Joe Judge managed the second quarter of Sunday’s Giants loss impressively enough that it made you forget he was a first-year head coach.
First, Judge saved his quarterback Daniel Jones from a delay of game penalty by calling timeout on 2nd and 5 from the Cowboys' 28-yard line with 1:13 to play and the game tied.
Then on 4th and 4 from the 27, Judge called a fake field goal pass that caught Dallas' special teams unit with its pants down.
No one on veteran coach John Fassel’s Cowboys special teams unit was even looking at Evan Engram until punter Riley Dixon’s touchdown pass was already halfway there.
Judge’s headset-throwing, profanity-laced fit on the sideline was an indication of how frequently and specifically the Giants had practiced that play, only to see a penalty due to what Judge on Monday called poor “communication.”
“We just weren’t set as a unit right there,” Judge said. “That’s not one person. It ties into a couple different things.”
Judge’s reaction, however, was also the genuine frustration of a coach who understands the importance of winning to validate a process.
Judge knows that an 0-5 record is an 0-5 record. He knows that was the Giants' seventh straight loss to the Cowboys, even if he wasn’t a part of the first six.
The pressure and the importance of that game, in fact, most likely were the exact reasons Judge called that trick play then.
Nevertheless, Judge remains winless heading into Sunday’s game against Washington at MetLife Stadium, although the Giants opened as 3 1/4 u00bd-point favorites, per BetOnline.ag. And the only thing that matters for a coach who is 0-5 is whether his players are listening and buying in.
Tom Coughlin’s 2013 Giants proudly recovered from an 0-6 start to finish 7-9 to hold off the inevitable. Ben McAdoo didn’t even finish the 2017 season after his Giants started 0-6 and Eli Manning’s Week 13 benching backfired on the organization.
So what of Judge? Well, his players sound like they have his back. His players look like — and sound like — they are fighting for him.
“Look man, I’m not running anywhere,” safety Logan Ryan said. “I’m here. I don’t care what the record is. I’m going to lead our troops. Joe is going to lead our troops and we’re going to have to execute better. [On bad teams I’ve seen] guys out of the locker room in two minutes and dressed and can’t wait to get to see what the snack was after the game. I don’t think you have that here. You have guys really painfully hurt with this one because we put a lot of work in and a lot of effort.”
Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson went so far as saying he believes “this team is special” because of their diligent, head-down work ethic.
Quarterback Daniel Jones was honest that the Giants are ticked off but insisted they are not hanging their heads.
“I think it’s been a tough start. To say we aren’t disappointed would be a lie. We certainly are,” Jones said after failing to throw a touchdown pass for a fourth straight game. “I don’t think anyone on this team is discouraged. We’re not going to allow ourselves to be discouraged and let this start affect the rest of this season … We’re disappointed, we want to win every game, but we’re not going to let it affect our preparation and how we approach these next 11 games.”
It’s encouraging, then, that Judge’s players sound like they are staying the course and refusing to fold. The problem is intangibles will only take a team so far. Talent and execution are required to turn discipline and determination into victories.
But the Giants are lacking in talent, and the talent they do have is not fully utilized.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, for example, was quoted during Sunday’s CBS broadcast as saying that tight end Evan Engram is “our best playmaker on offense.” But Garrett’s actions don’t match his words.
Engram has only 18 catches for 147 yards, just one play over 20 yards (22), and scored his first TD on a 3-yard end-around rush on Sunday. And he admitted Monday that the amount of curl routes he’s running in Garrett’s offense is different from his job in previous years.
“Yeah definitely, that’s probably the most different aspect to my route tree this season,” Engram said."I’m just kind doing everything that is in the game plan. We work a lot of different things. Pretty much just doing what I’m asked to do in the offense."
Judge did call Engram’s number on the fake field goal pass, so the Giants are clearly trying to involve him more. But Engram is a player that needs to touch the ball often for this offense to produce. (So is Darius Slayton, as everyone saw Sunday.)
Engram was the polar opposite of the cheery Tomlinson in the face of the Giants' 0-5 start in Monday’s interviews, too, which was refreshing to see. He said “losing is losing,” refusing to call this any better than previous years' futility, and showed raw emotion.
“Definitely pissed off,” Engram said. “There’s no excuses.”
Jones is not without blame, either, albeit playing behind a shaky and inconsistent offensive line.
The second-year QB missed Slayton on a wide open deep shot on the first play from scrimmage of Sunday’s second half on a well-timed and aggressive play call by Garrett. Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas and the line protected the play well, and Jones simply threw it out of bounds.
For Judge’s part, you have to admit, despite the 0-5 record, you aren’t sitting there watching these games often second-guessing his in-game decisions.
What is tough to watch, though, is when Judge and defensive coordinator Pat Graham constantly churn the roster on defense searching for playmakers and keep failing to find a mix that can consistently get stops when it matters.
That goes back to the personnel they’re working with, which had the Giants set up to fail from the beginning. But their young head coach does appear to know what he’s doing.
The moment wasn’t too big for him late in Sunday’s first half, and he was a penalty away from possibly giving his team the edge in their first win. Unfortunately, he’ll have to wait one more week for a chance at that elusive game ball.
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