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The Coughlin Corner: Play above the X’s and O’s

Posted Nov 1, 2014

The Coughlin Corner, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Tom Coughlin

Q: You’ve been really good coming out of the bye recently (six consecutive victories). When the players return after a bye, do you do something different to get them back into the football? Do you get back to fundamentals early in the week?

Coughlin: “We spend time studying ourselves and then when we come back we hit the players with everything that we decided was important. The thing that I really emphasized this time is: the old English teacher semantics: ‘Don’t tell me about what’s going to be improved; I will improve this.’ So we did five offense, five defense, five special teams with the coaches and then the players did the same thing. Now the emphasis is every day I can pick up on something. The oldest one in the world is listening. Listen. Listen. Don’t think you know what’s coming, because you shut it out when that happens and you don’t get the whole story. But yes, we analyze ourselves, we decide what it is we need to study, we study it, we study the best in the league at it, we study ourselves, we make improvements. When the players come back, we have themes, we have individual improvements for each guy, we have positional and we have offense, defense and special teams things that will be improved; not that they’re going to, but that they will be because that means commitment. We’re committed to getting those things better.”

Q: You always self-scout during the bye week. Was it particularly important or helpful this year because you have a new offense and you’re self-scouting something new this year?

Coughlin: “It’s no different than any other year. Again, you analyze where you are and you look at the numbers and you look at where you are in terms of your rankings in the league. Then you decide on how you’re going to present it to the team. You don’t have enough time to do it all, you have to move on. What we do is we have an hour and 15 minute meeting the first day we’re back. We take four or five segments that we think can be improved upon and we teach, we go right back to square one and teach it.”

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Q: This week, you have used the phrase several times - and the players have used the phrase several times – play above the X’s and O’s. What does that mean to you?

Coughlin: “To me, it’s all about people. When you watch games over the weekend, as we all did, you can’t miss the games in which it’s obvious. I mean, anybody can run a crossing pattern, but a crossing pattern where the guy catches the ball and makes two guys miss and runs to the end zone, that’s playing above the X’s and O’s. The quarterback spins out of a potential sack and throws the ball downfield for a 25-yard gain, that’s playing above the X’s and O’s. A guy runs from the other side of the field, tips the ball up in the air, his teammate intercepts it and runs in the end zone or he forces a fumble and a defensive lineman picks it up and runs in the end zone - playing above the X’s and O’s. Again, it leads back to that theme that I was telling you about, no one wants to be 3-4. Nobody wants to be mediocre. We’re going to have to do something about that and the way to do that is to put yourself in a state of mind…believing is more than saying it, you’ve got to act it. You’ve got to act it. If you really do believe that you can win, then act like it. That’s what I‘m trying to get across. Mental, mental, mental part of the game.”

Q: The offense has had few long passes or runs. Does it put more pressure on the offense when you don’t get the long play every once in a while, or the short pass that turns into a long play?

Coughlin: “Well sure, quick score. It’s like anything else, the one, two, three, four-play drive versus the 12-play drive. Don’t get me wrong, any way you can score is good. And in this game (Monday night vs. the Colts) time of possession will be very important. Pittsburgh had it for almost 40 minutes and just barely won the game, if you really studied the game.”

Q: You can demoralize a defense by staying on the field for 15 plays. Could you do it equally well if you could break a long run or flip a short pass to somebody and have them go all the way?

Coughlin: “Yes, you can. And the other thing is, you have to keep thinking the pedal is always to the metal. You have to keep on keeping on. You have to keep going, and there have been other examples that have been obvious watching their games – both them (the Colts) and the other guy. Look at how they came back against Denver. They’re down 21-0 against Denver and they come back and they had a great chance to win it. At the start of the second half and the first drive, Denver dropped two balls right in their hands, short passes, too. It looked like, ‘Uh oh, they decided something different at halftime.’"

Q: So much focus has been on the offense but the defense has not gotten the stops that you’ve needed.

Coughlin: “Well, the lack of scoring … we’ve had two weeks with what, 21 points? And that’s not going to beat anybody. Twenty-one points in one game is not going to anymore. We used to say 17, we still do as a goal defensively, but my goodness. That’s been a focal point, but the last two offenses have done what they’ve wanted. They’ve run it.

“It starts up front with both lines of scrimmages. I told the coaches at halftime, I told them, ‘I want to give you an opportunity to tell me what you will improve.’ But I said, ‘I also want to tell you that in order to win a game in the National Football League at this level, you really have to stop the run, you have to run the ball and you have to protect the punter and cover and tackle punts.’ Those things have got to be done, period. You look at New Orleans, who won (Thursday) night to go to 4-4. Yes, they throw it for a lot of yards. But they also have run the ball for a lot of yards in the last couple weeks. A matter of fact, they’ve always run the ball. It was a different kind of run, but to me that’s what I’m saying - on the line of scrimmages, you have to win. Then that leads to the question about the physical battle. I don’t think you can win at this level if you don’t win it. I just don’t.”

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Q: This is the second year in a row you’ve had to insert a newcomer at middle linebacker. Jameel McClain has an advantage Jon Beason didn’t have, because he was here all spring. Do those players have similar kind of makeups, leadership qualities and personalities?

Coughlin: “They’re both very aggressive personalities. They both have the ability to inspire their teammates and both do that well.”

Q: You mentioned the Colts’ time of possession, which is almost 35 minutes a game. Is keeping the ball away from their offense…

Coughlin: “It’s an objective, it certainly is. You have a great example, all you have to do it look at Pittsburgh. They flipped it almost to 40-20, but yes, they’re not only number one in the league on offense, number two in scoring, sixth on third down, they also have the ability to control the ball. And the quarterback (Andrew Luck), let’s face it, he makes a lot of plays. He’s their third-leading rusher."

Q: (Wide receivers coach) Sean Ryan said last week that Odell Beckham Jr. is no longer a rookie, because in Victor Cruz’s absence he has to step up. Is there a point during the season when you don’t consider them rookies anymore?

Coughlin: It depends on the individual to me. But it’s generally accepted that by the midpoint of the season they’ve played at least four preseason games and eight regular season games, they’ve been through the routine of how to practice and prepare for at least 12 weeks, and you begin to sense that if the individual is really a focused football player that he kind of moves to another category at this time of the year. It doesn’t hold true for everybody. This team we’re playing has two rookies playing side by side, including a free agent at center.”

Q: The Colts have outscored their opponents in the first quarter, 68-13. The Giants have been outscored, 48-14. Is that one of the things you’re looking to correct?

Coughlin: “We better. We have not started fast and we need to. You’re hanging on to your rear end if you don’t.”

Q: We’ve all heard and read so many things about Andrew Luck. When you watch him on tape, what stands out?

Coughlin: “He is a very, very good football player. He’s very smart, he’s very adaptive. He’s got all the throws – he’s got the rockets, he’s got the deep ball, he’s got the short ball, he can break the  perimeter, he can throw it on the run, he can run it if he has to. Think of the playoff game last year (against Kansas City), when he keeps it on fourth-and-one for a big first down. He’s instinctive, too. You see him pick the ball up off the ground and dive in the end zone against Kansas City, that was a great play. He’s a football player. He’s a smart kid, he’s a competitive guy and he’s a player. He does what he has to do. He’ll break away from an obvious sack, he’ strong. He’s 240 pounds, it’s hard to get him down. You need help to get him down a lot of times.”

Q: Their defense gave up 51 points last week in Pittsburgh, but the prevous week they shut out Cincinnati. Did you say to the players, “Last week was not indicative of what they’re capable of?”

Coughlin: “They were third in the league coming into that one. Now they’re 15th. You do, but I’ll be honest with you, their ones outplayed our ones when we played them in the preseason. They did. And that’s why I’ve stressed the point about the line of scrimmage. You better block them because on top of pressure, if they can rush straight up, they’ve got their own version of Connor Barwin (the Philadelphia defensive end who played so well vs. the Giants). They've got him (in Bjoern Werner, who leads the Colts with 4.0 sacks).”

Q: Pat McAfee leads the league in net punting and touchbacks. How big a weapon is he in their kicking game?

Coughlin: “Plus he’s three-for-three in onside kicks. He can do it all. He’s the punter, he’ll tackle as a kickoff coverage guy. He’ll run down there and make tackles. Good player. The other guy (Adam Vinatieri) is 16-for-16 in field goals. I read the stuff that he’s getting old, he’s slowing down, because he’s in his 19th year. Where? I don’t see it.”



On Monday night, Nov. 3, the Giants will celebrate their storied tradition by welcoming back more than 100 former players and legends for “Giants Homecoming Weekend” leading up to and during the prime-time matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.

The highlight of the evening will be a special halftime ceremony honoring recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Michael Strahan with a grand, on-field event at MetLife Stadium. In addition to Frank Gifford, former teammates and fellow Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson will salute Michael on this special night in front of all his family, friends, and fans.

Beforehand, make sure you arrive at the stadium early for a special pre-game ceremony honoring more than 60 Big Blue greats, including Mark Bavaro, Carl Banks, Amani Toomer, Jason Sehorn, Ottis Anderson, Jessie Armstead, Joe Morris, Brandon Jacobs, and Rodney Hampton.

The national anthem will also be performed by Grammy Award-winning artist and trumpeter Chris Botti.

The entire halftime ceremony will be streamed LIVE on Giants.com and Giants Mobile App.

>> CLICK HERE FOR #STRAHAN92 SOCIAL HUB