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New York Giants 2021 Season Rewind: Where They Went Wrong on Offense

The Giants spent a lot of money to fix their offense, but the results were worse than in 2020. A recap of what went wrong.
Additional Reporting by Patricia Traina

The New York Giants were ambitious during the 2021 free agency. Rightfully so, if they wanted to compete for the playoffs in 2021. The 2020 defense was a respectable unit that kept the Giants in football games, but the offense finished 31st in yards and scoring.

One couldn't imagine that the Giants could be worse on offense in 2021 after signing Kenny Golladay to a four-year $72-million contract. Quarterback Daniel Jones finally received his true "X" receiver who would mesh so well with Jason Garrett's offense, just like "X" receivers Terrell Owens, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant did in years past.

Golladay was the big-ticket signing, but the Giants also invested in other skilled players. They signed wide receiver John Ross to a one-year contract, brought in backup running back Devontae Booker on a two-year, $5.5-million deal, and signed Kyle Rudolph to a two-year, $12-million deal.

Upgrading the running back position after Wayne Gallman wasn't retained and bringing in a more "Y" type of tight end in Kyle Rudolph seemed like proactive moves. The Booker signing proved to be valuable, as the backup running back assumed a more significant role through two Saquon Barkley injuries and maintained around twelve touches per game once Barkley returned.

However, the signing of Rudolph was a disaster. The veteran tight end was zapped athletically, and his blocking prowess seemed to be overvalued. John Ross, meanwhile, only had 11 receptions on the year and dealt with injuries himself.

Despite the lack of success from some ancillary signings by now-former general manager Dave Gettleman, there was still little chance the Giants would average less than 17 points a game, right?

Wrong!

New York finished 31st once again in total offensive yards and scoring. They average 287.3 yards per game and 15.2-points per game--worse than 2020s's averages of 299.6 yards per game and 17.5 points per game.

In an attempt to jumpstart things, they fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett after the Monday Night Football loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their first game played out of the bye week, and named senior offensive assistant Freddie Kitchens as the play-caller.

However, the conservative approach stayed upon Garrett's departure because the uber-conservative nature wasn't a product of Garrett but a product of the entire coaching staff having little faith in the offense.

Daniel Jones and Kenny Golladay's rapport developed through the offseason was lost once Golladay suffered a hamstring injury in training camp. Golladay had one 100-yard receiving game (against the Saints) but failed to score a touchdown on the year. He was virtually non-existent.

The return of Barkley from a torn ACL was another selling point for Giant fans to believe a significant investment would make the offense look competent. The star running back returned from his injury but still failed to be a difference-maker during the 2021 season, thanks, in part, to an ankle injury suffered in a Week 5 loss to Dallas.

All the hopes and dreams of the 2021 New York Giants competing for an NFC East divisional crown were all fool's gold. Expecting success in an antiquated offense isn't the primary reason the strategy failed to work. The main reason for the 2021 flop was the offensive line.

Gettleman promised that his primary focus when accepting the job in 2018 was fixing the trenches and bringing in true hog mollies. His Boston accent and unique terminology weren't criticized at first. Giant fans were interested in a different approach after Jerry Reese failed to upgrade the offensive line successfully.

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Gettleman's initial focus proved to be his biggest downfall. During the 2021 spending spree, many Giants fans were clamoring for the Giants' general manager to invest in the offensive line. Still, Gettleman did nothing other than signing offensive guards Zach Fulton, Jonathan Harrison, and Joe Looney. Fulton and Looney retired during training camp, and Harrison ended up injured and a non-factor.

When asked after the 2021 NFL Draft why the Giants failed to invest in their offensive line, Gettleman brazenly spoke of the organization's faith in the young players that weren't matched by those outside of the building. 

The faith was misplaced. Yes, the injuries to Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux were unlucky and terrible. Still, heading into a season with Nate Solder and a "dawg-less" Matt Peart at right tackle was a dereliction of duty from Gettleman and the Giants.

New York scrambled to improve the roster after the Lemieux injury. They traded defensive lineman B.J. Hill to the Bengals for interior lineman (and former first-round pick) Billy Price and traded a draft pick to the Ravens for Ben Bredeson. Both players were replacement level but still added desperate last-second value, for the Giants were set to roll with former Washington practice squadder Wes Martin if not for the acquisitions.

New York also signed Dolphins cast-off Matt Skura, who played adequately at first before tailing off down the season's stretch. The interior situation was bad, and the fact that the Giants put a lot of chips in Will Hernandez's basket after being benched in the previous season for a fifth-round pick proved to be foolish.

The blind ignorance by the organization toward the Giants' offensive line and a pure lack of depth both inside and at tackle was the downfall of this team. And here the Giants are, heading into Year 4 of Daniel Jones's tenure, and they are still uncertain on his long-term value because they didn't sufficiently surround him with a competent supporting cast.

The rushing attack was far less effective in 2021, and the pass blocking was worse. Simple stunts and twists consistently manipulated the protection ability of now-former offensive line coach Rob Sale's unit. There was a lack of execution in critical moments by every offensive lineman at some point of the season, except for Andrew Thomas, who developed well in 2021.

The Giants invested a lot in their offense, but not at the correct positions. There was a lot of investment in skill during free agency, and then a first-round pick in a unique, but often injured, Kadarius Toney, but nothing in the offensive line despite there being chances, such as in the sixth round, passing over guard Trey Smith, who went to the Chiefs after the Giants picked cornerback Rodarius Williams and running back/special teamer Gary Brightwell.

Not investing in depth along the offensive line put the Giants behind the theoretical eight-ball from the start of the season. Gettleman was left scrambling, and it was that blind arrogance that ended up being his downfall.

With no ability to block, Jones couldn't do enough to find targets down the football field. Garrett's offensive playbook also didn't help; the static routes that break back towards the quarterback were still prevalent. Garrett's departure didn't change much since it was still his playbook that Freddie Kitchens would use.

In Kitchens' defense, the former Browns' head coach only had Jones for one game, the one in which Jones was reportedly injured on the opening drive against the Eagles. Kitchens primarily dealt with backup Mike Glennon, a disaster for the Giants in 2021 (and yet another organizational failure since they cut corners on the backup rather than spend for a quality player in what was a necessity given Jones's growing injury history).

Garrett's retention for 2021 was yet another reason to doubt the team. The talk of his retention never stemmed from confidence in his abilities as a coordinator. There was so much offseason chatter about Garrett hopefully reinventing the wheel, but that did not happen. 

The positive about Garrett's return was always accompanied by talk of continuity. Garrett's 2021 return would mean Daniel Jones' second year in Garrett's system; theoretically, that meant Jones would better understand Garrett's terminology, methodology, and overall plays.

A better command of the offense at the line of scrimmage can only make the offense perform better, especially with upgrades to the receivers through free agency and the draft. It makes sense, in theory. But how important is continuity when the play-caller and playbook are questionable, to begin with? 

Rumors also circulated that former head coach Joe Judge didn't want Garrett to return in 2021. If that was true, then that's a terrible job by the Giants to force Garrett on Judge for the sake of continuity.

The 2021 New York Giants should act as a blueprint for how to avoid a disastrous season. Only investing in skilled positions with a shaky offensive line and a developing quarterback isn't a recipe for success. Gettleman failed to live up to his promise. Injuries didn't help, but they're not the reason for this failure to meet unrealistic expectations.  


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