Mike Sullivan has been the Giants’ offensive coordinator for almost two full years. On Sunday, for the first time during that tenure, he’ll get to feel like one.
Until now, it’s been Ben McAdoo’s team and Ben McAdoo’s offense. But the old head coach isn’t here anymore and interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo still is busy running the defense and handling a million other aspects of his new job. That leaves Sullivan alone at the top of the offensive flow chart.
He has called the plays since Week 6, but always with McAdoo hovering. “He still would be involved in the game plan,” Sullivan said. “He was still a sounding board. He still had ideas. We had a lot of collaboration.”
“That voice hasn’t been here.”
McAdoo had been distancing himself from control of the offense the past few weeks. Whether his absence turns out to be for the better will be seen Sunday. The Giants never scored as many as 30 points in any game with him as head coach. If they can do that against the Cowboys, there will be plenty who will say it was McAdoo holding them back.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” receiver Sterling Shepard said. “But that’s not the case.”
It’s an argument Shepard and others hope they’re forced to make. If they have to do that, it will mean offensive success for the first time since the 2015 finale.
Beyond the potential to score points, there will be other differences. The biggest, of course, is the return of Eli Manning as the starting quarterback after a one-week break from tradition. While there were many factors and forces involved in going back to Manning, it was Sullivan who made the football case for it. Spagnuolo went to him and the offensive coaches early in the week for his recommendation, and it was not a long thought process for Sullivan.
“In terms of experience in our system, in terms of all of the ins and outs that go with that, in terms of adjustments we’re going to make, in terms of things we’re going to want to do both in the run game and the pass game, we feel that Eli Manning gives us the best chance to win,” Sullivan said. “Spags wanted our feedback. He wanted to talk. We gave him that feedback and that’s the decision that was made.”
Manning also allows Sullivan to draw from a similar pool of experiences. They’ve been together through two very different systems, and if Sullivan wants to pull elements from the Tom Coughlin-era playbook that he still might be more dedicated to, Eli is the only choice for that.
Of course, there isn’t much time to install an entirely new offense.
“We’re 12 games into it,” Sullivan said. “We have our personnel. In terms of subtle things, I think any time you’re the final decision-maker, there is some latitude to maybe tweak a thing here or there. As far as installing a streak read run-and-shoot offense that was here from 2004 to 2011, that’s not going to happen.”
Spagnuolo is about as hands off with the offense as a head coach can be. He said he’s poked his head into some meetings, but that’s been about it. “In a perfect situation, I would have had time, there would have been an offseason,” he said. “But I think it’s smart to trust the offensive coaches going forward.”
He received a summary of the offense from them this week and will get one later in the week. He’ll also meet with Manning on Friday and Sunday morning to go over game management.
“Eli has been in this business and has a lot of experience under his belt, and so does Mike,” Spagnuolo said. “So I’m going to rely on those guys heavily.”
For the first time since returning to the Giants in 2015, Sullivan will get to do things his way.
That in itself may be the biggest difference.