Just when it looked like setting a 23-year NFL low for net passing yards would be rock bottom for the Giants’ offense, they unveiled the Surrender Sneaks.
There is only one interpretation of the Giants’ decision to try back-to-back quarterback sneaks backed up against their own end zone late in the first half Sunday in a 22-7 loss to Washington: The coaches had a complete lack of faith in the offensive players to execute even the simplest handoff up the middle without committing a turnover or a penalty.
One week after giving up a safety to the Bears when pinned against their goal line, the Giants lined up for second-and-9 inside the 2-yard line in what resembled the Victory Formation — it’s hard to remember what that looks like after six straight losses — and Jake Fromm plowed forward for 2 yards. Then, with room to breathe, the Giants stunningly did the same thing on third-and-9 from the 4-yard line.
“I wasn’t going to live through what happened last week in Chicago,” head coach Joe Judge said, “so we’re going to give ourselves room for the punt. We did that. We played the field-position situation I wanted to play.”
The Giants face a significant personnel disadvantage, especially on the offensive line, because of general manager Dave Gettleman’s failures. But it is an indictment on a coaching staff about to undergo major changes that it couldn’t teach backup-caliber starters to be functional enough to run a traditional play.
It was only a 3-0 deficit when the Giants tried a first-down play-action pass from the 3-yard line that Fromm short-armed into the flat for fullback Eli Penny. Then came a false start penalty, which reinforced the possibility of giving up another two points by not blocking and led to the Surrender Sneaks.
“We’ve got to make the throw and hit the guy,” Judge said. “Eli was open there. It would’ve been a good shot coming off the goal line to get us some yardage and get us some space.”
As social media blew up with play-calling criticisms, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky described the third-down sneak as “embarrassing” and Giants great Tiki Barber wrote “I don’t think the Giants players have quit … but it sure looks like whoever is making the play-calling decisions has.”
In a football sense, not risking a pass in that spot was the correct strategy by play-caller Freddie Kitchens. Fromm, a third-stringer, proved that later in the game when he threw an interception returned for a touchdown.
But the no-embarrassment thing to do would have been to hand off to Saquon Barkley — Gettleman’s signature acquisition as the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft — and hope against all odds that he could break off a first-down run. Barkley claimed he wasn’t bothered by what the play call insinuated about an offense that scored just two touchdowns in its final 45 possessions of the season.
“It’s our job to go out there and execute the plays and that’s the play that was called,” Barkley said. “We don’t make those decisions. There’s a reason why that play is called. We just try to execute it as best we can.”