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Fixing the Giants, Part II: Joe Judge needs to evaluate himself, and his coaching staff

Changes need to be made, especially on the offensive side

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge loves to refer to the phrase ‘adapt or die.’ Judge also likes to talk about process over results, and the idea that the goal is to make weekly progress and be at your best at the end of the season.

It’s hard to argue that Judge and his team have adapted well to much of anything this season. It is impossible to argue that Judge’s process has led to progress. The Giants are 4-11. They have lost five of six They have averaged 11.5 points in those six games. They score less (16.5 points per game vs. 17.5) and give up more points (24.3 vs. 22.4) than a year ago.

They are a train wreck. With losses in their final two games, the Giants will tie the embarrassing lot that represented the Giants in 2017 with a franchise-worst 13 losses (albeit in one more game).

Judge is now 10-21 in his tenure as Giants head coach.

Yet, unless someone talks them out of it, co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch seem set on bringing Judge back for a third season.

Former New York Jets GM and Miami Dolphins VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum still believes in Judge.

“I was the assistant general manager of the New York Jets for five years. When I became the GM I’m like ‘oh, I got this. I’m in the building every day, I’ve watched my boss for five years, I’m gonna crush it. I’m gonna be great at this job,” Tannenbaum said. “For the first year and a half I’m like ’oh my God, I have absolutely no idea what I got myself into.’

“If you had a beer with Joe Judge after the season he probably has a thousand things that he would tell you that he has learned in the first in the first two years. That to me is much important that should Joe Judge stay or should Joe Judge leave.”

Judge needs to honestly evaluate his first two seasons and apply the lessons Tannenbaum believes he has learned. What we have seen the first two seasons, especially what we have seen in 2021, has not been good enough.

Judge needs to figure out why the Giants appear to be going backward instead of forward. Why the progress he so often says he sees is not translating into performance on the field.

Specifically, I think Judge needs to find the answers to the following things:

Why did the Giants, facing three beatable teams that are all currently below .500 — two of them at home — start the season 0-3? Did he coach with enough urgency?

Perhaps not. Here is something he said on Sept. 1, almost two weeks before the season began.

“September is an extension of the preseason in a lot of ways. Obviously it counts toward your record in the regular season, but throughout September you’re really figuring out your team. There’s a lot of roster movement. There’s guys that we’re going to have on our roster day one that we didn’t go through training camp with.”

Problem is, the Giants’ season was already over by the time they got to October.

Is being soooo conservative the best strategy?

I have argued for most of Judge’s tenure that he is too conservative. Largely, that has to do with Judge often refusing to go for first downs when the time seemed right, choosing to punt or kick field goals. That also extends to the Giants’ painfully conservative offensive approach under both Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens, and a simple general lack of urgency that results in a “we’ll play for something to happen later” attitude.

At the beginning of December, ESPN calculated that Judge had erred on 29.2 percent of “non-obvious” fourth-down decisions in his two seasons and that his win probability sacrificed was 31 percent, 28th among head coaches.

Edj Sports ranks Judge 31st using its proprietary Edj Power Index (EPI) and Offensive Play Calling (CCI — Critical Call Index). Combined, Edj Sports Game-Winning Chance (GWC) metric shows that the only coach in the league whose decisions have made it harder for his team to win games this season is Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

You will notice in the graphic above that most of the coaches at the top are running good teams who are in the playoff chase. Most of the ones at the bottom are running teams already looking ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft.

It isn’t an exact science, but there is a correlation. Being bold pays off.

Instead of making the progress Judge always talks about seeing, why do the Giants appear to be getting progressively worse?

Some of the struggles the second half of the season can be blamed on the accumulation of injuries, especially the loss of quarterback Daniel Jones. Still, that doesn’t excuse much of what has happened this season.

  • It does not explain how a team with a head coach who preaches discipline has lost two games because defenders could not simply stay onside on a pair of game-altering, or deciding plays.
  • It does not explain how a tea with a head coach who preaches situational football is so hopelessly outclassed — both on the field and on the sideline — when it comes to executing situational football. The fact that the Giants have been outscored 65-0 in the final two minutes of the first half this season is an embarrassing accumulation of the horrendous situational football the Giants have played this season.
  • Nearly at the end of his second season, why does Judge’s sideline seem so dysfunctional? Why do the Giants struggle to get substitutions and play calls made in a timely manner, resulting in the wasting of timeouts?
  • How did Judge, who preaches discipline, cost his team 15 yards by illegally throwing a challenge flag in a game against the Broncos? When he said he knew it was illegal for him to do that?
  • How did the Giants get caught flat-footed and have to call a timeout with :12 left in the first quarter against Miami, realizing too late they would have to run a play before the quarter expired?
  • Why can’t the Giants, even with their offensive limitations, figure out a way to put together a coherent offensive plan that makes sense — and then make some semblance of an effort to stick with it?

If Judge returns as Giants head coach next season, which it appears that he will, he needs to do some honest evaluation about the root causes for these failings and get them corrected.


Coaching staff

New York Giants v Miami Dolphins
Freddie Kitchens
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Who’s running the offense?

Questions about who will or will not be on Judge’s 2022 coaching staff have to start here.

Senior offensive assistant Freddie Kitchens moved into the play-calling role when Judge fired Jason Garrett.

Will Judge hand the reigns to Kitchens or go outside the organization to find someone with fresh idea to try and fix the Giants’ broken offense?

Judge and Kitchens have a relationship dating back to when Jones was still a player at Mississippi State and Kitchens was an assistant coach in 2004. Judge has obvious respect for and trust in Kitchens.

Is the former Cleveland Browns head coach and offensive coordinator the right guy to resurrect the Giants’ offense?

The results have not been good in Kitchens’ 5 games calling plays. The Giants have scored 20 points just once (21 against the Los Angeles Chargers) and have averaged just 11.8 points per game.

Is this, though, a fair evaluation period for Kitchens? Quarterback Daniel Jones played just one game with Kitchens as play caller before being shut down. First-round pick Kadarius Toney has played just once. Saquon Barkley has not looked fully healthy. The offensive line is a disaster. Kitchens is operating out of Garrett’s playbook.

Can Judge make the case that, given all of those factors, Kitchens deserves an opportunity to install his own scheme from scratch?

Maybe.

In Year 3 of his tenure, though, and likely planted firmly on the coaching hot seat, is that the hill Judge wants to die on? Or, does he look outside and opt for a full offensive reboot?

That choice could shape many other offseason decisions, including what the rest of the staff looks like.

Position coaches

When Judge took the Giants’ job it was understandable that he would turn to trusted coaches he had worked with in the past. That would help him get his feet wet as a first-time head coach and get the program installed and operating the way he wanted. Judge ended up with a staff heavy on assistant coaches who had done all or most of their work at the collegiate level. Or, on the offensive side, were connected to Garrett.

It might be time for Judge to re-assess which position coaches to to go forward with. Perhaps to consider position coaches with more NFL experience.

Rob Sale. already the third offensive line coach of Judge’s tenure, is reportedly in line to become offensive line coach at Florida. Sale held that position for new Florida coach Billy Napier at Louisville. Sale’s first NFL season has been a difficult one. Would he opt to return to college, and to his former boss?

If so, would the Giants to long-time NFL offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, who is currently a consultant on the staff? Or, would Judge go hunting for yet another offensive line coach?

Running backs coach Burton Burns, 69, had never coached in the NFL before joining Judge’s staff. Just a guess, but retirement might be a possibility for Burns at season’s end. Tight ends coach Derek Dooley has done most of his work in college, with his only NFL experience on staffs with Garrett as head coach or coordinator.

Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert is a respected coach with nearly two decades of NFL experience, but his group hasn’t been great. Is that at least partially on him?

On the defensive side, defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson has done an excellent job with a revolving door of players. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer, who had no NFL experience before joining the Giants, has gotten great production out of Leonard Williams and Austin Johnson. Is linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, another coach with no NFL experience before joining Judge’s staff, the right guy to develop Azeez Ojulari, Quincy Roche, Elerson Smith, Tae Crowder and other young linebackers the Giants might add? Senior defensive assistant Jeremy Pruitt is working in the NFL for the first time.

There will almost certainly be some changes to the coaching staff. Which guys are the right ones to keep? To let go? I can’t answer that question, but it is one that Judge has to be asking himself.