The Buffalo Blueprint – Can Brian Daboll repeat the Bills’ success with the Giants?
FOR THE 8TH time this season, Notorious BIG’s “Juicy” blared over the locker room speakers. It’s a new post-win tradition for the New York Giants, started by head coach Brian Daboll, who had just led his team to a tremendous win over the Washington Commanders in Week 15.
While the rest of his teammates were busy celebrating, Daniel Jones shared a personal moment with his coach. In the short hallway between the visitors’ locker room and the media room, Daboll hugged his quarterback.
“I love you man!” said Daboll, before Jones returned the message and insisted his trainer had to keep the admittedly awful-looking goatee he was sporting at the time.
It was less than a year before that Jones and Daboll were reunited for what appeared to be an awkwardly arranged marriage: Jones is in his fourth year with the team, having been No. 6 overall in 2019, and Daboll is in his first year as head coach.
This wasn’t just another win they were celebrating. It put the Giants, who had suffered double-digit losses for five straight years prior to this season, on the doorstep of the playoffs. They would get there two weeks later with a 38-10 demolition from the Indianapolis Colts.
It was an accomplishment for the organization and the players, many of whom had never been on a winning team in the NFL — let alone a playoff roster. But maybe it was mostly a win for the program that Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen are trying to build.
Daboll and Schoen, the key architects of the Buffalo Bills’ recent success, have been brought to New York to rebuild another once-proud franchise. They exceeded expectations in their freshman year, leading a team that won 4-13 in 2021 to the playoffs, but their mission has only just begun. They’re here to replicate Buffalo’s plan and make the Giants permanent playoff contenders.
“The most important thing is that it helps when you have success early on,” said quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney, who arrived from Buffalo last offseason along with Schoen and Daboll. “I’m just laying the foundation. It helps the guys know we’re doing the right thing. We are on the right path. We are building something that will get us where we want to be.”
Now they can add playoff experience to their first season. The sixth-ranked Giants play the Minnesota Vikings away in the wild card round Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox).
“Our foundation is based on our consistency, our approach, our work ethic, how we do things on and off the field, all those things,” Daboll told ESPN. “Again, as I say every week, I can live with the results. I do not like her; I can live with that if we do the right thing. I think we have a lot of people in our building trying to do the right things in every department on and off the pitch.”
As offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, Brian Daboll helped develop Josh Allen into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports
WITH THE AUGUST sun in the sky, Jones flipped through the pages of his latest summer read. It was one of several old playbooks that his new coach had given him. He was sitting by the pool at Daboll’s sprawling North Jersey home with Daboll, who had a fat cigar in tow. Hip-hop from the 90s played in the background.
Daboll wanted to find out what makes his quarterback tick and what he likes best on the football field. It was the last of regular introductory talks between coach and quarterback.
Five months later, the two are preparing to visit Minneapolis, where Jones will play in the first playoff game of his four-year career. However, Schoen and Daboll have been here before.
The Bills made the playoffs in 2017, the first seasons of coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane in their new roles. It was the beginning of what they have built now. Buffalo is currently ranked No. 2 in the AFC and has been knocking on the door to the Super Bowl for three seasons.
Schoen joined Buffalo in May 2017 as assistant general manager and Daboll was hired as offensive coordinator in 2018. You already have the blueprint for early success.
“Definitely a lot of similarities,” said Tyrod Taylor, the Bills’ 2015-17 quarterback who now supports Jones. “[Schoen and Daboll] came from a culture that helped kickstart it in Buffalo. Definitely not necessarily the same things as Buffalo, but just going about things the right way, having the right attitude, working to get better every day, and with a competitive mindset. I think that carried over from day one.”
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Giants third-string quarterback Davis Webb spent 2019-21 with the Bills. He says veteran security guards Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have always talked about how they came to the new Buffalo regime and helped establish that culture from the ground up. They could build on that every year. One of the keys was the core, which remained intact.
“Your best players are your hardest workers and the guys who buy into the leadership. Everyone else follows that path,” Webb said of why culture worked for the Bills.
He believes the Giants have that, even if they’re not quite at Buffalo’s level yet.
“It’s certainly the case here. Daniel [Jones]Saquon [Barkley]Andrew [Thomas]xavier [McKinney]dexter [Lawrence]Leonhard [Williams] … but I think we still have a little way to go to get to this point. But at the same time a good start and everyone should be happy about it.”
A big part of the Bills’ continued progress is the work Daboll has done with quarterback Josh Allen, who Buffalo picked 7th overall in the 2018 draft. Allen completed just 56% of his passes in his first two seasons, with 30 touchdown shots and 21 interceptions. Every year since then, he’s completed at least 63% of his passes and thrown 35 or more touchdowns.
Daboll inherited another somewhat untapped former top 10 pick when he joined the Giants. It seemed like he would turn back to the draft after the Giants turned down Jones’ preseason fifth-year option.
It was one of many question marks with which the new regime entered its first season.
“The situation is the situation,” Schoen said of his summer squad. “This is the hand we’ve been dealt and we’re going to make the best of what we have.”
But the Giants may not have to pick a quarterback in April after all. In fact, they may be ahead of schedule even by Buffalo’s standards.
Jones finished seventh among all quarterbacks in QBR (60.7) this season. In his first three years he was never better than 18th place. He also halved his turnover rate to 0.5/game. And he has a chance to add a playoff win to his list of improvements as the Giants get a chance to avenge their Week 17 loss to the Vikings, which came down to a 61-yard field goal.
“These games are the most meaningful games you can play. And huge opportunities,” said Jones, who rushed for a season-high 334 yards in the 27-24 loss to Minnesota. “But it’s about the team. It’s about what we do as a group and how we are remembered collectively, not how individuals are remembered. Think we have a group of people with that attitude.”
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones had a career-best season under Daboll, finishing the regular season with a 60.7 QBR, good for seventh in the league. Abbie Parr/AP photo
THE GIANTS ARE an organization steeped in history. Four sparkling trophies sit in the foyer of the team facility. These trophies are from each of their four Super Bowl triumphs (1986, ’90, 2007, ’11).
Schoen and Daboll’s goal is to add another to the collection. After snaking through the wilderness of insignificance over the past decade, the playoffs are at least a step in the right direction.
“We should always be in the playoffs and I’m glad we’re back where we should be,” legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor told ESPN this week.
Daboll is no stranger to the postseason. He was an assistant in 30 postseason games with the New England Patriots and the Bills. His teams have a 23-7 record and he’s 5-0 in Super Bowls.
The postseason offers an opportunity that many of its players have never experienced. It’s also an opportunity for Daboll to ensure he has staying power, unlike Ben McAdoo, who also made the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Giants but was fired the following season after a 2-10 start would.
Schoen and Daboll made sure to do things right this time. The Giants have done nothing this season to jeopardize their future. They sent a talented but fickle wide receiver, Kadarius Toney, to the Kansas City Chiefs at the close. They are expected to be $53 million below the salary cap before some expected cuts.
Schoen and Daboll are there for the long term and are trying to build something sustainable. One of their goals was to reach the playoffs. Next you win a playoff game. They get their chance on Sunday.
“I spoke to a couple of guys about the playoffs,” McKinney said. “Obviously, this is where the legends are made. If you’re a great player, this is where you show how great you are [are] in those moments. I think everyone knows that as an individual in this dressing room. We still have to play as a team. That’s what we want to do. But we know how important the playoffs are.”