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How Brian Daboll’s Giants are maximizing Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and others

New York Giants fans have many reasons to be excited about the team’s 4-1 record, but what should have them most optimistic is the quick impact that the Giants’ new coaching staff has made. On both sides of the ball, head coach Brian Daboll has produced a well-coached team that is maximizing a rebuilding roster hit hard by injuries.

Even before losing receivers Sterling Shepard and Collin Johnson for the season, the cupboard looked bare for Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, who calls the plays. Quarterback Daniel Jones didn’t play well enough in his first three seasons to warrant having his fifth-year option picked up, the offensive line was among the NFL’s worst last season, and the Giants have a pair of disappointments at receiver in second-year player Kadarius Toney and big-money free agent Kenny Golladay. Yet, five games into the season, the Giants have rigged up an offense that ranks 12th in offensive DVOA, which accounts for strength of schedule.

Previously with the Bills and Chiefs, respectively, Daboll and Kafka had two of the best quarterbacks in the league in Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, so it made sense that their offenses were spread-it-out, air-it-out attacks. The Giants, however, have mostly utilized heavy personnel groupings and run formations to feature running back Saquon Barkley, their best player.

Giants' personnel usage

Personnel Usage rate Rank

11 (1 RB, 1 TE)

61.60%

18th

12 (1 RB, 2 TE)

21.90%

10th

13 (1 RB, 3 TE)

8.30%

6th

With an offensive line that lacks big names — left tackle Andrew Thomas is the group’s only star — the Giants are currently fourth in explosive run rate, with 12.7 percent of their runs going for 12-plus yards. They have a diverse run game menu, but their core concepts are outside zone, which has become the base scheme around the league, and pin-and-pull, which is a variant of outside zone.

Week 5, 6:41 remaining in the second quarter, second-and-7

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Against the Packers, Barkley had an explosive run when he lined up at quarterback and ran a pin-and-pull concept. Receiver David Sills had a crack block on the outside linebacker on the edge. Center Jon Feliciano pulled outside, and running back Matt Breida was a lead blocker.

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As Feliciano pulled, the inside linebacker showed up faster than he expected, but he was able to quickly react and seal him off. Sills was engaged with the linebacker initially but fell off of him to block the safety.

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Sills’ effort and hustle on the play were exceptional. After blocking the safety, he turned back around to block the linebacker again. Breida then took the safety after Sills made it easy for him. Barkley exploded through in between Sills and Barkley.

Sills is an example of a player with a limited skillset who has found a role. He converted from quarterback to wide receiver in college and signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He was eventually signed by the Giants in the same season and had played sparingly until this season. Among 80 wide receivers who have run at least 100 routes, Sills ranks 76th in yards per route run (0.69), but he’s made key blocks on several explosive runs. Good coaches figure out what players do well and put them in a position to do it.

Good coaches also give their players the tools they need to succeed. The Giants using pin-and-pull concepts is a good example of that. Instead of asking their interior linemen to make difficult reach blocks inside, they allow them to use their size and down block.

Week 4, 8:10 remaining in the first quarter, second-and-1

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In a regular outside zone look, Feliciano would have to reach the defensive tackle while right guard Mark Glowinski might have to give him a helping hand before chasing a linebacker in space.

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This play was either a called pin-and-pull concept or the Giants made a “fold” call at the line of scrimmage, meaning blocking assignments changed for just a couple of the linemen. Either way, the Giants get the same action on the play side. Glowinski down blocks on the defensive tackle, which allows Feliciano to do what he does best: pull and get the second level.

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Glowinski blew up the defensive tackle, displacing him three yards down the field, while Feliciano picked off the linebacker, opening up a hole for Barkley.

Aside from injuries, Barkley’s weakness in prior seasons was his vision and tendency to bounce plays outside too often. This season, he’s been a much more patient and willing inside runner. He ranks fifth among qualified running backs in Next Gen Stats’ rushing efficiency metric, which measures how North/South a player runs.

Jones has also displayed a marked improvement on a career-long weakness. After throwing 29 interceptions and fumbling 36 times in his first 38 games, Jones has only thrown two interceptions and fumbled once in five games this season.

Daboll and Kafka have helped Jones by spamming the easy button. They’re second in the league in play-action percentage (42.6 percent), and Jones is fourth in EPA per play-action dropback, according to TruMedia.

The Giants’ play-action attack has been effective, in part, because they do a great job of selling the run.

Week 4, 5:24 remaining in the second quarter, second-and-6

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Here, the Giants came out with 13 personnel. The play was a boot right with only one player running a route. This play depends on the defense biting hard on the run fake.

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After the snap, the offensive linemen and tight ends came off the ball low and hard, like they would on a run. Jones has also been excellent and detailed on his run fakes this season.

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After Jones pulled the ball from Barkley’s belly, nearly every defender had their eyes on Barkley. Normally, you would see a boot play work this well in short-yardage situations, but this play was called on second-and-6. Nickel corner Kyler Gordon (No. 6) was in man coverage, and his eyes were on tight end Tanner Hudson(No. 88), leaving no one to account for Jones.

For all the encouraging signs, the Giants have still struggled to create explosive plays through the air. They rank 31st in the explosive pass rate, with just 9.6 percent of their pass attempts resulting in gains of 16 yards or more. We’ve seen Kafka and Dabboll draw up explosive pass plays at their previous stops, but it’ll be a struggle to produce those with New York’s current lack of receiving talent. If the Giants can upgrade in that area while maintaining a strong rushing attack, their play-action game should be able to create more chunk plays next season.

Although this article centers on the Giants’ offense, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and his unit deserve recognition, too. Martindale was fired in Baltimore partially because he wouldn’t adjust his blitz-heavy scheme despite significant injuries to Baltimore’s cornerbacks last season. Against the Packers, the Giants lost both their starting corners, but Martindale won by sticking to his guns and blitzing on 41.5 percent of the Packers’ dropbacks. The pressure caused key incompletions on the penultimate drive of the game.

On the season, the Giants are first in blitz rate (42.9 percent). Time will tell if Martindale’s aggressive style will stick, but so far it has covered up weaknesses in the secondary. His defense ranks 10th in points allowed per drive (1.72).

Though the Giants’ lack of talent might catch up to them over the course of the season, they appear to have secured one of the most important elements of sustained success: a coaching staff that can give players an edge on the field.

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