Despite a 6-10 record in his first season, New York Giants head coach Joe Judge has been widely lauded for overcoming a slew of challenges, including navigating through an unprecedented global pandemic and pushing all the right buttons necessary to keep his team engaged and competitive in nearly every game.
But that just wasn’t enough to impress NBC Sports columnist Patrick Daugherty. In his ranking of NFL head coaches ahead of the 2021 season, Daugherty put Judge 23 out of 25 head coaches (he excluded the new head coaching hires from his ranking).
Judge finished ahead of Denver’s Vic Fangio (24th) and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor (25th).
Joe Judge began his Giants career with bits. No names on jerseys, etc. It made him an easy punchline for a slumping organization. Things started equally poorly during the regular season, where Judge’s squad produced 0-5 and 1-7 records. The second half was much better, with the G-Men closing 5-3 and coming within a Nate Sudfeld cameo of winning their pathetic division. With offense exploding league-wide, the Giants were a rare bulwark for the other side of the ball, surrendering 94 fewer points than the year prior. That was the ninth-best mark in football after three seasons of finishing 23rd or worse.
The problem was Judge’s offense, which showed zero second-year improvement under erratic starter Daniel Jones. The front office is throwing weapons at the issue, but it will fall to Judge to make lemonade out of Jones’ lemons. Judge can sometimes feel like a “football guy” parody — he took the Sudfeld thing just a little too personally — though he has successfully toed the line of instilling a hard-nosed attitude while keeping his players’ respect. There’s a chance 2020 was Judge’s ceiling. The fact it wasn’t the floor campaign so many were expecting was a surprising, encouraging development.
Was the Giants' offense a problem? Remember, it was a new system put together by a first-time coaching staff that, by the way, lost the offense’s most valuable asset in running back Saquon Barkley in Week 2 of the season (and with that, one might suspect, a large part of that playbook).
But let’s look at the top-10 NFL offenses league-wide in terms of average yards per game. What do nine of the ten have that the Giants don’t?
Those offenses (Chiefs, Bills, Titians, Vikings, Packers, Cardinals, and Raiders) all had the same coaching staff and system from previous seasons, so the learning curve wasn’t as steep as the Giants.
And in the case of the Bucs, whose offense also cracked the top-10, they had Tom Brady as their quarterback.
Was Giants quarterback Daniel Jones erratic, as Daugherty suggests?
A better word might be “hesitant” because if there was one thing Jones was consistently guilty of—and this has been a problem in his first two NFL seasons—it’s that he often held the ball too long and missed out on those split-second windows of opportunity to make plays.
Jones did get a little better at that in the second half of last season as the offense became more second-nature to him, but that uncertainty evident in a number of his throws wasn’t hard to miss and was a big reason behind the offense’s struggles.
The rest of Daugherty’s justification for his ranking—no names on the back of jerseys (straight out of the book of Bill Belichick and hey, didn’t the Cowboys one year during training camp refuse to put the star logo on the sides of the players' helmets unless they earned them?) and the calling out former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson for his disgraceful mockery of the competitive nature of the game in the regular-season finale—didn’t exactly mean the difference between a win and a loss.
If one wants to criticize Judge for anything in his first season, at the very top of the list should be his decision to green-light Daniel Jones to play against the Arizona Cardinals.
After insisting that he was confident Jones could defend himself if need be, it quickly became obvious that wasn't the case, and Jones probably should have been pulled from that game for his own protection.
Instead, he was left in there for most of the game, and he suffered another lower-body injury which knocked him out of the following week's game.
But by all accounts, Judge very wisely recognized that respect is a two-way street and that just as the players had to earn his respect, Judge had to earn theirs.
And if that ability to hold your players’ respect during thick and thin doesn’t count for something more in building up a winning foundation, then I don’t know what else will.
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