Ever since becoming head coach of the New York Giants, Joe Judge has talked about representing the Tri-State area and building a team that would connect with fans, that the region would be proud of.
In 2020, the Giants played in front of empty seats at MetLife Stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This season, the Giants started 0-3 and 1-5. They lost their first three games at home. As we have seen too many times in the past decade, disgruntled fans were making a habit of heading for the exits long before games were over. Those who were still in the stadium spent a lot of their time booing the home team, if they weren’t taking a nap in their seat.
Sunday, though, something interesting happened. The stadium might have only been two-thirds full, but there was a buzz in the crowd. There was excitement. There were more Giants fans in the building than Eagles fans, which hasn’t always been the case in recent seasons.
This was a towel-waving, fired-up, pro-Giants crowd that made it really feel like the home team actually had a home field advantage.
Emily Iannaconi and I discussed that on this week’s Monday’s episode of ‘Valentine’s Views,” which appeared on YouTube and across our podcast network.
More importantly, Judge noticed the electricity in the building.
“I thought it was awesome, I really did,” Judge said of the atmosphere. “You wake up and all of a sudden, the cold air is hitting your face. It feels a whole lot more like football season, you know what I mean? You go out there and it’s got a gray overcast, it’s cold, it’s got that damp feeling. You’ve got people in the stands wearing their knit hats and heavy coats and stuff. It kind of looks a whole lot more like football season to me. Great energy, great passion. It should be that way when you play an NFC East home game. That’s the way it should be.”
The Giants have won three straight games at MetLife Stadium, their longest home winning streak since they won six in a row in 2016.
“We’ve got to give the fans something to cheer about,” Judge said. “I say it all the time, we wanted to make sure we went out there yesterday and had the guys fighting for 60 minutes and put the guys in a position to be successful. I’m proud that we were able to go ahead and finish the game the right way and give the fans something to cheer about.”
Julian Love’s “rare” versatility
The Giants sometimes refer to Julian Love as their “duct tape” for the secondary. When something is broken or a role needs to be filled, the Giants invariably call Love’s number. Free safety, box safety, slot cornerback, wide cornerback. Doesn’t matter. Love just goes and plays it.
“It’s actually a lot to ask, it really is, for someone to kind of have the flexibility that he brings,” Judge said. “Within the game, he has the ability to change matchups, change positions, change schematically. He doesn’t have a lot of hesitation with that. He’s very confident in knowing he’s an intelligent player and he sees the big picture, and then he’s got a skill set. He’s played corner. He’s played the star. He’s played safety in the deep parts. He’s played safety in the box. This guy’s done a lot of stuff defensively, so he’s really prepared to play all those things. He’s good in zone with good vision, understanding where he’s got to be. He’s good in man because he’s got that corner background. So, his versatility, it really is rare, and you try to build on it.”
Sunday against the Eagles, Love started at safety in place of Logan Ryan. When Darnay Holmes and Adoree’ Jackson left the game with injuries, he ended up in the slot as J.R. Reed played safety and Aaron Robinson took Jackson’s spot.
His alignments on Sunday? Slot cornerback (29 snaps), free safety (16), box safety (9), wide cornerback (4) and defensive line (4).
For the season, Love has played 152 snaps in the slot, 92 at free safety and 80 in the box.
“Jules is really a guy that you say any position back there, he’s got to be ready and available to play,” Judge said. “The other thing about Jules is that that guy’s going to be the special teams player of the week or one of the special teams players of the week for us. The guy went down there and had multiple tackles, really covered fast for us. He’s a personal protector on punt team. He’s a signal caller and that’s basically the quarterback, the MIKE linebacker of the special teams. This guy’s got a lot of responsibilities on his plate, so to balance it from defense to the kicking game, there’s a lot of things on his plate. He just comes in on Wednesday, gets the plan, prepares and goes out there on Sunday and he’s one of those guys on a Saturday night you don’t lose any sleep over.”
A window into roster building?
Judge was asked what I thought was a really interesting question on Monday about the fact that the New England Patriots with Bill Belichick, and now both the Giants with Judge and Miami Dolphins with Brian Flores — both out of the Belichick coaching tree — seem to build their defenses back to front.
“That doesn’t happen by accident,“ said Judge, more or less admitting that philosophical slant.
Judge, who coached special teams at Alabama and in New England, went further.
“Ultimately, it’s a passing league and there are different ways of affecting the quarterback. When you talk about building a team and you talk about building a defense, building your defense really builds two-thirds of your team. It’s your defense and your kicking game. The majority of your players in the kicking game are going to be defensive players because by nature that’s what they do, they run, they hit, they play in space. When you look at the structure of the defense, it’s no secret Miami, New England as well, and us, we play a lot of sub defense, so a lot of nickel, dime and things of that nature and that’s a heavy matchup defense in a lot of ways. To be able to be truly fluid through game plans, you have to have a variety of skill sets and body types to go out there and have depth to be able to play it, and really that starts in the secondary. You can use the secondary to supplement different parts of your team, as well. If you’re light on linebackers, how are you using some of your bigger safeties? If your pass rush is an issue, how are you using your secondary to either slow down the release of the quarterback or also be part of the pressure? That just kind of ties into the philosophy and the construction of the team as a whole. Good safeties, good corners – in this league, can’t have too many of them.”
I think that’s a really interesting window into Judge’s roster-building soul. To tie it directly to the Giants, it might explain drafting Aaron Robinson in Round 3 this year instead of, say, an offensive lineman.
Here is the list of players the Giants worked out on Monday. To be honest, I don’t recognize any of the names below.