OPINION: Giants should upgrade play-caller if they’re looking for revamped offense


EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 14: Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett of the New York Giants bumps fists with Nick Gates #65 during warmups before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium on September 14, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Albany, N.Y. (NEWS10.COM) — Thanksgiving is a time for counting your blessings. For the Giants, they can count themselves blessed to be playing meaningful football into December for the first time in four seasons.

Stuck in the throes of a dismal NFC East, the 3-7 Giants are very much in the hunt for the playoffs as they get set to visit the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon. Just a half game behind the struggling 3-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles with a less difficult remaining schedule, it’s all out there for Joe Judge’s Giants.

A playoff appearance would go a long way in continuing to develop second year quarterback Daniel Jones, but a home game in mid-January shouldn’t cloud Joe’s judgement on the corrections that need to be made within his coaching staff.

That begins with the offense under coordinator Jason Garrett. There’s no denying that Garrett has been a successful NFL coach for more than a decade. In 10 seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Garrett amassed an 85-67 record with three playoff appearances — albeit zero playoff wins. While his head coaching results are mixed, it’s his resume as an offensive coordinator that leaves more cause for concern.

From 2007-2012, Garrett handled play-calling duties for the Cowboys for a top ten passing offense. The Cowboys were 10th in pass attempts, 6th in passing yards, and 6th in passing touchdowns in that span. So far with New York this season? The Giants rank 24th in attempts, 29th in passing yards, and 31st in passing touchdowns.

The easy answer is the quarterback. Garrett had Tony Romo in his time with the Cowboys, a four-time Pro Bowler who threw for 34,183 yards and 248 touchdowns in ten seasons as a regular starter. Now Garrett is working with second-year QB Daniel Jones, the sixth overall pick who has shown flashes of potential but has been one of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks in the league since entering the NFL in 2019.

For a young signal caller like Jones, you can live with the mistakes as long as you can see a steady stream of improvement. The issue is Jones has regressed in basically every statistical category since his rookie season. Through ten games this season, Jones averages 212 yards per game with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 78.2 quarterback rating.

Through the first ten starts of his rookie season, Jones was averaging 236 yards per game with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 82.7 quarterback rating. That ten game span does not include Jones’ massive 352 yard, five touchdown (and zero turnover!) explosion against Washington in Week 16. Jones has not shown the upside this season that he flashed his rookie season, and the play-calling and scheming is at least partially to blame.

One major difference between the 2019 Giants and the 2020 Giants is the absence of stud running back Saquon Barkley taking the pressure off of Jones. While Barkley is undeniably a supreme talent who adjusts the way defenses look to attack the Giants offense, New York had the 19th ranked rushing attack in the NFL in 2019. In 2020, they rank 18th through ten games. There hasn’t been a major drop off of rushing production to explain away the passing game’s struggles.

While Garrett has never worked with a back as talented as Barkley — and did not get a real chance to do so in 2020 — his career scheming the run game is another reason to call into question his play-calling responsibilities.

In those six seasons calling the plays for Dallas (2007-2012), despite a top ten passing attack, the Cowboys offense finished top ten in rushing just once — 7th in 2009. He did not have a 1,000 yard rusher during those six seasons. As soon as Garrett handed off play-calling duties, lead back Demarco Murray flourished with back-to-back 1,100+ yard campaigns, even capturing the rushing title behind Dallas’ All-Pro caliber offensive line with 1,845 yards in 2014.

The success on the ground continued for the rest of Garrett’s tenure as head coach, with four more 1,000 yard rushing seasons from Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott — including rushing titles in 2016 and 2018 — coming in those five seasons after Garrett relinquished play-calling duties.

The obvious rebuttal, again, is that Saquon Barkley is a much more talented player than DeMarco Murray, Marion Barber, or Felix Jones. The return of Barkley to the lineup next season along with continued continuity up front should provide a boost to the rushing attack, but Garrett hasn’t proved that his scheming will necessarily be responsible for that based on his history.

There’s an element to Garrett being a part of the coaching staff that can’t be equated to yards per game or Daniel Jones’ production. Someone with a decade of head coaching experience being in rookie head coach Joe Judge’s ear has likely made a great impact on the new head man’s transition to the job.

Garrett holds value with his experience, but his pedestrian results on the field as a play-caller may require a reshuffling of responsibilities among the coaching staff if the offense finishes the season ranked 30th in points — playoff berth or not.

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