EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Judge was as enthralled as millions of other football fans watching the Baltimore Ravens' epic 47-42 victory in Cleveland on Monday night.
"It was a great game," Judge said.
Judge also viewed the game from a perspective no one else could; as the Giants head coach, he was able to watch his team's next two opponents square off.
First up are the Browns, who will visit MetLife Stadium for the Giants' first Sunday night home game in four years. Cleveland is 9-4 and is on the doorstep of ending the NFL's longest playoff drought. Cleveland last made the postseason in 2002.
The Giants are 5-8 after a loss last week to Arizona that ended a four-game winning streak and dropped them to second place in the NFC East. Their quarterback, Daniel Jones, has hamstring and ankle injuries and yesterday was listed as questionable for the game. No. 1 cornerback James Bradberry is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and won't play after he was deemed to be a high risk close contact of an individual who tested positive. And offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had to cede play calling duties to tight ends coach – and 2019 Cleveland head coach – Freddie Kitchens after he tested positive for COVID-19.
And here come the Browns, who present multiple challenges on offense, defense and special teams.
"This is definitely a physical team," Judge said. "This team runs the ball, this team is good on run defense, this team is good in the kicking game in terms of creating field position. They play with a good nasty edge. I think when you think about their defensive front, a lot of people want to highlight the pass rush they have, which is obviously no secret. But these guys do a tremendous job against the run. Their interior players are very quick and elusive. They play with good penetration and anticipation and get around your blocks. Their edge players are very good at setting the edge and compress it and make sure they bottle up your run game right there."
The defense isn't even the Browns' strongest unit. Cleveland's offense is ranked 11th in the NFL in yards-per-game (374.2) and 13th in scoring (26.8 points a game). The Browns are particularly formidable running the ball, where their 156.2 yards a game rank third and their 4.9 yards-per-carry are fourth. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have combined for 1,653 yards, 5.1 yards a carry and 14 touchdowns. Chubb is tied for second in the NFL with 11 runs of 20 or more yards, one behind Tennessee's Derrick Henry.
The Giants' run defense has been strong all season, allowing just a single 100-yard rusher (Pittsburgh's Benny Snell, Jr. in the season opener; Chubb and Hunt have combined for six). They are 14th in yards allowed per game (101.5) and 10th per carry (3.9).
"Gotta stop the run," safety Logan Ryan said. "They're the number three rushing attack in football, they have two great running backs, they're committed to the run, a lot of their offense is built off the run game. And I think that their receivers, starting with Jarvis Landry, they block really well, they're extremely tough and him himself is like a running back with the ball. So, I think to defend them you have to tackle well. But it starts with stopping the run in the National Football League and I think the Browns take pride in running the football, so that'll be a great challenge and exciting contest on Sunday night, our run defense versus their run offense."
On Monday night, the Browns ran for 138 yards and four touchdowns – and were easily outdistanced by Baltimore's 231 yards and five scores.
"There is a bunch of stuff that keeps me up at night," Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "That run game, when you put on that tape and you watch what happens between Baltimore and Cleveland on Monday night. Combined rushing touchdowns, that's what keeps me up. I don't know how good my Christmas is going to be. But it's not just that. It's also the quarterback (Baker Mayfield), the receivers, (Jarvis) Landry. The O-line, they have a lot of good players. We didn't even talk about the tight ends and the receivers. Chubb is a good player, they have a bunch of good players.
"Their toughness shows up. They're well coached in terms of how everything is packaged. They're really playing to their strengths. To me, when you think about offense, that's what makes it tough. The run game married with the play action. The play action and the boot married with the stretch run game. Third down, they are getting the ball to the guys they need to get the ball to. To me, their playing to their strengths, they are playing to the people they have."
Mayfield has completed 62.3% of his passes and thrown 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, one year after tossing 21. His 96.6 passer rating is 18 points higher than it was in 2019.
"The biggest thing that Baker is doing a great job of is protecting the football, and that's where it starts at that position," Kitchens said of his former quarterback.
"He's a competitor, he wants to win bad, he's fiery, he's a trash talker and I think it's a tough, physical team and he's a fiery leader on that team," Ryan said. "We've got to make it tough on him. But it definitely starts with him and he's doing a good job, they're putting up a lot of points lately and we have a lot of respect for them."
Judge's already substantial admiration for Mayfield grew when he watched the former Heisman Trophy winner account for three touchdowns – two passing, one rushing – and while throwing for 343 yards Monday night.
"The thing that stands out about him above all is this guy is an elite competitor," Judge said. "He's a tough dude. You know his story, how he went through college, had to walk on twice, earn two starting jobs. It's no coincidence this guy is having tremendous success in the National Football League. I love the attitude he plays with, I love the chippiness he plays with. This guy extends plays. One thing he does that's really fun to watch, and you want to eliminate that fun element when you're playing him, but when he's really condensed in the pocket, he finds those small seams. A lot of quarterbacks who you say are mobile quarterbacks rely on just losing ground and gaining the edge and really using their speed. I think this guy does a great job of playing freeze tag in a phone booth and coming out the winner. He really squeaks his way out, extends the play, and he can either run the ball vertically or throw it down the field. He really ties into the bootlegs and the play actions off the run game they have.
"With Chubb and Hunt, these are two of the elite backs in the league right there. You put those three together, Chubb, Hunt and then Baker, the three of them really complement each other across the board. They have a very good offensive line, and they have a great receiving corps. This is a very talented group."
Judge and Graham are now charged with finding a way to stop them.
*The Giants won their last two and six of their last seven games against the Browns dating back to 1991. The teams last met on Nov. 27, 2016, when three Eli Manning touchdown passes, including two to Odell Beckham, Jr., keyed a 27-13 victory. The Giants and Browns most recently met in New Jersey on Oct. 7, 2012, when the home team overcame an early 14-0 deficit and rallied to win, 41-27. Manning threw three touchdown passes, all to Victor Cruz. From 1950-69, the Giants and Browns had one of the NFL's greatest rivalries, playing each other twice each season (except for 1968). Since the Browns moved to the AFC in the 1970 merger, they have played each other only 10 times (the Giants own a 6-4 advantage). The Browns lead the regular-season series, 26-21-2 and the postseason series is tied, 1-1.
*The "Bud Light Giants Gameday" radio pregame show will begin at 6:20 p.m. on WFAN 660 AM/101.9 FM and will stream live on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and "Giants TV" streaming app.
"Giants Postgame Live" presented by Mercedes-Benz can be heard immediately after the game - also on WFAN 660 AM/101.9 FM.
"Giants Postgame Wrapup" presented by Mercedes-Benz will air live after the game on MSG Networks and will stream live on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and "Giants TV" streaming app.
View rare photos of the storied history between the Giants and Browns ahead of their preseason matchup.