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Coordinator Corner: Kitchens, Graham and McGaughey on preparing for a final playoff push

The Giants’ coordinators discussed the importance of getting back on the winning track with two games left to play

Cleveland Browns v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

New York Giants tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens (subbing for offensive coordinator Jason Garrett), defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey spoke to the media this week. Here are some of the key items and players they addressed.

Freddie Kitchens pinch hits

Kitchens called the plays last week against his former team, the Cleveland Browns, in place of Garrett, who had tested positive for COVID-19. Kitchens said that he did not feel overly nostalgic about playing against his former team.

“When you’re in this business long enough, you understand that you always have relationships and things like that on the other sideline,” Kitchens said. “I’m glad I’m here with the New York Giants. I’m glad I coach the guys that I coach, and I’m glad I’m a part of this staff, first and foremost. For me, every week you can kind of put your emotions aside, your personal emotions aside, and you try to do what’s best for the team.”

Garrett traveled to Baltimore with the Giants on Saturday and will resume play-calling duties Sunday.

Though the Giants scored a season-low six points last week, Kitchens said that the offense was on the cusp of taking advantage of some big opportunities.

“I think we tried to execute the plan that we had in place,” Kitchens said. “I thought at the end of the day, we were close. But close doesn’t matter.”

With 13 total points scored in the last two games and 46 allowed, the offense needs to step up if it is going to be competitive in Sunday’s crucial matchup.

“Offensive football is about trying to get these guys in position to make plays, and then making plays,” Kitchens said. “I think overall, we need to do a better job as a coaching staff getting them in a position to make plays. Each and every week, it doesn’t change. This game is about the player. The player has to make the play. The coach has to put him in a position to make the play. Sometimes we do a better job than others. We try to do a great job each and every week.”

Patrick Graham on Ravens’ run game

Just as the offense needs to be physical against the Ravens, Graham stressed the importance of the defense playing aggressively throughout.

“We need this to be the most physical game of the year,” Graham said. “We need to set the edge in the run game, we need to play with power inside. We have to play our leverage and defend the deep part of the field in the passing game.”

Rookie safety Xavier McKinney, who has seen an uptick in playing time in recent weeks, and second-year cornerback Julian Love will both play key roles in helping to mount an aggressive attack Sunday.

“I think the thing that has shown up the most is his angles to the ball in terms of tackling,” Graham said of McKinney. “He’s working that being a safety, star, or whatever it’s been. Until you do it live, you don’t really get a chance to really practice, it’s a little different out there. Not have a lot of mental errors or anything like that.”

With the absence of James Bradberry last week due to COVID-19 protocol, Love switched up positions and played exclusively on the outside.

“Julian Love is growing on me day by day, week by week,” Graham said. “This guy, his toughness is showing up. The tackling, his versatility, he was competitive on a bunch of balls. I know he’s working hard. I know he’s geared up this week to get ready for Baltimore.”

Graham knows that both the young players and veterans alike will have to step up if the Giants are going to be successful in shutting down the Ravens.

“To me, if you have a rookie that’s executing better than a veteran, then he’s a better player to have there,” Graham said. “I just want guys that are going to come out there on Sunday and execute. Play a physical brand of football the way the Giants play, not to be cliché or anything, but that’s what we need. If it’s a rookie, if it’s a second-year, if it’s a vet, I don’t care.

“Everybody is going to come out a little bumped and bruised. Let’s go see who is standing at the end, that’s what you want. That’s how they play the game, that’s why I respect coach (John) Harbaugh. We just have to play physical and see if we can match their physicality.”

Part of matching the Ravens’ physicality means stopping the running game. Baltimore is the top-ranked team in the league in rushing yards with 2,418 on the season. The Giants played the fourth-best run team in the league last week in the Browns. Graham said that there is some carryover between preparing for both offenses.

“I think the fundamental part comes into play,” Graham said. “Getting off of blocks, setting the edge. You’re dealing with such a dynamic player back there with (Lamar) Jackson. You can have the edge, he’ll test the edge. The problem is you can do all that stuff right and this guy will test it. Get off blocks, set the edge, play with power inside. We have to tackle these guys.”

Graham elaborated on the specific difficulty of defending the speedy Jackson in the pocket.

“This guy is so fast, he’s so big, he’s so dynamic with the ball,” Graham said. “When you sell out for the run game, he will throw the ball over your head and it will be a touchdown with the targets they have. The guys are geared up for it.”

Though Jackson is dynamic in every aspect of the game, Graham said that his defense will have to try to take away what the third-year quarterback does best.

“He’s faster than everybody else on the field,” Graham said. “If he is going to beat us, have him beat us left-handed. If I say okay let’s keep him in the pocket, if he decides he wants to go back 20 yards and get around our pocket, he can do that. Whether it’s contain him in the pocket, force him one way or another, have somebody spy mirror him. We’re going to try our best to limit what he does best.”

Mostly, Graham is looking forward to getting back on the winning track. The Giants were riding a four-game winning streak before dropping two straight to the Arizona Cardinals and Browns in the past two weeks.

“Thankfully, we have an opportunity this weekend to get that bad taste out of our mouth,” Graham said. “Baltimore presents a bunch of challenges both in the run game and in the passing game. Everybody is going to talk about Lamar, but you have to talk about the offensive line, who’s solid. The backs are good. You got the receivers, too. I have to do a better job calling it. Thankfully, we have another week to try to right those wrongs.”

Thomas McGaughey on future opportunities

With Black Monday fast approaching, McGaughey addressed his head coaching aspirations. Especially with Sunday’s game featuring two head coaches who used to be special teams coordinators, McGaughey spoke to the slowly-disappearing stigma that special teams coaches cannot transition to head coaching positions.

“These two guys are kind of breaking that stereotype,” McGaughey said.” Over the history of the game, you look at the Dick Vermeil’s of the world, the Marv Levy’s of the world. All the guys have been head coaches, Bill Belichick. That have had backgrounds in special teams. Bill Cowher, just understanding the game and how it all fits together and having a vision and a purpose for what you want to do.”

McGaughey said that he does hope to follow in the footsteps of the special teams-turned head coaches that came before him.

“That’s always been my goal as a coach,” McGaughey said. “I’m just enjoying where I am now and learning as much as I can from Joe. As far as learning all the different situational things and just the preparation part. Obviously, him coming from where he’s come from, being a part of the Belichick tree and being with Nick Saban down in Alabama. It’s been really good for me.”

For now though, as the Giants prepare to make a final playoff push, McGaughey is focused on being successful in New York.

“My thing is I take care of the job I have,” McGaughey said. “The one thing that I’ve always learned in this coaching profession, all the jobs you ever chase, you never get. You take care of the one that you have and the next one will jump in your lap. Try to do the best that I can every day helping this team get better. If that opportunity comes, then it comes. If it doesn’t come, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

As far as what he has been doing, McGaughey’s special teams unit has struggled in recent weeks. In a controversial play on the Giant’s opening drive last week, New York lined up in field goal formation, but attempted to convert the fourth-and-5 when Riley Dixon threw a pass over the middle to Nick Gates. The throw fell incomplete and the Giants turned the ball over on downs, sacrificing three points.

“We felt good about it going in,” McGaughey said. “We wanted to make sure that we were being aggressive. That was our mindset going in all week. That was a call that we knew that could possibly be up. We made the call and it just didn’t work out. We’re going to always err on the side of being aggressive. Especially now, with our group and our team. We’re trying to make plays and that’s football. Football happens.”

There might be more trick plays in the future though as McGaughey asserted that Gates, who is a center, has very good hands.

“He’s caught every ball that we’ve thrown him,” McGaughey said. “Since training camp we’ve been working this thing. I promise you. Everybody laughs now because he’s a center. He has the best pair of hands I have ever seen on a center.”