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Fact or Fiction: How Jones, Barkley will be used


The Giants' offense will be similar to the one offensive coordinator Jason Garrett ran when he was the head coach in Dallas.

John Schmeelk: Fact -- Joe Judge said as much in his videoconference media session earlier in the week. The better question is what year of Garrett's tenure in Dallas will the Giants offense most closely reflect. Kellen Moore's offense in 2019 with more bunch sets and motion was significantly different than what the Cowboys did under Scott Linehan. When Bill Callahan was the play caller prior to Linehan, it was a bit different, especially in the run game. Or will it reflect the Cowboys offense when Garrett was the offensive coordinator and play caller more than a decade ago? Until we see the team on the field, there's way to know the answer to these questions. I do expect a lot of slants, deep in-cuts, and a general vertical passing game.

Dan Salomone: Fact -- Similar, yes. Identical, no. It still needs to be tailored to the Giants' roster and, more importantly, it has to adapt game to game. That has been a major emphasis of Joe Judge since the day he took over as head coach. He wants to run it 50 times one week and throw it 50 times the next, if that's what he thinks is the best game plan to attack that opponent.

Lance Medow: Fact -- If we go based on what Joe Judge said earlier this week, then it's safe to say that's an accurate statement. Judge said, "I think schematically, the easiest way to describe it to the outside world right now is it's going to be similarly based off what Jason's (Garrett) done in Dallas over the last 10 or so years. There are going to be some similarities carried over from that, but it has to cater to our players we have on our roster currently." Keep in mind, Garrett hasn't called plays for the Cowboys since 2012 as Bill Callahan (2013), Scott Linehan (2014-18) and Kellen Moore (2019) assumed that responsibility during the remainder of Garrett's tenure as Cowboys head coach.

With that being said, he was still very much involved in the offensive game planning so it's not a stretch to say the Giants will incorporate similar concepts. While the personnel is different, there are players with similar skillsets to Garrett's Dallas personnel. There is a dynamic running back in Saquon Barkley (similar to Ezekiel Elliot), a young mobile quarterback in Daniel Jones (similar to Dak Prescott), a receiving threat at tight end in Evan Engram (similar to Jason Witten/Blake Jarwin) and several wide receivers to spread the wealth in Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton (similar to Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb).

Saquon Barkley will be used much like Ezekiel Elliott is with the Cowboys.

Schmeelk: Fact -- Barkley is going to get the ball a lot and be a big participant in the passing game, just as Elliott has been in Dallas, but I do think there will be some subtle differences. Elliott is more of a grinder and power back than Barkley, who is quicker, faster, more elusive, and gets many of his yards with chunk plays. It will be interesting to see whether Barkley can avoid negative plays, which were an issue last season. Barkley is also a much better route runner than Elliott. While Elliott had 131 catches the last two seasons, I think Barkley will get motioned wide more and run a more diverse route tree, similar to a wide receiver.

Salomone: Fact -- These premier running backs dominated the Big Ten and now the NFC East. If I went "fact" with the first statement, I have to do the same here. Like Elliott, Barkley will be a focal point of Garrett's proven offense. Elliott is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time league rushing champion. But the success goes beyond the individual. Dallas' offense finished in the top 10 eight times in Garrett's 13 seasons as a coordinator or head coach. "I don't think I just get excited because of how successful Ezekiel Elliott has been," Barkley said, "just how successful Dallas has been in recent years.'

Medow: Fact -- As I referenced above, Jason Garrett is going from working with one versatile running back to another, so it's fair to assume he'll look to use Saquon Barkley in much the same way he deployed Ezekiel Elliott. The latter has run for at least 1,357 yards in each of the three seasons in which he's played at least 15 games and has also piled up at least 301 carries. Barkley has yet to reach 300 carries in a single season, but he has over 1,000 yards rushing in each of his two years in the league. The other common trait is their ability to serve as a receiving threat. Zeke was targeted 95 times in 2018 and 71 in 2019. In comparison, Barkley had 121 targets in 2018 and despite missing three games last season, still managed 73 targets. Zeke and Saquon serve as workhorses for their respective teams, and I don't see why the latter can't assume the role of the former within the Giants' new offense.

The virtual format of the offseason is more challenging for the offense than the defense.

Schmeelk: Fact -- I debated whether to go fiction here, because I do think the offense has an advantage with returning personnel. Even though the offensive scheme is new, Daniel Jones has nearly all his primary weapons from last season back except the retired Rhett Ellison. He should have the timing down with his three primary wide receivers (Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard), Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley. It might allow the offense to click faster, even if there are changes at center and right tackle on the offensive line. Defensively, on the other hand, there will be a new middle linebacker wearing the green dot on his helmet in Blake Martinez, possibly a new safety primary deep safety in Xavier McKinney, a new number one cornerback in James Bradberry, and a new scheme. They have to adjust to each other and the new playbook. However, every year, no matter what changes are made, the defense is further along than the offense early in camp. The lack of an in-person spring program could exacerbate that contrast. Hence, fact.

Salomone: Fiction -- I don't think you put a blanket statement on one side of the ball. Everyone is in uncharted waters – offense, defense, and special teams. One interesting element, though, was what Dalvin Tomlinson said about the defensive line staying mostly intact from last season. He said, "I feel like it gives us an advantage in learning the system more easily because we know how each other learns things and picks up things on a day to day basis."

Medow: Fiction -- I can argue it's equally challenging for both sides of the ball, but if I had to choose one, I'd go defense. Even though players can't tackle during OTAs, it's still crucial for defensive players to go through the motions and work on technique. Unlike offensive players, defensive players have to stop the opposition once the season starts and tackling tends to be an issue across the league, especially early on, with limited padded practices over the course of the season. That's why any offseason on-field work is important just for the sake of getting into rhythm. For the Giants, both sides of the ball are learning new schemes this offseason, but there are far more new faces on defense, and that's yet another reason why Patrick Graham's unit has a tougher hill to climb with no on-field work this offseason.

The first half of the Giants schedule is tougher than the second.

Schmeelk: FACT SLAM FOR SCHMEELK! The schedule makers did the Giants no favors with the first half of their schedule; only two teams (the Redskins and Buccaneers) won fewer than eight games in 2019 and the Bucs added Tom Brady this offseason. The Giants' first four opponents all have returning head coaches, and the first five all have returning offensive coordinators. Only the Bears in Week Two may have a different quarterback depending on how the battle between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles plays out. In the second half of the season, the Giants get to play the Redskins, Cardinals and Bengals, all of which had top ten picks in the draft. If their young quarterbacks play well, they could be formidable, but it is too early to tell. The Browns are also in the schedule's second half. They won only six games last season.

Salomone: Fiction -- I often feel the need to be the boring answer guy here. We have zero idea what the Giants or any of the 31 clubs will do this season. Teams are always rising and falling in the NFL, where more than any other sport a team's fortunes can change drastically from one season to the next. And let's be honest, the Giants have won 12 games since they made the playoffs in 2016. No opponent can be taken lightly.

Medow: Fact -- In the first eight games of the season, the Giants face each of their divisional foes, two of which have completely new schemes; the defending NFC Champion 49ers, who return the core of their 2019 team; a dangerous Bucs team with Tom Brady under center; the Steelers with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger; the Bears, who have a strong defense and who could turn to veteran Nick Foles as their starter at quarterback; as well as a cross-country trip to Los Angeles to collide with the Rams in their new stadium. The second half of the season certainly poses several challenges, but by that time there will be familiarity with the new schemes and coaching staffs within the division and more film on Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The same can be said for the Browns and their new coaching staff because by Week 15, there will be more to study regarding their new schemes.

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