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The Giants are about to find out whether their paper-tiger offense really was held back by Jason Garrett — or if the problem is much harder to fix.
Head coach Joe Judge fired Garrett and declined to name an interim offensive coordinator Tuesday in favor of handling adjustments “collaboratively in-house” over the next week. It’s a move a boisterous segment of the fan base clamored for as the Giants averaged just 18.9 points per game with playmakers Saquon Barkley, Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay and others in and out of the lineup.
“There’s going to be a lot of the same players out there and it will still be elements of the playbook that we’ll have out there,” Judge said. “We’ll see as new wrinkles develop and new schemes and concepts that may be included.”
Freddie Kitchens — the former Browns head coach, Judge’s friend of 17 years and an undefined senior offensive assistant for the Giants — is expected to handle game-day play-calling, a source told The Post. But Judge curiously would not commit to Kitchens and left open all possibilities, including that he could call plays despite his primarily special teams background and one year coaching receivers for the Patriots.
With Kitchens calling plays for an absent Garrett last season, the Giants scored six points in a loss to the Browns.
“Freddie has a very aggressive approach to the game,” Judge said Tuesday when pressed on Kitchens. “Freddie has done a good job in terms of using his players and creating matchups and situations where they can have success, and he calls it with a degree of multiples and variables, which present problems to opponents. He sees it through the lens of the player, in terms of creating plays for the player. That’s a valuable asset.”
The timing of the change is poor because the Giants are on a short week before facing the Eagles, after squandering the learning period afforded by the Nov. 8-13 bye. How much can really change over the final seven games compared to an offseason?
One longtime NFL executive explained he was in a situation once where the thinking behind an in-season coordinator was “it’s not going to make much of a difference, but at least we are making a statement to the players that we are not going to accept a lack of quality coaching.” But the replacement “was able to change much more than we thought.”
Judge is in a spot where he needs to pick the right coordinator to restore confidence in his decision-making.
“If this is the default choice, then why make the decision in-season?” the executive said. “Continuity is extremely important once you have the right people in place. It has no value until then.”
Kitchens has coached offensive line, running backs and tight ends but has limited play-calling experience. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield won 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year after Kitchens took over in-season, but the offense tanked in Kitchens’ one year as head coach and play-caller.
Kitchen’s offense showed creativity, but he already lent Browns-tried wrinkles like the jet sweep, Wildcat quarterback and wishbone offense to the Giants. It didn’t end the perception that Garrett’s offense, especially route concepts, were stuck in the Norv Turner-mold of the 1990s.
“I wouldn’t say a [whiz kid]-type coordinator is the primary answer,” ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday said. “There is nothing about the Patriots’ offense right now that is super-complicated and one of the newer styles. The Giants, at their best, it was no surprise what Eli Manning was doing.
“You have to be committed to what you are asking guys to do. What they need to do is come in with a clear and decisive plan, be very player-specific in what you are going to go after the next four weeks. And, by the way, you can evaluate players much better that way for the future.”
If the offense continues to struggle, then the pressure intensifies on Judge, GM Dave Gettleman and others involved in choosing high-priced free agents and draft picks to bolster the offense.
“They are still trying to figure out who they are,” an NFL scout said. “They should do more middle-zone runs with RPO concepts behind it. They don’t know how to utilize Saquon — who is a bigger, stronger Reggie Bush — or get the other guys the ball in space. They’ve got a bunch of misfits when you put it all together and look at individual strengths.”