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With Ben McAdoo, the Giants Don’t Have a Head Coach or an Offensive Coordinator

The offense sputtered to a 0-2 start, and McAdoo has to start delegating responsibility before it's too late

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The last time the Giants scored 30 points in a game, Marco Rubio was still running for president. The offense has been limp for a long time, and after Monday night’s 24-10 loss to the Lions, head coach Ben McAdoo admitted that “drastic changes” may be in order.

Left tackle Ereck Flowers is a turnstile, and the rest of the offensive line isn’t much better. The line has allowed eight sacks in two weeks, tied for fourth most in the league, and quarterback Eli Manning has been hit 12 times. “Lead” running back Paul Perkins doesn’t have a carry for longer than 4 yards. Twenty-one players have more rushing yards than the Giants do as a team. Two games into the season, the Giants are dead last in rushing attempts (30), yards (97), and rushing first downs (four) -- even though both the Buccaneers and Dolphins have played only one game this season.

Part of that deplorable performance involves execution, but the coaching plays a huge role, too. Earlier this week, McAdoo suggested that he’d be open to relinquishing play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, a worthy candidate who has years of experience as the Giants’ receivers and quarterbacks coach, including serving on both recent Super Bowl squads. And if the head coach is serious about making changes, this is the most important one.

In 2014, McAdoo, formerly Green Bay’s quarterbacks coach, brought the Packers’ West Coast offense to East Rutherford when he was appointed New York’s offensive coordinator with the goal of modernizing the Giants’ run-first approach. Crucially, McAdoo’s scheme entailed quick passes that would get the ball out of Manning’s hands and protect him from his own porous offensive line. In McAdoo’s first season, the Giants went from 31st in offensive DVOA to 15th, but then fell to 19th the following year. New York finished 6-10 in 2014 and 2015, head coach Tom Coughlin was forced out, and suddenly McAdoo was steering the ship.

Just as McAdoo was raised under Mike McCarthy’s West Coast philosophy, he was also shaped in an offense where the head coach calls the plays. Like McCarthy, when McAdoo became head coach, he held onto play-calling responsibilities. Since then he has been trying to do two jobs. The result is that he has been doing neither, offering half measures in both roles.

The Giants offense is devoid of imagination. They ran 90 percent of their formations out of sets featuring three receivers, one tight end, one running back last season; the league average was 60 percent. Entering the bye in Week 8, that number for New York was more than 96 percent! As the league trends toward creating mismatches from multiple formations, the Giants did the exact opposite. Surely a play-caller devoted entirely to the offense could have prevented the Giants from being the most predictable team in recent league history.

Play calling is an art form that requires an incredible amount of time and energy. Most head coaches can’t manage play calling in addition to their head duties, but a few, like McCarthy, have persisted for years. As Brian Billick, former Ravens head coach and Vikings offensive coordinator, told Sports Illustrated last year, “McCarthy is one of the best play-callers in the game. When you’re a play-caller, that’s an all-consuming job. And then you become a head coach and you say, ‘Well, I can do both jobs.’ Well, maybe you can’t.”

Adding head coaching duties has limited McAdoo’s effectiveness as a coordinator, but coordinating has also limited his effectiveness as a head coach. With the Lions up 14-7 late in the second quarter, the Giants defense stopped Detroit on third down at the 38-yard line with 1:15 left in the first half and the Lions on the edge of field goal range. The clock was ticking down, but McAdoo didn’t call a timeout. Stopping the clock would have given the offense two timeouts and about a minute left once Detroit kicked the field goal. A 40-ish-yard drive after the kickoff would’ve gotten New York into field goal range. Even in Madden, a timeout is intuitive in this situation.

McAdoo instead passed on the extra possession. He allowed the Lions to run the clock down before attempting a field goal, which they made with 30 seconds left. The Giants ran the ball once to end the half and then headed to the locker room. He explained the inexplicable decision by saying, "[I] just wanted to make sure that they were going to go for the field goal.”

That … doesn’t make any sense, and it’s the exact kind of situation that a head coach should have mastered in his sleep. If it seems like other coaches who call their own plays, like Andy Reid or McCarthy, are often caught off guard by when to use their timeouts, it’s because they are. Multitasking is a myth. McAdoo, who has been coaching for a fraction of the time Reid and McCarthy have, doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt that he can do two high-level jobs on a sideline when he has barely proved he can do one.

McAdoo accepted the blame for the loss, but later he (fairly) criticized Manning’s “sloppy quarterback play” in taking a delay-of-game penalty on a fourth-and-goal in the third quarter. It was an eyebrow-raising comment from an eyebrow-less man: Head coaches don’t normally single out players after games.

When given the chance to back down from his comments on Tuesday, McAdoo did not. "Did I single him out? Well, we needed to get the ball snapped there," he said. "So, I thought that the quarterback and the center need to find a way to get the ball snapped before the clock hit zero. I'm not sure what you mean by calling him out. We need to get the ball snapped."

Manning has faced his fair share of criticism in New York, but almost exclusively from external sources. While the content of McAdoo’s comments barely register on the Richter scale in Manning’s career, it’s rare to see a Giants head coach air him out in public.

This offseason, general manager Jerry Reese admitted Eli was on the “back nine” of his career, which was generous. For the first time in 14 years, the Giants have to begin seriously planning to acquire a new franchise quarterback. Manning started his first game for the Giants in November 2004, three weeks after George Bush defeated John Kerry for a second term. He hasn’t missed a start since. His 201 consecutive regular-season games, plus 12 in the playoffs, is by far the longest active streak in the league.

But he hasn’t played well in a minute. He threw 16 interceptions and fumbled seven times last season while the Giants converted just over a third of their third downs. While he’s one of the smarter quarterbacks in the league (stop laughing; I’m serious), his arm strength is noticeably declining, and he’s failed to develop a rapport with anyone not named Odell Beckham Jr. His lack of chemistry with his receivers is worsened playing behind a pasta strainer of an offensive line, as Manning’s worst instincts can come out under pressure, like chucking the ball downfield intro triple coverage that results in an interception every time David Tyree isn’t there to catch the pass with his helmet. Most concerningly, Manning no longer excels at engineering hurry-up offenses, which became his hallmark over the last decade. And all of the classic criticisms remain, too: the week-to-week inconsistency, the brainfarts that have made him the league leader in interceptions three times.

Yet, Manning is much closer to the fabric holding this offense together than he is to the threads unraveling it. He has at least a couple years left until he is truly washed. The porous offensive line is a much bigger reason the Giants season is sinking, but there’s not much that can be done about that personnel during the season. For now, they need Sullivan to devote his full attention to righting the ship, or McAdoo might be going down with it.