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Coordinator Corner: Assessing Giants’ growth at season’s midpoint

The Giants’ three coordinators hold weekly media availability

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

New York Giants coordinators Jason Garrett (offense), Patrick Graham (defense) and Thomas McGaughey (special teams) spoke to the media Thursday. Here are some of key items and players they addressed heading into the team’s division matchup against the Washington Football Team Sunday.

Jason Garrett: Learning to “live for another day”

Daniel Jones threw two interceptions in Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both of which resulted in 10 points. In a game in which the Giants lost by just two points, those turnovers proved costly. The sophomore QB has now thrown 21 interceptions in 20 career starts. Both Jones, and now Garrett, have had to answer for those mistakes.

“Quarterbacks who are worth their salt have a playmaking instinct in them,” Garrett said. “They want the ball in their hands and they want to be the guy who’s guiding the offense but making an impact on what goes on on the field.”

Yet Garrett stressed that the best quarterbacks learn to balance that playmaking instinct with knowing when to abandon a play.

“Over time, you learn through experience what plays you simply have to fold on, and you have to get the ball out of your hand and live for another day,” Garrett said. “Whether it’s punting on the drive or just simply going to second and 10, I think that’s an important thing to understand.”

Garrett stressed that this balance in mentality is developed in players over time.

“We ask our quarterbacks to run our offense, make plays in the passing game, make plays with your feet,” Garrett said. “You’re always balancing that with putting your team in a position where they can be successful. Taking care of the football is a big part of that.”

Garrett said that Jones has maintained a strong work ethic and passion to help the team win.

“He’s so invested in being the best player he can be and helping us be the best team we can be,” Garrett said. “We love his approach. We love what he’s all about. He’s done so many good things for us this year. But we do have to eliminate the negative plays, and he recognizes that. That will be a thing we continue to work on and focus on as we move forward.”

Despite Jones’ turnover woes, Garrett said that he does think the offense as a whole is starting to gel. The team has scored at least 20 points in each of their last four games - a stat that feels more meaningful when remembering that the Giants could not find the end zone at all for a couple of weeks. Garrett attributes the improvement to the growing relationship between players and coaches.

“You’re always trying to learn more about your individual players and what they’re capabilities are, and then different parts of your unit,” Garrett said. “Whether it’s your offensive line or your tight ends, receivers, quarterback, runners, you’re always trying to learn them and play to their strengths and minimize maybe some of their deficiencies.”

Patrick Graham:

Just as the offense seems to be hitting its stride, the defense has kept the Giants in games. In the past four weeks, New York has not lost by more than three points in a single game.

Graham stressed the importance of installing the core concepts of a defense before including additional layers. Each week, the Giants defense seems to grow in dimensionality.

“Install cover three,” Graham explained. “Don’t worry about whatever the call is for cover three, install the version of cover three. What’s the curl flat, what’s a hook curl? If they can understand that and the whole group can understand it, then you can have 10 calls that are still cover three, but people are in different spots. We took our time to do that and that’s what I’ve learned over my career, that’s the best way to do it.”

Being on the same page with the core concepts of the defense also makes it easier to incorporate new players each week - something that becomes increasingly important in the face of injury or potential coronavirus concerns. Graham credits the work ethic of the new players and coaches for creating a seamless transition.

“Whether it’s they are a rookie or it’s their first day here, they have to put in the work to see the results,” Graham said. “We want to push people to get out on the field, but if they don’t show us they can handle it, it’s not going to work out. Secondly, when the coaches are game planning and you have new guys, they spend the time, whether it’s zoom or what have you, to get these guys right to help them get prepared.”

When it comes to introducing new players into the system, Graham also stressed the importance of the details. Because football is a physical game and injuries are inevitable, Graham said that his job as coach is to never stop thinking about developing players.

“Those guys that aren’t playing in September, they’re going to be playing in November,” Graham said. “You have to look ahead in terms of the development of your roster or you’re going to get caught short. Washington doesn’t care if so and so is hurt, they don’t care. They are going to go out there and try and kick our butt, they don’t care. You have to develop the roster and hope those guys are prepared and put the work in to do so.”

Graham said that development of new players is made easier due to the foundation Joe Judge has laid as the head coach. The goal, Graham said, is for the team to be playing its best football by November.

“You’re playing your best football with who’s available because something is going to happen,” Graham said. “Everything is a reflection of the head coach’s vision. Just being close with Joe as a coach and as a friend, I see his vision for the team in terms of how we have to develop these young guys. That comes from being like-minded and understanding that part of it.”

A former defensive line coach, Graham was also asked about the keys to being a successful pass rusher.

“The biggest thing for me is pad level. When it comes back to the rush, fortunately football is simple and I’m a simple dude. The pad level leads to the violence, whether it’s the run game or the pass game,” Graham said. “You ask those guys, they might think I’m a jerk. I don’t talk to them about any moves, I don’t care. I just say you have to be lower than them and that’s all I say to them, period.”

Thomas McGaughey: Giants three-headed monster

The Giants have a unique advantage when it comes to special teams because they have three coaches on staff who were or are special teams coordinators — McGaughey, Joe Judge and Tom Quinn. McGaughey said that the added experience in he building helps to make his unit stronger.

“When we sit down to game plan, it’s a collaborative effort,” McGaughey said. “We try and find ways to give us an edge as a group. At the end of the day, we all come together, we make a decision. Once we make the decision, we go on the field and we try to go execute. That’s the bottom line. It is good having all that experience in the building for sure.”

Because Judge is a former special teams coordinator himself, McGaughey said that he interacts with the head coach more often than usual, an experience that reminds him of when he was just starting out in his career.

“It’s definitely been a different experience for me as far as being a coordinator,” McGaughey said. “Coach (Dick) Vermeil, I was a young coach and coach Vermeil was obviously an older veteran coach at the time. Being able to talk to your head coach and he understands exactly what’s going on. How to attack it or what’s the issue, what’s the problem or with the 46-man roster. All those things that go into being a special teams coordinator, all the nuances of the job. It’s excellent having him as a head coach.”

With the help of these coaches, McGaughey is able to guide a constantly changing special teams group. For example, in Monday night’s game against the Buccaneers, running back Dion Lewis took his first snaps at kickoff returner while with the Giants.

“He’s an experienced guy,” McGaughey said. “He’s scored touchdowns before in the past. I think it was a combination of our guys up front blocking better and just him understanding where to fit and where he needs to go. Dion is fearless, so he is going to hit it hard, straight, and fast.”