New York Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said he might not know exactly how his offense is going to take shape, noting that much will depend on the personnel that general manager Jerry Reese brings in over the next few months through free agency and the draft.
The one thing that McAdoo does know is that his offense isn’t going to be the careless, risk-taking group that last year logged an alarming 41 turnovers.
“We’re going to be an offense that has an identity, first and foremost,” McAdoo said during a conference call with Giants beat reporters.
“We’re going to be sound, smart and tough. We’re going to be committed to discipline and poise, and at the end of the day, we’re going to hang our hat on the fundamentals.”
Lest anyone thing that McAdoo is making things up as he goes along—and he stressed that the development of the Giants' new offensive system is a collaborative effort between head coach Tom Coughlin and all of the offensive assistants—the 36-year-old first-time coordinator did drop a few hints as to what he envisioned.
“Most teams in the league have West Coast principles built into their offense, and we’ll be one of them,” McAdoo said when asked how much of the West Coast offense run in Green Bay under this former boss Mike McCarthy will find its way to East Rutherford.
“At this point we’re starting to build what we’re going to look like. Every offensive system is its own living, breathing organism. At the end of the day, you have to make sure you’re flexible enough.”
One element that McAdoo did reveal will become more of a prominent part of the Giants’ puzzle on offense is the screen game, something that has disappeared from the Giants' arsenal, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required):
“We’re definitely going to spend time in the screen game. It’s something that will be a focal point and needs to be installed,” McAdoo said. “We’ll have different types of screens, whether they’re sidewalk screens or half screens, so forth and so on.”
Let’s look at what else McAdoo had to say and try to determine what direction the Giants might take in building their roster.
Currently, the Giants have Michael Cox and David Wilson under contract, but Wilson is recovering from neck surgery.
Despite the optimistic picture painted by ESPN’s Adam Schefter about Wilson being ahead of schedule and on track to be ready for training camp, the Giants have a different take on the third-year player's status.
“I really don’t know the answer,” said head coach Tom Coughlin via NJ.com at the NFL Scouting Combine last week. “I think a lot has to do with his attitude, the way he feels, the way the doctors and trainers obviously feel.
"He’s not going to be put out there unless he’s ready for that. I’m not even sure how he’s going to be limited in the spring.”
That's understandable considering the pounding a running back takes in the NFL. however, McAdoo is going to be looking for all of his running backs to do more than just carry the ball.
“First and foremost, the runner needs to be able to protect the quarterback,” McAdoo said. “Obviously, it’s ideal to have a guy who’s functional out of the backfield catching the football, but at the end of the day, if they can’t protect the quarterback, they’re going to have a hard time getting on the field.”
That’s not good news for a running back like Wilson who historically has been inconsistent in pass protection.
Per Pro Football Focus, Wilson allowed one quarterback hit in six snaps in pass protection as a rookie in 2012.
With there being a question as to when Wilson will be cleared to participate in contact drills, it wouldn't be unreasonable to have concerns about how far he might be able to advance with his pass-blocking techniques which, based on last year, are in dire need of work.
So what's the Plan B?
Well, since rookies rarely step into the NFL able to pass block at a satisfactory level, it’s virtually a given that the Giants will look toward free agency to find a someone in the event Wilson isn't ready to go and Andre Brown isn't re-signed.
Based on my scan of various Giants fans message boards, Houston’s Ben Tate seems to be a popular target.
However, per PFF, Tate's pass protection was an issue in 2013, as he allowed nine pressures out of his 69 pass-blocking opportunities (13 percent).
Minnesota’s Toby Gerhart, an under-the-radar prospect, was better in this regard, allowing two pressures, one of which was a sack, out of 40 snaps in pass protection last year.
A four-year veteran who has played his entire career with the Vikings behind Adrian Peterson, the 6’1”, 231-pound Gerhart has minimal tread on his tires, having run the ball 276 times for 1,305 yards (4.7 avg.), five touchdowns and 60 first downs.
As a receiver, Gerhart, a second-round pick in 2010, has caught 77 out of 103 targets (74.7 percent) in his career for 600 yards (7.8 avg.), three touchdowns and 26 first downs.
The one negative in the 27-year-old Gerhart’s game is that he has five career fumbles, four of which were lost. However, that is something that coaching should be able to help correct.
During the combine, head coach Tom Coughlin identified one of the carryovers from the previous offensive system.
"We will maintain a commitment to the run," Coughlin said via the Sports Xchange. "That will be a factor no matter what. That has been agreed upon by all.”
As McAdoo noted, they’d like to get a running back who can do it all. But as Giants fans saw last year, without the blocking up front, it won’t matter who’s lining up in the backfield if the Giants don’t have the blocking.
So what kind of offensive linemen will the Giants try to target?
In a West Coast system, quicker, more mobile linemen are generally preferred. Those linemen typically aren’t asked to blow defenders off the ball in the running game, though certainly, if screens and traps are going to be part of the playbook, the Giants will want to have at least one if not two mobile linemen up front.
But Coughlin also indicated that the Giants are still going to deploy the vertical passing game at times. As such, it must be remembered that quarterback Eli Manning is a pocket passer who won't scramble unless he absolutely has to.
Thus the Giants will probably look for beefier linemen with the athleticism to pull and trap (think of Chris Snee in his prime) and will probably look to target a starter via free agency, according to NJ.com.
Per Pro Football Focus, the 28-year-old Schwartz (15.2) and the 26-year-old Asamoah (7.9) are among the top-three rated free-agent guards.
Schwartz replaced Asamoah at right guard in the Chiefs offense last year and is thought to be the higher re-signing priority for Kansas City, given his run-blocking expertise that helped Jamaal Charles finish with the league's third-most rushing yards.
Asamoah has also been an effective run-blocker during his career, but he really makes his mark as a pass-blocker, where he finished in the top 10 in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency in two of the last three seasons.
Asamoah seems agile enough to fit the mold of typical offensive guards in the Giants' system.
However, there's one issue.
Per PFF, Asamoah has played at the right guard spot since the 2011 season, his first full year as a starter.
If the Giants are planning to let their long-time right guard, Chris Snee, play out his contract—and per the New York Post, Snee doesn’t appear to be ready to retire yet—it's doubtful they would go for another player at the same position.
Certainly one of the two could move to the other side, but chances the Giants instead will look to target the left guard spot.
McAdoo said he's looking forward to seeing how the competition plays out along the offensive line.
“There are going to be plenty of guys lined up at the door to get a spot,” McAdoo said. “We look forward to helping them improve and developing guys and seeing where we could take this thing.”
It was no secret that the pass protection for Manning last season was a mess.
According to PFF, Manning was under pressure on 242 of his 596 dropbacks (40.6 percent) with 10 of his career-high 27 interceptions coming as a result of that pressure.
Because he was consistently under duress, Manning’s mechanics began to slip to where he was oftentimes in survival mode.
Because he wasn't able to step into many of his throws, there was a fair number of balls coming up short of their intended targets.
As a result, his 57.5 percent completion rate was his lowest mark in a 16-game season since the 2007 season when he posted a 56.1 percent completion rate.
Luckily for Manning and the rest of the offense, McAdoo is offering everyone a clean slate.
“This is going to be a new operation on offense. There are some new coaches in place, there are some coaches who have been here who have been in different spots, but at the end of the day everyone has a clean slate. That’s how we’re going to start and that’s important for the players to know.”
McAdoo also realizes that win or lose, the quarterback often times takes too much of the credit or blame. While he believes that a return to the fundamentals should help fix a lot of what went astray with Manning, McAdoo said that the entire offense needs to play better.
“We hang our hat on fundamentals. That’s going to be the focal point,” he said. “The second thing is we want to take care of the football. Taking care of the football is the biggest factor in winning and losing games. Fundamentals can help you there. At the same point in time, everybody on the offensive side of the ball needs to play better.”
To that end, McAdoo said that Manning will have an opportunity to help shape the offense once league rules allow for the coaches to work with the players in the offseason, which will happen in early May.
“At this point in time, we’re going to abide by the letter of the law as far as the rules go,” McAdoo said regarding when he might begin to seek Manning’s input on the new system. “As Eli gets his hands on it and has a chance to get comfortable with it, we’ll make tweaks."
Those tweaks will be to ensure Manning is comfortable running the system, McAdoo said.
“Really as the offseason and training camp goes on, every offensive system tailors towards the strength of the starting quarterback, what he does well and he doesn’t do well in the pass game. At the end of the day, your system is built around your personnel, not the other way around.”
So what is it that Manning does well that might be a part of the new offense?
If the Giants put a decent offensive line in front of him, he’ll almost certainly have more plays that involve the vertical passing game, something that the Giants had to abandon last year as the offensive line crumbled around him.
Manning has proven to be effective in that aspect of the game, but according to PFF, his totals have dipped:
|Eli Manning's Accuracy Percentages: 2011-2013|
|Pro Football Focus (subscription required)|
Again, it needs to be stressed that in 2013, Manning's protection was a significant factor in this decline. It can also probably be argued that his decline from 2011 to 2012 was due in part to the injuries suffered by wide out Hakeem Nicks.
However, there were instances when Manning had the protection and an open target, but simply missed the receiver, as noted by B/R’s Brad Gagnon in his balanced analysis of Manning's 2013 performance.
One of the key areas Manning will look to improve is his accuracy. Per PFF, his 67.2 accuracy percentage was dead last out of all quarterbacks in 2013 who took at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps.
The accuracy percentage, per PFF, accounts for any results beyond a quarterback’s control, such as drops, throw-aways, spikes, batted passes and hits.
Again, an improved offensive line should go a long way toward helping Manning, who moving forward will be tutored by Danny Langsdorf, get back to being the quarterback he was in 2011.
Perhaps the biggest question mark on the Giants right now is this critical spot. Currently the team has just two youngsters, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, under contract, and neither is proven.
“That’s a difficult position to evaluate,” McAdoo said.
“They’re asked to do a lot of things in this league, whether it’s run-blocking from the backfield, run-blocking at the line, out in space, a lot of things in pass protection and then running routes, whether they’re an in-line guy or they’re in the slot or in the back.
“To me, it was always the best position to coach and in this offense, it’s the best position to play because you have to learn how to do everything and you have to learn how to do it well at a high level.”
This is a position that I think the Giants might very well look to the draft to address. A player I really like in for them in the first round, if he’s there, is North Carolina's.
The 6'4", 245-pound Ebron, the top-rated tight end per NFL Draft Scout, has exceptional speed, along with the ability to get in and out of his cuts and create separation.
He also has excellent hands, having caught 62 balls for 973 yards and three touchdowns during his collegiate career, and the frame to bulk up a bit, which would help him as an in-line blocker.
A solid pass-receiving tight end to help draw coverage away from the receivers is something the Giants haven’t really had since Martellus Bennett.
In 2013, Brandon Myers, whom the Giants were hoping would build on his breakout season from the prior year, managed only 47 receptions (out of 73 targets) for 522 yards and four touchdowns, lower figures than what New York got from Bennett the prior season.
As a blocker, Myers was also a fish out of water, with most of his blocks lacking any kind of physicality or push.
Although McAdoo didn’t provide any insight into how the Giants might be prioritizing their needs, outside of Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Dennis Pitta of the Baltimore Ravens, both of whom are not expected to hit free agency, the free-agent tight end class seems underwhelming.
If the Giants have a chance to get Ebron, a possession-type of tight end at No. 12, I think they have to select him in order to fill this critical position on the Giants offense.
McAdoo didn’t specifically address the receiver position during his conference call. However, if he’s going to blend in elements of the West Coast offense into what the Giants have traditionally run, it probably isn’t a stretch to assume that we could be seeing a few more short passes in 2014.
To accomplish that, McAdoo will need quick, elusive wide outs who can rack up the yards after the catch.
He just might already have that in receivers Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle, whose respective 2013 production after the catch was as follows:
|NYG Receivers: Yards After the Catch|
|Total Receiving Yards||Yards After the Catch||%|
|Pro Football Focus (subscription required)|
The biggest thing, though, with the short passing game is precision and timing, which means that the receivers must run crisp routes. That's something that Jernigan and Randle were guilty of not doing at times last year.
Given the depth at receiver in this year's draft, I could see the Giants trying to pick up a prospect on Day 3 to round out the corps.
An interesting Day 3 pick is Dri Archer (5’8”, 173 pounds) of Kent State. Per NFL Draft Scout, Archer, who ran a 4.26 in the 40 at the combine, “demonstrating [a] burst off the line of scrimmage and out of his breaks to create the separation” and is a player who compares to Dexter McCluster of Kansas City.
Might the Giants look to spend on a receiver in free agency? There are some intriguing options such as Eric Decker of Denver, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin of Seattle, Jerome Simpson of Minnesota and James Jones of Green Bay.
If the Giants are looking for someone who might be affordable, the 30-year-old Jones might be their man.
The 6’1”, 208-pound Jones has 310 receptions for 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also has 61 career receptions of 20 or more yards and 17 receptions of 40 or more yards. So production is not a problem with Jones.
The key to the receiver group could very well be Randle. At the scouting combine, Reese told reporters that the “jury’s still out” on whether Randle could become a go-to receiver.
“I think he’s a good player. I’m not sure if he’s a one, if he’s a two, if he’s a three, but I think he can contribute to our receiving corps,” Reese said via Pro Football Talk.
With Hakeem Nicks and Louis Murphy both unrestricted free agents who are unlikely to be re-signed, a blend of youth and experience could be just what the Giants need to restore the production in the passing attack.