Being head coach of a team in the days after a 40-0 loss in a season opener to a division rival on national television must feel like being the superintendent of an apartment building when all the pipes in every unit burst at the same time.
Everything is awful, and there is no way to focus your attention on just one issue.
That’s been the case this week for Brian Daboll after the Giants were embarrassed by the Cowboys on Sunday night. After such a vulgar display in which they were clearly ill-prepared to start the season, there was hardly any single part of the team he could look to and say to himself: Yes, that’s fine, that’ll do.
Offense? Sure, the NFL is allowing players to wear the number zero this year, but that doesn’t mean teams are obligated to wear it on the scoreboard.
Defense? There was no pressure on the opposing quarterback, no valiant stands by the reworked front, no impact plays by the secondary and the coordinator openly questioned the unit’s effort on the first drive of the second half.
Special teams? Pffft.
It may have been the worst overall performance in football history. According to Stats Perform, no NFL team has ever lost 40-0 or worse in a shutout, lost the sack battle in a game 7-0 or worse, lost the turnover battle 3-0 or worse, had a field goal attempt blocked for a touchdown and thrown a pick-6 all in the same season.
The Giants did all of that in one night’s work.
They are a mess.
It’s up to Daboll to fix it and start cleaning it up. He’ll have to earn that 2022 Coach of the Year trophy that sits on the shelf in his office now.
The Giants aren’t going to have an influx of new players, although they certainly should shake up their lineup and might be able to pick up a few stray pieces over the coming weeks. And they are not going to tear up the playbook that they have spent the past six months trying to master, the one that, by the way, helped them win a road playoff game last season.
They are who they are. And whatever that is, Daboll and his staff have to make it work.
Daboll, ultimately, as the head coach, has to make it work.
While the pull to dive in and micromanage the mopping up of all of the spills must be strong, Daboll said he is instead relying on consistency or overall approach to navigate this week.
“We have a way we do things,” he said. “I’m involved in all three aspects. I have good meetings with the coaches, trust our coaches and players, and get ready to go to work.”
Still, there is an increased urgency from everyone in the building after getting slammed the way they did, and Daboll is no exception. He’s been a little more hands on in some of those meetings, a little more outspoken in the way he wants things to function.
It’s not enough to make anyone think he’s pressing a panic button, but it’s enough that those who are working below him have taken notice.
“That’s his job as a head coach, to make sure everything is clean and working in proper order,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said Thursday. “That’s just what it is. Especially after what we went through, you expect all that stuff. You expect the head coach to be doing those types of things to make sure the ship is tight and it's going in the right direction.”
Wink Martindale, the defensive coordinator, said Daboll set the tone for this week with the staff and the team shortly after the Dallas debacle ended.
“He said: ‘You can never let one game beat you twice,’” Martindale said. “You have a choice in life. Stand up, dust yourself off, and go play.”
And go coach.
That task started Monday for Daboll when the players arrived and all of them — rookies, veterans, long-tenured Giants and new additions — looked to one man to see how this week would play out. Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen said several times during the offseason that they wanted to find out how this team would handle adversity.
The players wanted to find that out about their coach, too.
“As the head coach you are ultimately the leader of the ship, the way things are going, and yeah, when you get to that first team meeting on Monday the head coach is the first one who speaks and addresses the team,” tight end Darren Waller said. “You definitely look to him to see his response.”
And what did that show Waller, whose relationship with Daboll is fairly new?
“He’s not somebody who is blowing things out of proportion,” he said. “Somebody who is not attacking guys personally but attacking what’s on the tape attacking bad habits, attacking inconsistency and execution. And that’s what you want from a coach. You don’t want to let things slide and go under the rug, but it’s also not about beating guys down mentally. He does a good job balancing it.”
“At the end of the da,y the head coach sets the tone,” wide receiver Parris Campbell said. “I liked how he approached it at halftime, how he approached it after the game, and how he approached it on Monday. It’s not like we can go back and do it over, so his focus was learning from the tape, seeing what we do wrong and getting better from that and moving forward.”
Some coaches might have been more demonstrative. The cliché of a maniac flipping tables and throwing chairs.
“You’re not getting better from that,” Campbell said. “What is that really doing for the team? It’s not doing anything. You’re just creating chaos and creating a lot of different emotions. I really liked how [Daboll] approached Monday specifically.”
That approach was summed up in the answer McGaughey gave five times, in various forms, to the many questions he faced about the special teams mistakes on Sunday.
“We watched it,” he said. “We are going to learn from it, and we are going to move forward.”
Yes, the offensive line is in poor shape, and even shakier now that Andrew Thomas might be limited on Sunday with a hamstring injury. Sure, the Giants’ big-time playmakers hardly had the ball in their hands; Saquon Barkley and Waller had 18 combined touches for 99 yards. And yep, when one of the most reliable kickers in the league shanks the only field-goal attempt he was able to get off, everything is falling apart.
If Graham Gano isn't functioning properly, nothing is.
That's when Daboll must be most of all.
It helps that they are heading to Arizona to face one of the worst teams in the league on Sunday. That alone should be helpful in finding the cure and starting to erase those Dallas memories. But it’s also a tenuous trip because if they can’t make a statement about what they believe to be their true identity against the Cardinals, they may not be correct about their self-evaluation. And if they lose? With San Francisco next Thursday night and Seattle, Miami and Buffalo for a string of four straight games against 2022 playoff teams? Things could go completely awry the way they used to around here, before Daboll arrived, when seasons were essentially over by October. The Giants are an inherently nostalgic franchise but no one wants to go back and relive those gory days.
Martindale recalled the advice he once got as a young assistant from another head coach, Lou Holtz, at Notre Dame in the mid 1990s.
“Everybody has problems,” he paraphrased. “Ninety percent of the people in the world don’t care about your problems and the other 10 percent are glad you have them. What are you going to do to go fix it?”
Sounds like Holtz would have made a good building super, too.
Now it’s Daboll’s turn to be one.