EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The NFL’s worst scoring offense faces the league’s worst scoring defense this week. Something has to give on Sunday when Jason Garrett returns as the New York Giants‘ offense coordinator to face the Dallas Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
Garrett, the former Cowboys coach, is the leader of a Giants offense averaging a woeful 11.8 points per game. What better way to break out than to do it against his former team, which brings the ultimate slump-busting defense to the table. Dallas is allowing a whopping 36.5 points per game through four weeks.
If not now for Garrett and the Giants, then when? They’re still trying to figure out the strengths of this offense with a quarter of the season in the rearview mirror.
“I think the biggest thing we’re all trying to do is just simply execute better, both in the run game and the pass game,” Garrett said. “You certainly want to do the things you’re good at, and we’re trying to discover what those things are.”
After nine-plus seasons in Dallas that produced two playoff wins and a lot of mediocrity, this can’t be what Garrett envisioned. The expectation had to be that he would have the same effect on New York’s Daniel Jones that he had on young Cowboys quarterbacks Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, and that it could lead to another opportunity to be a head coach.
Instead, this is quickly heading in the other direction.
The relevant question with Garrett when he landed with the Giants was: Can he jump in as a successful playcaller after seven years out of that business?
There were mixed opinions around the league.
“I really like Garrett,” one general manager said at the time of the hiring.
Garrett’s “vanilla” style was criticized by a different executive.
“It’s a lot bigger than just [Jones]. Their offense is so boring,” ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “There is such a demand to be perfect with your execution, not only for [Jones] but everybody. There are no easy throws. No easy throws. They’re very static and stagnant. There is very little use of motion to attack and gain impact.”
The Giants are 28th in the NFL with their rate of motion at the snap on 5.9% of their plays, according to ESPN’s video tracking team. In fairness, that is not the be-all, end-all to success. The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers rank lower but are in the top half of the league in scoring.
Still, it could be viewed as indicative of the lack of creativity and aggressiveness with a unit that also happens to be playing without stellar running back Saquon Barkley.
“I watch them play and I go, ‘Oh, you motioned a receiver from one side to the other and had him stop for three seconds,'” Orlovsky said. “If you’re still doing that, come on, man. Evolve.”
This is a results-oriented business, and the Giants have failed to score a touchdown in almost 10 quarters. Blame can fall on an offensive line that has struggled blocking, receivers who haven’t gotten separation, a quarterback who turns the ball over and/or coaches who haven’t been able to scheme players open.
Garrett has even managed to take away one of Jones’ strengths — the deep ball — and has sapped the effectiveness of tight end Evan Engram. Jones has thrown seven balls 20-plus yards in four games. The league leader, Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), has thrown 28. Only the Miami Dolphins‘ Ryan Fitzpatrick and New Orleans Saints‘ Drew Brees have made fewer downfield throws, and both entered the NFL in a completely different decade than Jones.
This is problematic because developing Jones was a priority this season. A bright future for New York likely hinges on his progress.
As for Engram, although injuries have limited him in recent years, he consistently produced when on the field his first three seasons, averaging 51.9 receiving yards per game from 2017 to 2019. He has averaged 32.8 in four games this season. It’s not for a lack of trying. It’s more a lack of effectiveness, with his targets remaining greater than seven per game.
“Evan is always a guy we try to get involved,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”
Despite a talent discrepancy, New York’s struggles are quite curious considering the Cowboys are running a similar scheme. Garrett’s fingerprints are still all over Dallas, even with Kellen Moore calling plays for the Cowboys. With some continuity and better personnel, the Cowboys are averaging 231.5 more yards per game and almost 20 more points.
“No doubt, there’s definitely a connection there [with schemes],” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “You can definitely see the impact of what Jason had on Kellen and his time here as a player and here as a coach. There’s definitely a lot of similarities.”
Except, so far, with the product on the field.
The way the Giants want to operate, their offense would be balanced, regardless of the personnel. Judge wants to “run it when you have to run it and throw it when you have to throw it.” They did a better job of that in the second half of last week’s 17-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Maybe against this Dallas defense Garrett’s offense can hit its stride and top 20 points for the first time this season. The timing would be perfect for Garrett and the Giants.