Eli Manning presented the game ball to Pat Shurmur after Sunday’s win over the Texans because, well, that’s what you do. It’s a tradition. When a coach wins his first game, he gets a memento. Two years ago, Manning went through the same locker room ceremony with Ben McAdoo. Someone probably did it in 2004 with Tom Coughlin, too, although at that point the players may have already been too exhausted from his barking and demands to hold a proper handoff.
The difference this time was that Shurmur didn’t receive the token just because of NFL etiquette. It actually was because of his willingness to be flexible, to make adjustments in the lineup and in the play-calling, to recognize what wasn’t working and find what would, that helped the Giants win.
In other words: He deserved it.
The Giants have what feels like a long heritage of stubbornly sticking with things, whether they be draft picks or veteran players or on-field systems. Even when they hire coaches and general managers, there is almost always something that links them to the team’s past. When you are a 93-year-old franchise, you tend to be a little set in your ways.
Shurmur, though, is unencumbered by all of that heritage. He never even stepped inside the Giants’ facility until after he was hired as coach. He’d never coached in any capacity for the Giants. He knew about them, he’d coached against them, but he was a true outsider. And that perspective allowed him to change things up much more quickly than someone with long-standing ties to the organization might have wanted to or been able to. It allowed the Giants to win on Sunday.
It may even save their season.
So what adjustments did Shurmur make to the offense?
The obvious one was at right tackle, where he benched Ereck Flowers and inserted Chad Wheeler. Sitting a former first-round pick would have been unthinkable for past regimes, but Shurmur did what Giants coaches probably have been itching to do for several years. He never blamed Flowers. He just benched him.
In terms of on-field personality, they stopped being a checkdown-oriented passing team and began to throw short, crisp passes to their playmakers in open spaces. They let Manning roll out and throw on the move, something that would have been considered preposterous a year ago. They stopped waiting for big plays to happen, chucking deep bombs down the field that fell incomplete more than not, and instead manufactured drives with moderate chunks of yardage. Odell Beckham Jr. had called the Giants a “one play away” offense, meaning they could score from anywhere on the field. On Sunday, all of their touchdowns came in the red zone, and they had four scoring drives of nine plays or more.
They finally used opponents' dedication to keeping Beckham out of the end zone to the advantage of others. The game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter was a play designed for Beckham, but when the Texans shut him off, the pass went to Sterling Shepard in the end zone. They lined Saquon Barkley up wide at the line of scrimmage to find mismatches.
Eight players other than Manning touched the ball.
“That’s how I see playing offense,” Shurmur said.
Manning said they “condensed” the offense a bit.
“We did a good job of just mixing up formations and tempo,” Manning said. “We’ve got good players. We’ve got guys who can get open. Let’s just put them on routes that they’re good at, that they know what they’re doing [with] and how to get open, and the guys did a good job of being dialed in to the whole game plan.”
And they did it just in time. Shurmur did it just in time. After two losses, it was clear to just about everyone what wasn’t working. Instead of trying to fix it, Shurmur changed it. Most coaches – and the Giants don’t hold a monopoly on this – would have stuck with their personnel and their system to the end. Shurmur had no such ego. He gave his initial ideas two weeks to work, and when they didn’t, he moved on.
That hasn’t always been the Giants Way. But as Shurmur showed Sunday, things can change. Often for the better.
Back in the summer, Shurmur spoke about what it takes to command a team.
“You don’t have to be extraordinary to be a leader,” he said. “It’s about having the courage to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, and then you’ll lead. People will follow you when you do that on a consistent basis.”
They’ll follow. And they’ll give you game balls, too.
Notes & quotes: The Giants waived injured PR Kaelin Clay to sign TE Garrett Dickerson from their practice squad. The Giants need extra tight ends with Evan Engram expected to be out about a month with a sprained MCL.