Former New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride confirmed what anyone who watched the Giants stumble to a 7-9 season saw: the lack of depth along the injury-depleted offensive line had a trickle down effect on the performance of quarterback Eli Manning.
Speaking candidly in a 20-minute interview with SiriusXM Radio on Tuesday night, Gilbride, who retired less than a week after the Giants’ second straight season without a playoff berth, touched upon a variety of topics related to the Giants offense’s tumble to 28th in the NFL.
The primary culprit? The playoff the offensive line which, due to injuries, necessitated seven different starting combinations.
“It was hard to get the continuity that need to have plus the quality of players wasn’t that good to be quite frank, and it can’t because your backups are never going to be as good,” Gilbride said, noting that the Giants fielded seven different starting offensive line combinations this season.
“We’ve been concerned about the depth of the o-line for a while now as that group had aged and the great offensive lines we had in the 2008, 20009 seasons had started to disappear. But we obviously didn’t expect the onslaught of injuries to happen.”
Because of the lack of depth, Gilbride said it became almost impossible for quarterback Eli Manning to function.
“(Manning) is a guy where if you give him enough time, he’s always going to be throwing the ball to the right person,” Gilbride said of Manning’s season, which featured a career-high 27 interceptions.
“He’s going to know what you’re doing defensively, he’s going to see through your disguises, he’s going to be an accurate passer. But he’s not a scrambler and you’ve got to give him some help. And if you give him some help he’s proven that he can win a championship for you.”
To help the offense get going, Gilbride said he tried many adjustments, such as keeping the tight end in to block on certain blitzes, a move that didn’t always work out in the Giants favor because it created a mismatch against a defense end.
They biggest adjustment Gilbride had to make was to abandon the five- and seven-step dropback passes that the Giants have traditionally used with success.
“We’ve been a dynamic, explosive, throw the ball down the field, let your guys go to a lot of vertical read type of stretch principles, and we had to abandon those,” Gilbride said. “Those are the things that we’d done very well and allowed us to be in the top 10 offensively for a long time. You can’t do it because your quarterback would be on his back while you waited for those things to happen.”
Although the three-step dropbacks had some success when they were first rolled out, Gilbride noted that opposing defenses quickly caught up to that strategy and began to take it away.
“They’re smart on that (defensive) side of the ball and they identify fairly quickly what your weaknesses are and they realize what your adjustments have been, so they take those things away. When we had to expand what we wanted to do, that’s when our shortcomings manifested themselves,” he said.
“Victor Cruz still played very well on the inside for us, but it became readily apparent to defenses that we weren’t playing as well with the outside receiver position,” he said. “That became an area that people just, they had no reservation about lining up just bump and run and getting an extra guy into the box, making it more difficult and challenging to run and forcing you to throw the ball vertically a little bit. You try to throw some three-step fades and fade stops, but they’re sitting on those things.”
He also didn’t fully absolve Manning of the blame, noting that ‘everyone can always do their jobs better.”
However, he pointed out that Manning’s occasional “devil-may-care” attitude with the ball was more of a result of the quarterback trying to do whatever he could to win ball games.
“I think more than anything, when you’re behind, he’s going to try to win the game. If you’re behind by two scores, he’s going to throw it up because he’s going to try to give his team a chance,” Gilbride said.
“If it happens to be picked off and it ends the opportunity and reflects poorly on him, to be quite candid, he could care less. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to give his team a chance to win.”
So where do the Giants go from here to improve?
Gilbride, who like Giants COO John Mara, repeatedly opined that the offensive line has to be one of, if not the top priorities for the offseason.
“I think they need another significant upgrade in the o-line and certainly some added depth,” he said.
He also believes that the team needs to get more out of their skill positions, particularly the outside receivers, who failed to draw away some of the double coverage that opposing defenses placed on Cruz.
And then there is the running game, which was also wrecked by injuries.
“There’s no question that they’re going to have to get a running back that can be the bell cow. I think we had hoped Andre Brown could be that person but he didn’t come back until about the tenth game. It looked like he was gonna be that guy the first couple of games and then he was slowed by injury.
Here are a few other nuggets from Gilbride’s very candid interview:
On the play of left tackle Will Beatty:
“We made the gamble that William Beatty would be the guy, and he had played very well last year. This year, he did not have as good a year; he was much more inconsistent than the year before. He was slowed by some problems and then of course he finished the year with a significant knee injury, so that remains to be seen how he recovers from that.”
On if Beatty can be the guy moving forward:
“I think there’s no question he has the physical skills to play the left tackle position. He has the skill set to match up speed-wise with anybody. I just think he’s got to demonstrate again the commitment and the toughness that you have to have on a play-in and play-out basis. There’s no question in my mind he has the physical talent, it’s just a matter of making his consistency be at the level it needs to be.”
On the tight end spot:
“I think there’s no question they’re going to bring in some people. There’s some young people there—the Larry Donnells, the Adrien Robinsons that have some size and look to have enough physical ability to get open and catch the ball. But they are raw, young players and need a lot of growth and development, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they bring in a veteran tight end that can come in can play that position. We didn’t get the production that we had out of that spot the last few years, either.
“Brandon Myers did a terrific job for us when they played zone coverage, finding the soft spot and making the tough catches, but I think they’re going to look for a bigger, faster guy. He’d be a great number 2 but I think they’re looking for someone who can be a solid starter at that position, and it remains to be seen if those young guys will mature fast enough to give them the confidence to play them in a starting role. “
On Mike Sullivan, a candidate to succeed him as the Giants offensive coordinator:
“He’s terrific. Mike was a defensive guy. He came here and started with us as a receiver coach and developed and grew as an offensive coach and really gave you that unique perspective of having been on the other side, looking at things through a defensive coach’s eyes which is always invaluable.”