Since 2017, the New York Giants have the worst record in the NFL. Though many were amused by head coach Joe Judge’s words in 2020, it seems they have not paid off, with the team starting the 2021 season at 0-3. This roster is not terrible in terms of talent, but the execution has been poor to start the season. Who is to blame for the New York Giants struggles?
Unfortunately, the hole is deeper than just Joe Judge. Many other people in the front office are to blame not just for this year, but for this team’s failure in the past.
Assigning Blame for the Giants Misfortunes
1. John Mara (Owner)
The current mess all starts with John Mara, the team owner. Mara took over for his father Wellington after he passed away in 2005.
Since their last Super Bowl appearance, this team has been an absolute train wreck. Mara is known for making Tom Coughlin the team’s scapegoat and forcing him out after the 2015 season. He also kept Jerry Reese and Marc Ross around too long. Both collectively worsened this team’s drafting and free agent philosophy, shortening Eli Manning‘s career by at least two seasons.
Mara should have cleaned house after Coughlin’s resignation in January 2016. However, he helped hire offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo as the head coach and kept Reese in the New York Giants front office. Despite a successful 2016 season, the team imploded in 2017 and the players turned on their coach. After Eli Manning was benched for Geno Smith against the Oakland Raiders on December 4th, Mara fired McAdoo and Reese together.
With one week left to go in the season, he hired former Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman to replace Reese. They hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to be the next head coach. Rather than starting to rebuild from there, the Giants attempted a last run with Manning at the helm. One of the moves that sent this message was selecting Saquon Barkley second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. The result of that ended in a 5-11 record. At the trade deadline, the Giants dealt two veterans, which signaled the start of a rebuild.
The team would trade star wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. the following March and let Landon Collins walk in free agency. The team signed veterans Antoine Bethea, Golden Tate, and Mike Remmers to be stop-gaps.
The Giants drafted Manning’s successor, Daniel Jones, sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. With the team regressing from the year earlier, the team fired Pat Shurmur and his colleagues after the 2019 season, but subsequently kept Dave Gettleman as the general manager. Shurmur took part in drafting Jones, which made the firing questionable.
Gettleman, Mara, and co-owner Steve Tisch all took part in hiring former special teams coach Joe Judge to be Shurmur’s successor. With a solid draft and free agency, despite no preseason games or full training camp, the Giants did well and overachieved in 2020. The defense ranked in the top ten of the league, while the offense ranked at the bottom. Despite finishing 6-10, the Giants finished in second place in the NFC East.
With no excuses left, the Giants were expected to make a playoff appearance. The team spent more than expected, signing free agents Adoree Jackson and Kenny Golladay to massive contracts. Controversy struck the team in training camp as three players retired and one player got into a heated argument with head coach, Joe Judge.
Skip all the way to Week 3 and the Giants are sitting at 0-3, last in the NFC East. Many of the expensive players have either regressed or are not playing their best football. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is misusing the personnel, including quarterback Daniel Jones, for a second-straight season. The defense has taken a step back with Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and others regressing. Joe Judge’s “disciplined” team is the fifth-most penalized team. Also to note, Saquon Barkley looks like a shell of himself, stirring commentary about whether he was the right pick in 2018.
If this season does not turn out to be a winning season, Mara needs to clean house. He also needs to be proactive and not reactive. His next decision needs to be hiring a general manager that has never had any association with the Giants. For the last few years, this team’s philosophy of building has been stuck in a time warp. Mara has not changed and that is hurting the product of his football team.
2. Dave Gettleman (General Manager)
The New York Giants hired Dave Gettleman before the conclusion of the 2017 season. Gettleman took part in hiring then-Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to be the head coach to preserve Eli Manning’s career. He and the organization sent a message that they were going to go for one more ride with Manning after drafting Barkley. They also signed Patrick Omameh and Nate Solder to sizeable contracts. Next, he traded fourth- and sixth-round picks for Los Angeles Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree.
The 2018 experiment failed within eight weeks as the team started 1-7. Gettleman then dealt Eli Apple to the New Orleans Saints and Damon Harrison to the Detroit Lions. They finished the season 5-11 and began to rebuild.
Gettleman made the infamous move of trading star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr in March of 2019. A few days after, the team signed Golden Tate to replace him. The Giants received Jabrill Peppers, a first-round pick (Dexter Lawrence) and a third-round pick (Oshane Ximines) in the trade. He also traded veteran pass-rusher Olivier Vernon for offensive guard Kevin Zeitler. Finally, he let Landon Collins walk for a future third-round compensatory pick.
In the following draft, he selected Daniel Jones sixth overall, took Dexter Lawrence 17th overall, and traded up for Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker at the 30th pick. Some off-season drama led to Baker’s release in September of 2020, declaring him an early draft bust. In 2019, the Giants began rebuilding the defense but kept signing veterans on the offensive side of the ball. Trading for Kevin Zeitler, keeping Jon Halapio, and signing Golden Tate and Mike Remmers were among those moves. He also oddly surrendered draft capital for the expiring contract of New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams at the trade deadline, despite the rebuild stage the team was clearly in.
With James Bettcher misusing the personnel, the defense ranked 25th. The offense ranked lower than the season prior at 23rd overall. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the organization fired Pat Shurmur and most of his coaching staff.
In January of 2020, the New York Giants hired then-New England Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge to be their next head coach. As a part of his coaching staff, Judge brought along former Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and former Patriots assistant Patrick Graham to be the coordinators.
Gettleman effectively replaced Nate Solder by drafting Georgia Bulldog left tackle Andrew Thomas fourth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. He also selected Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, UConn tackle Matt Peart, UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes, Oregon guard Shane Lemieux and many other linebackers to finish the draft.
In another rebuilding year, the team started 1-6 to start 2020. From Weeks 9-13, the New York Giants coordinated a four-game winning streak and started to catch up in the divisional race. The Giants suffered a losing streak after and missed the playoffs with the Philadelphia Eagles losing to the Washington Football Team in questionable fashion in Week 17.
Gettleman was not fired after 2020, but his seat was hot. His job landed on the backs of Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones, Andrew Thomas, and Joe Judge.
Despite not having much cap space, Dave Gettleman went through free agency aggressively, knowing his job was on the line. Gettleman signed Tennesee Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson, Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, and former Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick John Ross, among others. He also drafted Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, and a few other defensive role players. Finally, he cut Kevin Zeitler, who was the best offensive lineman for the Giants throughout his two-year tenure.
Thus far, the New York Giants have started off 0-3. Starting offensive linemen Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux went down with season-ending injuries. The defense is a shell of its 2020 self. The offense is improved, but not executing or playing to Daniel Jones’ strengths. $63 million dollar defensive lineman Leonard Williams and former 17th overall pick Dexter Lawrence have disappeared. James Bradberry is not the same and Saquon Barkley, despite coming back from an ACL tear, is running scared. Furthermore, Kadarius Toney is not being involved in the offensive game plan. Despite the rush defense’s success, Gettleman cheaply replaced Dalvin Tomlinson with Danny Shelton.
The few things going for Gettleman is that Daniel Jones is showing promise, Andrew Thomas looks like a franchise blindside protector, Azeez Ojulari looks like a future stud pass rusher, and Tae Crowder looks like a nice rotational linebacker.
If this team does not step it up, he will likely be fired at the end of the year, and rightfully so.
3. Joe Judge (Head Coach)
Many disciples of the Bill Belichick coaching tree do not make it as head coaches in the NFL. After firing Pat Shurmur, the New York Giants hired Judge. Many bought his Giants introduction at the press conference. Most notably, he told the media that he would play players to their strengths and his team would “punch you in the nose for 60 minutes.”
The start to Judge’s head coaching career was not easy. He dealt with a pandemic and did not see his players until training camp. No preseason games happened, so he and his staff attempted to replicate situations in scrimmage games.
The Giants started off 3-7 before they hit their bye week in Week 11. Their defense started to hit the high ranks as the offense did entirely the opposite. Saquon Barkley went down with an ACL tear in Week 2, so the offense had to improvise.
Controversy struck on the Week 11 bye as Judge and offensive line coach Marc Colombo got into a heated argument, resulting in Colombo’s dismissal. The plan was to bring in former Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo as a consultant to work alongside Colombo and he did not like it.
The team won two more games after the bye week before hitting a three-game skid. With all the NFC East teams possessing a sub-.500 record, the Giants were still in the divisional race. The Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17, but were eliminated when the Washington Football Team beat the Philadelphia Eagles.
Many controversies struck the Giants during training camp the following year as Kelvin Benjamin got into a heated argument with Judge, leading to his dismissal. Two offensive linemen and a linebacker retired during camp as well. With a few injuries occurring on the offensive side of the ball, the Giants went 0-3 in the preseason.
Despite having Kyle Rudolph, Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney back in the lineup against the Denver Broncos in Week 1, the Giants lost 27-13. One of the most notable plays occurred when Judge threw a challenge flag on a non-reviewable call, resulting in a loss of a timeout. The next two weeks the Giants suffered losses to the Washington Football Team and the Atlanta Falcons on field goals.
Up to this point, much of the team has regressed from last year. After three weeks, the Giants are the fifth-most penalized team, when Judge in the past preached discipline. The defense is a shell of itself, ranking in the 20s for all categories other than run defense. The offense has slightly improved, but Daniel Jones is not being utilized to his strengths. Kadarius Toney is not getting involved and neither is free-agent acquisition Kenny Golladay. On the defensive side of the ball, James Bradberry is constantly getting beat while Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence have been invisible. Adoree Jackson, Azeez Ojulari, and Tae Crowder are the only defensive players trending up.
Unless proven otherwise, Joe Judge hired Jason Garrett to be the offensive coordinator. Sure, the coordinators do have fault in the team’s regression and undisciplined actions, but Judge oversees everything the coaches do. If this team is worse than 2020, the New York Giants will be finding another head coach after two seasons.
4. Jason Garrett/Patrick Graham (Coordinators)
After his contract expiration as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in January 2020, the New York Giants hired Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator. The team elected not to draft a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, keeping Daniel Jones for another year.
To put it simply, the Giants offense took a major step back in 2020. Saquon Barkley went down in Week 2 with an ACL tear, but the rushing attack started to make a comeback with Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris as the main running backs. Garrett orchestrated a conservative scheme, where a large percentage of routes were curl and slant routes. On occasion, he would allow Daniel Jones to toss the ball downfield. This stranglehold on Jones resulted in a low touchdown total of 11. However, Jones did only commit one turnover between Week 9 to Week 17 of the 2020 season.
With an upgrade in talent with the signings of Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph and the drafting of Kadarius Toney, many expected Garrett to improvise and get these weapons involved. Golden Tate was the only starting receiver to depart in free agency.
Despite most of the weapons being injured during training camp, all the targets except for Evan Engram were ready for Week 1’s matchup against the Denver Broncos.
Unfortunately, the team is sitting at 0-3. There is a combination of things that play into the team’s poor record. The offense’s performance in Week 1 and Week 3 were major factors in the team’s losses. Daniel Jones did not throw the ball downfield many times, while the offensive concept did not change. In Week 2, Garrett opened up the playbook with more designed runs for Daniel Jones and more 20+ yard plays.
The overall look of the offense is slightly improved, but mostly the status quo. The players are not executing and Garrett is not properly using weapons like Toney and Golladay.
If the offense continues to perform poorly, Joe Judge either needs to give the play-calling to somebody else or just fire Garrett once and for all.
Patrick Graham’s defense was a bright spot for the New York Giants in 2020. Despite not having a proper second cornerback or second inside linebacker along with subpar edge rusher talent, Graham adjusted and schemed up plays that fit the player’s strengths. Under his coordinating, Leonard Williams accumulated 11.5 sacks, Blake Martinez led the team in tackles, and James Bradberry was nominated for his first Pro Bowl.
The Giants upgraded the talent in the off-season by signing Adoree Jackson and drafting Azeez Ojulari. Unfortunately due to the cap situation, the team let Dalvin Tomlinson walk. Despite the upgrades, the defense is a shell of itself to start the season.
Currently, the unit ranks 18th in total defense with the passing defense ranking 17th and the scoring category ranking 25th. However, the run category ranks 11th. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence have been invisible, while James Bradberry continues to get beat in the secondary. The defense has been unable to make the amount of plays they did a season ago. The unit has also allowed more yards after the catch.
Though they stepped up in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, the defense was unable to prevent Atlanta from marching downfield and scoring the game winning field goal.
Just like the offense, the defense is lacking discipline, execution, and firm coaching. Graham needs to find a happy medium of zone and man coverage, while creatively designing some pressure from his front seven. If this defense goes down the drain in 2021, 2020 will be seen as a fluke, possibly resulting in Graham’s job.
The last line of blame goes to the players. The New York Giants have spent millions of dollars on players such as Leonard Williams, Logan Ryan, and James Bradberry. At this point in the season, they are all underperforming.
Many are making the case that Tomlinson’s absence is hurting Williams’ production. However, no star in the NFL should depend on one player’s help. Williams and Graham need to collectively find out how to fix the issue. James Bradberry was given more freedom against Calvin Ridley last week. However, he still managed to give up 61 receiving yards on eight catches.
Furthermore, though he is returning from an ACL injury, Saquon Barkley is running scared and is not hitting the holes that the offensive line gives him.
This team’s talent level is better than they’ve played, and the players need to rise above their coaches’ mistakes and poor game plans.
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