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The New York Giants began the 2020 season with high hopes for their special teams. They brought back Thomas McGaughey, one of the NFL’s top coordinators to work under new head coach Joe Judge, who had masterfully guided the New England Patriots’ special teams for the better part of eight seasons.
Judge was so good at his job, he became only the second man in NFL history (Frank Gansz of Kansas City is the other) to make the jump from special teams coordinator to head coach.
The Giants headed into the season with new special teams captains in starting safety/returner Jabrill Peppers and Nate Ebner, a special teams ace who played under Judge in Foxborough. They replaced two Pro Bowlers in long snapper Zak DeOssie (retired) and Michael Thomas, who was not re-signed.
The first several weeks of the season went swimmingly for the special teams. Then, the breakdowns began. A rare blocked punt in the end zone was a sign. Then, missed tackles leading to large returns on the coverage teams became common.
In a recent ranking by Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin, the Giants ranked 19th in the NFL in special teams. Considering the high hopes the Giants came into the season with, this is a major disappointment.
Looking at the statistics, the Giants, working with a new long snapper in Casey Kreiter, looked okay. Punter Riley Dixon was fine statistically. He averaged 44.8 yards per punt on 65 attempts and was tied for third in the NFL with 28 punts inside the 20.
Kicker Graham Gano, signed in August to replace former Pro Bowler Aldrick Rosas, played in all 16 games despite testing positive for COVID-19. Gano made 31 of 32 field goal attempts, his only miss from over 50 yards. His .9687 percentage is the second highest in Giants history. Gano also set franchise records for consecutive field goals (30) and field goals from over 50 yards in a season (five).
The only drawback was his kickoffs. Gano had a touchback rate of just 41.1 percent, and with the coverage teams — besieged by injuries — inconsistent, gave teams more palatable field position.
On the return end, Dion Lewis averaged 22.4 yards per return on 24 kickoffs. But the Giants were only able to return 20 punts in 2020. He averaged a respectable 12.5 YPA on the season but the return units were ineffective overall.
There is no way some of these numbers sit well with Judge. It’s another area the Giants will need to improve upon next season.