Joe Judge is not the first NFL head coach to want a "tough" team. That’s one of the words nearly everyone who sits in one of the 32 big chairs uses, along with discipline and smarts, to describe the types of players and rosters they are looking for.
Sunday night will be a good indication of how much of it the Giants have.
When they host the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium, they will welcome one of the league’s most physically dominant teams into their living room. Cleveland is a throwback, buckle-up, tighten-your-chinstrap opponent. Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick, who saw the Browns firsthand this week, recently called their offensive line "monsters" and he said running back Nick Chubb will "steal your heart and steal your manhood with how physical he is."
"Their offensive line, these guys are big, they’re physical," Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "I’m not trying to diminish the merits of the teams we’ve seen before, but arguably one of the best O-lines we’ve seen all year. It’s going to be a challenge."
Defensively, the Browns bring Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and other hard-hitting playmakers who fly after the ball.
"This is definitely a physical team," Judge said with some admiration. "They play with a good nasty edge."
With both teams playing for postseason consideration — the Browns (9-4) fighting for position in the AFC North as well as for one of three wild cards in the conference while the Giants (5-8) begin the day one game behind Washington in the NFC East — the Giants have expressed little doubt that they will be on the receiving end of the Browns’ best shot.
But they believe they can deliver one, too.
"We want to dictate the game on our terms," safety Logan Ryan said. "The New York Giants with Joe Judge as the coach and the players that we have here this year is a physical team. I don’t think we’re a finesse team, I don’t think that we try to spread it around and whip the ball around and run a whole bunch of trickery. I think we’re built on toughness, I think we’re built on being a physical team, I think we’re built and we play well when we run the ball, when we stop the run and when we cover kicks. I know Joe Judge stands by that, we’re bought into that.
"This is definitely a physical opponent and I think we’re a physical defense," he added "That’s strength on strength."
This was always going to be a big game for the Giants. It was when the schedule first came out and everyone’s eyes shot immediately to it for Odell Beckham Jr.’s return to MetLife Stadium. It remained that way, even with Beckham sidelined by a torn ACL, as the Browns developed into one of the NFL’s most smashmouth teams, a persona that was hard to miss on Monday night when they played the Ravens and the Giants got their first real look at them.
As this week went on, though, a new aspect to the toughness required of the Giants began to emerge. Mental and emotional toughness.
Their starting quarterback Daniel Jones is banged up, dealing with not one but two injuries, and they’ll turn to their backup, Colt McCoy. Their offensive coordinator and play-caller tested positive for COVID-19, so Jason Garrett is being replaced by tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens. They had to cancel Thursday’s practice because of that test result. They found out their best cornerback, James Bradberry, has to sit out because he went to see a chiropractor who wound up testing positive for the coronavirus. Bradberry, who has not tested positive himself, was deemed a high-risk close contact. On Saturday, outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema left to be the new head coach at the University of Illinois.
All of which will test the Giants as no game, opponent, or week has so far this season.
"It’s definitely going to be a barometer to see if we can handle the physicality," Graham said.
And every other element of toughness, too.
"However we have to get it, that’s how we have to get it," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "Ain’t no excuses. We’re not the only team that has had difficult or abnormal weeks and still had to go out there and play. We’re taking the challenge head on."
As they will with the Browns themselves.
"This will be the most physical game of the year," Ryan said. "It has to be. It’s Sunday night, it’s a big game, don’t get that confused, we understand that. Everything we want is in front of us and it starts with a physical opponent, and we’ve got to go out there and bring it."