It's never a good thing when the president of the franchise uses the word "broken" to describe the team's offense. But that's the word John Mara of the New York Giants used, according to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, when discussing Tom Coughlin's—more specifically Kevin Gilbride's—offensive product in 2013.
There's little time for a turnaround; the Giants must field a more efficient offense in 2014. The starting quarterback is 33 years old, and the head coach will turn 68 in August. If you believe in a window of opportunity, Big Blue's is not getting any wider as Coughlin and Eli Manning begin their 11th season of partnership.
In typical New York fashion, time is of the essence for the Giants. Here is an easy, three-step blueprint they should follow in order to field the optimal offense in 2014:
The Offensive Line Must Jell
Before we can really start to salivate over New York's skill position players, the Giants must build a cogent offensive line. It's not about picking out five behemoths and begging them to block; it's about turning five massive men into a single unit, operational as one bullish force.
New York must allow time for the members of its 2014 offensive line to jell. By Day 1 of training camp, the Giants should have five players picked out as the ideal starting lineup. Regardless of the individual personnel chosen, the coaching staff must then maximize practice reps for the five first-team selectees.
An early report by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News outlines the starting five O-linemen from OTA workouts as follows: right tackle, Justin Pugh; right guard, Chris Snee; center, J.D. Walton; left guard, Geoff Schwartz; and left tackle, James Brewer. In this specific lineup, the Giants have gone with the veteran center, Walton, over second-rounder Weston Richburg. With Will Beatty (leg) and John Jerry (knee) out until training camp begins, former New Orleans Saint Charles Brown also received some first-team reps at left tackle, according to Ebenezer Samuel of the Daily News.
Concerns about injuries to Beatty and Jerry are legitimate. So are any worries fans may have about the durability of Snee, who is now 32 years old and attempting to bounce back from a pair of hip surgeries. Time is sweet for these rebuilding Giants, and little can be spared waiting for their best blockers to get healthy.
The more time that is spent together, the crisper the communication will be. From 2007 until center Shaun O'Hara broke down in 2010, the Giants fielded a single offensive line configuration (LT, David Diehl; LG, Rich Seubert; C, O'Hara; RG, Snee; RT, Kareem McKenzie). Working behind this veteran unit, the Giants fielded two 1,000-yard rushers in 2008 (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward), a record-setting 107-reception receiver in 2009 (Steve Smith) and Eli Manning's only 30-touchdown season of his career in 2010 (31).
The Giants parted ways with O'Hara and Seubert before the 2011 season, and the offensive line has never been as stable as it was when those two anchored it.
Having a consistent starting five allows the rest of the offense to open up. If the running back knows where the hole is going to be, he will find it a half-step quicker; if the quarterback is not under constant duress, he will find the open receiver a half-second sooner.
Injuries are not preventable, but health and uniformity along the offensive line are among the prerequisites for fielding an explosive offense in the NFL.
Coaches Must Meld Offensive Ideologies
The Giants offense will run most efficiently if the ideologies of the coaching staff align.
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will likely bring a West Coast flair to the platoon, based on his experience in Green Bay as the quarterbacks coach of Aaron Rodgers. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports the Giants have been utilizing a three-wide receiver set on "almost every play" during OTA workouts. Raanan described the new offense's appearance as "dissimilar" to the vertical, deep-strike offense run by Gilbride from 2007-2013.
The 2014 offense, however, will feature more of Coughlin's power running game than the "sprinkle" Raanan describes in his report. The Giants signed 231-pound Rashad Jennings in free agency and drafted 230-pound Andre Williams; the O-line has been beefed up, and the battle for fullback between Henry Hynoski and John Connor is primed to be one of training camp's fiercest and finest.
I'll bet the reason New York is running so many short-pass patterns out of multiple-wide receiver sets during OTA workouts is because those plays require a more delicate timing than sticking the ball in the gut of a quarter-ton man and telling him to plow ahead.
The Giants will likely strike a balance between McAdoo's precise possession passing and Coughlin's prudent power running. After agreeing on an overall ideology, Coughlin and McAdoo then had to relay that vision to New York's reassembled offensive coaching staff.
|2014 Giants Offensive Coaching Staff|
|Ben McAdoo||Offensive Coordinator|
|Lunda Wells||Asst. Offensive Line Coach|
|Pat Flaherty||Offensive Line Coach|
|Danny Langsdorf||Quarterbacks Coach|
|Sean Ryan||Wide Receivers Coach|
|Kevin M. Gilbride||Tight Ends Coach|
|Craig Johnson||Running Backs Coach|
|Ryan Roeder||Offensive Assistant|
*Highlight indicates new members of coaching staff for 2014 season.
Among the fresh-faced assistants are quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf, formerly the offensive coordinator at Oregon State; running backs coach Craig Johnson, who has coached mostly quarterbacks in his 15 years of NFL experience (with the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans); and offensive assistant Ryan Roeder, a tight ends coach at Princeton for the past three seasons.
Familiar coaches in new roles include Sean Ryan, who returns to coaching wide receivers after two years guiding the quarterbacks; tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride, who coached tight ends during Ryan's stint with the quarterbacks; and offensive line assistant Lunda Wells, a second-year coach who was promoted from offensive assistant.
Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, now in his 10th season with the Giants, is the only offensive holdover to maintain his post from 2013.
With so many new perspectives in the offensive meeting rooms this season, one can conceive how McAdoo's coordination duties stretch far beyond the chalked 100-yard boundary of the gridiron.
The Quarterback Must be Functional
Above all else, the quarterback must be functional in the inaugural Coughlin/McAdoo offense.
If accomplished, it will stand in stark contrast to Manning's 2013 campaign in which he turned the ball over 29 times (27 interceptions, two fumbles lost). Manning has run an offense efficiently in the past, so it is not absurd to suggest McAdoo's influence will spur a total turnaround, especially upon examining the success the coordinator had with Rodgers in Green Bay.
Star of the slot Victor Cruz claims the new offense is less dependent on subtleties such as body language, making it easier for he and Manning "to connect," according to Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. The simplicity should also improve Manning's relationship with Rueben Randle, who struggled with quarterback-receiver communication at times in 2013. Additionally, it could catalyze Manning's connection with 2014 first-round selection Odell Beckham Jr. (12 overall).
A formidable offensive front and respectable rushing attack will help keep the pressure off of Manning's arm, where it remained all game every game a season ago.
McAdoo's impact on Manning will be just as potent as Ken Whisenhunt's was on Philip Rivers with the San Diego Chargers in 2013. Rivers showed signs of regression in 2011 and 2012, only to be resurrected with a 32-touchdown 2013 and a Comeback Player of the Year award. McAdoo, a rookie coordinator, could provide a contemporary vision that similarly reinvigorates an offense that had gone stale.
Manning, a draft classmate of Rivers', will benefit most from the drastic changes made this offseason. The Giants have added the necessary personnel to return to a Super Bowl, and, for Manning, to an elite level of play.
*All roster information courtesy of Giants.com.
**All statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.