The NFL is like a serialized drama in which, at the start of the season, there are so many questions that you hope will be answered by the end of the season.
So along those lines, The Athletic’s Mike Sando put together a preseason article in which he consulted with league sources to identify the biggest concern for each of the 32 NFL teams.
Not surprisingly, when it came to the Giants, Sando’s panel agreed that the biggest concern was riding on the unknown new head coach of the team, Joe Judge.
Per Sando's article:
The first thing you worry about is whether this is just another Bill Belichick spinoff that is not going to work. You have a second-year quarterback who has shown promise, but you are praying that a new system doesn’t stunt his growth. Some of the defensive stuff is the head coach leaning on (defensive coordinator) Patrick Graham. Blake Martinez and (Kyler) Fackrell are both guys Graham coached. Graham did not have a good run as defensive coordinator in Miami. Does the fresh start help him under a head coach who is not from his side of the ball? The head coach is so important, and if a coordinator can’t do it, then what do you got? That’s a lot of uncertainty.
Eleven weeks later, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Judge is the least of the Giants' problems.
Upon being introduced as the team’s new head coach, Judge spoke of having a vision for the football team and how he wanted it to reflect the tri-state area.
But that wasn’t merely coaches speak as Judge didn’t just have a vision, he had a plan on how to get there, a plan, which by the way, remained a constant during the ensuing months when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with schedules and threw additional challenges at the rookie head coach that he handled with aplomb.
Although the team’s current record of 3-7 doesn’t show it, the Giants are trending upward. In revisiting those preseason concerns, Sando writes:
Judge has shown himself to be a promising new coach at this early stage, fielding a team that is strongest on special teams, his area of expertise, and improved on defense. The Giants rank 12th in combined EPA on defense and special teams. That’s an improvement from 26th last season.
Stats aside, it’s how Judge has approached the task. He made headlines in the summer for having players and position coaches run penalty laps when they made mental errors in practice, believing that by emphasizing that there are in-game consequences for mistakes.
As such, the Giants teams of the past, a confused and undisciplined bunch, have transformed into a focused group that plays smarter football.
Judge has also done three things that his previous two predecessors did not. The first—and most important—is he hired a top-notch staff filled with teachers who, unlike previous staffs, struggled with teaching and/or adapting what they were doing to fit the talent they had.
There are several examples of that, but the most notable one is the job done by defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who has had a revolving door at cornerback and linebacker, yet whose defense remained in the top half of the league despite any personnel issues.
The second thing is Judge has created a haven of sorts to where he doesn’t believe in criticizing players or coaches in public, keeping all the dirty laundry in-house and out of the court of public opinion where often, damaging falsehoods create more harm.
Judge’s two most notable cases in which he walked that walk involved his handling of receiver Golden Tate after his me-first display on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago, and, more recently, what happened between him and now former offensive line coach Marc Colombo.
Then there is Judge’s devotion to the team rather than to his ego. Through his actions, Judge isn’t afraid to cut bait and admit when he’s made a mistake, a characteristic with which some head coaches struggle.
Judge might as well sport a T-shirt with the slogan “It’s in the best interest of the New York Giants,” and point to that every time he’s asked about a decision because that’s indeed his approach.
That includes the decision to fire Colombo, which stirred up reports that Judge carries an air of haughtiness toward anyone that didn’t come from the Bill Belichick or Nick Saban schools of coaching.
“I’ve said the entire time I’ve been here, I’m not interested in any other program I’ve ever been a part of. I’m interested in the New York Giants," Judge said.
"All that matters is what we do for the New York Giants from this point forward."
The bottom line is Judge wasn’t hired to appease the general public’s thirst for the juicy little behind-the-scenes details. He wasn’t brought here to win any popularity contests or to necessarily be the face of the franchise.
He was brought here to implement a plan to change the losing culture within the Giants locker room.
“His style of coaching is good for players who want to win and want to play hard, practice hard, and understand that your practice is reflective of how you play,” said defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
“Guys that are willing to buy into a program are going to do great under a system like that. … I think it shows we have a tough team. I feel like after losses or wins we go right back to work. I think it’s a hard-hat type of team that wants to work and grind.”
Although the record doesn’t yet reflect that, given how the Giants players have bought in and have continued to fight even late down the stretch when most guys might start mailing it in certainly underscores just how far this Giants team has come in such a short time under its rookie head coach.
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