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Joe Judge’s Giants making troubling special teams errors

The last thing expected from a Joe Judge-coached team is happening to the Giants at the worst possible time.

Special teams - albeit three different units - have made critical mistakes to gift points to the opponent in three straight games.

The Bengals returned a kickoff for a touchdown. The Seahawks blocked a punt for a safety. And the Cardinals forced a kickoff-return fumble Sunday that set up their offense at the 21-yard line and led to the decisive touchdown in a 26-7 victory.

“This hasn’t been one thing,” Judge said. “It’s not a schematic disadvantage. We’re not getting isolated into something and we can’t make an adjustment. There haven’t been repeat mistakes, but, over six phases, if you have an issue in one phase per week, it’s going to be glaring and go ahead and be magnified over time.”

Because Judge is a former special teams coordinator for the Patriots, Thomas McGaughey is one of the best special teams coordinators in the business and McGaughey’s assistant, Tom Quinn, had the head job for 11 seasons under Tom Coughlin, there is a high level of expectation.

The Giants were ranked No. 3 in the NFL in special teams efficiency through 10 games, according to ESPN. They’ve since dropped to No. 12.

“We’ve got to coach it better. We have to play it better,” Judge said. “It starts with me.”

Even if returner Dion Lewis’ fumble is excused — Kyle Pitts kicked the ball loose, which is illegal if ruled intentional — there were other problems exposed.

Riley Dixon suddenly cannot execute directional punting, and his kicks down the middle of the field left Christian Kirk space for 77 yards on six returns. Dixon’s average of 48.8 yards per punt fell to 36.6 net yards. Punt coverage was one shoestring tackle away from disaster against the Bengals, too.

“We have to do a better job covering in space,” Judge said. “That comes down to playing with good field leverage, good space tackling. That comes into specialists doing their job. This has been a strength for us for most of the season.”

Fox rules analyst Dean Blandino said during Sunday’s broadcast Pitts’ kick looked intentional, but a judgement call cannot be overturned by replay. Either way, Lewis is not providing the Giants with a spark, was replaced in-game by C.J. Board and could leave an opening for Dante Pettis — one of the best returners in NCAA history — to make his Giants’ debut next week.

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