Process over production.
That has been the mantra for the New York Giants’ offense all spring and summer as they have worked to meld concepts from offenses familiar to head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, and figure out what gives quarterback Daniel Jones the best chance to succeed in an offense that will ultimately be unique to the Giants.
The Giants downplayed training camp struggles on offense, pointing to installs, attempts to weed out what didn’t work from what did, and often lack of familiarity between quarterbacks and receivers as they worked to refine timing and learn the right — and wrong — ways to read certain combinations.
“That’s why we practice. We’re all about the process, so if you have a bad day, you regroup, you look at it, you talk about it,” Daboll said midway through training camp. “Obviously, you want to translate good things in practice to games ... we want to perform well when it counts the most, which is on game day.”
Well, the sand in the ‘process’ hourglass was always going to run out, trumped by the production or lack thereof when the games began to count. The first game day, Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET against the Tennessee Titans, is here.
Let’s look at some of the things we know about the rebuilt Giants’ offense, and some of the things we don’t know.
We know Mike Kafka will call plays
Daboll said this week that he was going allow Kafka, who called plays all spring and summer, to keep that responsibility during the regular season rather than take it over himself.
What we learned from Kafka this week was that that has actually been the plan ever since Kafka interviewed for the Giants’ offensive coordinator job.
“It was a part of the interview process where he wanted his offensive coordinator to call the plays, but he also reserved the right to take the reigns on that as well, and I respect that,” Kafka said.
Kafka called the chance to call plays “a special opportunity” and said simply that he wants to “give our guys the best opportunity to be successful.”
We don’t know how intrusive Daboll will be
Daboll has been the offensive play-caller at five stops during his coaching career, including the last five years with the Alabama Crimson Tide and Buffalo Bills. He has said that he “loved calling plays.”
Is it going to be hard for him to resist leaning into the headset and telling Kafka ‘hey, Mike, let’s run this play here’ while the play clock ticks down and the coordinator, sitting upstairs in the booth, tries to get a play to his quarterback in timely fashion?
“Yeah,” Daboll said bluntly during the week.
Daboll, though, also said he fully understands that interfering will undermine Kafka’s ability to perform the task he has been given.
“Having done it for a while you really need silence on a headset because you have to do it so quick. There’s a lot of things to think about when you’re a play caller,” Daboll said. “You might be thinking one thing’s coming up, and then all sudden, there’s a sack and now you have to think of something totally different.
“So, I think it’s important that in between series is where you really want to do it (communicate with the coordinator).”
That is going to be a tricky balance for the head coach. While this will be the ‘Giants’ offense,’ it will still have more Daboll/Buffalo elements than Kafka/Kansas City ones.
We know the ‘success’ bar isn’t high
The Giants averaged 17.5 points per game in 2020. They averaged a microscopic 15.2 points per game in 2021. Both were 31st in the league.
It, honestly, should not take much for the Giants to be better than that. A healthy Saquon Barkley. Moderately better offensive line play. A healthy Daniel Jones, and a better backup quarterback situation if and when he does get hurt. A more creative approach.
We don’t know how much better the offense will be
In Pat Shurmur’s two seasons as head coach the Giants averaged 23.1 ppg. in 2018 (16th) and 21.3 in 2019 (18th).
If the 2022 Giants can reach those numbers, is that enough progress for Year 1? Undoubtedly, that would qualify as progress.
I have written in not too distant past that the magic number is 25.0 points per game. In truth, it is probably 24.0. In 2020, the Atlanta Falcons were the league’s offensive midpoint, 16th overall averaging 24.8 points per game. Last season, the Seattle Seahawks (23.2 ppg.) were the midpoint.
If the Giants can reach that midpoint, it should give them the opportunity to compete more often than not. Is that too much to expect in 2022?
We know the direction the Giants’ offense is going
The Giants will use quick-hitting passes, RPOs, play-action. They drafted the diminutive, yet hard-to-tackle Wan’Dale Robinson in the second round because the roots of their plan on offense will be to use motion and formation to create favorable matchups, then get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and let them go to work in space.
As Mark Schofield has so often pointed out, the quick-game concepts are things that Daniel Jones ran well as a collegian at Duke.
And why wouldn’t he? Those types of things simplify a quarterback’s life. They often quicken his decision-making simply because of the play design, and can give him one defender to read when making his decision rather than an entire secondary.
“I’d say RPOs are something that he’s (Jones) comfortable with. I think he’s comfortable with a lot of stuff that we’ve done on offense. Most quarterbacks are. Drop back, play action, RPOs now since it’s come up through the college game,” Daboll said. “We’re still working on all the stuff that we have put together, but it’s definitely an element. There’s different ways to run RPOs. You read a defensive lineman, you read a linebacker, it can be a safety. It’s usually a one-man type of read to help you make a quick decision. It’s still not easy because you have to make it in that split second. So, it’s like running a zone read. Like, ‘Why didn’t he keep it?’. Well, I mean the guy’s right there. It’s like making a read on a coverage. He’s done a good job with all the stuff we’ve asked him to do. RPOs is one of them.”
We don’t know what it will ultimately look like
Obviously, not every play can be an RPO, zone read or quick, short pass. You have to run the ball. You have to throw medium-range passes designed to succeed in certain down-and-distance situations. You have to take downfield shots. You have to have short-yardage and red zone plans of attack.
Daboll and Kafka both come from places where the running game was secondary to the passing game. Still, when he is healthy Barkley — a running back — is their best player.
There are questions about the tight end and wide receiver positions.
In general, we know the basic outline the Giants intend to start with. What it morphs into, and how well it all comes together, is unknown.
“We’re still working on that. It will be a work in progress here,” Daboll said. “Each day and each week, you feel a little bit better about the identity of what you’re trying to build, the plays that he (Jones) feels comfortable with, the plays that you want to take out because maybe he doesn’t feel as comfortable with them. You look at your skill guys and what works for them. Each day, that’s what we’ve been trying to build on.”
Finding out where it goes is certainly going to be interesting.
We know 2022 is mostly about Daniel Jones
We have been here before. It seems like we could have said — and probably did say — the same thing in 2020 and 2021. This time around, though, it REALLY IS all about making a decision about Jones’ future.
After three seasons, we know that Jones is an imperfect quarterback. We also know, though, that perfect ones don’t grow on trees. History also tells us that NFL teams are not good at identifying, drafting and developing quarterbacks who can be what every team who does not have one is looking for — a top-tier quarterback who can win Super Bowls.
Here is a look at quarterbacks drafted in Round 1 since 2010 (excluding 2022):
Round 1 QBs
No. 1 — Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams)
No. 25 — Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos)
No. 16 — EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills)
No. 3 — Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)
No. 22 — Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
No. 32 — Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings)
No. 1 — Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
No. 2 — Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)
No. 1 — Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals)
No. 6 — Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
No. 15 — Dwayne Haskins (Washington)
No. 1 — Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars)
No. 2 — Zach Wilson (New York Jets)
No. 3 — Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers)
No. 11 — Justin Fields (Chicago Bears)
No. 15 — Mac Jones (New England Patriots)
That’s 39 quarterbacks. Out of that group Newton (for a time), Luck, Mahomes, Watson, Allen, Jackson, Herbert, Burrow and maybe Murray and Mac Jones have become — or so far shown the ability to become — top-tier guys. That’s 10 of 39. That’s 25.6 percent. Even if a couple of QBs from the 2021 class join that group, the percentage of ‘hits’ on first-round quarterbacks is not good.
That is why the Giants are absolutely right to ride with Daniel Jones one more time and see if he can be what Dave Gettleman thought he could be when he made him the No. 6 overall pick in 2019. If they ultimately decide to move on, the Giants will try to identify and land their next potential franchise quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. Odds, though, are against them getting it right.
Remember what co-owner John Mara said after hiring Schoen as GM:
“We do feel that Daniel can play. We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up since he’s been here. We keep changing coaches, keep changing offensive coordinators, keep changing offensive line coaches. I take a lot of responsibility for that, but let’s bring in the right group of coaches now and give him some continuity and try to rebuild the offensive line and then be able to make an intelligent evaluation of whether he can be the franchise quarterback or not. I have a lot of hope in Daniel, and I know how badly he wants it. I know how the players feel about him. We are certainly not giving up on him by any stretch of the imagination.”
With an offensive-minded head coach, an offensive coordinator and play-caller from a highly-successful offensive team, a healthy Saquon Barkley, a revamped offensive line and an exciting second-round pick at wide receiver the Giants have done about all they could in one offseason with limited resources.
The rest is up to Jones.
[NOTE: This section has been updated to include Joe Burrow among elite QBs.]
We don’t know how long Jones’ leash is
In the best-case scenario, Jones succeeds. He proves that the problem the past three seasons wasn’t him, rather it was the top-to-bottom mess that surrounded him. That would allow the Giants to use their draft capital to continue trying to build the rest of the roster, rather than using a high draft pick — and perhaps having to marshal a bunch of draft picks to move up in the 2023 draft — to take another swing at the quarterback position.
Everyone, though, knows that Jones — as much as everyone respects his intelligence and work ethic — might not be able to pull off that trick. The odds, in fact, are against him pulling off that trick.
There is a leash. Everyone knows that. Is it, though, one of those little six-foot leashes you use on a sub-10-pound dog. Or, a big, long leash you might want to use on a bigger dog you want to give some space to move around?
Nobody knows. Not even Schoen and Daboll. It all depends on the results.
Maybe Jones makes the leash unnecessary. Maybe the leash is six games, 10 games, 12 games. Maybe it last until Jones gets hurt, especially if the offense functions better with Tyrod Taylor playing. Maybe the leash lasts all the way into the offseason, when the Giants collect all the evidence they have gathered and make a decision on Jones one way or the other.
We will just have to let it play out.
We know Saquon Barkley is ready to roll
Barkley has been combative all summer. He dropped an uncharacteristic (and probably entirely intentional) F Bomb on a podcast last month. He took umbrage about criticism of his running style when yours truly asked him about Daboll saying he did a good getting north and south during the preseason opener, derisively calling his critics “All-Pros with clickers in their hand.”
More from Barkley’s response to my question:
“I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old. By no means am I the perfect running back. I still got so much work to do. But I know that’s been a conversation or the thought or been a thing out there that’s said about me — he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s just dancing back there. I’m really kind of fed up with people who never played the position and try to speak on how to run the football.”
Truth is, the healthier and more explosive Barkley has looked and felt this summer, nearly two years removed from major knee surgery, the more warning shots he has fired at those who doubt him.
If he can stay healthy, a major “if” for a player who has not done that since 2018, I have no doubt that Barkley can still be a force. He is still only 25 years old, and this offense should do a better job using his receiving skills and giving him opportunities to get into space as a runner.
We don’t know if 2018 Barkley still exists
Yes, I think Barkley can be “a force.” I think the Giants need him to be, and I think they are going to ride him. Question is, what does top end Barkley look like four seasons and three leg injuries removed from that incredible 2018 rookie season?
Does the 2018 Barkley (2,028 total yards from scrimmage, 126.8 yards from scrimmage per game) still exist?
Or, is 2019 Barkley (1,441 total yards from scrimmage, 110.9 yards from scrimmage per game) a more realistic expectation?
Personally, I think I would set the over/under for Barkley at 1,400 yards and I have written previously that I would take the over. Not by a lot, but if he plays 17 games I think he can surpass that number.
We know the offensive line ‘should’ be better
The offensive line has has been an issue for most of the past decade. The Giants were 30th in the league last season in the Pro Football Focus offense line rankings. Sharp Football Analysis projects the Giants to be the league’s 23rd-best offensive line this season. That’s a moderate, but welcome improvement should it come to pass.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas is in his third season and trending toward establishing himself as a top-tier player. The Giants drafted Evan Neal No. 7 overall, giving the Giants young and potentially outstanding bookend tackles who could become the envy of many teams around the league if both reach their potential.
The one free-agent splurge GM Joe Schoen made was to sign veteran right guard Mark Glowinski to a three-year, $18.3 million contract. Schoen signed veteran Jon Feliciano to play center and drafted guards Joshua Ezeudu (Round 3) and Marcus McKethan (Round 5/IR-torn ACL).
Injuries, coaching instability and some poor personnel decisions have hurt in recent seasons. On paper, the Giants appear to be past some of that.
We don’t know if the offensive line ‘will’ be better
Yes, the line is better on paper. Paper, though, doesn’t play on Sundays.
Neal is a talented player, but he is a rookie. We saw Thomas struggle as a rookie and, while that level of difficulty isn’t expected for Neal, our Tony DelGenio detailed recently how quality performance is not a given for rookies, even the best rookies.
The questions are on the interior. Feliciano has never been a full-time starting center. He was also benched last year by the Buffalo Bills after opening the year as a starting guard. Schoen and Daboll, as Giants fans know, were part of that team.
Left guard is also a question mark. Shane Lemieux was penciled in as the starter after missing last season with a knee injury, but he is on short-term IR with a foot injury. Devery Hamilton was the starter during the preseason, but the likely starter against Tennessee will either be Ben Bredeson or Ezeudu.
That position could be a revolving door all season, and the interior of the line seems as though it could be more troublesome than the tackle spots.
The potential is there for this year’s line to be markedly better than the line the Giants fielded a year ago, but they have to prove it.