EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two years ago, the Giants were running Pat Shurmur's offense. On Sunday, they will attempt to stop it.
Shurmur will begin his second season as the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator by returning to one of his former home venues when they face the Giants in MetLife Stadium in the teams' season-opening matchup. Shurmur coached the Giants in 2018-19 and was replaced by Joe Judge after the 2019 season.
Shurmur has long been considered one of the NFL's most imaginative and creative offensive coaches. This is his ninth season as a pro coordinator and his 13th calling plays, so Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had an extensive body of work to study in preparation for this game.
"Pat Shurmur is an outstanding coach," Judge said of his predecessor. "He's done a fantastic job. I have a ton of respect for him as a man, a ton of respect for him as a coach. I have a lot of respect for what he did for this organization as well, as well as some of the other places I have competed against him. The one thing Pat's going to do is Pat's going to look at your history and he's going to expose some things you've put on tape, so we're be very mindful about not only our own past experience against Pat, but also different times that he's seen this scheme or schemes that are similar to this and things that could be exposed. He does a great job at getting players in matchups, he does a great job of creating explosive plays for players. It starts with the run game with Pat, (he) does a great job of getting this thing downhill, setting up the play action pass game."
Graham said Shurmur's attack is fundamentally sound and can keep a defense off-balance and out of sync.
"One, they run the ball and he's committed to running the ball," Graham said today. "So, in this league – and you can go back to Pop Warner – if you don't stop the run, the offensive coordinator has you right where he wants you, because we're going to be scrambling to stop the run. So, that's what's important. We've got to stop the run. Not only do they have good backs, they've got a good offensive line, they've got a good scheme, whether they mix in the zone schemes, the gap schemes.
"Coach (Shurmur) does a great job of mixing it up and staying committed to it. That's the biggest thing, so it's a big emphasis for us. We've got to match their intensity in the run game. You've got an offensive line that plays well together. I know they've got a new piece at the right tackle spot (Bobbie Massie), but they play well together, so it's a challenge. But that's where it starts and then from there, the stuff off the run game – you've got the play actions, the boots, the nakeds, however you want to play off of that."
"He does multiple things," inside linebacker Blake Martinez said of Shurmur. "He has (the) ability to change up what he's doing, whether it's quarterback under center, quarterback in the gun. I think he keeps you second-guessing at moments and you just have to be able to read your keys and understand what they're trying to get done whatever formation they're in."
The Broncos' offense was not statistically preeminent in Shurmur's first season with the team in 2020. Denver finished 28th in the NFL scoring (20.2 points a game) and 23rd in total offense (335.6 yards a game).
But underlying reasons existed for the struggles. The Broncos lost 2019 Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton with a torn ACL after one game and three catches. They were last in the league in both turnovers (32) and turnover differential (minus-16). Denver finished 27th in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on just 24 of 45 opportunities (53.3%) inside the 20.
Perhaps most important, the Broncos had inconsistent play at quarterback. Drew Lock was 4-9 as a starter and his 75.4 passer rating was the fourth lowest among qualifiers. Backups Jeff Driskell and Brett Rypien each started a game. When Driskell tested positive for COVID-19, all of Denver's quarterbacks were ruled ineligible for a Week 12 game against New Orleans. Shurmur had to play Kendall Hinton, a practice squad wide receiver who had limited experience at QB. The results were predictable; Hinton completed one of nine passes in a 31-3 loss.
The Broncos upgraded the game's most important position in the offseason when they signed free agent Teddy Bridgewater, with whom Shurmur once worked in Minnesota. Last season with Carolina, Bridgewater set career highs with 3,733 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. He is 26-23 as an NFL starter, including a victory against the Giants for Minnesota on Dec. 27, 2015.
"He's very accurate and he makes good decisions with the ball," cornerback James Bradberry said. "I think that's what makes him very unique."
"I think Teddy's brought a calming sense to the offense," Graham said. "You could see that in just the efficiency in which he operated during the preseason and just over his career, so it's a challenge. The coordinator is part of it and he's a good coach and he's done a good job for a long time in this league, but they've got some good players that we've got to get focused in on."
Those good players include running back Melvin Gordon III (57 career touchdowns, 45 rushing); wide receivers Sutton, Jerry Jeudy (who had a 92-yard touchdown catch as a rookie in 2020), Tim Patrick (a team-high six touchdowns and no drops last season) and K.J. Hamler; plus tight end Noah Fant.
"They've got people that can run," Graham said. "You ask any coordinator, any head coach, any DB coach, the first thing (is) who are the people that can run by you? They have several of those guys. They could run by you. If it's a foot race, they could run by you. Then, if the ball is thrown deep – again, I'm starting with all the deep passes. There are other passes in football, but I'm starting with all the deep passes because that's when they can score right away. … There are multiple guys that can run. So, yeah, it's tough. That's why I haven't shaved (laughs)."
With Pat Shurmur calling plays on the other side, he likely won't do that until Sunday night.
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 1 matchup against the Broncos.