It’s no secret the offense was the weakest aspect of Giants football in 2020.
When you start four new linemen, two of them rookies and one in a new position, there will definitely be growing pains.
Lose a top 5 running back to a season-ending injury in the 2nd game, and the hill just got steeper to climb. Finish with the 31st ranked offense of 32 teams; it’s easy to question the scheme, the talent, the coaching, and the play calling.
Let’s look a little deeper…
New Coaching Staff Brings a Different Emphasis
When you look at the statistics between the 2019 Giants offense and the 2020 Giants offense, you can easily see the different mindsets of the head coaches. In 2019, Pat Shurmur was not only the head coach but also the offensive coordinator and play-caller. 2019 meant big plays, more touchdowns scored (41), and more turnovers (33). The 2019 Giants averaged over 21 points per game but gave up over 28 points per game.
The 2019 Giants (1012) had nearly 50 more offensive plays than the 2020 Giants (966).
2019 rookie Daniel Jones was able to showcase his arm but was also prone to turnover. As Coach Judge reminded us throughout the 2020 season, his focus was building a foundation, teaching, discipline, decision-making, fewer turnovers, growth.
Building an Offensive Line = Establishing a Foundation
In 2020, head coach Joe Judge named Jason Garrett as the offensive coordinator and play-caller. Garrett had a solid reputation as an offensive-minded coach while in Dallas. But Garrett also had the top offensive line in the NFC and solid players at all skill positions in Dallas; not so with the Giants. The growing pains for the offensive front were plainly visible as the season began. The 2020 Giants offensive line was absolutely a work in progress from the beginning of the season. The only holdovers from 2019 were starting guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler.
The Giants drafted three offensive linemen (Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, and Shane Lemieux), signed free agent tackle Cam Fleming and transitioned guard/tackle Nick Gates to center. Two other undrafted free agent linemen were parked on the practice squad. The 2020 offensive line was clearly a focal point for improvement and a building block for the future.
You could see the commitment of Judge and Garrett to building a solid front line and to get every lineman on the roster experience throughout the season. As a result, the 2020 Giants offense ran nearly 40 more times than in 2019. Think about that. In 2019 you had nearly a full season of Saquon Barkley (13 games). In 2020, you had Saquon for 1.5 games. Yet you commit to building an offensive line, and you run, run, run to get them to gel. The 2020 Giants finished with the 13th best run game in the league and outrushed the 2019 team. It certainly did not start that way. Even with Saquon, the team barely averaged 55 rushing yards per game in the first three games. Over the final 13 games, the 2020 team averaged a very respectable 123 yards per game. Also, on the bright side, the Giants only turned the ball over 22 times. That was a remarkable improvement over 2019.
I believe the play calling in 2020 was purposefully bland and vanilla. The focus was building on the basics of developing a strong front line, block and pull, run the ball, dominate the trenches. As the season went on and the line began to really play well, we saw the playbook open up a little more each game. I believe we will see much more creativity and downfield plays in 2021…not because the fans are asking for it, but because the team is ready for it.
2021 Offensive Holes
Now that there’s a foundation of an offensive line, and Coach Judge has doubled down that Daniel Jones is his quarterback, 2021 should focus on improving his skill positions. Scoring was a problem for the 2020 Giants. They didn’t score many touchdowns (only 25), and the red zone was a particular source of team frustration all season. The Giants lacked a sure-handed red zone threat. The play calling inside the 20 lacked imagination. This is where the Giants need to add weapons—tall receivers with good hands that can go up and win the contested throws to the corners.
Wayne Gallman did a great job filling the starting running back role in Barkley’s absence. Will he be back for 2021? Barkley has been hurt every season so far. The Giants will need to make sure the roster has someone that can take the brunt of carries if Barkley’s return is delayed or if he suffers another injury.
Evan Engram has had every chance to be a key offensive weapon. Despite his Pro Bowl selection, EE has shown a propensity to be inconsistent at best. I believe the Giants have a gem in Kaden Smith as a true tight end. Let him have a shot as one of the team’s red-zone threats. Late in 2019, he did well as the replacement for an injured Engram. Do the Giants draft a top TE this year? Florida’s Kyle Pitts is a projected high 1st round pick and could be there at the Giants’ #11 selection.
A wide Receiver is a need, particularly a speedy deep threat. Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard are reliable wide-outs. But both were hurt last year. Shepard is one concussion away from ending his career. Austin Mack showed flashes of the talent that makes fans excited for the Giants. I also believe Dante Pettis can contribute over a full season. But, other than Slayton (and maybe Pettis), the WR corps lacks height and downfield big-play capability.
Expect a lot of activity this offseason will be to strengthen the offensive side of the ball.
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