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Why Giants must abandon conservative fourth-down approach

Joe Judge walks front view in navy blue sweatshirt with headset on

Joe Judge walks front view in navy blue sweatshirt with headset on

When the Giants landed in Kansas City, read toy take on the Chiefs, they sat at 2-5 coming off a win over the Carolina Panthers. They had some momentum. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were trying to find their identity, something they’ve lost recently with a shaky Patrick Mahomes-led offense and a porous defense.

Given the state of the NFL the day before with multiple upsets from the Jets over the Bengals, to the Patriots over the Chargers, some had the feeling the Giants could’ve done the same.

As the game ensued, there were multiple opportunities where it seemed the Chiefs were really about to hit rock bottom by handing quality chances over to the Giants to capitalize. But New York didn’t cash in.

And a lot of that has to do with the choices made from head coach Joe Judge.

Some teams like to be conservative — I get that. You trust your guys to get stops and hinder the opponent with bad field position or getting the ball right back and scoring later on.

But nothing the Giants have done up to this point in the season should have Judge confident his team can squander opportunities where risk is warranted. However, it’s been happening all season and showed its face in this 20-17 loss as well.

The first situation came when Jason Garrett called a questionable play on 3rd-and-4 from the Kansas City six-yard line where Sterling Shepard ran an out route too short of the sticks, making it 4th-and-2 from the four.

Previously, the Giants went for it on fourth down to score their first touchdown of the game: A leaky Kyle Rudolph securing six points. But Graham Gano started running out on to the field to kick a 23-yard field goal — read that again — instead of trying to tie the game on the road against a formidable offense despite its inconsistencies. Daniel Jones never got the chance to score again on fourth down despite how close they were to the goal line.

But even worse was when the Giants decided to punt on 4th-and-3 on their 47-yard line in the third quarter. It was a situation that many believe the Giants should have gone for at midfield and keep momentum going. Luckily, the Chiefs would fumble in Giants territory on the ensuing possession and New York would take the lead after a 10-play drive.

Yes, nothing happened on the Chiefs’ end and the Giants got the lead. But does the game change if the Giants go for it there? Or earlier when they were mere steps away from the end zone? We’ll never know.

Take a look at this chart from The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin that shows how the Giants are the worst team in the league in terms of win percentage lost by kicking in “go situations” — times where they should go for it on fourth down.

Giants fans that have watched games this season will remember this Chiefs contest wasn’t the only time Judge has acted ultra conservative.

How about punting on 4th-and-4 from the Falcons’ 39-yard line in the 17-14 loss to Atlanta at home? Or punting against the Football Team in Week 2 on Washington’s 38-yard line instead of trying a 55-yard field goal from Gano, who hit one from that same length later in the game? The Giants had Gano kick a 23-yarder on 4th-and-2 on Washington’s five-yard line later in the game, too.

At 2-6 now, there’s no reason why Judge and the Giants shouldn’t be taking chances, trusting themselves to be on the positive end of them, and most importantly, hoping it leads to wins in the end. There’s only so many opportunities each team gets per game, and despite Judge saying he’s not afraid to go for it on fourth down, the result more often than not is to play it safe.

As New York welcomes the 5-2 Raiders to MetLife Stadium, they need to realize this: They have nothing to lose. The Cowboys have a solid lead in the NFC East and a playoff spot is dwindling away by the game. If they wish to turn the tides, securing a win at home is paramount heading into the bye week. Then, who knows what the second half can produce, though the schedule is still pretty hard?

Of course, this isn’t the only issue the Giants are working through this season. They’ve lacked discipline with mental mistakes leading to penalties. They could probably be less conservative on offense, too.

But when the opportunity presents itself to take a shot and go for it, it should be a no-brainer.

Those are the game-changing moments the Giants haven’t bet on themselves to win.

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