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After weak performance against Cincinnati, the Giants special teams seek to rebound

Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey aims to learn from last week’s blunders

NFL: New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey made sure to clarify a reporter who suggested that last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals was probably the least productive game of the season for the unit.

“Yeah, of my career,” McGaughey said.

Despite a faulty special teams performance, McGaughey said that meetings this week have been business as usual as the group prepares to take on a strong Seattle Seahawks team Sunday.

“We have to get better, and that’s the bottom line,” McGaughey said. “I can go in there and raise hell and throw stuff across the room, but it’s not going to change what happened. Moving forward, we have to be better. Technically, we have to be better. Schematically, we have to be better. We have to do some things differently to make sure that we’re optimizing who we are as a coverage unit.”

The special teams group felt the absence of safety/special teamer Nate Ebner, who left last week’s game on Cincinnati’s opening kick return and was unable to return. From the start, the special teams groups was without one of its leaders.

“Nate does a lot of heavy lifting for us, McGaughey said. “It’s not just all on him. He’s not superman. It takes all 11 guys doing their jobs. On that play, we didn’t have all 11 doing their jobs. We just have to make sure that we start with the guy that’s sitting in this seat, and then everybody else has to do their job.”

One of the mistakes of the special teams unit last week was to allow the Bengals to successfully execute a fake punt on fourth-and-5 in the third quarter that led to a first down conversion.

McGaughey said that though the Giants failed to stop the Bengals in that situation, the special teams unit does prepare for fake punts in practice.

“We had a guy on the personal protector, and we let him get outside of us,” McGaughey explained. “It was a minimal gain, but nonetheless, they got it on us. Carter (Coughlin) just has to set the edge. He knows that, we reviewed it, we’ve gone over it. We just need to do a better job of just understanding the situation. Where we are on the field, who we’re going against at that point in time in the game. Just situationally, understanding that we have a cornered animal, and at any point in time, they can do something to us.”

The special teams group also allowed its most explosive return of the season when Bengals defensive back Brandon Wilson took a kickoff back 103 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

“You can’t kick the ball down the middle of the field to one of the best kickoff returners in the league,” McGaughey said. “We’re a directional kicking team. Probably put Graham in a bad spot asking him to do something he hadn’t done in three or four days. Being out with the COVID, you just never know how guys will come back and react to it. Looking back at it, probably should have done some things differently, as far as the call schematically on my end. Everyone is learning during this COVID environment we’re in.”

McGaughey acknowledged the lasting effects the coronavirus has on players even after they have been cleared to take the field. He added that kicker Graham Gano likely lost some of his rhythm after being sidelined with COVID-19.

“It’s just different when they come back,” McGaughey said. “It takes them a few days to get back to who they normally are. I don’t know what it does to them, maybe lose a little strength or something. I know sometimes if you’re sitting up in a hotel room for three or four days and you don’t do anything, you get a little rusty. I’m sure that probably happened to Graham. Kickers are no different than any other player. Again, moving forward, we just have to be smart with how we handle these guys coming off.”

Keeping the coronavirus in mind, the Giants looked into signing Joe Webb in order to add more depth to the team as a whole. Webb is currently a free agent, but could sign with New York after passing through COVID-19 protocols. In a nine-year NFL career, he has 159 pass attempts, 50 rushes, 10 receptions and 18 kickoff returns.

“Joe is a Swiss Army knife,” McGaughey said. “He’s the perfect guy I would say to come in in this COVID environment, because he can do so many different jobs. Not to say that Joe’s the end all be all, but when you get a guy that has that type of versatility and position flex, you can play him at a bunch of different spots and he can fill some holes for you.”

As far as kickoff returns, the special teams unit will also continue to rely on Jabrill Peppers moving forward. McGaughey spoke to Peppers’ decision-making when it comes to fair catching the ball.

“Anytime you get a chance to field the ball, you want to field it,” McGaughey said. “But if it’s a situation where he doesn’t feel comfortable fielding the ball, I’m never going to question that. If he feels like something is happening in front of him or maybe the ball might have moved on him in the last second, we trust that guy back there. That’s why he’s back there.”