Never before in the NFL have first-year coaches, never mind a first-time head coach at any level, dealt with a virtual offseason. Never before have they been stripped of preseason games and given 14 padded practices to prepare for a season. Enter New York Giants coach Joe Judge.
Judge is navigating the coronavirus pandemic and simultaneously installing new offensive and defensive schemes. And he’s doing this while trying to turn around the Giants, who have been the NFL’s worst team over the past three seasons.
Judge couldn’t have dreamed up the wild circumstances he faces.
This season will be daunting and unique in still unforeseen ways. Which is why no matter how it unfolds, Judge is going to get a pass this season — deservedly so. Consider this season a freebie for the coach as he overhauls the franchise’s roster and works to instill a winning mindset.
The Giants don’t need to win now or make the playoffs in 2020. They don’t need to finish with a winning record or even .500 to keep the pressure off. All Judge and the Giants need to do is make nominal strides that suggest they are headed in the right direction.
If this season goes awry, the heat will fall on general manager Dave Gettleman for the roster he’s accumulated during his three years on the job.
“[Judge is] coming into a no-lose situation,” said former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Rex Ryan, who knows a little something about the New York market having coached the Jets for six seasons. “No. 1, expectations are down. They are going to be a hell of a lot better than people think, in my opinion. So I think it’s going to be perfect for him. He can go in, kind of just smooth the course and ride the wave a little bit.
“But even if they come up short, he’s going to be given a pass. I just know that is the way it is. The Giants [fans] are just a lot more forgiving than the Jets fans are. I’m not saying that because I was the Jets’ coach. I went to the [AFC] Championship Game my first year.”
The Giants are looking to build on a 4-12 campaign with a second-year quarterback who they believe is a franchise building block. Five or six wins this season with Daniel Jones making significant strides can be viewed as a success. It isn’t asking much.
“There are unknowns in every season going in. This year is no different.”
Joe Judge, Giants coach
Of course, Judge, 38, isn’t going to admit publicly this isn’t a win-now situation. That wouldn’t be a prudent approach as he tries to develop the same type of winning mentality he became so accustomed to as an assistant with the New England Patriots and at Alabama.
“We’re just not going to make any excuses for anything that comes up this season,” Judge said. “We’re all here to play and coach football. We’re here to do it well, and we’re going to put everything into it.
“There are unknowns in every season going in. This year is no different. It just has a different element that we haven’t dealt with before.”
There is a reason Judge has color-coded calendars for every possible scenario he can envision during the pandemic, which seems to present new challenges by the day.
The toughest task this summer, aside from the obvious of keeping everyone healthy, is making sure the Giants don’t make mistakes with personnel. It’s a problem all teams face.
“Just making sure we evaluate all the players cut,” one general manager said recently of what he thought the biggest challenge would be under the current rules and regulations.
It was reiterated this weekend when the Giants had to scrap their plan of keeping a 90-man roster for at least the first few weeks of camp. They only lasted a few days.
Judge realized by Sunday the rules of keeping a 90-man roster under the COVID-19 restrictions wouldn’t allow him to get everyone on the field together, even for walk-throughs. That proved too prohibitive, even though he spoke publicly on Friday about using the two-group option. So the Giants shifted gears, slashed their roster and went to the 80-man route by the end of the weekend.
Although some have noted the difficulty of implementing new systems this year, Ryan says it’s overblown. The NFL is so game-plan specific on a week-by-week basis, he doesn’t see that as anywhere near the toughest task a new coach such as Judge will face. He agrees the evaluation process will be difficult for any coach who is relatively unfamiliar with his players.
“That is the challenge. I think that’s legitimate,” Ryan said.
So the 14 days in pads this month become that much more important. But it’s still a small part of a much bigger process.
Taking this job was never about instant gratification for Judge, and he made that clear during his interviews with Giants brass. This was going to be a multiyear process. Winning games, in even an ideal 2020, was not the ultimate goal.
It was evident this offseason that the front office bought into the approach when the Giants navigated methodically through free agency despite having the salary-cap space to make numerous splashes. They took the long-range approach instead. Depth was a focus.
It’s what the Giants admittedly should have done when Gettleman took over in 2018 following a 3-13 season. They’re on that road now, and it’s lengthy. And now the Giants are facing a perfectly imperfect 2020.
It buys Judge more time. All this team has to do now is show the slightest bit of progress.
Considering how the past three years have gone, that should not be too difficult.
Detroit Lions to roll with veteran Adrian Peterson as lead running back
Adrian Peterson had more snaps, rushes and yards than the rest of the Detroit Lions running backs combined Sunday. And based on what his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Tuesday, it looks like the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer might end up being the lead back for the club for the immediate future as well.
Peterson played 40 snaps in the Lions’ 26-23 victory against Arizona on Sunday, getting 22 carries for 75 yards along with one catch for 10 yards. That followed two weeks of a committee approach between Peterson, Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift.
“It’s not anything that those guys are or aren’t doing,” Bevell said. “We’re just trying to, again, accentuate their positives and put them in positions to be successful. You saw Swift. His plays were a little bit down. We want to keep those up and get him more involved. The one play he catches, he has a nice catch-and-run, looks fast, looks explosive.
“It’s just continuing to manage those guys and putting them in the best situations.”
Those situations come with Peterson atop the depth chart. Detroit signed Peterson after he was released by Washington on Sept. 4. He said he had a opportunities to go to a couple of teams in the league, but he chose the Lions because of an opportunity to play again with Bevell, who was his offensive coordinator at the start of his career in Minnesota.
So far, Peterson has averaged 4.9 yards per carry (43 attempts, 209 yards). Johnson has averaged 3.4 yards (18 attempts, 62 yards), while rookie Swift is averaging 2.5 yards (8 attempts, 20 yards).
Bevell did praise Johnson on Sunday, calling him the “player of the game” due to his pass protection pickup and the small nuances that led to Jesse James’ touchdown reception. But it appears Johnson, who has been Detroit’s lead back when healthy the past two seasons, might not touch the ball as much as he has in the past.
The question now might be whether or not the Lions have to manage Peterson’s workload. He’s already played in 167 career games, carried the ball 3,079 times for 14,425 rushing yards. Plus, he’s at an age where most running backs are retired or playing a much less significant role.
“I’ve told you, this guy is a freak of nature now. I don’t know where that wall is or where he’s going to hit it. The guy is always asking for more,” Bevell said. “He is in great shape. He takes care of his body. He does all those little things to set himself up for that success.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but he wants [the ball], we want him to have it and we’ll just keep continuing to go there and spell him with Kerryon, spell him with Swift and kind of go from there.”
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey said he and Peterson have an open line of communication about his reps and if he needs rest. Caskey said any management, for now, is “a during the week thing,” and on game day they are going to play the game.
“He’ll tell me,” Caskey said. “That’s your answer right there. He’ll tell me when he’s had enough or when he needs a break. He’s communicated well with me since he’s been here. I don’t think it’s anything that I personally need to do to watch him.
“He will tell when he’s feeling whatever you want to call it. He is that way. He’s not scared to tell me anything, so it’s really good. It’s a really good coach-player relationship we have with everything.”
Eagles’ Doug Pederson must ‘unclutter’ Carson Wentz’s mind, and his own – Philadelphia Eagles Blog
To “unclutter” his QB’s mind, Pederson signaled he will simplify the game plan so Wentz, who has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL statistically through three games, has less to wade through pre-snap. The Eagles will also run more up-tempo offense as part of a greater effort to get Wentz to play quicker and more freely by leaning on methods that “have been successful in the past.”
But, Pederson needs to apply that same back-to-basics logic when it comes to his own performance, too.
He has strayed off course and away from some of his guiding tenets early in the season. That fact was crystallized late in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday when he elected to punt on fourth-and-12 from the opponent’s 46-yard line with 19 seconds remaining, settling for a 23-23 tie rather than giving his offense a chance to go for the win.
There was confusion between plays, as the Eagles’ punt team ran on the field, then started running off before a delay of game was called. If that wasn’t proof enough Pederson wasn’t sold on the decision, his postgame comments hinted at immediate regret, which he confirmed Monday morning.
“Looking back, you probably put it in your quarterback’s hands to win the game,” he said.
How did we get here? How does the same coach who dialed up the Philly Special in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots — a coach who has finished either first or second in fourth-down attempts every season since becoming Philadelphia’s leader — wave a white flag in a regular-season game against the stinkin’ Bengals (0-2-1)?
One could point to the situation or a lack of confidence in Wentz and the Eagles’ offense to get the job done, but however it is framed, the move by Pederson remains out of character. And Pederson, more generally, just hasn’t seemed himself.
It’s likely one of the coach’s greatest strengths — the ability to put ego aside in the name of collaboration — is working against him. There were a lot of cooks added to the kitchen this offseason as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie looked to spice up an offense that had become too plodding and predictable. The front office influenced Pederson to part with offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch. A number of newcomers were added, including senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, pass game analyst Andrew Breiner and senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg. Quarterbacks coach Press Taylor got a title bump to pass game coordinator and took over many of Groh’s responsibilities.
Pederson was at his best when he had former offensive coordinator Frank Reich as the primary voice in his ear. The coaches who have come on board in Philly all have solid reputations, but when you have that many people speaking, it’s a lot of opinions to sift through and fuse together, with an increased chance of being pulled in multiple directions.
Not to mention the opinions of Wentz, who has had a growing influence over how this offense is shaped. A lot of that is for good reason: Wentz has a bright football mind by all accounts, he has gained experience, and you naturally want your quarterback to be comfortable with the plays he is running.
But it feels like Pederson has let things float a little too far away from him. The offense needs to be tailored to the QB and built out to fend off predictability, yes, but it also needs a core identity, and the Eagles’ identity is very hard to detect at the moment.
Pederson is the only coach in the history of this franchise to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. And yet there has been no whiff of a power grab. He continues to foster collaboration and allow others to put their fingerprints on things, even when those hands are arguably overreaching. That tactic has generally served this franchise well.
There is also a point where some pushback is needed to preserve what has been built and to get all boats pointed in the same direction. That time has arrived for Pederson. If that means reducing Wentz’s creative control and coaching him tougher, so be it. If that means identifying the voices he trusts and tuning out the ones that don’t sync up, fine.
The time is now to reestablish his reputation as a “freakin’ phenomenal playcaller” and reassert himself as the league’s gutsiest coach — the guy who would scoff at the notion of punting for a tie.
All of that is going to happen only if he reclaims the space he has rightfully earned.
Hot start for Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins coincides with decline for Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals Blog
And then he continued to build on it in the second half.
When the final horn sounded at State Farm Stadium, Hopkins had 137 yards, giving him 358 through three games, trampling his previous best start of 274 set in 2018 — when he reached 1,500 yards for the second time in his career. The first time Hopkins hit 1,500 yards was in 2015, when he had 252 yards through three games, his second highest mark before this season.
And now there’s 2020. Hopkins is averaging 119 yards per game thus far, which puts him on pace for 1,909 yards this season. Only one receiver has surpassed the 1,900 yards mark, and that was former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in 2012.
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“He’s doing a great job,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Hopkins. “I thought he played within the offense this week, and the ball came his way. He’s just a guy who finds a way to get open. When he has the ball in his hands, he really makes plays with it. You can see him in the open field making people miss, doing things to get the YAC (yards after catch) and that’s kind of his specialty.”
In his seven seasons since getting drafted in the first round out of Clemson in 2013, Hopkins has five 1,000-yard seasons. Heading into this season, Hopkins had the third-most receiving yards and catches, second-most touchdowns and most targets of any NFL receiver since 2013.
Arguably the league’s best receiver, Hopkins has wasted no time in getting acclimated with quarterback Kyler Murray and his first year with the Cardinals.
Through three games, he has caught a career-high 32 passes, which is tied for the third-most in NFL history through games. His 37 targets in three games are the second most of his career.
“Everybody knows his name, who he is on the field,” Murray said. “He’s one of the best players in the NFL. Obviously having him is a huge deal.
“He’s been playing great and hopefully we can keep that going.”
A byproduct of Hopkins’ emergence has been a reduction of Fitzgerald’s role.
The future first ballot Hall of Famer has 84 yards on 12 catches through three games, the fewest of his 17-year career. Before this season, Fitzgerald never had less than 107 yards in the first three games of a season.
A large part of this season’s decline was due to Sunday, when he had no yards on one catch, the second time in his career he didn’t have a receiving yard in a game. The last time was Oct. 31, 2004 — a stretch of 245 games.
Kingsbury took the blame for Fitzgerald not having any yards, saying he should’ve done a better job of getting him the ball.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” Kingsbury said. “And when he’s getting the football, good things happen. So, that’s completely on me.”
However, Kingsbury disputed the idea Fitzgerald’s decreasing stats are a product of his age — 37 — or Murray having other options.
“No, I don’t think it’s anything like that, honestly,” Kingsbury said. “He had one of the best camps of anybody on the team, and he played great in the first two games. He was getting open. I just did a poor job of getting him the ball.”
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