New York Giants fans didn’t know what to expect from Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka when he was hired. Most Giants fans probably remembered him as a Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, and maybe assumed he would simply be advising Brian Daboll as he ran his offense.
But in the months since Kafka has hired he not only emerged as the Giants’ play-caller, but as one of the best play-callers in the NFL.
One of the subtle, but potentially significant, changes for the Giants this year has been the absence of the offensive play-caller on the field. The Giants have had both offensive coordinators and head coaches call the offense, but whether it was Kevin Gilbride, Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, or Jason Garrett, the guy calling the plays was always on the sideline.
But this year the play-caller is up in the booth. The Giants have always had coaches in the booth, relaying information to the coach on the sideline, but this is the first time in recent memory the quarterback is in communication with a coach who isn’t right there on the sideline.
“Being in the booth was definitely different,” Kafka said. “I spent the last several years on the field. Not good or (bad) – I think they’re just different experiences.”
Kafka was the Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator before being hired as the Giants’ offensive coordinator. And in that time he was always on the sideline, so this is a change for him as well.
“Down on the field, you get a little bit more of a feel of the players, being right next to them and being able to communicate it,” he said. “When you’re up in the booth, you get a bigger picture – kind of a bird’s-eye view of the field. They’re different. You have to have trust both ways. Whether you’re on the field, trust upstairs in the booth, and when you’re in the booth, trust downstairs on the field to get the right information.”
In addition to seeing the big picture, being in the booth also helps the offensive coordinator in other ways, as well.
“You can definitely think a little bit. You have more time to think and kind of spread out. You have an area there to write some notes down,” Kafka said. “You don’t really have that on the field, a desk and all that. It’s definitely quieter so you don’t have to worry about the crowd noise in between drives and stuff.”
So it’s a trade-off, but one that has worked out well for the Giants. We can’t say for sure, but perhaps seeing the bird’s eye view for himself has helped him identify and exploit defensive tendencies.
It has also made communication incredibly important for both the coaching staff and players.
“Those are things that you really practice in training camp and OTAs,” he said. “The pronunciation of the plays and working through how I’m going to communicate this number or this set of plays and how the quarterback wants to hear it. That’s really all that matters if I’m talking to the quarterback, that he gets the information quickly, concise, he can hear it and that way he can relay that information.”
Having crisp and efficient communication is going to be vitally important this week, as the Giants prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles defense. The Eagles have made entirely too many smart decisions recently and have assembled a very good team with a dangerous defense.
“I think the first thing starts with they’re really talented players,” Kafka said. “They have a really talented group, their depth is super talented. It’s not just like the front four, they got backups, guys that are perennial All-Pros and Pro Bowlers. They’re well coached, right. They have a good scheme and they’re sound with their scheme. They do a lot of good stuff on defense. We got to have a good week of prep.”
The Giants will be looking for any edge they can find or weakness in the Eagles’ defense they can exploit. That’s easier said than done, but they’ll be studying overtime for anything they can find to use against the Eagles.
“Yeah, when you watch the tape – we look at all the matchups, all the personnel, all the formations and see how they want to align to it and see if we can find just a little bit of an edge to gain an advantage for the offense,” Kafka said. “Whether it was a motion, a formation, a shift, the personnel grouping – changing in and out of those with the run and the pass. Trying to tie all that stuff together, that’s an extensive process that we go through each week.”
The Giants are trying to make this week as normal as possible, but there’s an elephant in the room as they prepare for the Eagles — that both Kafka and Wink Martindale have received interview requests from other teams.
Both men have agreed that this week isn’t the right time to interview for a new job — they have a job to do right now.
“We’ll find the appropriate time that’s best for myself and the team,” Kafka said. “I know (head coach Brian Daboll) Dabs hit on that this week about not doing them this week during the game week - try to keep that as normal as possible and then we’ll communicate and find a good time when that’s right.”
The Giants are, obviously, hoping to keep both Kafka and Martindale in the fold. Daboll and Joe Schoen assembled one of the very best coaching staffs in the NFL, and that has been one of the biggest reasons for the team’s rapid turnaround. It shouldn’t be a surprise that other teams would like to raid the Giants’ staff in hopes of having similar success.