New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey spoke to the media Friday. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett did not address the media due to his recent COVID-19 diagnosis. Here are some of the key items and players Graham and McGaughey addressed ahead of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Patrick Graham: Sleep hard to come by
As the Giants prepare to face Baker Mayfield and the 9-4 Browns, Graham knows that his defense is in for one of its toughest challenges of the season. The Browns’ offensive line has helped pave the way for 2,031 rushing yards this season, which is good for third place in the NFL.
“There is a bunch of stuff that keeps me up at night,” Graham said of Cleveland’s offense. “That run game, when you put on that tape and you watch what happens between Baltimore and Cleveland on Monday night. I don’t know how good my Christmas is going to be.”
It’s not just the run game that poses a challenge though. Graham highlighted the talent of running back Nick Chubb and wide receiver Jarvis Landry, as well as the coaching staff.
“They’re well coached in terms of how everything is packaged,” Graham said. “They’re really playing to their strengths. To me, when you think about offense, that’s what makes it tough. The run game married with the play action. The play action and the boot married with the stretch run game. Third down, they are getting the ball to the guy they need to get the ball to. To me, their playing to their strengths, they are playing to the people they have.”
Graham is expecting a high-powered, aggressive game in East Rutherford Sunday night. The Browns have won four of their last five games, but they lost a slugfest, 47-42, last week to the Baltimore Ravens. Graham knows that Cleveland is anxious to get back on the winning path.
“Their offensive line, these guys are big, they’re physical,” Graham said. “I’m not trying to diminish the merits of the teams we’ve seen before, but arguably one of the best O-lines we’ve seen all year. It’s going to be a challenge.”
For Graham, the Browns’ physicality on the field is a direct reflection of wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea.
“Talking about it being a people league,” Graham said. “You can see Chad’s toughness showing up in those receivers in terms of them blocking. From there, you get the quarterback getting them in the right checks. You can see him really maturing as a signal caller back there. They do a good job, it’s definitely going to be a test to see if we can handle the physicality.”
The Giants will have to take this test without star cornerback James Bradberry, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week. In his 13 games this season, Bradberry has three interceptions, 19 passes defended, two forced fumbles and 47 tackles.
“James will be missed,” Graham said. “He’s in meeting in terms of over Zoom. Staying active and staying involved. I know that Cleveland doesn’t care. That’s on us to figure it out. I know this, the players will rally behind the it. I know James will be pushing for us and cheering us on.”
With just one active cornerback on the roster as of Friday, Graham may have to consider shifting players around on Sunday.
“Whatever coverage you call you are pulling from weakness to play for a strength,” Graham said. “You’re trying to guess right really, as you try to defend the field. It’s really no different when you have injuries and you have to move around the pieces. Playing defensive football, you’re trying to hedge your bets on most plays anyway because there is so much field to defend.”
Thomas McGaughey: Punt coverage woes
McGaughey’s special teams unit turned in another poor performance last week as the Arizona Cardinals dominated the field position battle. Arizona started three of their seven possessions in the first half in Giants territory, making it increasingly difficult for the Giants defense to limit the scoring.
McGaughey said that one of the issues has been the execution.
“We have to do a better job executing on the field and we have to do a better job as coaches making sure we put them in the right place to where they can make plays and they can execute,” McGaughey said. “As a unit and as a group, we have to do a better job overall.”
Joe Judge continues to draw on his special teams background and provide guidance to McGaughey’s unit.
“This is the most I have ever had a head coach involved but that’s to be expected,” McGaughey said. “We have a great working relationship. For me, it’s really refreshing to be able to have conversations with a head coach that knows exactly what you’re thinking. The situations, he’s been there before, and he knows how to work to and through those situations.”
Together, Judge and McGaughey are trying to work through the weaknesses on special teams that have emerged in recent weeks. For example, punter Riley Dixon has not demonstrated the consistent ball placement ability that he had in the beginning of the season.
“Obviously, it starts with our specialists, with our kick,” McGaughey said. “Regardless of the kind of punt that we get, we have to be able to cover it. We out kick the coverage and it’s not where the ball is supposed to be, that causes some issues. Riley is going to get better at it.”
Jabrill Peppers has also made some questionable decision as a returner in recent weeks, choosing not to run on plays when he has room or, vice versa, not settling for a touchback.
“I know a couple of those Philly returns, if you watch his reaction after he catches the ball, he knows he left a little meat on the bone,” McGaughey said. “Conversely, with those other situations, it’s a just a judgment deal. We always tell our guys not to chase plays. The one thing we know about punt return, everybody knows who’s getting the ball back. We’re getting the ball back to the offense. If we can get it back with a first down, that’s great. The most important thing is getting the ball back.”
Joe Webb, who the Giants signed a few weeks ago to their practice squad, brings a wealth of experience to the playing field that might be able to help the special teams group.
“Joe is a Swiss Army knife,” McGaughey said. “ He can do almost anything he wants to do on the football field. He fills a lot of holes. His energy, his passion and his experience, when you have all those things and have those tickets punched. That’s the thing that helps you. Especially in this time because you just don’t know. It could be anything at any point in time, you could lose a guy and Joe is a guy that can hop right in and do a lots of jobs.”