The New York Giants tried to squeeze Zoom calls with special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett into a narrow 45-minute window before Wednesday’s mandatory mini-camp practice began.
Garrett, the guy who has the most questions to answer after a season that saw the Giants finish an untenable 31st in the NFL in scoring, was last in line.
That turned out to be unfortunate. McGaughey and Graham are both engaging, easy talkers who will stay at the microphone as long as there are questions to be asked/answered and time allows them to do so. That and a slight delay while media had to wait for Graham left Garrett with an abbreviated window in which to answer questions.
Fortunately, the normally reticent Garrett seemed to have points he wanted to make on Tuesday, and he made them whether he was asked directly about them or not.
Garrett knows last season wasn’t good enough. He knows that with the additions the Giants made on offense, the changes they made in the coaching staff and the fact that there is much riding on the 2021 season for quarterback Daniel Jones and others — perhaps including himself — that the performance has to be better.
At Big Blue View, we turned to quarterback analyst Mark Schofield a few times during the offseason to discuss ways the Giants could evolve on offense. Schofield wrote about using pre-snap motion, something the Giants did less often than almost every NFL team in 2020. Schofield also wrote about ways the Giants could scheme to get the ball to first-round pick Kadarius Toney without asking him to run complex pass routes.
On the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, former scout David Turner talked about being excited to see what Garrett, a long-time friend, would do with a play-maker like Toney.
Garrett didn’t get deep into the weeds of Xs and Os, but did acknowledge that part of the year-to-year process is learning from what did and did not work the prior year.
“I think every year you go back and evaluate what you did and how you did it and ways you can do things better. Sometimes you say, ‘hey, we like how we do it that way’. Other times you say, ‘hey, we’ve got to teach that differently or come up with a new thought or a new idea,’ “ Garrett said. “I think that’s just part of the process and that’s how you grow and evolve as an individual coach and as a unit and ultimately as a team. We go through that process really every year and that’s the process we went through this past year. There’s some good things that we did.”
Garrett thought it was a positive that the Giants cut down on turnovers, going from 33 in 2019 to 22 last season.
“The biggest issue with this team going into last year was obviously the turnovers. Over the last couple years, really just not giving the team enough of a chance to win, when you’re down 31, 32 on turnovers and turnover ratio and the early part of the year we didn’t do a very good job of that. We continued that trend,” Garrett said. “If you look at us in the latter part of the year, we did a better job taking care of football and winning the turnover ratio, and that gave us a chance to win games down the stretch. That was a positive thing for our team. We certainly have to build on that and we have to become more explosive on offense, make big plays and score more points and that’s a process we are going through.”
The numbers back Garrett up on both counts. The Giants had 15 turnovers over their first eight games last season, and only seven over the second half of the season.
In terms of explosive plays, with Saquon Barkley out for the final 14 games and a lack of play makers at wide receiver, the Giants finished 25th in the NFL with an explosive play rate of just 8 percent, per Sharp Football Stats.
The Giants more or less overhauled the skill position players around Jones this offseason. They added a No. 1 wide receiver in Kenny Golladay, spent a first-round pick on Toney and added speedy wide receiver John Ross. Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph is now a Giant. Devontae Booker is the new No. 2 running back replacing Wayne Gallman.
Garrett knows improvement has to follow the upgrades in personnel.
“I think any time you add pieces, whether it’s in the draft or free agency, you’re obviously doing that to help improve your team, create competition, get guys out there that can help you and make plays and become more explosive. We are excited about the additions we have. We are trying to get those guys acclimated,” Garrett said. “We are also excited about the guys who were with us before and they have a year under their belt now. They will learn from those experiences and hopefully continue to grow. That’s the process we are in right now. We take it day-by-day. We are excited about this opportunity today, Wednesday. You learn from Tuesday. You try to get better on Wednesday and keep moving forward.”
There are two built-in reasons (excuses, if you want to use that word) for the struggles on offense last season. The number of young players the Giants were using, particularly at quarterback and on the offensive line, and the fact that the pandemic-driven lack of an offseason made it difficult for a team like the Giants with a new coaching staff to prepare adequately for the season.
There was a point several games into the 2020 season where Garrett, calling plays for the first time in more than a decade, admitted that he was still learning what his players could and could not do. That shouldn’t have been the case, and wouldn’t have been in an ordinary year with a normal offseason.
“I think the challenge of last year for everybody around the league was you had limited time in training camp and no preseason games. It was hard putting a new system in at the outset. You’re wondering what that volume is, what guys can handle, because the year isn’t really a typical year. You don’t get the reps on the field in practice and then the preseason games. So you had to grow and evolve and try to make those assessments as you went early on in the year and again I thought we got better as the year went on,” Garrett said. “To add a couple new pieces to the offense, I think the biggest thing we tried to do as coaches is try to evaluate the strengths of all of our players and try to feature them in that regard.”
Garrett knows that much will hinge on the development of the young offensive line. The Giants are banking on development and continuity rather than an influx of new talent on the line.
“The game starts up front as we all know so controlling the line of scrimmage both in the run game and the pass game will be critical for us just like it is for every team around the league and then you try to put the pieces in place, you put them together, you feature what they do best and hopefully you can make some plays and score some points,” Garrett said.
Garrett also addressed the new structure of the offensive line coaching staff. First-year offensive line coach Rob Sale and assistant offensive line coach Ben Wilkerson are getting input from Freddie Kitchens and long-time NFL offensive line coach Pat Flaherty.
“I think the guys have done a really good job responding to it, and obviously Pat Flaherty has coached in this league for a long time. He’s a great coach and he’s been a great addition to our staff. But Ben Wilkerson is still here as the assistant offensive line coach and exciting to have Rob Sale here as well,” Garrett said. “Seems like the guys have done a good job picking up some of the new techniques that we are trying to teach or some of the different things we are trying to do with our scheme and the guys have handled it well. Excited to be out on the field with our guys every day and you see them making progress really every time we go out there.”
Giants fans will be excited if that progress turns into more points and, ultimately, more victories in 2021.