Aggressive vs. Reckless.
There is a line between the two that every offensive play-caller tries to find in a game, but it's a moving target. Sometimes the right opportunity presents itself on a pass play to take a shot, while in other situations the best bet is to check down. With the way the Saints played the Giants on Sunday, more of the latter unfolded. New Orleans played a soft zone with a focus on limiting the big-play ability of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and company. It doesn't mean the downfield plays were never called, though.
"Yeah, we called them," Giants coach and offensive play-caller Pat Shurmur Monday morning after the 33-18 loss to the Saints. "There were deep routes called that we couldn't get the ball downfield, so you check it down. Then you move on."
It wasn't the first time a defense played this way against the Giants – it won't be the last, either – but the best teams do the dictating.
"You call plays to be aggressive," Shurmur said. "If they're there, you take your shots. That's how you dictate. And if they're not there, you check them down, and then the backs catch the ball and run with it. You're talking about seven-, eight-yard gains, which is fine, so that's how you dictate. Then you make them defend those. That's how you dictate, and then when you choose to run the ball, you make yardage."
That last part is what Shurmur would like back. Rookie running back Saquon Barkley carried the ball only 10 times compared to eight targets in the passing game. There were five other rushing attempts in the game, one from Beckham and two from Eli Manning.
"I wish I would've called more runs," Shurmur said. "That's the reality of that, because I think the ball in Saquon's hands is a good thing."
That it is.
Despite touching the ball a season-low 16 times, Barkley became the fifth player in NFL history with at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first four career games. Barkley hit it on the nose with 44 yards on the ground and 56 through the air on six receptions. He also scored his third career touchdown on a one-yard leap into the end zone to give the Giants one last glimmer of hope, but it was too little and too late for the offense.
"If he said that, then that's something he believes and my mindset is do whatever it takes to help the team win and if that's touch the ball 10, 15 times or touch the ball 30 times, then whatever it takes," Barkley said of Shurmur wishing he had given more carries to the second overall draft pick. "I'm never really in the 'I need the ball in my hands more and more.' Obviously, I would like to touch the ball more, especially if that's the way the game is going, but I am aware that there are going to be games where sometimes the ball's not supposed to be in my hands and sometimes we're supposed to throw the ball. Whatever helps the team win, I'm more than ready to do."
Meanwhile, Shurmur is happy with the level of aggressiveness from Manning, not sensing that he is shying away from throwing a costly interception at the expense of a big play. The 15-year quarterback has four touchdowns in four games and only one interception. Regardless, Manning was asked if it is still worth it to take shots into coverage even if the deep routes are being taken away.
"That usually leads to bad plays," said Manning, who on Sunday moved past Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton (342) and into sole possession of seventh place on the NFL's career touchdown list. "There's ways to get explosive plays without throwing it deep. It's not like they all have to be go-routes or post-routes. Hitting guys on the move when they do play man, in zones you can still hit plays. In breaking routes and buying time, you can still hit explosive plays when teams are trying to take away the deep shots."
*Defensive end Josh Mauro, who was suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances, will return to practice this week. When he is added to the active roster, the Giants must make a corresponding roster move to free up space. The Giants have a week-long roster exemption for Mauro, meaning they need to activate him to the 53-man roster by 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8. During that exemption, Mauro will not count toward the roster limit, but he can participate in football activities, including meetings and practices. Mauro, who played in defensive coordinator James Bettcher's scheme in Arizona, was asked what he brings to the table.
"Energy, just the mindset," he said. "It's contagious. Flying around, celebrating with your teammates, being physical, flying around – that's very contagious. People see that and you can build off that, so I just want to do my job at the highest level I can and contribute as much as I can and help bring wins to this football team."
Mauro added: "I've been up here training, just staying low key. Training five to six times a week, watching a lot of football, which I'm about sick of watching football – it's a lot better playing than having the view. Just trying to stay sharp, stay mentally sharp watching the games, seeing what we're doing on film, just trying to pick it up and go from there. Just excited to be back."
*Shurmur said he is "optimistic" about getting another defender back this week in outside linebacker Olivier Vernon, who has not played this season after suffering an ankle injury in practice on Aug. 26. Vernon, cornerback Eli Apple (groin), tight end Evan Engram (knee) and wide receiver Cody Latimer (knee) were all inactive on Sunday.
*Shurmur was asked if there were any penalties from Sunday's game that the team will submit to the league for an explanation. "Oh yeah," he said. "There's a handful of things, but that's typical of any week. I have a bigger handful this week."