EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' tight ends coach will be the team's de facto offensive coordinator on Sunday against the team for whom he was the head coach last year, proving again that in the NFL in 2020 the unusual and unexpected are imbedded in every game plan.
Freddie Kitchens will call the offensive plays when the Giants face the Cleveland Browns in MetLife Stadium in the home team's first Sunday night game in more than two years. Kitchens, whose full-time job is the Giants' tight ends coach, assumed the added duties because coordinator Jason Garrett tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19, is in quarantine and is prohibited from have having contact with the team during the game. So, Kitchens will match wits with the team he led to a 6-10 record in 2019 in his only season as a head coach.
"That's kind of ironic," Kitchens said on a Zoom call today. "But really, it's the next game. It truly is just the next game. It could have happened… We've kind of prepared for this throughout the year in training camp and things like that. It's just kind of the next game. It just so happens we had a guy go down this week."
The Giants have not yet announced whether quarterback Daniel Jones will be another such guy – not because of COVID-19, but with the hamstring and ankle injuries that have limited his practice participation this week. Jones is listed as questionable. If he can't start, Colt McCoy will, as he did in Seattle two weeks ago.
Their quarterback uncertainty notwithstanding, because remote meetings have become standard procedure this season due to the pandemic, the Giants' have had a relatively normal work week – off the field. Garrett has participated in the meetings via Zoom. The Giants did cancel practice yesterday out of an abundance of caution but added extra meeting time. And the NFL's decision to shift the game to prime time has given them additional time to prepare.
"It truly has just been kind of what we normally do," Kitchens said. "Nothing will truly change until we get to Sunday. Jason is still in the Zoom meetings with us and things like that. Really, at the end of the day, on a weekly basis, our game planning for practice or the games, it's really a group effort, which it should be. That's continued. Nothing has really changed, except for Sunday."
And during the game, the Giants' attack will be structured and run as it has been all season.
"Nothing is changing with our offense," Kitchens said. "Our offense is our offense, and we're just going to try to execute on a consistent basis truly. I couldn't be any more truthful than that."
No two coaches will call a game exactly alike and Joe Judge acknowledged there will be situations when Kitchens might call a run or pass when Garrett might do the opposite.
"The offensive staff has done a good job putting together the game plan," Judge said. "That's a very cooperative process. They all work together, they share ideas, they ping things off each other. Obviously, I've been involved talking with the coordinators the way I may see a game being played or adjustments I want made as well. But once you get into the game, the play caller has to call it how he sees the game. You can't script an entire game, you can't go by some template of how the game is supposed to go. You have to have a feel within the game of how you see it, how the quarterbacks are seeing it, what's working, what adjustments they have made and what we have to do to adjust on our own part. When he (Kitchens) gets into the game, he has to be able to call plays as he sees fit to help this team. We'll discuss those situations and scenarios before we get to Sunday, like I do every week with all of the coordinators, and make sure that we're on the same page."
Although Kitchens downplayed the significance of him calling the plays instead of Garrett, one significant difference exists. Garrett was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, when Kitchens coached seven of the 11 defenders who started for the Browns in their loss to Baltimore Monday night. He is well-versed in each of those players' strengths and weaknesses.
"There are a lot of guys that were there when I was there, but there is also a significant number that weren't," Kitchens said. "Of course, the ones that are there, I know a little bit more about than I would if I wasn't there. I don't know that you gain a tremendous advantage with that."
No matter who calls the plays, the Giants' offense needs to be more productive than it was last week, when it finished with 100 net passing yards, Jones and McCoy were sacked eight times and each was responsible for one of the team's three lost fumbles.
"Protecting the ball and protecting the quarterback is of the utmost of importance for us, as in any offense," Kitchens said. "That's where it all starts. A lot of times, those two things go hand in hand. Of course, it's always a priority for us. Cleveland is very good upfront. The better you are upfront, the more difficult that is. We have to do a good job of putting these guys in position to be successful."
*Running back Devonta Freeman, who has missed five games since being placed on injured reserve Nov. 13 with an ankle injury, returned to practice today. He is eligible to be added to the active roster at any time. Freeman was also on the Reserve/COVID-19 list from Dec. 5 until yesterday.
The seven-year veteran was signed on Sept. 23, three days after Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending knee injury. He played in five games with four starts and had 54 carries for 172 yards and one touchdown, plus seven receptions for 58 yards.
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants gear up for a primetime matchup with the Browns.