The Bill Belichick coaching tree hasn’t exactly produced many successful head coaches, and the New York Giants’ matchup with the Miami Dolphins this Sunday will provide a glimpse at two young coaches who are looking to break that trend: Joe Judge and Brian Flores.
At the center lies Patrick Graham, who served as an assistant in New England and defensive coordinator in Miami before joining the Giants last year. Despite his new loyalties, Graham says he and Flores remain “like brothers.”
“Flo, we’re very, very close,” Graham said. “I learned so much from Brian Flores. He’s one of the smartest human beings I’ve ever been around in football, non-football. He challenges you to get better every day. I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Flo. Learned a ton about football, learned a ton about life. There’s nobody, in my opinion – I mean, he’s one of the best coaches in this league in terms of whether it’s leadership, in terms of strategy. I know these other people get mentioned all the time, but the guy was defensive coordinator when [New England] won the Super Bowl, holding that team to that many points.”
Graham was only in Miami for the 2019 season, during which the Dolphins’ defense ranked dead last in the NFL with 494 points allowed. But Graham learned much of his play-calling philosophy from Flores, and his style has paid dividends so far in New York.
Flores is perhaps best known for his game plan in Super Bowl LIII, when the defense led New England to a 13-3 victory over the Rams by effectively eliminating running back Todd Gurley from the offense. It’s a strategy that Graham still employs.
“That’s how I learned football, in terms of who are the guys that can win the game, who are they trying to win the game with,” Graham said. “If we can take those guys away, then it forces them to play left-handed. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but the key thing is just thinking about Miami, they’ve got guys that could really hurt you. You know who they’re trying to get the ball to. You try to take them away and see if the other guys can beat you.”
On Sunday that means stopping rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who is coming off a 137-yard performance and has at least 60 yards in six of his last seven games. His 759 receiving yards are nearly more than the Giants’ two leading receivers combined.
“[Waddle’s] fast. He’s explosive out of his breaks,” Graham said. “And then I would say [co-offensive coordinators] George [Godsey] and Eric [Studesville] are doing a good job of putting him in spots to get him open. They’re really smart coaches and they’re doing a good job of getting him in space, creating mismatches with the guys, so that’s one thing they’re doing.”
Waddle will likely match up with cornerback James Bradberry, who helped hold Devonta Smith to two catches in Week 12 and seems to have put his early-season struggles behind him. The league is taking notice, as Bradberry currently ranks third among cornerbacks in Pro Bowl voting.
“The thing about Brad is he’s so long,” Graham said. “So long, so that at the line of scrimmage when he’s there and being square and getting hands on people, it’s hard to get around him. They might be open later in the down … but when a quarterback sees that it’s hard, it’s hard to stay with it because you see the guy blanketed in the beginning, so I think Brad is just continuing to improve. Again, he’s a relatively young player, he’s working through it. I was happy with what he did last week.”
With cornerback Darnay Holmes on Injured Reserve and Adoree’ Jackson potentially sidelined, the Giants will rely on some younger players to step up into new roles alongside Bradberry. Graham, though, says he already teaches his players how to be effective in any situtation.
“I think, again, our job as coaches is we’ve got to be able to anticipate some of the sudden change. It’s something that [Flores] used to say all the time, ‘Adapt or die,’ so in terms of being able to adjust to that, we’ve got to make sure during practice that we’re getting them work both ways. We cross-train everybody. Obviously, you have more value if you can do more stuff and they buy into it. That’s something that Joe preaches.
“Again, I keep saying ‘we’ because all the guys we’re talking about, these coaches, whether it’s George, whether it’s Josh, whether it’s Flo, whether it’s me, Joe, we all worked together and we were all young guys in the cafeteria trying to get our food and go back to our desks and not sitting down, and having conversations in our meeting rooms. That’s really where it comes from.”