The feel was different, and Ben McAdoo liked it.
So, he will continue to try to evolve as a head coach, working a game on the sideline with his head up, looking out onto the field or into the eyes of his players, rather than fixating on his play-chart, head and mind buried on the next play-call, and the next and the next.
No, McAdoo on Monday did not come out and declare he is permanently handing the play-calling duties over to Mike Sullivan, his offensive coordinator. He did not have to. McAdoo said what he said, and it was obvious what he meant.
During the most trying and turbulent week of his nascent NFL coaching career, McAdoo decided he needed to pull the trigger on a drastic change that has been in the air and repeatedly blown away by him. For Sunday night’s game in Denver, Sullivan would call the plays and McAdoo would run the entire team. It worked to the tune of a shocking 23-10 upset of the Broncos.
Giving up control in one specific area allowed McAdoo to expand his impact in other areas.
“I think what can happen sometimes is when you call plays, your mentality may be a little bit different,’’ McAdoo said. “Your personality may be a little bit different. So I felt my personality came out a little bit more last night than maybe it normally has. I was still involved with the offense, I had a chance to buzz around and be around all the players, let my energy come out a little bit more, maybe than I have in the past. That’s part of it.’’
The Giants needed the energy, as they flew into high altitude with a down-in-the-dumps record (0-5), losing three straight fourth-quarter leads, losing their superstar receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) for the season, losing starting receiver Brandon Marshall for the season and their slot receiver, Sterling Shepard, to a less-serious sprained ankle. Then, they unexpectedly lost one of their top cornerbacks and locker-room presences, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to a McAdoo-decreed suspension.
The wheels were dangerously close to coming off the Big Blue bus, and McAdoo knew he had to take the wheel.
“I felt with the things that were taking place last week I needed to delegate play-calling duty to Sully,’’ McAdoo said. “I think he did a tremendous job sticking to the plan during the ballgame and sticking with the run and putting us in position to win the ballgame. I felt like during the course of the week I need to make sure I was here for the entire football team and this organization in any way I could be.’’
Asked if this will be the plan moving forward, McAdoo said: “I’m never going to tell you who’s playing where and who’s calling the plays. But you can write about what you want.’’
Translation: This will be the plan moving forward.
Using novice and inexperienced receivers, Sullivan leaned more heavily on the ground game and on Orleans Darkwa as the featured back and was rewarded, as Darkwa ran for 117 of the Giants’ 148 rushing yards on a Denver defense that came in allowing an NFL-low 50.8 yards per game. Sullivan also used far more “12 personnel,’’ using two tight ends, one running back and two wide receivers. The Giants were in that grouping a season-high 72 percent of their offensive plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
The alterations turned Eli Manning into a game manager as the Giants ended their five-game losing streak with 118 net passing yards, their lowest output in more than four years. Manning’s 19 passing attempts were his fewest in nearly 10 years. Manning’s 11 completed passes were the fewest in a full game in five years.
“The game plan was we’re going to grind it out with the run game,’’ Manning said Monday on his weekly WFAN spot. “We’re short on receivers, we got new guys in there, we’re gonna keep running it and just keep pounding. Just get in that world. It wasn’t going to be a game where we wanted to throw it 40 times. It’s not always an easy to play that way. As a quarterback it’s not the ideal way you want to play. You want to throw it. But we stuck with it.’’
And now, McAdoo will stick with Sullivan calling the plays as the head coach attempts to become more of a head coach.