Every year quarterbacks are the coveted position players taken in the NFL draft. Since 2010 there have been 39 quarterbacks drafted in the first…
Following the New York Giants’ 30-10 loss on Monday Night Football back in Week 11, head coach Joe Judge fired his offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, citing a lack of productivity as the team slipped to 3-7 on the season.
But Garrett’s firing was more than a mere sacrifice to the football gods, it was a sign that Judge is inching dangerously close to becoming the third Giants coach to be fired since Tom Coughlin vacated the role back in 2015 – with none of them lasting more than two seasons on the job.
What’s more, nothing has occurred across Judge’s 26 games in charge of the franchise that leads me to believe he deserves anything other than to be relieved of his duties at the close of the regular season.
Before I go on, I should mention a couple of disclaimers.
Firstly, I am a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, so my views on the Giants organisation as a whole can tend to be somewhat biased.
Secondly, I’m well aware that Judge does not have personnel power. That rests with general manager Dave Gettleman – who appears to be almost certainly in his final year with the team – but that’s a whole other can of worms for another day.
So, Judge is in his second year with the Giants, but where did he come from and what made them hire him at just 39 years of age?
A backup quarterback and special teamer at Mississippi State in the early noughts, he began his coaching career there as a graduate assistant, with a stop at Birmingham-Southern preceding a job under Nick Saban at Alabama as special teams assistant from 2009-2011.
Whatever Judge showed Saban, it must’ve impressed him, as following just three seasons he was off to the big league, with a job as special teams assistant for the mighty New England Patriots, where Saban’s long-time friend, Bill Belichick, was the head coach.
In a pattern that is found with many long-time Patriot assistants, Judge worked his way up across a decade from special teams assistant to coordinator, with the team winning three Super Bowl titles during his tenure.
Judge nearly departed New England for Indianapolis in the 2018 offseason, but retracted his commitment to the Colts when Patriots OC Josh McDaniels retracted his own to become the franchise’s new head coach.
Beginning in the 2019 season, he added wide receivers coach to his job title, a common move for special teams coaches looking to be considered for more high-level positions.
It’s fair to say Judge wasn’t seen by many as a hot candidate come the 2020 off-season, as five teams – including the Giants – searched for their next head coaches.
But yet, on January 8th – just ten days after Pat Shurmur had been let go after two playoff-less seasons at the helm – Judge was hired as the 21st head man of a proud and storied franchise that had fallen upon hard times since its 2011 Super Bowl run.
Whilst the hiring of special teams coaches as head coaches is rare in the National Football League, it is not unheard of.
The most famous example of such a hiring is that of John Harbaugh, the current Ravens head coach. Harbaugh served for over a decade as special teams coordinator in Philadelphia, mostly under Andy Reid, before receiving the Baltimore job in 2008.
In his last season with the Eagles, Harbaugh added special teams coach to his portfolio, similarly to Judge with the wide receivers. Now in his 14th season with the Ravens, Harbaugh is the winningest coach in franchise history, has taken the franchise to nine playoff appearances and has a Super Bowl title.
So, yes, special teams coaches can absolutely make good, even great, head coaches, so why haven’t we seen it yet in the case of Judge?
The 2020 season
As mentioned previously, the Giants franchise had fallen upon hard times following the second title of the Eli Manning era, with just two winning seasons and one playoff appearance since the 2011 season.
Speaking of Manning, the face of the franchise for so many years officially announced his retirement on January 24, some two weeks after Judge was hired, officially ushering in the Daniel Jones era in New York.
If the Giants were going to become Super Bowl contenders once again, it was no secret that they needed to get the development of Jones – the sixth overall pick out of Duke in the 2019 draft – right.
Under the tutelage of Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula in his rookie season, Jones threw for 3027 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, good enough for an 87.7 rating, which ranked him 20th out of qualified quarterbacks (those who started at least eight regular season games).
To try and build upon what was considered a relatively promising rookie year, Judge made waves in hiring the ex-Dallas Cowboys coach Garrett.
Garrett was once one of the league’s top young offensive minds – think Kellen Moore 15 years ago – but his offensive approach had become stale after a decade at the helm of the Cowboys, with the Jones family electing not to extend his contract following the teams 8-8 2019 campaign.
In Judge’s first year, Jones regressed significantly, throwing just 11 touchdowns alongside ten interceptions and achieving a rating of 80.4. He subsequently dropped from 20th in QBR among qualified quarterbacks to 28th. The offence as a whole dropped from 18th in points and 23rd in yards in 2019 to 31st in both categories.
However, despite this remarkable offensive regression and a 1-7 start – which included the firing of offensive line coach Mark Colombo after just five games – the Giants were in a position to qualify for the playoffs with a 6-10 record (yes, the NFC East really was that bad) if the Eagles could knock off Washington in the season’s final game.
Not only did Philadelphia lose, Judge openly expressed his discontent for Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s tactics during the game – including the replacement of rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts with backup Nate Sudfeld with the game on the line in the second half – in an angry outburst to the media the following morning.
So, a 6-10 record through one season of the Joe Judge era.
Admittedly an improvement over the previous two years as far as wins and losses were concerned, but most of that was down to Patrick Graham’s defence, with Jones’s play a serious cause for concern entering the 2021.
Oh, and if you were interested, the Giants had no special teams touchdowns, no returns over 50 yards and blocked just one punt on the season, while giving up a 103-yard kickoff return score.
So much for Judge bringing across a special teams boost.
The 2021 season
Entering the current season, there were simply no excuses.
Running back Saquon Barkley made his long-awaited return from injury, tight-end Evan Engram was coming off his first pro-bowl season, the defence was a top-ten unit a season ago and the NFC East looked wide open, with New York seeking its first division title in over a decade.
A 1-5 start brought any sort of expectations crashing down.
Jones stat line over those first six games read as follows: 130/208 63% 1524YDS, 4TD/4INT, 83.1 RTG.
Barkley got injured again, Engram averaged less than four catches and the defence gave up 29 points per game.
Wins against the Panthers and Raiders gave fans some hope of a revival going into the bye, before the primetime loss to Tampa proved to be the final nail in Garrett’s coffin.
Under Freddie Kitchens – the one-time Browns head coach and Judge’s handpicked interim play-caller – and with a healthy Barkley back in in the line-up, the offence has scored 13 and 9 points in back-to-back weeks since the Giants parted ways with Garrett, albeit with Mike Glennon starting last week in Mami – and possibly again this week against the Chargers – as Jones recovers from a neck injury.
As for Jones’s development, well, through 11 starts in 2021, he sports a rating of 84.8, ranking him 24th out of qualified quarterbacks.
The Giants are 4-8, last in the division, the conference’s 13 seed and despite a seventh playoff seed and a historically wide-open NFC, will likely need to win out to claim a playoff berth.
And it’s bad coaching that has helped to put them there.
Take game management, for instance. The Giants are tied for worst in point differential in the final two minutes of the first half with -52.
What makes the stat more appalling is that all 52 points have been scored by the opposition.
Judge’s team have possessed the ball in the final two minutes of the first half on 13 separate occasions throughout their first 12 games and has scored points on none of them. Just let that sink in.
Judge indignantly raised issues with headset connections between players and coaches as a reason for the burning of precious timeouts following a Week 8 loss to Kansas City. This is an issue that has been raised by other coaching staff around the league, so he gets a pass on that point.
In terms of coaches challenges – another metric used to judge a coaches ability to read the game – Judge has never had a successful attempt yet as a head coach.
Oh, and another check on those special teams.
Well, through 12 games the Giants once again have no special teams touchdowns, no returns over even 40 yards and are yet to block a single punt on the season to date.
The standout of the unit (and arguably the entire roster), kicker Graham Gano – who has hit on 86 per cent of his field goals and on every extra point this season – can’t even be attributed to Judge, as Gano is a seasoned veteran who has been honing his craft for 13 years in the NFL, long before he crossed paths with the Giants coach.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, the Joe Judge era in New York has been a failure.
And yes, there have been elements that have been out of his control, namely the personnel side of things, but at what a coach does control – the betterment of his players, the development of a winning culture, the selection of a competent staff around you and coaching on game day in a manner that gives your team the greatest chance to win – one really can’t point to any successes.
Of the five coaches who were hired beginning in the 2020 season, Judge’s ten wins through 28 games are tied for the least alongside Carolina’s Matt Rhule, three behind Washington’s Ron Rivera, four behind Dallas’s Mike McCarthy and seven behind Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski.
Under Judge, the Giants have scored 30 points just once, in a Week 4 loss to the Cowboys back in 2020, and have failed to score 20 on 16 of 28 occasions. They are 0-6 in September and 1-3 in December.
And still, off the back of it all, Judge is pledging positive movement.
“There were a lot of things I saw today,” he said following the teams most recent loss to the Dolphins. “A lot of things moving in the right direction.”
But after nearly two years of straight losing, the feisty New York media isn’t fooled, nor is the passionate fan-base.
It’s all well and good to play to the cameras, but Joe Judge has already shown his hand.
Firing Jason Garrett was nothing but a move of desperation from a head coach who should no longer be employed. Heck, maybe he should never have been.