New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey spoke to the media earlier this week. The three provide some key insights from the team’s performance against the Chicago Bears and discuss how they are preparing to take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Having scored 16 points in Week 1 and just 13 points in Week 2, the Giants offense is the lowest scoring in the league after two weeks of play. Though there was no preseason this year for players to get their feet wet, Garrett knows that his offense needs to up its production if it is going to be competitive.
“What you’re trying to do with each phase of your team is you’re trying to put yourself in the position to win a game,” Garrett said. “Some games are going to be more lower scoring games because of the team you’re playing or the style you want to play. Other games, you might want to open it up a little bit more. Moving the ball on a more consistent basis, scoring points on a more consistent basis and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
After losing star running back Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (toe) against the Bears, the Giants offense is missing two of its leaders moving forward. It’s next-man-up mentality for Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman and newly-signed Devonta Freeman.
“We have a lot of confidence in the backs that we have here with Dion and Wayne and those guys will certainly get opportunities,” Garrett said. “For us to be able to sign a guy like Devonta Freeman is a real bonus for us. He’s a smart guy, he’s a football guy, he’s instinctive. We’ll try to get him up to speed as quickly as we can and just keep going back to work.”
Garrett stressed that the key to success on an offense that becomes riddled with injury is to remain flexible. Though Barkley and Shepard both played large roles in the Giants’ offensive scheme, Garrett knows that the team needs to adapt moving forward.
“If you have a player you want to feature either in the running game or the passing game, you have to be to able to do that seamlessly within your system,” Garrett said. “We believe we have a system that allows us to do that. In Week 1, we didn’t have Golden, so we used more three tight end type sets to try to take advantage of some looks in Pittsburgh. Last week, you try to do some different things against Chicago with the guys you have available to you. You’re always doing that, you’re always evaluating who you have, who you’re going against and what you want to do.”
Though the Giants will be without their No. 1 back in Barkley, Garrett said that it is his job as the coach to utilize the strengths and talents of other players in order to create a dynamic running game.
“When I was in Dallas, we had to defend [Barkley] a lot,” Garrett said. “The focal point of our defense was number 26. When you have different guys in the roles, maybe the focal point is not quite as narrow on that particular player. Maybe that works to your advantage a little bit.”
Just as the running back room needs to step up in Barkley’s absence, the receiving corps needs to find its strength without Shepard. Evan Engram was fairly invisible though about the first six quarters of the season, but seemed to resemble his old self in the fourth quarter against the Bears. Garrett highlighted how important Engram is to the success of the offense.
“He had some opportunities as that game wore on and he took advantage of them,” Garrett said. “He won some one on one matchups, he made some runs after the catch that were impressive for us. Big, explosive plays like we’re talking about. He’ll get better and better and better the more he plays.”
And the Giants need more of those explosive plays in order to score more points and put themselves in a better position to win.
“Those are a big part of scoring in this league,” Garrett said. “The best offenses I’ve been around have different guys who are capable of doing that. We feel like we have guys who can do that, and we just have to keep banging away. Making big plays has a lot to do with trying to put your players in the right position and simply executing. I think we’ve had some opportunities that we’ve taken advantage of.”
The Giants’ defense enters Week 3 just outside of the top 10 teams in the league in points allowed per game with 21.5. For Patrick Graham though, there is room for improvement and it is up to his defense to put the offense in a better position to win.
“I’m not content,” Graham said. “We all have to get better. I have to get better. I have to do a better job of coaching, I have to do a better job of calling the game. That’s how I see it. Everybody has to get better. Any time we get complacent in this league, it might be your last day, it might be your last year. Who knows? But I’m not ever going to get complacent. . We have to keep improving. Am I content? I hope not. If I do, then I’m probably at the end of my career.”
Graham is specifically avoiding complacency at the number two cornerback spot on the outside across from James Bradberry as players are continuing to compete for the position. The latecomer Issac Yiadom is trying to make up for lost time quickly and earn the spot.
“He’s working hard,” Graham said. “Extra time in the meetings with our younger coaches like Mike Trier and (Anthony) Blevins working with him. He’s getting all the coaching he can take and just trying to catch up because he wasn’t here for the spring.”
Corey Ballentine is also competing for that No. 2 spot, but he did not play much last Sunday especially after getting beaten badly on a Mitchell Trubisky 15-yard touchdown pass.
“In the meetings, he’s been great as we try to get caught up on the 49ers and the receivers we’re dealing with from them,” Graham said. “Corey’s preparation in terms of what he’s doing right now to get ready for the 49ers has been good. He’s practicing hard.”
Beyond the secondary, Graham said that he is impressed from what he has seen from Blake Martinez through two weeks of play. Martinez served as more of a cleanup guy when he was with the Green Bay Packers, but he has already showed that he has the ability to be more impactful near the line of scrimmage.
“I think Blake is playing at a good level in terms of getting to the ball, controlling the defense, manipulating the front, he’s being physical at the line of scrimmage,” Graham said. “The beauty about Blake is he usually knows when it’s not good enough so he works hard to get better. If it is good enough, he thinks he can do it even better. I couldn’t ask for more as a coach. But the relationship is he helps me more than anything, because he’s a good player who can execute. I just try not to mess him up.”
Heading into Week 3, Graham knows that Martinez and the rest of the defense will be challenged by the highly productive San Francisco running game.
“I can speak for myself, but in terms of wanting to get back at it, we have a big challenge this week to get back at the run game because they’re going to give us a healthy dose of it,” Graham said. “If we want to get better, which is always the goal, that’s what we’re dealing with right now.
“But again, I don’t want to talk about it because talk doesn’t mean anything, especially when you’re talking about the run game. To me, talk about the run game means absolutely nothing. We have to go out there on the field and execute. I’m looking forward to practice today, build upon that, and see how it comes to fruition on Sunday.”
As the special teams unit is finding its footing throughout the first two weeks of the season, McGaughey knows that mistakes are going to happen. He said that creating consistency within the unit as a whole takes time.
“It’s a process,” McGaughey said. “Throughout the process, you are going to find out who’s who. Who can do what and there are going to be some guys who rise in the process and they are going to be some guys that phase themselves out in the process. That’s the one thing we have to do, just stick to the process.”
Riley Dixon is important to the success of the unit overall. He averaged 46.1 yards per punt last season and has continued to execute deep punts successfully in the first two weeks of this season. McGaughey praised Dixon’s hard work and repetition.
“There’s no substitute for success,” McGaughey said. “That comes through hard work and that kid has been working his tail off. He’s been doing it for a long time... He has a really unique skill set and he’s very confident in himself. He knows what he’s doing and how to do it.”
Dixon brings experience to the special teams group, but many of the young guys on the unit did not have a preseason to prepare and are therefore very inexperienced. McGaughey highlighted the hard work of those young players, including C.J. Board, Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin.
“This is the first time some of these guys have ever done this,” McGaughey said. “It’s the first time they have ever done it on this level. It’s no different than when you try to do anything else for the first time, something new. There’s some things they have to learn. Each one of those guys individually has to work on the individual skill set and just understand the nuances of the positions that they’re playing and who they are playing against.”
In addition to the young players, Jabrill Peppers is also still working on becoming more impactful on special teams.
“Any time that guy has the ball in his hands, he has the ability to make a play,” McGaughey said. “We just have to understand as a punt return unit, the guy we got can make plays. We just have to make sure we do our job as individuals to make sure we contribute to him making that play.”