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With the heat on, how will Giants’ OC Jason Garrett respond?

After a dismal 2020 season on offense, the Giants are handing Garrett vastly upgraded personnel — will he be able to take advantage of it?

New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks
Jason Garrett
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

“Personnel, play-caller, protection.”

Back in January, quarterback trainer Tony Racioppi told the ‘Valentine’s Views podcast that a quarterback needs those three things in place to be truly successful.

The Giants believe the personnel is there. They have spent the offseason upgrading the weapons around quarterback Daniel Jones. Wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and John Ross have joined Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard. Accomplished veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph has been added. Running back Devontae Booker is a Giant. Star running back Saquon Barkley is said to be on track to start the 2021 season after tearing an ACL and missing all but two games last season.

The Giants believe the protection will be there. Despite last season’s offensive line woes, the Giants big move on the line was to subtract Kevin Zeitler — their most accomplished lineman. The Giants have adamant they believe their young line will grow, and they have revamped the offensive line coaching group with Rob Sale, Freddie Kitchens and Pat Flaherty all having some input.

The play-caller? That’s still Jason Garrett, and there can’t be any doubt that the offensive coordinator’s seat is a hot one entering the 2021.

The Giants scored 17.5 points per game a season ago, 31st in the NFL.

The mandate this offseason was clear. Get more offensive weapons. For too long, the Giants have been armed with a .22 while many of their opponents have taken AR-15s into battle. The Giants did everything they could this offseason to level that battlefield, and if everyone enters the season healthy you could easily argue that the Giants’ skill position players will be among the best in the NFL.

“There’s an attention here, a clear focus on making sure that there are people than can get open and give Daniel solutions from a player standpoint, and not put all the onus on him,” Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman said during a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast appearance.

“They’re adding guys that can go make those plays.”

Figuring out how to use them will be up to Garrett.

That, we know, leaves a queasy feeling in the stomach’s of many Giants fans.

Both Racioppi and Mark Schofield said in that previously mentioned mid-January podcast they supported Garrett’s return as offensive coordinator.

“People ask if Jason should be back. Absolutely I think Jason should be back. Listen, this year if they struggle big time or Daniel doesn’t play great or he plays the same or maybe he gets a little worse, OK, that’s a conversation to have next year,” Racioppi said.

“I’m looking for, now you know your pieces Jason, now you know what guys can do, hopefully you add some guys in free agency and the draft, things you miss in that offense that hopefully you can get and then adding stuff we’re talking about. Helping the young quarterback find completions.”

Racioppi said Jones seemed comfortable by season’s end.

“You see Daniel just so comfortable in things why would you want to change that up on him again?,” Racioppi said. “When you start understanding what the coach wants from you that’s when you can really take the next jump. Seeing the same concepts over and over and over again. It’s just different formations and window dressing, but it’s the same stuff, same concepts.”

Schofield said at the time that while Garrett “bears some responsibility” for the issues with the 2020 Giants’ offense that “stability around Daniel Jones is obviously huge” for the development of both the quarterback and the offense.

I, too, have supported bringing Garrett back for a second season running the Giants’ offense. Asking Jones to learn a new offensive scheme for the third time in three NFL seasons would have been difficult. Comfort with his play-caller and with what the Giants are trying to do schematically with their offense can only help Jones as he enters a critical season.

Garrett and the Giants, though, can’t just bring back the same traditional, somewhat vanilla, approach to offense.

We recently noted that quarterback Daniel Jones was statistically the NFL’s best deep passer in 2020. Yet, his 39 downfield attempts (20 or more air yards) were the fewest of any quarterback among the top 10 downfield passers last season.

With the downfield throw being a Jones’ strength, and players like Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Evan Engram and running back Saquon Barkley to throw to, the ball simply has to be thrown down the field more often.

Speaking of Toney, Schofield recently took a look at ways the Giants can get the ball to their first-round pick.

One thing we know for sure is that for the benefit of Toney — as well as Jones and the entire offense — pre-snap motion has to be a bigger part of the Giants’ 2021 offense.

The Giants, per Sports Info Solutions, were 31st in the league in employing pre-snap motion last season, using it on only 30 percent of their offensive snaps. Toney, in particular, is a player who benefitted at Florida from moving around.

It’s no coincidence that a list of quarterbacks who are the best at using pre-snap motion put together by Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire closely resembles a list of the game’s best quarterbacks, period.

It’s a detour from talking specifically about Garrett, but Farrar explains that there are really two different types of motion, and it’s worth briefly offer his takes on both:

When we talk about pre-snap motion, there are two obvious kinds: Motion to indicate, and motion to disrupt. Motion to indicate means that we want the quarterback to have an idea what the defense is doing based on the motion reaction of the defense. Generally speaking, if a receiver goes in motion and a defender follows, man coverage is coming. If the defense stays static and you see adjustment calls, it’s most likely zone. Some defensive coordinators are getting smarter about this, showing man reaction and playing zone and vice versa, and you can expect this to happen more often, but it’s usually helpful.

When we talk about motion to disrupt, we’re talking about the ability to use pre-snap motion to put a defense in a bad position — either by moving a receiver to a spot where he’ll face a defender who can’t keep up with him, or by using motion to establish route concepts in which primary defenders are taken out of the play altogether.

Back to Garrett. Regardless of whether it is motion to indicate or motion to disrupt, let’s hope we see less “line up and play” from the Giants in 2021.

David Turner, owner and president of Maverick Sports Consulting, is a former NFL talent evaluator who was a pro personnel intern with the Giants when Garrett was the team’s backup quarterback.

On a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, Turner talked about Garrett and whether he expects him to struggle incorporating Toney into the offensive.

“I’ve been to their house, sat with their dad, Jack, and watched him talk football. I’ve known that family for a long time, my whole career.They know football so well and you give him [Jason Garrett] a weapon like Toney I don’t think he’s ever going to have a problem figuring it out,” Turner said.

“I think he’ll be just fine throwing him some bubble screens, running some Z reverse stuff with him, giving him the short to intermediate routes where he can get the ball in his hands quick. Kadarius gives Jason a weapon that he hasn‘t had much in his career. So therefore we don’t know how he’s going to use him, but by me knowing him and the family and their creative nature I really feel comfortable he’ll find ways to use him.”

Another thing that would be nice is better use of Engram. I know that Engram’s inconsistency drives Giants fans crazy, and justifiably so. Whether you believe Engram dropped eight passes last season, as Sports Info Solutions and Stats.com credit him with, or 11, as Pro Football Reference lists him with, Engram’s inability to catch simple throws that hit him in both hands bordered on ridiculous in 2020.

Engram’s Average Depth of target (ADOT) of 6.9 and Yards Before Catch per Reception (5.8) were higher in Garrett’s offense than in two seasons under Pat Shurmur. His efficiency (57.8 percent reception rate), yards per catch (10.4), yards receiving per game (40.9) and receptions per game (3.9) all went down.

In 2020, 75 of Engram’s 102 targets came in the short area (0-9 yards) or behind the line of scrimmage. That’s 73.5 percent. Under Shurmur in 2019, it was 50 of 65 (76.9 percent). Not much difference.

The change, and it’s not one I can find data on, appeared to be that Shurmur featured Engram in crossing routes where his speed came into play. Garrett seemed to use him more in stick or comeback routes where the speed didn’t matter.

Since Engram came out of Ole Miss with 98th percentile speed for a tight end (4.42 40-yard dash) perhaps the crossing routes are a better fit for his skillset.

Some believe Garrett, a long-time favorite of the Mara family, has protection from ownership. Whether there is truth to that, I don’t know.

What is apparent is that there is pressure on Garrett in 2020. After all of the investments the Giants made to improve the offensive personnel, and adjustments in the coaching staff with Freddie Kitchens moving to senior offensive assistant and Rob Sale taking over the offensive, there must be significant improvement in 2020. Finishing 31st in the league and scoring fewer than 20 points per game is not going to cut it.

How Garrett responds to the challenge in one of the upcoming season’s fascinating storylines.