NFL Coach of the Year has a weird history, mainly because the NFL's best coach rarely receives the award.
In 2017, the award went to Sean McVay in his first season with the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams have been to two Super Bowls since, winning one. McVay is a superstar in the profession, and will be as long as he wants to keep coaching.
Then another first-year head coach won the award in 2018. Matt Nagy led the Chicago Bears to a 12-4 record. He was the toast of a football-mad town. He didn't have a winning season after that, was fired and is working his way back up the ladder as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Is Brian Daboll more McVay, a grand slam hire who changes a franchise for the upcoming decade, or more Nagy, who won Coach of the Year because voters were impressed by how the Bears exceeded preseason expectations?
Of course, everyone believes that Daboll is closer to the next McVay. Everyone applauded when the Giants hired him from the Buffalo Bills' staff, and he did great work with the Giants' offense. The Giants' statistical profile says they weren't as good as their 9-7-1 record, but nobody cared. The Giants were happy to be back in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since Super Bowl XLVI.
In McVay's second season the Rams went 13-3 and won the NFC. In Nagy's second season he went 8-8 and the Bears missed the playoffs. Daboll's second season won't tell the whole story, but Giants fans don't want a step backward.
The problem with the Giants' strong season was it came in contract years for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. The Giants go from paying Jones on his rookie deal to a new four-year, $160 million contract. Barkley got the franchise tag for $10.1 million and he wasn't happy with that. Second contracts for running backs are typically horrible investments, but the Giants weren't letting Barkley go after his fine season.
Those deals won't help the Giants build up the type of roster that can grow into a championship contender, like the Rams did late last decade.
The Giants are already up against the challenge of fighting regression. They won six games decided by seven points or less, including playoffs. They finished just 21st in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Their point differential was minus-6. Their statistical profile doesn't look like a playoff team. That doesn't matter for their accomplishments last season, but it does set an expectation that will be tough to live up to unless the Giants play better this season.
That could happen. Jones took a nice step forward last season and could get better. Having new tight end Darren Waller should help, as long as Waller is healthy. The offensive line, with top-10 picks Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal at tackle, is improving. The defense has a lot to improve upon from last season but there were some additions. And Daboll himself might improve, like anyone else in his second year on a new job.
Giants fans won't want to hear about the natural force of regression or the cap challenges after paying Jones and Barkley. They waited a long time for a playoff contender and they don't want it to be a one-year fluke. Year one for Daboll was a dream, but the pressure is just beginning.
The big moves of the offseason were retaining Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. When the Giants and Jones agreed on a four-year, $160 million deal, that freed up the franchise tag to be used on Barkley. Barkley wasn't happy with the tag, but we can probably assume he won't hold out if a long-term deal isn't reached, even if he's hinting at it. The Giants traded the Las Vegas Raiders for tight end Darren Waller, who is talented but risky as he enters his age-31 season. He has missed 14 games the past two seasons. The Giants paid $40 million over four years for linebacker Bobby Okereke from the Indianapolis Colts, but lost guard Nick Gates and safety Julian Love. The Giants helped the defensive line by signing A'Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nuñez-Roches. The draft got great reviews, with the fifth-highest consensus grade among experts via Football Outsiders. Cornerback Deonte Banks should help right away and center John Michael Schmitz and receiver Jalin Hyatt were good value picks.
Daniel Jones put up career bests in completion percentage, yards, passer rating and interception percentage last season. His interception percentage of 1.1 was the best in the NFL, which was quite a feat for a quarterback who had been criticized for turning it over too much. A new coaching staff got the most out of his athleticism too. Jones had 708 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns last season after posting 1,000 yards and five TDs in his first three seasons combined. It was a breakout, but despite Jones' new contract numbers, it's probably wise to not assume he has already arrived as a star. That might be a reason coach Brian Daboll tempered some of the expectations for Jones coming into this season.
"We all can do a better job," Daboll told NFL Network. "I think that he really adapted to the things that we were asking him to do. We tried to implement a lot of the things that he likes to do. That’s just another step going into the offseason of adding some more pieces. More players around him. And also him growing into the quarterback that we think he can be.”
BetMGM odds breakdown
The betting market isn't going to ignore regression. The Giants' win total this season at BetMGM is 7.5, and the under is getting a little more action. The under has -115 odds and the over is -105. While acknowledging that the Giants' nine wins last season were a little high compared to their advanced stats, it's not easy to take the under. The roster does appear to be better. Brian Daboll might be a really good coach. I'm not going to take either side on the Giants' win total, though I wouldn't be surprised if the over hit.
Yahoo's fantasy take
From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "At first glance, Darren Waller might look like an interesting fantasy option. The Giants are desperate for pass catchers — their receiver room is one of the skimpiest in the league — and quarterback Daniel Jones took a step forward last year. The Giants gave up a third-round pick to acquire Waller, so he’s obviously part of their 2023 plans.
"Alas, Waller comes with some flags. He turns 31 in September, and he’s missed 14 games the last two years. And when Waller did play last year, the production was muted — 43.1 yards per game, about three catches per game. And as much as we love Brian Daboll’s offensive scheming, his teams generally haven’t produced significant production from the tight end. Waller is commanding a top-65 pick in Yahoo drafts; if I’m going to wait at the position, I’m more comfortable settling in at a tier below Waller."
Stat to remember
Giants defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale decided that the best chance his unit had last season was to blitz, blitz and blitz some more. The Giants had a blitz percentage of 39.7% last season, tops in the NFL according to Pro Football Reference. That was more than five percentage points higher than any other NFL team. The Giants held their own in rushing the passer, finishing with 41 sacks. That was 13th in the NFL. Martindale has always been aggressive but 2022 was a bit extreme for him. It's hard to blitz at that rate forever and be successful, especially without an elite secondary. Perhaps if 2022 first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux continues to develop after showing good progress last season, the Giants can rush four more often and get a pass rush. Even if the Giants blitz a little less, it will remain a big part of the defense's identity.
Did the Giants do enough at receiver?
The Giants don't have a true No. 1 receiver. Darius Slayton led the Giants with 724 receiving yards last season. New tight end Darren Waller will probably be the de facto No. 1 target. What the Giants do have at receiver is a lot of options — including some duplicity in receivers who are best suited to work from the slot — and plenty of speed. Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Sterling Shepard, Wan'Dale Robinson and rookie Jalin Hyatt will battle in preseason to determine the pecking order (Shepard and Robinson are coming back off ACL injuries). It seems unlikely any of the Giants' receivers emerge as a consistent 1,000-yard player, though Hodgins finished strong and Hyatt had some great games in college at Tennessee including five touchdowns against Alabama. But the group, along with Waller and Saquon Barkley catching passes out of the backfield, should be good enough to support Daniel Jones in the passing game.
It's easy, and probably unfair, to cast Daniel Jones as the next Josh Allen, who Brian Daboll helped develop with the Buffalo Bills. Jones will probably never be Allen, but what if last year was the first step toward something big for Jones? He improved dramatically in many areas, often without a lot of help from a thin receiver corps. The Giants are better around Jones this season, and without any contract concerns now, maybe he takes off in his second season playing in Daboll's scheme. If that happens and the defense is a little better, maybe the Giants can make it back to the playoffs. It's very tough to see them winning an NFC East that includes the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, but getting back to the playoffs with Jones improving again would be a great sign for the Daboll era.
Nobody would be too surprised if the Giants regressed a bit. But that won't make Giants fans happy. They got a taste of the playoffs and sliding under .500 would be tough to take. That market can turn on a coach in a hurry. It seems absolutely crazy to suggest that Brian Daboll could be on the hot seat after this season, but it's not like we haven't seen coaches overachieve in year one and never recapture that. If a losing record is combined with Daniel Jones playing like he did his first three seasons, that $160 million deal could look like an anchor. It's New York, and patience is not a strength among the sports fans or media there.
The crystal ball says ...
The Giants were over their skis a bit last season, but there were positive signs. Brian Daboll's offense was an instant hit with the Giants, and should continue to grow as the talent on that side of the ball gets better. The offense, and particularly Daniel Jones, should be pretty good again. The defense won't be great but it should get a little better. The Giants should be in playoff contention in a weak NFC, and a couple lucky breaks could get them a wild-card spot. Even if they fall short, there should be no reason for panic in New York. The Giants are on the right track.
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