The dysfunctional, confusing, inept way the New York Giants’ offense performed on Monday night, and the lack of tangible progress over a season-and-a-half, left the Giants no choice but to fire now-former offensive coordinator Jason Garrett this week.
Did the Giants wait too long to make that move? Perhaps. No matter how well the Giants do “collaboratively as a group” (cough-cough with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays) the rest of the way making a playoff run is highly unlikely.
Maybe the Giants should have fired Garrett after last season, when they finished 31st in the league in scoring. Yours truly did not think so, believing continuity would help Daniel Jones and that Garrett deserved a chance to coach through a real offseason and see what he could do with upgraded offensive personnel.
Maybe they should have fired Garrett when they started 0-3. Or, when they were 1-5. Or, during the bye week rather on a short week made even shorter by the presence of a holiday stuck in the middle of it.
They did not do any of those things. Head coach Joe Judge, who said bluntly on Tuesday that “I hire the staff” has to own that. Right decision or wrong decision.
What’s done, though, is done. As Judge said many times on Tuesday, the Giants simply have to score more points than the 18.9 they are averaging through 10 games. How many more? Well, for argument’s sake, let’s put the over/under at 24.6. That is what the San Francisco 49ers, 16th in the 32-team NFL in scoring, are averaging.
Can the Giants match or exceed that number over the final seven games? Let’s look at some of the things they need to accomplish to get there.
Get the ball to the right players
Coaches will always tell you that it’s about the players and not the plays. Judge, in fact, used that line on Tuesday in discussing the offense. Problem is, under Garrett the Giants seem to have forgotten that basic tenet of good coaching.
You can’t throw screen passes to the plodding Kyle Rudolph or fourth-string tight end Chris Myarick, no matter how good you think the play design is. Not when you can throw that screen pass to the speedy Evan Engram. Or Saquon Barkley. Or Devontae Booker. Or anyone who might make a would-be tackler miss.
You simply can’t get Barkley back in your lineup and then hand him the ball only six times, abandoning even the pretense of trying to run the ball right from the beginning. Even if the hesitating in the hole and plethora of 1-yard gains make you crazy, you have to give Barkley more chances to do Barkley-esque things.
The Giants signed (overpaid?) Golladay to be their No. 1 receiver. They need to give him a chance to be that. Golladay averaged 6.68 targets and 3.9 catches per game in four seasons with the Detroit Lions. He is averaging 4.85 targets and 2.9 catches as a Giant. He has been a non-factor in the red zone (more on that later) and has been ignored in too many critical moments, like not even being on the field Monday on a fourth-and-1 play. That has to change.
Evan Engram averaged 7.32 targets and 4.32 catches over his first four seasons. Those numbers are 5.9 and 3.9 this season.
Rudolph was signed to be a red-zone target and a chain-mover. You can’t be those things without opportunities. Rudolph is averaging career-lows in targets, yards per reception, receptions per game, yards per game and yards per target.
Kadarius Toney leads the Giants in targets (48) and receptions (35). The Giants have yet to use him as a runner, and I would like to think there are some unexplored avenues in the passing game to get him the ball and let him use his catch-and-run skills.
Be better in the red zone
We covered this on Monday, before the Tampa Bay game and before Garrett was out of a job. It needs to be discussed again. Truthfully, it becomes an extension of our first topic — proper use of personnel.
The Giants are last in the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They have scored on just 12 of 27 opportunities (44.4 percent). The Giants are just 17 of 38 passing (44.7 percent) with 5 touchdowns in the red zone.
They have thrown the ball to Rudolph in the red zone eight times, but he has just one touchdown. Golladay has only a single red zone target. That has to change. Engram has only three, with one score. Toney’s escapability may not be as valuable in the compressed red zone area, but he has only three targets in that part of the field and needs to be better utilized.
One other thing I would like to see the Giants consider is spreading the defense with at least four wide receivers in short-yardage or tight red zone situations. We have consistently seen them fail to run the ball successfully in short-yardage situations. The Giants are the league’s 30th-ranked run blocking team per Football Outsiders, and they just don’t have the offensive line to overpower teams in short-yardage situations. Spread teams out, change the numbers, use Toney, use Jones’ legs, give Barkley a lighter box to run in.
Run the ball more consistently
The offensive line personnel is what it is at this point. At times, especially in the last couple of games prior to the bye, the Giants have run the ball well enough. They need to get back to that. Whatever was working in those two games, use it.
My thought? Keep it simple. That’s how the Giants succeeded with Wayne Gallman a year ago. The run game was simple and repetitive, but it worked. The Giants found a couple of things they could block and Gallman could run, and just kept doing them. Use Elijhaa Penny more. Use Toney as a runner occasionally. Make sure Jones stays involved as a runner, though you obviously want to pick your spots to put him in harm’s way.
Barkley getting more comfortable should help. The Giants have to do more, though, than wait for Barkley to make magic happen.
Get Daniel Jones right
Maybe he wasn’t making a full-blown Josh Allen-esque Year 3 leap, but Jones was playing well during the first four weeks of the season. His passer rating was above 90 in all four of those games, twice above 100. He had just one interception, that coming on an end-of-half Hail Mary.
Jones was making good decisions. He was protecting the ball. He posted a career-best 402 yards passing in a Week 4 come-from-behind victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Then, things went south.
Jones suffered a concussion. Barkley got hurt. Golladay got hurt. Andrew Thomas got hurt. Sterling Shepard stayed hurt.
The Giants needed Jones to do more with less. Yeah, he had a really cool meme-worthy catch against the Carolina Panthers in Week 7, but he has not been able to deliver.
Since that Week 4 game, the most yards Jones has thrown for in a game is 242. He hasn’t reached 200 yards in the last two games. The turnovers, some on inexplicable decisions, are creeping back in. Jones has thrown six interceptions in the last five games.
Maybe Jones is pressing. Maybe this is what he is, a player who will tease at times with his arm and athleticism, but who just won’t make good decisions consistently enough to be a top-flight quarterback. Maybe it is as simple as he is an average quarterback who needs more help from his supporting cast, including better play-calling, than what he has been getting.
Jones has a 92.8 passer rating this season when kept clean. A 63.9 passer rating under pressure. He has been under more pressure in recent weeks, sacked 13 times in the last five games after being sacked only eight times before his Week 5 concussion.
Whatever the reason for the decline, the Giants need to get better quarterback play over the final seven games.