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7 thoughts for the final 7 games of the Giants’ 2021 season

There are a lot of Giants with a lot to prove during the remainder of the season

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants
Giants co-owner John Mara has a lot of decisions to make this offseason, including one on whether Dave Gettleman will continue to be the GM.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have seven games remaining in what looks like yet another lost season in East Rutherford, N.J. Here are seven ‘things I think’ about those final seven games, which could be followed by yet another reconstruction.

Joe Judge has things to prove

I say this over and over. Giants’ ownership does not want to have to fire Joe Judge. Ben McAdoo lasted less than two seasons. Pat Shurmur lasted two seasons. The Giants know they have to break this cycle of hiring a coach every third year and starting over. John Mara said he and Steve Tisch understood when they hired Judge, a young first-time head coach, that they were going to have to exercise more patience.

Judge’s so-far disastrous second season is testing their ability to show that patience.

I am going to repeat some points I have made at other times. So, perhaps you know what’s coming.

In my view, the most important stretch of the season for the Giants was the first three weeks, a relatively soft part of their schedule. The Giants were not ready when the season began and started 0-3. That is on Judge and how he approached the start to the season, espousing the belief that September was little more than an extension of the preseason. I said then that those games were of extreme importance, and the Giants’ inability to win any of them blew up their season before they had the opportunity to get it started.

Judge’s conservative nature has reared its unwelcome head too many times this season. On fourth downs. At the end of the Week 2 game against Washington. In far too close to the vest game plans week after week on the offensive side of the ball. I said this during the bye week and I will says it again — Judge has to look himself in the mirror and realize that he has to shed that ultra-conservative skin, that he has to be bolder.

Judge also has to understand that something is awry with his in-game management. Why else have the Giants wasted so many timeouts this season? It’s not because they wanted to use them. It’s because they couldn’t get a play called in time, couldn’t get lined up, couldn’t get the right personnel on the field. They were disorganized, and that is on the head coach. If his assistants aren’t doing their jobs in getting players ready, he needs to deal with that. How does anyone explain being outscored 45-0 over 10 games in the final two minutes of the first half? Judge needs to examine the decisions and philosophies that have led to that outcome.

Ultimately, Judge needs to win more games. He needs to take all that “process” talk he loves, toss it in a Meadowlands swamp, and get some results. To get those results, the coach is going to be willing to accept the reality that he is part of the reason his team hasn’t gotten the results it wants often enough.

I truly believe Judge still has it in him to be a good NFL head coach. I also truly believe the Giants want to give him the opportunity to get there, and that he remains likely to return in 2022.

He just needs to give the Giants reason to justify the decision they want to make.

Dave Gettleman’s tenure winding down?

I honestly don’t know at this point whether the next seven games will impact Dave Gettleman’s future one way or the other. Never say never, as a disgraced former Giants head coach with a ridiculous slicked-back hairdo used to say, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario at this point where the Giants bring Gettleman back for next season.

Co-owner John Mara is a loyal guy, perhaps to a fault. He has said repeatedly that he likes the way way Gettleman and Judge work together. Fine. He also said at the beginning of this season, though, that it was time for the Giants to start showing on-field results. It was time to start winning games. They have not. They are 3-7. They are 18-40 (a .310 winning percentage) on Gettleman’s four-year watch.

Gettleman has made some good decisions. He is responsible for some awful decisions. It is past time for arguing about those, and for justifying the reasons for some of the decisions, that have not worked out.

Bottom line is this: Gettleman was hired to fix a bad football team. After 3½ seasons and two coaching staffs, they still look like a bad football team. Can they win enough over the final seven games to change that impression? To either allow Gettleman to stay on or retire on his own terms? Even 4-3 over the final seven games would only get them to 7-10, a fourth-straight double-digit loss season on Gettleman’s resume.

In Saturday’s mailbag, I was asked about the possibility of Gettleman being removed before the season is over. I have doubts that ownership would do that. Yes, they did that to Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese in 2017. Those circumstances, though, were far different. The Giants had become a dissension-riddled embarrassment, with players turning to the media with complaints, going AWOL, getting suspended. That is not happening with the current team.

When they do officially start looking for a new general manager, the Giants need to cast a wide net. They can’t interview executives currently working for other teams until the regular season is over, so how much would they really gain with a mid-season dismissal? Not much, unless they are going to target someone who is not currently working for a team.

Do we already have our Daniel Jones answer?

From the time the 2020 season ended, it has been clear that the most important thing the Giants had to do during the 2021 season — aside from winning games, of course — was use Daniel Jones’ third NFL season to figure out exactly what they had in the 2019 No. 6 overall pick.

Did they have a leave no doubt star quarterback in their midst, a guy who cou. ld unquestionably be their guy for the foreseeable future? Was Jones a run him out of town as fast as you can bum, and send the GM who picked him out the door with him kind of quarterback? Was he somewhere in the middle?

There is a school of thought that we can’t yet fully evaluate what Jones is, or what he can be, because of what he has had to work with. He was a rookie in 2018, working with few weapons and a head coach who would be fired. In 2019, Jones was surrounded by few weapons, a poor offensive line and a questionable offensive coordinator. Despite offseason efforts to upgrade the talent around him, Jones has faced the same obstacles in 2021.

Is it fair to look at the lack of production, just 20 touchdown passes to 17 interceptions in the last 24 games, and the Giants’ inability to average even 20 points per game the past two seasons and conclude that Jones is a terrible quarterback? Probably not.

Is it right to look at the occasional flashes of brilliance despite the frustrating mistakes and believe Jones would be a star ... if only the Giants could put a good, functional group around him? Or to say, we just don’t know what he is because he hasn’t had a fair chance to show it? Perhaps not.

Mark Schofield was on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast with me recently, and in talking about Jones we were discussing the possibility that it is entirely possible that over 2½ seasons and 36 NFL starts maybe Jones has already answered the question.

Maybe, just maybe Jones has already shown us that he is somewhere in the middle tier of quarterbacks — and that that is where he will always be. He will tease ... and he will disappoint. Some days he will look like s stud quarterback, a top half of the league guy you can win because of. Other days, he will look like Sam Darnold or the bad version of Jared Goff.

Maybe, just maybe we should have already figured out that Jones is Kirk Cousins or the Cincinnati version of Andy Dalton. Schofield referenced the idea that Dan Hatman of The Scouting Academy likes to frame quarterback as “tractors” or “trailers.” A “tractor” you win because of. A “trailer” you take along for the ride and win, or lose, with. Maybe Jones is a trailer.

Freed from Garrett, even though he isn’t happy about that, Jones has seven games this season to push that needle toward the “tractor” category.

My guess is either way Jones is the Giants’ quarterback at the beginning of the 2022 season.

First, there isn’t anyone in the upcoming draft who really excites you.

Second, the Giants don’t have the cap space to go pursue a Russell Wilson or a DeShaun Watson. Unless they want to completely destroy their roster to get that done.

Does the BARKLEY version of Saquon Barkley still exist?

Let’s be honest. It has been a loooong time since we have seen Barkley be BARKLEY. We haven’t seen the ALL CAPS version of Barkley regularly since 2018. We saw a flash of it Week 16 of 2019 vs. the Washington Football Team when he had 279 yards of total offense (189 rushing, 90 receiving). Since then, that version of Barkley has only been a myth.

Does ALL CAPS Barkley still exist?

He has played in only eight of the Giants’ last 26 games. He has dealt with leg injuries in each of the last three seasons. He is a running back who has seen much of what should be the prime of his career spent rehabbing injuries.

The Giants have a huge decision coming on Barkley, one which has both financial and organizational ramifications about how they are going to construct their team. The GM who made the choice to draft him No. 2 overall when most of the football world said it was a bad idea to draft a running back at No. 2 (because, well, it’s a bad idea) almost certainly won’t be part of that decision. The head coach who was involved is already long gone.

Barkley needs to begin to build a resume worthy of a second contract. That starts with staying on the field the rest of this year and next. That also includes showing us that BARKLEY still exists.

The Giants have already picked up Barkley’s fifth-year option for next season. My guess right now would be a franchise tag in 2023 rather than a long-term deal.

Patrick Graham’s accountability

Flying under the radar with the Jason Garrett firing, speculation about the futures of GM Dave Gettleman, head coach Joe Judge and the fact that some consider him to be a candidate for upcoming head-coaching vacancies. is the fact that the Giants’ defense has largely under-performed this season and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has to be held accountable for that.

The Giants’ defense was in the top 10 in points against a season ago, and Graham was lauded as a defensive savant who always pushed the right buttons. Through six games, that until under-achieved. Then, there was a three-game stretch in which the Giants gave up only 13 points per game. Monday, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did what they wanted with little resistance.

The coverage has often been too soft. The communication has at times been lacking. The pass rush has at times been non-existent.

Monday against Tampa Bay the Giants did little to nothing to really try and disrupt Brady. Little to no creativity in the pass rush. Generally soft Cover 2 and Cover 3 zones that were easy to read and pick apart. It was almost as though Graham, who said before the game that he didn’t think he could fool Brady, was determined not to try.

“It’s been laid out since I’ve been coaching football, period – we get judged based on how our guys play and all that stuff like that, so we’ve got to do a good job there. We all know what we signed up for. This is a business and every day I come in thinking, ‘Hey, you could be fired.’ That’s just part of it,” Graham said. “Obviously, last week we didn’t do a good enough job, so hopefully this week we do a better job and compete and go out there and give us a chance to win. The message I don’t think changes, not for me personally. I’ve always been like that. Just like I would assume for you guys in New York City, it’s higher stakes. It’s different. It’s higher stakes, that’s just how it is – and we sign up for that because there’s good and bad. But if you like living on that edge a little bit, you like it.”

If Graham wants to be a serious head-coaching candidate this offseason, there can’t be any more stinkers from the defense. Like the Bucs game. Or, the Rams game, Or, the Cowboys game. Or, even the Broncos game.

Young players have to play

It is clear that the Giants are not a playoff team. It is clear that many players do not have futures on the 2022 roster. Among them are Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Oshane Ximines and probably Lorenzo Carter. It is also abundantly clear that the Giants have salary cap issues for next season, as they are right now estimated to be more than $9 million over a $208.2 million projected cap.

That means they will have to move on from some highly-paid veteran players. Could that include Sterling Shepard and James Bradberry? Will they want to pay Devontae Booker $2 million next season?

With that in mind, the Giants need as much information as they can get on the players who might be part of their future. That means there is no legitimate reason for Solder to play and Matt Peart to sit. They used a fourth-round pick to acquire Ben Bredeson. Hernandez and Matt Skura are not long-term solutions at guard. Let Bredeson play and see if he even belongs on the 2022 roster. If he’s in good enough shape, get Isaiah Wilson on the roster and find out about him, too. Maybe get some snaps for rookie running back Gary Brightwell.

On defense, Azeez Ojulari and Quincy Roche need to be the primary edge defenders. Elerson Smith needs to get as much playing time as he can handle. Cornerback Aaron Robinson, too.

Let Freddie cook?

Judge has been loathe to admit it, but the entire football world seems to understand that with Jason Garrett out as offensive coordinator, Freddie Kitchens will now be in command of the Giants’ offense.

It has seemed obvious that Kitchens, with whom Judge has a relationship dating back to their time at Mississippi State in 2004 and 2005, has been positioned to step into that role ever since Judge promoted him from tight ends coach to ‘Senior Offensive Assistant’ this season.

Is Kitchens calling the plays a good or bad thing for the Giants? It’s not really as simple as “anyone can do better than Garrett.”

Kitchens has a brief, and checkered, history in charge of an offense.

In 2018, Kitchens took over as Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator for the final eight games after head coach Hue Jackson was canned. He helped the Browns go 5-3 and was widely credited with helping then-rookie Baker Mayfield, who had his four best single-game passer ratings of the year with Kitchens calling plays.

That work is largely what got him the head-coaching gig in Cleveland for 2019, and that was a disaster that saw Kitchens get fired after a 6-10 season.

USA Today wrote:

“Kitchens’ lone year in charge resulted in a 6-10 season filled with chaos and marred by a lack of discipline. It became clear that Kitchens, brought in as running backs coach in 2018 and promoted to offensive coordinator for the final eight games that year, does not have what it takes to be a head coach in the league.”

Here is Browns’ insider Mary Kay Cabot:

“I think we were all looking at a lot of talent on the roster, and I just think – I actually know firsthand from talking to enough people – that it really was just not knit well together by a coaching staff that could handle that talent, that could work together, that knew the right schemes to put them in, and it was just a very dysfunctional process.”

On the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, Mark Schofield’s view was “maybe.”

“I think it could work,” said Schofield, indicating that calling plays and running a team was perhaps too much for Kitchens as a rookie head coach.

The expectation is the Giants will be more aggressive and will make a more concerted

“I think there’s a potential for this to work,” Schofield said. “He wouldn’t be my dream offensive coordinator for Daniel Jones and the New York Giants, but for the time being I think it could work.”

Kitchens gets seven games to show whether or not he deserves a chance to be the Giants’ 2022 offensive coordinator ... provided Judge is the head coach.