Since the New York Giants chose to part ways with RB Derrick Ward and WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, Giant fans have been shivering in their boots wondering what the team will do without them.
GM Jerry Reese went into the NFL Draft looking for some answers, and he may well have gotten them by drafting three very highly touted receivers and a running back in the first four rounds.
Now the questions being asked are regarding how the Giants are going to use those players in concert with the talent they already have. That is what Kevin Gilbride; the Giants’ offensive coordinator is probably losing sleep at night trying to figure out.
The last time we saw his offense play, in last January’s playoff debacle against Philadelphia, the entire Giants community was left extremely concerned about what steps the team would take to correct this mess.
We now know the solution they arrived at. They flooded their roster with young offensive talent. Now, we are wondering what they will do with said talent. I have a few ideas on what may happen…..
Gilbride has been criticized for two things: deviating from the game plan unnecessarily and catering to the demands of difficult, outspoken veterans. The former still needs to be addressed. The latter is no longer an issue.
Let’s analyze the change in personnel and how it will affect the playbook, but before that, let’s go back a few years to level-set the situation. The offense used to consist of Jeremy Shockey, Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.
QB Eli Manning inherited these players when he walked through the door. He relied on them to help him grow as a player. Some helped, some didn’t, as we know.
Shockey and Burress were prima donnas, deciding that establishing a rapport with their young QB was low on their list of priorities. They skipped mini camps and OTAs and opted out of practices during the season any chance they could.
Barber, on the surface, was carrying the Giants on his back but all the while he was privately planning his escape route.
No one is saying he dogged it (because that would be impossible to do while in the process of gaining 2000 total yards), but he was no longer interested in investing in the Giants future. In his mind, he was already gone.
Toomer was the ultimate reliable team player. He gave the club everything he had. After he blew out his knee at age 32 in 2006, he worked his butt of to get back in the lineup in 2007.
These four players were the key to the Giants offense when Kevin Gilbride took over for John Hufnagel as OC in December 2006. No one could blame him for putting the ball in Barber’s hands—he’d be insane not to.
He also could not be faulted for exploiting the size advantage he had with the other three receivers. The problem was, they were beginning to dictate how he called the game.
Gilbride had a problem. He had four guys who wanted the ball and only one ball to give them.
Shockey became irate if he wasn’t thrown to enough times, then moan when Eli didn’t hit him in the numbers. Burress and Toomer consistently came back to the huddle with their arms open as if to say to Eli “hey, I was open.”
The solution was to start to spread the ball around even it meant disupting the flow of the game. The Giants would be running the opponent right out of the stadium, and then Gilbride would call three consecutive pass plays to appease the veteran receivers. The fans would get restless.
These inexplicable interludes earned Gilbride the nickname “kill drive” from the Blue faithful.
What to do.....
With receivers new (Hakeem Nicks, Travis Beckum and Ramses Barden) and old (Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss and Kevin Boss) the prima donna problem has disappeared.
Now, Gilbride can call his game, but what will that game be?
It's easy. They have to open up the offense again. Last season, with Eli’s passing options limited, opposing defenses jammed the box with eight, sometimes nine defenders.
They had no respect for the Giant passing game, deploying only cornerbacks to cover the wide outs one-on-one. The crowded box allowed for an increase in blitzes and it made it more difficult to run the ball as well.
Look how ineffective the offense was without Burress and Brandon Jacobs (see the 12/14 20-8 home loss against Dallas—pathetic). They looked good again vs. Carolina, but how good were they?
Arizona flambeed them in the playoffs. That leads us to the playoff game vs. Philadelphia, another team that got scorched by the Cardinals.
The Giants need to get back to what made them so good—creating mismatches. Shockey, Burress and Jacobs literally scared teams. No defense had the personnel to deal with all three at the same time. And if the Giants put Shockey in a red gun/run n’ shoot formation with Burress and two other receivers, defenses could only do one of two things: give up a big play or call a time out.
The Giants will attempt to re-establish that respect by using similar tactics, not the red gun or the run n’ shoot, but variations of it.
Kevin Boss is an agile TE with good hands. He, along with the rookie TE Beckum should be used as slot receivers to get their big bodies into opposing secondaries. They would garner the attention of at least a safety, maybe more.
Hakeem Nicks should earn a starting spot. Teams will be wary of him due to the fact that he can catch the ball both in traffic and in close coverage. Steve Smith will work the short patterns and Barden will be used in the red zone a la Plaxico.
Opponents will no longer overpopulate the box. That alleviates the stress on the Giant offensive line and gives the running backs more room to operate. Jamming the box negates Jacobs’ ability to break past the line of scrimmage.
With fewer bodies to stop him, the better his chances are to ramble into the secondary where he turns into Marion Motley. Loosening up the box would also lighten the pressure pass rushers could put on Eli.
All of these new receivers will most likely help the Giants even if they don’t touch the ball. Just by occupying defenders, they will augment the real strength of the Giant offense—the running game. And Gilbride will now keep running the ball until someone other than a Giant stops him.
There is your assessment of how the new personnel will change the Giants playbook—by going back to the basics.