EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Judge often responds to reporters' questions about specific players, position groups and strategic decisions with general answers. Asked earlier this week about Jason Garrett's play-calling, Judge said, "We're going to stay consistent with what we're doing and keep improving as a team. There's a lot of things we need to clean up coaching-wise, execution-wise, but we're going to stay on the track with it and make sure we get those things right before making any radical changes."
But executing well in situational football has become a frequent determinant of success or failure in the NFL, and Judge this week acknowledged the Giants have two areas in which they must improve: red zone offense and two-minute defense. Shortcomings in each have contributed to the Giants' 0-3 start. They will again attempt to win their first game of the season Sunday against the 2-1 New Orleans Saints in the Caesars Superdome.
The Giants advanced inside the opponent's 20-yard line three times in each of the first three games. They scored one touchdown a game, kicked four field goals and twice surrendered the ball on downs. And one of the touchdowns was Daniel Jones' four-yard run on the final play of the opener, a largely cosmetic score in a 27-13 loss to the Denver Broncos. The New England Patriots' 25% touchdown rate is the only one lower than the Giants' 33.3% (the Jets are tied with the Giants but have made just three trips inside the 20).
"We'll obviously dive into a couple of focal points to make sure that we finish in the red zone," Judge said Monday. "That's been something we have to do obviously better as a team."
It is a repetitive issue. In 2020, the Giants scored touchdowns on 19 of 41 red-zone possessions, a percentage of 46.3 that left them 31st in the league. They also kicked 15 field goals, which is often a frustrating finish after advancing close to the goal line. The Giants finished 31st in the NFL with an average of 17.5 points per game.
"Obviously, we need to score more points," Garrett said today. "The red zone, I think we've been one out of three in each of the three games. Got to get down there more. Then we've got to convert. Some of that is self-inflicted wounds. Last week, we had a good opening drive. We had the sack on the play that put us behind the sticks on that first drive – hard to dig out of that 11-yard sack. Then, we had the fumbled exchange on the next drive when we were down there. The third time we were down there, we scored the touchdown. We certainly want to evaluate every aspect of what we're doing running it, throwing it and in all situations. We've got to do a better job scoring points."
Jones said improvement does not require dramatic changes in schemes or play calling.
"I think it's on us to execute what we have," Jones said. "I think you look at the situations in the red zone, there have been costly mistakes and breakdowns in the execution of plays, and we've got to do better. I've got to do better in a lot of those situations. We've got the stuff – we've got to execute it as players."
The same is true of the defensive players. The Giants have allowed a late first-half touchdown in each game this season. Denver scored with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, Washington with 21 seconds left, and Atlanta took its first lead at 7-6 with Matt Ryan's four-yard touchdown pass to Olamide Zaccheaus 1:33 before halftime.
More critically, the Giants lost to the Washington Football Team and the Falcons on last-play field goals after the defense gave up drives of 11 plays and 50 yards to the former and seven plays and 58 yards to the latter. Neither series took longer than two minutes to complete.
"In terms of the two-minute stuff, that's something we have to be better on all sides of the ball," Judge said. "It's something we had show up (Sunday) in terms of finishing drives, playing complementary football in the kicking game, and getting off the field defensively, so we've got to keep on working with that. There were some times last year toward the end of the year where we improved greatly in the two-minute. We've got to make sure that we execute the techniques involved and then coaching-wise, put the players in the right position. It's a focus of ours obviously every week. It's become a greater focus of ours the last couple of games, and we'll keep on that track to make sure we get it right."
The Falcons recovered a fumble at the Giants' 36-yard line with one minute remaining, but to the defense's credit, it stole the ball back three plays later when Azeez Ojulari sacked Matt Ryan and forced a fumble that was recovered by Lorenzo Carter.
"I was very pleased with the way the defense responded at the end of the first half to go out there and take a stand the way they did after the turnover, go three-and-out and then end third down with a turnover of our own," Judge said. "The aggressiveness that they played with right there, that was really the theme of what we want to go forward with. We've got to make sure we keep doing a better job coaching and executing on the field to make sure we get off the field."
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who said two-minute defense was included in today's practice, is clearly displeased by the five late scores allowed by the Giants.
"That's not good enough," Graham said. "But in terms of how I've approached it all the time, we've got to practice it. Obviously, we went back in the lab and tried to figure out better ways collectively, talking as a group, as a staff and just trying to put players in the best spot possible to be successful. Thankfully, we've got another opportunity and it first starts with today. Today we've got a big day. Today's a big day, two-minute, third down, finish up some early down stuff, but it starts with practice."
For the Giants, it must end with better performances in crucial situations on offense and defense.
View photos from Thursday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 4 matchup against the Saints in New Orleans.
*The Giants today signed to their practice squad tackle Isaiah Wilson, who has been held back by off-the-field issues since he was the 29th overall selection in the 2020 NFL draft. Wilson has been with the Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins but has played just four snaps.
"In general, like any player on our team, everyone is going to start here with a clean slate and the opportunity to come in and earn an opportunity to be a part of this team," Judge said. "That's all based on what they do when they're here, how they perform, how they act in the classroom, and how they handle themselves outside, in terms of the organization."
Asked what makes him convinced that Wilson is committed to football, Judge said, "He's going to obviously have to prove that to us based on what he does when he's here."
*Wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, who each have hamstring injuries, and guard Ben Bredeson (hand) did not practice today.
Bredeson started against Atlanta. Can he play with his hand injury?
"We have to talk with the doctors officially with that, in terms of where they think he would be medically, and then what he can go ahead and play through," Judge said. "So, we'll wait and see. I know he's a tough dude, so we'll see how it comes out of these next couple of days."
Asked if there's "any optimism" regarding the availability of Shepard and Slayton for the game in New Orleans, Judge said before practice, "I'll find out more today. They'll be with the trainers most of today, so we'll find out a little bit more after practice how a few things went."
*The players who were limited in practice included running back Saquon Barkley (knee), fullback Cullen Gillaspia (ankle), tight end Kaden Smith (knee), linebacker Tae Crowder (hamstring), defensive backs Logan Ryan (hamstring), Keion Crossen (elbow) and Nate Ebner (quad), and long snapper Casey Kreiter (knee).