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Giants’ ST coach Thomas McGaughey talks pressure, mistakes, and in-game decisions

McGaughey talks about his units’ struggles against the Seahawks

NFL: JUL 30 New York Giants Training Camp Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Things all seemed to come crashing down for the New York Giants after their Week 4 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. There have been serious questions asked about the offense and defense, as well as calls for special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey’s job.

Expectations were sky-high for the Giants heading into the 2023 season, and for good reason. After all, the 2022 season saw them make the playoffs for the first time since 2016, and win a playoff game for the first time since 2011.

But things have very quickly gone sideways for the Giants, and those high expectations have just as quickly turned into a high pressure situation.

The entire team is feeling some measure of pressure, and McGaughey is among those feeling the most. Not only is he feeling the pressure to get his unit to perform, but he’s also under pressure from head coach Brian Daboll after a series of high-profile mistakes contributed to the Giants’ woes to start the season.

“He’s [Daboll] always on my ass,” McGaughey said. That’s part of the job. I’m good with that. I have no issue. Like the pressure part of this, I love it. I absolutely love it because you wouldn’t want it - like, I wouldn’t want to be in any other place, and they don’t care. You want to be here in New York. You want the pressure of being the best. You want the pressure of just trying to be at your absolute best. That’s why we do this, we don’t do it just to be average. I don’t show up here just to be just some average coach playing on some average team in an average market. I had a choice to come here to New York. I made that choice. I knew exactly what I was getting into, so I love it, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

On the special teams’ struggles

The Giants’ dismal start to the 2023 season has certainly been a team effort. They have fallen short on every front and all sides of the ball. And even amongst all the criticism of the offense and defense, the criticism of the special teams unit was particularly pointed after their six-penalty performance against the Seahawks.

“It’s a lot of stuff,” McGaughey said when asked what went wrong against Seattle. “We knew that [officiating] crew threw a lot of penalties, but you just can’t do it, offsides or two holding penalties. I can deal with those effort penalties, but the illegal shift and holding penalty at the line of scrimmage that wasn’t necessary, stuff like that. That’s just - It’s hard enough to win games in this league to beat your opponent. You can’t over overcome yourself and then try to beat your opponent. So, it’s obviously a point of emphasis all the time, but especially this week after we had that type of performance.”

McGaughey noted that some of the Giants’ issues were down to execution in the moment on the part of the players. But he also took responsibility as a coach and that he needs to pay more attention to details during practice. Likewise, he said that they need to take steps to make sure his players have better execution under pressure.

“Well, in the moment, you’ve got to coach it better, right? You’ve got to drill it better. You’ve got to overemphasize certain things that are not being executed. You know, as far as an illegal shift, get up to the line, get set. It’s really simple, it ain’t that hard, you know. Holding, schematically we can do some things better to put our long snapper in a better position where he doesn’t have to hold. That’s something I can do. But just those little, small details, just make sure you just tighten the screws on everything. When you feel like things are getting loose, you’ve just got to tighten the screws and that’s it and it’s execution under pressure. Got to execute, right. We’ve got to do a better job on our path going to the punter, right? We can’t run right down the middle of him. We‘ve got to either veer off to the left or veer off to the right. It’s just details of your job.”

On putting Adoree’ Jackson at punt returner

Giants fans winced (to say the least) when Adoree’ Jackson was used as the Giants’ punt returner against the Seahawks. Not only do fans still see shades of Jason Sehorn being injured as a return man, but Jackson was injured on a punt return just last year.

McGaughey indicated that the decision to put Jackson on the field as a punt returner was match-up based, due to Seahawks’ punter Michael Dixon’s ability.

“Michael Dixon is a really good punter” McGaughey said. “He hits a variety of balls. It’s just, you want to make sure that the guy back there feels comfortable, and we made a decision to put him back there and it’s just tough. Michael Dixon is the leading punter in the league right now, he’s averaging almost 55 yards a punt and again, he has those variety of punts, so it makes it tougher.”

McGaughey added, “He does it [field punts in practice] from time to time. He’s done it enough in his career to where we feel comfortable putting him back there, but we have a bunch of guys back there catching punts every day because you just never know. You always want to have options as the game moves forward, as the year moves forward, you have injuries, you have all kind of things that happen, so you always want to have a bunch of guys back there catching punts, but he catches them after practice. He catches them all the time.

“The decision [to use Jackson] was made,” McGaughey said. “Regardless of how it happens, it’s just something we’re doing for the betterment of the team and just to make sure that we get the ball back. At the end of the day, I tell guys that all the time, punt return, the most important thing is we know we’re getting the ball back and that’s what we need to do.”

The team had been using rookie Eric Gray as a punt returner in the first three games, but he was pulled after muffing a punt. Despite the mistake, McGaughey complimented Gray’s decision making through the start of the season.

He said, “When you look at the first four games, he made every good decision you can make, and he fields the ball well. Again, Michael Dixon is different. He’s an Australian punter that can hit the ball a bunch of different ways. He hit the ball nose up and the spin is just a funky spin, and he has a very powerful leg. That’s why he’s the number one gross punter in the league right now. That’s what it is. We’re talking about one play with a rookie. Rookies make mistakes sometimes. Last time I checked, Peyton Manning, I think he had like 35 picks as a rookie in the National Football League. So young players make mistakes, but he’ll be fine.”