With Approval Of The Players, Brian Daboll Has The New York Giants Making Magic

One of the great myths of the NFL is that coaches manage/direct/control the players.  

In truth, the players are simultaneously scrutinizing the coaches with equal intensity.  When the two sides mutually approve, magic is possible. Witness the New York Giants’ 4-1 start.

Here are a handful of moments that have made winners of the Giants’ rag-tag roster:

The Wink Martindale Factor

Head Coach Brian Daboll hired a defensive coordinator whom he barely knew, Don “Wink” Martindale, a big, colorful personality with overt head-coaching ambition. That told the players Daboll was utterly self-secure.

An unwritten rule in NFL preseason games is that defenses rarely blitz.  Wink thought: The hell with that, I’m installing my system with a new squad, we need live reps.

In the preseason opener at New England, he blitzed rookie QB Bailey Zappe on 17 of 33 snaps.  Afterward, Patriots coach Bill Belichick complained to reporters, “With what the Giants were doing, there’s a lot of reasons for some of the things we did just to try to manage the game.”

The Giants’ defensive players giggled. Their coordinator had pissed off the great Belichick.

Brian Daboll Walks The Talk

In the season opener, New York was a touchdown underdog at Tennessee.   Trailing 20-13 in the late fourth quarter, the Giants began a do-or-die drive that showed promise of tying the score.

Daboll walked up and down the bench, telling players, “If we score, I’m going for two.  You good with that?”

Most replied, “Yeah.”  The others replied, “F---, yeah.”

Daboll had been telling his team for months, “It’s a players’ league,” a phrase more often heard in the NBA than in the scheme-heavy NFL. Now he was walking the talk.

The two-point play was a shovel pass to RB Saquon Barkley.  Titans LB Dylan Cole diagnosed it perfectly, had leverage on Barkley, needed only to set the edge and let inside-out pursuit make the tackle.  Instead, he lunged, allowing Barkley to dip outside and into the endzone.  So there’s good fortune involved, as well.

Coming off the field, WR Sterling Shepard affectionately blasted Daboll with a chest-bump that knocked him two steps backward.

Hip-hop music blared in the post-game locker room.  Encircled by his players, Daboll clapped and “danced” like the rhythmically challenged 47-year-old he is.

WR Richie James smiled, “Yeah, we’re going to work on that. He’s true to himself. That’s who he is. He’s a jokester, a good dude.”

Daboll Sticks To His Word

The Giants’ entire building was watching Daboll’s handling of WR Kenny Golladay, oft-injured epic bust who has caught zero TD passes after signing a $72 million free-agent contract last year with the prior administration.

Golladay chafed at Daboll’s demanding practices, despite the coach’s edict that practice performance would determine gameday opportunity.

In Week 2, Daboll limited Golladay to two snaps, giving his playtime to undrafted, unknown David Sills V.  Safety Julian Love said of Daboll, “He sticks to his word.”

Showing Expertise

Having established his authenticity, Daboll showed his expertise in play design last week against Green Bay.  New York, a 9.5-point underdog, was missing four receivers.

So Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka game-planned a big load for their best player, Barkley, hiding him in multiple formations and maximizing his touches.

With less than 10 minutes to play, score tied 20-20, they deployed Saquon as a wide receiver, obscured on the tail of a two-man stack formation.  At the snap, as Green Bay’s zone defenders took their drops, Barkley came wide open on a shallow cross for 41 yards.

Five plays later, this time as a wildcat back, Saquon scored the winning touchdown behind a fold block and lead block from two of his no-name teammates.

Going off the field, Daboll spotted a cluster of Giants fans above the tunnel entrance.  He gestured aggressively with both arms and roared, “Let’s go!  Let’s f---ing go!”

His players loved it.


Terry O’Neil is a former Executive Producer of CBS Sports and NBC Sports, and former Senior Vice President of the New Orleans Saints.