Michael Lombardi, former Cleveland Browns GM and a three-time Super Bowl-winning NFL executive, dropped by the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast this week to offer his take on a variety of Giants-related topics.
We touch on the Giants’ fast start, Daniel Jones’ future, the work done by Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen, why the Jacksonville Jaguars are favored over the Giants on Sunday, and much more. Below, my interview with Lombardi, now host of “The Lombardi Line” on VSiN. If you would prefer, below the player our chat in Q&A form.
Are you buying the Giants as a real playoff contender?
“Well, you can’t dispute the record is what Bill Parcells once said — you are what your record says you are. And I think they’ve done a wonderful job of managing the game, of staying attached to their opponents, of getting the game into the fourth quarter. And then in the fourth quarter, they’ve been very good. And they’ve been able to win the fourth quarter and overcome some obstacles. They beat Baltimore in the fourth quarter. They come back and beat Tennessee in the fourth quarter, Carolina in the fourth quarter.
“So I think that every game whomever they play, whether it’s Jacksonville, whether it’s Detroit, whomever they play, it’s always going to be the same game. And they’ve got to continue to find ways to win in the fourth. I think if they ever get to a situation where they play an elite quarterback now, you said they played Green Bay, they did. Not sure Green Bay’s offensive elite, but they got to stay attached to them, and they’ve got to be able to protect the football, which they’ve done very well. They’ve only had six turnovers all season. They protect the ball, keep the game to the fourth quarter. It proves the point that Parcells used to teach everybody and obviously it went up went to [Bill] Belichick that you’ve got to avoid losing before you can win. And that’s what they’re doing.”
Is the way the Giants are winning sustainable?
“Most games in the NFL are lost not won. Let’s be clear, teams turn the ball over, they have penalties. They play poorly in the red zone, situational football. What are the key components of winning games in the NFL? The Giants have been able to do a good job in those areas, and they’ve let the other team kind of melt down. This is the fifth-best red zone defense in football. That’s a really important stat. They’re the fourth-best third down defense in football, that’s a really important stat. So, when you’re good in those two areas, you prevent scoring, prevent touchdowns, and you get off the field on third down, that is a sustainable issue.
“Now, when they play Philly, when they play against some of the better offensive teams, it’s going to be a little bit more challenging. They’ve done a great job of managing their quarterback. They’ve done a good job of keeping him from beating them, essentially. He’s only thrown two picks all year. He’s had four game-winning drives. Think about that, right? And he only has 107 completions after six games.”
Is Daniel Jones showing enough to be the Giants’ quarterback for the next couple of years?
“Well, I think it’s all value, right? I mean, you have to appraise the property. And that’s what most general managers are — they’re appraisers. I think when you study Daniel, they’re the worst team explosive plays in the National Football League. They’re not taking chances, they’re managing him. And I say this respectfully to Daniel Jones, because most quarterbacks with the exception of very few have to be managed. They have to have the right skill set around them, they’ve got to be put into the right situations and taken advantage of.
“The Giants have only attempted 159 passes all season really for six games. That’s not a lot. And he doesn’t make plays down the field. He averages under seven yards a catch, which, to me you have to be in the mid-sevens to be a legitimate winning playoff team. But, they’ve manage him and he’s done a good job and [Saquon] Barkley’s been sensational running the ball. They’re never going to win the yardage. They’re never going to look flashy. They’re just going to be in the game in the fourth quarter, and hopefully win it there.”
Could Jones at least be a bridge quarterback as the Giants try to build the roster?
“I think to me, that really comes down to do you want to pay Daniel $35 million? I don’t. Is he worth $35 million? No. You’ve got to appraise him. Would he be an $18 million dollar a year player? You’ve got to compare him to what other player you could use for $18 million. Nobody’s gonna go out and give Daniel Jones a $50 million a year contract. No team is going to do that. No team is going to go out there and overpay him. They see the same things you see, they see limitations, they see that he still fumbles the ball in the pocket, they see the Giants doing a wonderful job of managing [him].
“Now, just because he’s free, doesn’t mean he gets $50 million. Just because you’re a free agent doesn’t mean you’re gonna get $40 [million]. It’s all about value. And I think that’s that’s exactly the job of the Giant front office is to put a value on this and to determine, really, what he is worth, and what he’s worth comparative to other players that are available. This isn’t let’s sign Daniel, it’s let’s look at all our options, and then make the best decision.”
How do you look at the Giants’ decision to hire GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll? How do you assess the job they are doing?
“Well, after having five years of winning 22 games, I think if you continue to go down the same path, that’s called stupidity. And I think that John Mara is one of the nicest people on the planet, and you want him to succeed. But obviously, the people that he had around him didn’t really allow that. And they made a lot of decisions based more out of loyalty. I think if you really sum up the Giants, it’s more they are overly loyal to their people. And they keep people probably longer than they should. And I think sometimes you need a fresh change of pace, you need a fresh look. And I think Joe has brought that. I think Brian’s brought that. Those two guys are united at the hip.
“Over the last five years, whether it’s been [Ben] McAdoo, whether it’s been [Pat] Shurmur, whether it’s been [Joe] Judge, there’s never been true alignment with the front office. There’s never really been true alignment. They’ve never seen the game the same way.
“If you study the history of the NFL teams that win there’s perfect alignment. You could say well Parcells and George Young weren’t always aligned. Yeah, in some degree, that’s true. But they were aligned in terms of how to build the team — size, speed, physicality, how they wanted to play the game, there was total alignment there. They maybe disagreed or whether they should pick Joe Morris or Butch Woolfolk, or whoever that was, but there was alignment on the construction of the team. And there was honesty in the evaluation of the team. That’s something that was missing with the Giants. They were never really honest about their own evaluation. And I think that that’s changed. And I think that’s for the better, and that’s why they’ve been more successful.”
How much credit should Daboll get for the 5-1 start?
“Well, I think he deserves a lot of credit. I think the staff deserves credit. I’ve said this on my podcast many times. I think that when you watch Mike Kafka call plays, he calls plays like a head coach. He’s not trying to win the yardage. He’s not trying to go out there and show people that he’s this brilliant offensive mind and that he’s calling plays like he lives in a basement in Des Moines. He’s calling plays to allow his team to manage the game and give himself the best chance to play. They’re one of the slower teams in the league in terms of pace per play, and there’s a reason for it, right? Because they don’t want to play too much defense. Martindale’s done an incredible job, just look at their situational defensive football, as I mentioned earlier, third-down defense, red zone defense, those are areas, and pressuring the quarterback. Those are areas where really that’s where they’ve excelled.
“Brian hired the people, he put them in place, and he’s done a good job of not getting caught up with ‘I gotta call the plays.’ He took a step back, saw the game from 30,000 feet, and he’s managed the in-game really well.”
Why are the Jaguars at 2-4 favored over the Giants at 5-1?
“Well, Jacksonville is the more talented team. Let’s just put that out there. They are the more talented team. Jacksonville loses games because they don’t do what Brian Daboll’s been doing. They don’t manage the game always correctly, they go for it on fourth down when they’re one of the worst teams in the league in terms of fourth-down conversion. They pass up points at a ridiculous rate. They lost close games. They’re in the lead against the Colts pretty much most of the game. The last five drives in the game the Colts score points. They haven’t found a way to close out games. They truly get away from some of the things they do really well. They’re playing the Houston Texans, Houston’s in a seven-man front. They could have run the ball all day long against the Houston Texans. They ran for 136 yards, but they stopped running it and they lose the game, 13-6. They turn the ball over in the red zone. Last week against the Colts they run for 243, and really didn’t run it enough. They didn’t really run it enough in that game. So it’s a little bit of a misnomer. The Eagle game was played with rain, and Trevor Lawrence fumbled the ball four times, they turned it over five times. That was a closer game. This is a talented team.
They’ll [the Giants] have trouble blocking. They gotta get the ball out quick. And they’re gonna have to be able to pressure Lawrence. And they’re gonna have to be able to make him not have those easy throws, they run a lot of screens, they run a lot of different looks in terms of getting the ball out of his hands. And they’re a tough team to play down there.”
What do you make of Kadarius Toney? Should the Giants just try to move on from him?
“Durability is a trait, right? Durability is a skill set. You’ve got to be durable to get on the field. If you can’t play, durability offsets ability. So no matter how talented you are, if you can’t get on the field, you become a liability. Now, I’m not saying they should [trade him]. He has great potential. But I think ultimately, at the end of the day, he’s gonna have to figure it out. It’s a little too early to give up yet, because it’s only his second season. And certainly you wish that he would do more.
“And I don’t know the background. I don’t know if this is because he doesn’t work as hard to get ready, but when you have soft tissue injuries like this late in the year and you’re a skill player, that’s not good. And you never seem to overcome them. I mean, the guy [has] started five games in his NFL career. That’s all. He’s played in 12. Right? In those 10 games last year that he played he made some plays and he looked like he had a chance to be a breakout player. But at the end of the day, if you’re not durable you’re not helping your team, and the fact that he’s only been involved in in two games this season is kind of disappointing for his career, and he’s gonna have to get it turned around.”