paramount for the Giants and Judge stressed the importance of bringing in teachers who can inculcate assignments to the players, not just coaches who recite. This is one important aspect of Jason Garrett that I enjoy; a Princeton graduate who has been applauded for teaching. There have been gripes about Garrett’s play calling in the past, and no one’s perfect, but I feel Judge hired a coordinator with head coaching experience and the ability to teach, which was one of his missions upon being hired as the head man.
Garrett hasn’t called plays since 2010. As you know, the NFL changes over the years, so there’s a bit of prognostication on how he will call plays in today’s NFL, but I believe it’s important to see the concepts that he relied upon as a play-caller in the past. Garrett’s offense was more Air Coryell than West Coast, which is the type we Giants’ fans have been accustomed to under Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. The verbiage is different as are some of the concepts, for Coryell is more known for key utilization of the tight end position, and a more vertical based offense, rather than horizontal, but again these aren’t cut and dry rules;
Garrett utilized a lot of quick slants off the line of scrimmage to win in the past. Think about all the times Dez Bryant would take advantage of a Giants corner not playing inside leverage? If it wasn’t that, it was Witten over the middle of the field, time and time again, but I digress. What I saw from Garrett’s offense was a lot of pre-snap movement to create mismatches vs man or to find advantageous areas of the field against a zone, along with a lot more pin-pull and power type of running concepts than us Giants fans are accustomed to running. Garrett also used inside zone and a lot of outside zone depending on the matchups (see 2019 Week 9 against the Giants, brutal). I saw the necessary adjustments against specific defensive coordinators, something a lot of Giants fans grumbled about Shurmur, and I also saw a lot of different personnel packages, not just 11 personnel, which was the all too constant with McAdoo’s offense.
Here’s Week 2 of the 2009 season where the Cowboys hosted the Giants. With the hire of Garrett, the one Giants’ player that I am most excited for is Evan Engram, who has a ton to prove going into a potential contract season. He possesses all the athletic ability a team would want in the tight end position, but was both misused under Shurmur, and was often injured, so 2020 is a gigantic year for the 25-year-old.
You see the Cowboys line up strong to the boundary with 13 personnel and the one wide receiver on the field side being off the hash by about three yards, which leaves a ton of uncovered space to the field pre-snap. Right before the snap, Witten motions to a modified H-Back position to the field. The Cowboys hit the Giants with a play-action pass to the field, by the numbers, to a wide-open Witten. The play-action forces the linebackers to respect the run and keep the secondary on their toes as well and the tight end can angle his route towards the sidelines near the sticks on a first-and-10. After reviewing a lot of Garrett’s tape as a coordinator, I came away intrigued by how he would employ the tight end position; multiple tight end sets, tight ends in the backfield in a two-wing formation, as an H-Back, inline, and split out wide isolated, you see that below in the second clip vs. the Giants.
The Cowboys come out with a 3x1 set, with an inline tight end to the strength. A wide receiver is in a plus split of about 5 yards off the numbers, which forces the Giants to shade in that direction due to the space and the number of Cowboy pass-catchers. This creates isolation for Martellus Bennett (80) who is the second-string tight end. Bennett is off the numbers by about 5 yards to the boundary, which isolates him against Terrell Thomas (24). The near safety to Bennett is a yard inside the near hash, which gives him a considerable amount of ground to cover. Bennett runs an easy inside hitch for about 8 yards. This is easy yardage because of the scheme and the superior athletic ability of Bennett as a tight end, who can create separation and sell a vertical stem against a cornerback. This prompts me to look at potential late-round tight ends in the upcoming draft: i.e. Adam Trautman from Dayton or Josiah Deguara from Cincinnati. Multiple talented tight ends would help the Giants and Kaden Smith figures to fit in this fixture as well.
The first clip in this video is another clip of the Cowboys red zone offense under Garrett. This one is against the Chargers in a one-score game. It’s a second-and-goal and the Cowboys have two receivers up top, with Miles Austin (19) and Witten at the bottom. A good play action by quarterback Tony Romo forces the team to bite up and Miles Austin fakes the block which allows for him to blow past the corner and the safety, who he was intending to “block” for the touchdown. On the backside of this play, Garrett had a smash concept called, which is a staple of a lot of modern passing offenses; the smash is a two-man route concept with the outside receiver running a quick hitch, pivot, or any type of non-crossing underneath route, and the second receiver runs a 7, or corner, route over the top. The point of the route combination is to create a high-low read on defenders, who usually sink to cover the 7 and allow for the underneath completion. Then it’s on the underneath receiver to make a man miss to pick up extra yardage. On this specific play, Romo had Austin open and didn’t need to entertain the smash concept, but I like the play call against this two-high defense in the red zone, it puts that far underneath defender in conflict and that is the job of an offense - to put defensive players in conflict and force them to make tough decisions quickly.
A big gripe about former Giants’ head coach, Pat Shurmur, was his inability to maximize his offensive weapons as an offensive head coach; two of those weapons that were mostly on Giants’ fans minds were running back Saquon Barkley and Engram, especially the utilization of Engram in the vertical passing game. I saw a lot of plays from Garrett’s offense, like the one above, where the tight end wasn’t just used as a check-down or on a drag route, but in the vertical passing game. The tight end was used to create mismatches against safeties and linebackers. This was of course with Jason Witten, a potential hall of fame tight end, but not the athlete of Evan Engram. I would love to see Engram used in this manner; above you see a second-and-13 in 11 personnel with Witten to the boundary. Witten gets depth on the underneath coverage of Lance Briggs (55) and in between safety Chris Harris (46). These are the types of routes Giants’ fans have been waiting for and I am hopeful Garrett will employ Engram in this manner, for it would be excellent for the offense and young quarterback Daniel Jones. The second clip is a play-action rollout to the field from 12 personnel, with both tight ends to the boundary and both receivers to the field. The play-action is towards the tight ends to the boundary and is a wheel route after the drop back; then the two tight ends create a high low in the middle of the field with two vertical stretches from the receivers. Again, you see Bennett heavily involved, so either Kaden Smith can assume this role or this draft could become even more interesting in the latter parts.
Multiple tight ends on the line of scrimmage aren’t the only employment of this type of personnel package that Garrett has dabbled with; he has also used 2 running back personnel groupings: 21, 20, and even 22 personnel at some points, and he doesn’t hesitate to line tight ends in the backfield. Here’s an important third-and-9 in 11 personnel, but with Jason Witten in the backfield to resemble a 20 personnel look. Cowboys keep the running back in to pick up the corner blitz and Romo recognizes the blitz and hits the backside receiver for an 8-yard gain, but it’s the utilization of Witten in the backfield that catches my eye. The second clip is a similar look only with a tight end inline to the field, rather than a wide receiver, but here Witten releases out towards the sticks and creates a high-low with a receiver to the boundary, who finds the soft spot in the zone coverage, mostly due to Witten’s presence near the sticks.
The quick slant is a more West Coast-based route, but it was featured a lot throughout the Cowboys while Garrett was there as an OC and a head coach. Garrett comes out here in a very important fourth-and-10, 11 personnel, and runs a skinny post by the #2, with the tight end taking the linebackers on a cross, and the #1 releasing outside towards the sidelines to draw the overtop coverage. Well schemed against a defense that allowed the numbers to win. The second clip just shows some red zone trickery from Garrett’s offense from 21 personnel on a first-and-10. All game the Giants were crashing hard down the line of scrimmage, so the Cowboys adjusted to the strength of the Giants, is their defensive line, and tricked their aggressive nature by hitting them with a reverse to the field, with Witten, Roy Williams (11) and backside guard Kyle Kosier (63) lead blocking with all the space they needed to pick up huge yardage. Romo even got in on the action of blocking, but it was a well-designed play and it fooled the Giants in a big situation.
The Garrett hire carries negative connotations because he “failed” as a head coach and because he’s been an easy target and labeled as mediocre for the last several years. I don’t like viewing the hire in this manner; it lacks nuance and is lazy. Do I have a slight concern about situational play calling and his offensive evolution through the years - yes. We haven’t seen these materialize, especially with this personnel grouping, so questions should be asked, but that shouldn’t engender automatic discrimination against the hire. I look for a unique utilization of Evan Engram, a more power/gap running style from the Giants rushing attack which should bring out the best in OG Will Hernandez, and an ability to attack specific defensive coordinators critical vulnerabilities. These were the biggest criticisms of Pat Shurmur last season as the play-caller. I’m sure I speak for a lot of Giants’ fans when I say that I’m just happy that our head coach isn’t calling plays. There is now an actual chain of command that should help alleviate the overall responsibility of the team’s coaching staff. I, for one, am incredibly happy about this fact.