clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Big Blue View mailbag: Punt returns, and a Saquon Barkley over-reaction

The mail’s here!

Let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and see what New York Giants questions we can answer this week.

Julian Roberts asks: How often do you think Dabs overrules Kafka’s play call during the game?

Ed says: Julian, I honestly don’t think Brian Daboll “overrules” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka at all. If he does, it is rare.

Daboll has talked about this. He is involved with Kafka during the week in setting up the game plan and going over what plays to use and when to use them. He knows what options Kafka has based on the situations. He has said that he knows from having called plays for a long time, that the worst thing a play caller can deal with is interference from the head coach while the play clock is dwindling and the play caller is trying to communicate a play to the quarterback.

Daboll and Kafka, who works from upstairs in the press box, communicate between offensive series. I think that’s when Daboll will offer input on adjustments he would like made.

Michael Feldman asks: My question is this: Has anyone done a statistical analysis as to whether it’s worth returning punts as opposed to just fair catching them? The downside - costly fumbles, penalties (typically for blocking in the back) and injuries (to James and now Jackson). The upside — potentially returning kicks for touchdowns. But here’s the thing - it’s very unreasonable to think James returns any punt for a touchdown as he’s just not fast or shifty enough. So the upside of a 20 or so yard return gets weighed against the fumbles, penalties and injury risk. Jackson could return a punt all the way, but then there’s the injury downside to a very valuable defender. And by the way, when James fumbled for the second time against Seattle. the smart move there was just to fair catch the ball and allow Jones to go to work. I believe this was a bad coaching decision and I don’t believe this is hindsight being 20/20. In fact I told my TV as much before James’ second fumble, lol. If you look at how the Giants have done this year on punt returns, it’s clear the net result of them choosing to return punts, rather than fair catch them, has hurt them dearly, with James’ fumbles costing them any chance to beat Seattle and with Jackson’s injury, not to mention the penalties against them on some of the returns. The costs clearly outweigh the benefits, if you ask me, particularly when you have a guy like James returning punts, and perhaps even when Jackson’s back there, but I’ve never seen any analytics on this.

ctscan123 asks: The injuries sustained by Jackson during his punt return represents a situation that is a huge pet peeve for me. Used to drive me crazy when Beckham would occasionally return punts. it’s the most dangerous part of the game, that’s why they changed the rules. Why would you risk an important starter on a kick off return or a punt when the upside is the difference of a few yards on average? How is an occasional 10 or 15 extra yards on a return worth losing your best cornerback? Are there any analytics that you’re aware of that support putting premium players in harms way in what I would imagine are pretty low leverage situations? What do you think? Would you have premium players on your team returning kicks and punts?

Ed says: I’m going to take these ‘what do you think of Adoree’ Jackson returning punts?’ questions together.

I was never in favor of Jackson returning punts. I am in favor of using your best players the best ways that you possibly can. It had been several years since Jackson had returned punts and even when he was doing it in Tennessee early in his career he was only an adequate returner. There was no evidence from Jackson’s history that there was enough potential reward to outweigh the risk of losing the team’s best cornerback on defense.

I don’t know of any studies specifically regarding the value of returning punts. What we do know is that field position matters. The closer you start to the opposing team’s end zone the more likely you are to score points. Here is a 2021 graphic from the 33rd Team that illustrates the point:

So, covering punts and kickoffs well matters. So, too, does having return men who can get some of what coaches call hidden special teams yards.

The Giants are 31st in the league in punt returns, averaging just 5.5 yards per return. They are 27th in kickoff returns, averaging just 20.1 yards per return. So, Giants returners (mostly Richie James and Gary Brightwell) are not providing them with any benefit. They are, in reality, hurting the team by not being at least league average.

It is beneficial to have quality returners — again, field position matters. If you have a player you KNOW is really good at one of those skills — like DeSean Jackson was earlier in his career — and you put him back to return at critical times, I’m good with that.

Max Bernstein asks: The Giants have the hardest remaining schedule in the league. And the injuries just keep piling up. As optimistic as I’m trying to be it just feels like we’re going to end up 8-9 or 9-8 when the dust settles. At the start of the season that would have been considered a hugely successful season. Is that still the case now? Or have the expectations for this squad shifted so much that 9-8 would be a disappointment?

Ed says: Max, there are two ways to look at it. Sure, there would be disappointment if the Giants get close to the playoffs and fall short. I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling that way. Still, the Giants are way ahead of where anyone realistically thought they would be. I mean, basically I figures not losing double-digit games would be a real sign of progress. The Giants need one more victory to guarantee that.

I know it makes some people mad when I say it, but Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen were not hired to win a Super Bowl in the 2022-23 season. They were hired to fix a broken team and build something long-term that would get the Giants back to being a consistent contender. A number of steps toward that have been taken this year, regardless of what happens the next six weeks.

Simon Hines asks: Darnay Holmes appears giving up more than his fair share of pass interference and defensive holding calls. Last night at least one of the calls looked very harsh. Has Holmes developed a reputation amongst officials for being ‘grabby’ and so now they’re watching him more closely?

Ed says: Simon, Holmes was flagged three times on Thursday with two penalties being accepted. He had only been flagged four times this season prior to that game. I do believe at least one of those calls was a mistake. Human beings make them. I don’t think Holmes has any kind of reputation. I think he was in a really difficult spot Thursday, and struggled.

Jerry Panza asks: Ed do you think Gary Brightwell ought to get more time handling our running game? Even Matt Breida looks more explosive than Saquon Do you think he is more injured than is being let on? Is it time to move on from Saquon Barkley?

Ed says: Geez, Jerry, let’s have a massive overreaction to a couple of sub-par games from Barkley. Yeah, benching or dumping Barkley and making Brightwell the featured back is the ticket to fixing the running game. That’s a good plan.

[I do pray that every reader can understand sarcasm without a sarcasm font.]

Reality is, Brightwell is an OK backup. He had a couple of nice runs taking advantage of the element of surprise, being the beneficiary of great play calls from Mike Kafka with attention focused on Barkley.

In reality, what we have seen the last couple of games is why you don’t make a decision on Barkley’s future — whether to play, what to pay him, etc. — until the season is over and all the evidence is in.

Barkley is still the Giants’ best offensive player.

Bill Lamont asks: Is the improved play by a number of Giant players a function of the coaching/scheme or is the front office great at discovering hidden gems and the synergy of getting what the coaches need or both. As an example some players that played in the New England coaching/scheme were not as productive elsewhere?

Ed says: Bill, I think it is partially both. Every coaching staff talks about using players to their strengths and putting them in position to succeed. Not every coaching staff manages to do that. I think there are a lot of coaches around the league trying to shove square pegs into round holes because whatever scheme they run is the only thing they know, or the only thing they are invested in.

Daboll and his staff have been really good actually figuring out what players can do, and using them that way.

The other part of that is there has to be communication and trust between the front office and coaching staff. The GM has to know what they coaching staff needs and be willing to give that to them. It can’t be about what the GM thinks the coaching staff should have. That’s why Daboll and Joe Schoen coming in together and wanted to work side by side is such a good thing.