Scoring 30-plus points on the road will only increase the number of suitors for Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. Especially when he’s earning comparisons with two of the brightest minds in football.
Kafka is only in his first year as a play-caller, but ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky believes the 35-year-old is “as impressive” as Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and San Francisco 49ers’ sideline general Kyle Shanahan:
That’s lofty praise, especially since Kafka’s offense produced the fewest passes of over 20 yards, as well as just two runs of 40-plus yards this season. Despite the lack of explosive plays, Kafka deserves plaudits for the way he’s made creative use of an unheralded group lacking marquee stars beyond running back Saquon Barkley.
Getting the maximum out of the talent at his disposal is the mark of a shrewd coach, so it’s no wonder Kafka is sought after, with three teams already asking to speak with head coach Brian Daboll’s top assistant.
Shades of Kyle Shanahan, Andy Reid in Mike Kafka’s Game Plans
Perhaps only Shanahan’s 49ers, with their outside zone-stretch plays, throwback gap principles and bootleg quarterback keepers run the ball with more variety than Kafka’s offense. The full scope of his creative ground schemes were evident in Minnesota, starting with Barkley’s 28-yard touchdown run to open the scoring for the road team.
Barkley ran off left tackle Andrew Thomas, and ESPN analyst Matt Bowen applauded the staple blocking techniques used on this classic power play:
Kafka’s consistently used something old to make Barkley new again after two seasons blighted by injuries. Basic concepts like this old-school trap play have helped Barkley routinely gash defenses:
Barkley’s enjoyed a career year thanks to the way Kafka has tailored his offense around the gifted tailback. The Giants ran the ball 520 times, the eighth-most in the league, during the regular season.
Kafka called Barkley’s number for 295 of those attempts, often sending the Pro Bowl runner behind All-Pro Thomas, the Giants’ best offensive lineman. Smart simplicity has revitalized Barkley, but Kafka has delved into his bag of tricks to help other members of the rushing attack thrive.
Matt Breida played three seasons for Shanahan in San Francisco, but the player the Giants signed to a one-year deal to be Barkley’s backup has still been a useful weapon. Breida ran the ball 54 times and caught 20 passes, but his true value has come when lined up in the same backfield as Barkley.
The personnel grouping has allowed Kafka to get creative, the way he did for this elaborate handoff from Jones to Breida against the Vikings:
Kafka’s run-first offense, has also been key to the revival of quarterback Daniel Jones. The latter entered the season under pressure to prove himself after the Giants declined to exercise his fifth-year option due to erratic play and a penchant for turnovers.
Jones had since started every game, bar being rested for Week 18’s dead rubber against the Philadelphia Eagles, thrown just five interceptions and lost only three fumbles. A big part of Jones’ success is due to Kafka making the rushing skills of his QB1 a staple of the offense.
Read-option plays like this one against the Vikings have helped Jones match Barkley in enjoying a banner season:
Developing and refining an ultra-athletic quarterback is something Kafka learned under Reid as position coach for Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Like Kafka, Reid also has a fondness for a trick play, like this ill-fated “Snowglobe” huddle against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 17:
Trickery aside, Reid’s legacy has been built on his work with players at football’s most important position. It’s an area where Kafka is already making a name for himself, something coach-needy teams are sure to appreciate.
Keeping In-Demand Coach Will Be Tough for Giants
The turnaround in Jones’ game is the biggest reason the Giants will be keen to keep Kafka. Unfortunately, it’s also the main reason teams looking for a new head coach will remain interested in the coordinator’s services.
All three franchises have significant question marks at quarterback, so they’ll admire how Kafka has transformed Jones from possible draft bust into an NFL record-breaker:
A performance like the one he delivered in Minnesota has increased Jones’ chances of getting a new long-term contract from the Giants. Ideally, Kafka will still be around to call an offense able to maximize the franchise’s investment.
The worst-case scenario is Kafka joins a new team and takes free agent Jones with him. It’s not inconceivable the player drafted sixth overall in 2019 would want to continue working with the coach who’s coaxed his best games from him.
Perhaps the presence of Daboll, who got the job after making Josh Allen a star while offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, will be enough to convince Jones to stay put. Daboll’s influence might also encourage Kafka to spend another year preparing for his eventual ascension to a head-coaching job.