What is going on with the New York Giants’ offense?
As the Giants raced out to a surprising 6-1 start, perhaps over-inflating expectations for a team at the beginning of a new era with a rookie GM and head coach, the Giants’ offense was hardly a juggernaut.
The Giants passed for 200 or more yards just twice in those seven games, with a high of 213 yards passing in Week 5 vs. the Green Bay Packers. They won a game against the Chicago Bears while passing for 71 yards. They averaged a middle of the pack 21.4 points per game.
With the Giants winning, head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka were being lauded for getting maximum production out of less-than-ideal personnel. As Chris Pflum said when we discussed it recently, they were trying to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Some were wondering how long it would be before Kafka got his own head-coaching gig. And, consideration was being given to how much money it was going to cost to keep Daniel Jones at quarterback.
The Giants have gone 1-3-1 over their last five games. They have averaged just 19.0 points per game. Fresh in the minds of Giants’ fans and media pundits is the 20-20 tie with the Washington Commanders during which the Giants punted six straight times after taking a 20-13 lead, and had a string of four possession where they ran 13 total plays and betted just 2 yards. Questions about Jones’ future are popping up again.
Daboll, lauded for his aggressive mindset early in the season, is being criticized for the conservative choice to punt on fourth-and-3 at the Washington 45-yard line in overtime. The Giants’ seemingly increasingly cautious approach, and the lack of results, on offense has Daboll fielding questions about whether he will strip Kafka of play-calling duties and take those on himself.
Daboll said on Sunday that the Commanders had better second-half and overtime play calls on defense than the Giants had on offense. He repeated on Monday that Washington “played and coached better than we did ... pretty much in every way.”
Daboll will not, though, take the play-calling away from Kafka.
“I have a lot of confidence in Mike Kafka,” he said.
The question the Giants’ careful approach to offense in recent weeks leads to is who or what is it that Daboll and Kafka do not have confidence in? Do they not have enough confidence in Jones to allow him to make throws that involve risk unless absolutely necessary? Or, do they have confidence in the quarterback but not in what is around him?
Daboll wasn’t biting when asked about the perception that there is something about the offense he doesn’t trust.
“I trust the offense, and I trust the supporting cast,” he said.
Tom Rudawsky, former Giants scouting assistant and current member of the 33rd team, thinks it is a combination of both.
“Clearly this coaching staff doesn’t view DJ as “the guy” in my opinion, but it’s also hard to do anything with bad receivers and an OL that has dealt with injuries, too,” Rudawsky said. “That being said, I’m surprised at just how far they’ve taken it. Definitely a little different than the type of aggressiveness we saw early in the year.”
It does feel as though the Giants have turned inward offensively as the season has progressed. Is that really true?
The Giants did only pass the ball 17 times in their Week 8 victory over the Houston Texans, a game where it felt they could have won more easily had they opened their offense a bit. Instead, they rode a 35-carry, 152-yard game by Saquon Barkley.
Sunday against Washington, the Giants took back-to-back deep shots near the end of regulation. They were, though, extremely cautious when throwing the ball.
Jones threw 13 of 31 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, and six more within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Jones has only attempted 18 passes of 20+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage all season, 32nd among all quarterbacks this season.
So, what is going on here?
Personally, I find it hard to believe that this close to the vest, unimaginative style is the way Daboll and Kafka want to play offense. Daboll has been an offensive coordinator four times. His work with the Buffalo Bills, one of the best offense in football the past few years, is a big part of what got him the Giants job. Kafka is a former quarterback who learned offensive philosophy at the foot of Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs, perhaps the best and most creative offense in football in recent years.
You can bet they would like to open things up — if they felt like they could.
“You want to try to use your players’ strengths the best you can,” Daboll said before the Giants faced the Lions a few weeks ago. “I think we have a fair idea of what some of those are.”
The Giants don’t have Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. They don’t have Stefon Diggs, Isaiah McKenzie and Dawson Knox. They don’t have Travis Kelce or JuJu-Smith Schuster.
The Giants did not have great wide receivers to begin with. They have lost Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson for the season. They lost Collin Johnson before the year started. They have gotten even less that last season from Kenny Golladay.
Their best receiver, Darius Slayton, was seventh on the depth chart when the year began. He is having a good year, but he is still basically just a fast guy with bad hands. He has dropped six passes in 52 targets this season, a career-worst 11.5 percent drop rate. Can you really throw him the ball in a tight window over the middle?
Their second-best wide receiver, Isaiah Hodgins, is a waiver claim from the Bills. Aside from that, the Giants are running a bunch of guys out there who probably shouldn’t be playing offensive snaps for a team trying to make the playoffs.
The Giants have one reliable tight end, a rookie in Daniel Bellinger who was an afterthought in his collegiate passing attack at San Diego State, and who missed four games with an eye injury.
The Giants have had a couple of things going for them this season on offense. Jones’ decision-making and ability to protect the ball, as well as his ability to make yardage with his legs on both designed and non-designed quarterback runs.
The other was, at least through the Houston game, Barkley.
Since that Houston game, though, Barkley has carried 44 times for just 124 yards, 2.8 yards per carry. While Jones scrambled his way to 71 yards on 12 rushes vs. the Commanders, teams have done a better job defending the zone read and keeping him from getting the edge as a runner.
The biggest issue in all of this, most likely, has been instability in the offensive line.
The Giants started the same offensive line — Andrew Thomas (LT), Ben Bredeson (LG), Jon Feliciano (C), Mark Glowinski (RG), Evan Neal (RT) — the first seven games.
Bredeson and Neal were injured Week 7 against Jacksonville. Bredeson remains on injured reserve and Neal did not return to the lineup until Sunday vs. Washington.
The Giants have started a different offensive line in each game since that time. Joshua Ezeudu, Shane Lemieux, Jack Anderson and Nick Gates have started games at left guard. Gates started a game at center.
The following table from rbsdm.com shows the difference in offensive efficiency from Weeks 1-7, when the Giants were No 7 in EPA per play, to the last four weeks, when they have been 22nd. Mostly, that relates to the decline of the running game.
|EPA/Play||Success Rate||Dropback EPA||Dropback Success Rate||Rush EPA||Rush Success Rate|
|EPA/Play||Success Rate||Dropback EPA||Dropback Success Rate||Rush EPA||Rush Success Rate|
(The chart above shows the first seven games on the first line and the last five games on the bottom line).
Is Barkley completely healthy? Maybe not. Is he worn down a bit from the long season and a heavy workload. Maybe. In my view, the bigger issue has been the state of flux on the offensive line and at tight end. Run-blocking requires teamwork and that is difficult when you have different players on the line each week.
Bellinger and Neal are back now, and Gates appears to be settling at left guard — unless the Giants want to go back to Bredeson if and when he is ready. Perhaps that will help, at least somewhat.
Would I like to see a bit more creativity? Sure.
In the run game perhaps a bit of Wildcat, which we haven’t seen in several weeks. Maybe some two-back packages with Gary Brightwell, which worked nicely against the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe involve Richie James or Marcus Johnson and his 4.4 speed in the run game with an occasional jet sweep or reverse. Something to give defenses a little more to look at.
In the passing game I think everyone would love to see more mid-range passes — balls thrown in the 10-20-yard range. Can the Giants protect long enough to throw those? Can they get receivers open? Valid questions.
Daboll understands the scrutiny.
“Adversity and criticism come with the territory. I’ve been in, not this seat as a head coach, but a coordinator for a long time, and it’s a popular game followed by a lot of people. And I appreciate the support. You also appreciate the negativity or criticism,” he said. “If you want to be mentally tough and strong, this is the sport to be in, whether you’re a coach, whether you’re a player. And really, you can’t focus too much on that. You appreciate it. I think we’re all thankful for the support you get, but you just get back to work.
“There’s adversity after every loss, sometimes there’s adversity after a win. We’ve talked about that since probably April. There’s going to be ups and downs, and to stay mentally strong and focused on the task at hand, that’s not an easy thing to do all the time. But you need to do it. It’s a week-to-week league, so have we got the results we wanted? Absolutely not. Have we prepared, worked and done the right things to give ourselves a chance? We have. We just haven’t finished; we haven’t done enough to win those games.”
The Giants will perhaps be helped down the stretch by the returns of defensive players like Adoree’ Jackson and Xavier McKinney.
They are, though, going to need squeeze a little bit more out of an offense that can’t be expected to suddenly morph into a high-scoring machine, but needs to be more efficient than it has been over the past five games.
A playoff berth might depend on it.