Q: If the football gods had come to you before the season and told you with two games left you’d have control of your postseason destiny…
Coughlin: “I’ll take it. You determine your own fate in the last two weeks of the season? Let’s take it. That was exactly what I said to our team at the beginning of this week. This is a great time of the year. It’s an exciting time of the year. It’s a spirited time of the year, both on and off the field. Take advantage of it. You’re young, these opportunities don’t come around very often. I told our players I wanted their heads up, I want their eyes up, I don’t apologize for one thing, they shouldn’t either, okay? I don’t spend any time at all on last week’s game. This week’s game is much, much too important. It’s a short week. What I want them to do is understand that the great thing about our game is you get a chance to line up again – and it happened more rapidly than normal this week. So that’s the mindset, and we know the nature of the game. We know that the atmosphere will be incredible, that you have to win the physical battle. You just do. That’s the nature of the game, and I think that our players understand that.
“It’s very challenging. The Jets run the ball very well. They have an outstanding runner in (Shonn) Greene. They want to pound it up in there with a nice lead fullback, their wide receivers are involved in blocking, their tight ends are involved. They use the tight end, the big lineman (Vladimir) Ducasse, he becomes their extra tight end. So it is challenging, but nevertheless, it’s something that has to be done. And if you want to be a team that advances and has an opportunity, then so be it. It’s about to take place. But it’s a team game and the Jets have created many opportunities for themselves by their 28 takeaways, by their kicking game, their kickoff return team has had seven over 40 yards. They constantly take advantage of positive field position. You can’t let that happen. You have to make them drive. Punt the ball inside the five. Make them drive the ball the length of the field. They’re going to run it. They’re going to throw play action passes. They’re going to throw that quick play action pass to the X (split end) that you saw last week, you’re going to see that. They’re going to try to throw the quick game. They’re going to try to stay away from opportunities to put the quarterback in jeopardy.
“But we’ve got to keep coming. It’s been a while since we’ve had a bonanza – as I call it a bonanza sack game – it was Miami, which is the last time we had five. You’ve got to get after the quarterback. When you study, he has 20 turnovers himself. He has seven fumbles and 13 interceptions – Mark Sanchez. You’ve got to get after the quarterback, create an uncomfortable situation for him, maybe cause him not to see that well, get after him, those kinds of things. And put the pressure to be extremely accurate and then, hey, turn the ball over, get the takeaways. That’s exactly what has to happen. They’ve had some giveaways with their returners. They put the ball on the ground, and people have been able to come up with turnovers in that aspect of it as well. So it’s not a difficult thing to talk about the formula. The difficult thing, of course, is to execute.”
Q: You just answered about six of my questions. I know as a coach you work hard on motivating your team. Is this a week where the players are well aware of what’s at stake, they know the opponent, it’s a local rivalry. Do you have to do as much in that area this week?
Coughlin: “We always do as much. We do everything we possibly can every week to point out all of the special ingredients that form an idea for extra inspiration and motivation, but also plot the keys to how you can go about beating a particular team. They’re there for our players. And we do it week in, we do it week out. We do the same approach for Green Bay, for Dallas, right down the line, New England, you name the game. We’ve done it for the first Philly game, we did it. It’s consistently the way we approach it, and that’s just what I consider to be the responsibility of the head coach – to make available to the players everything they need to help them perform their job at the highest level. That’s what we try to do as coaches. But, yes, you’ve zoomed in on this particular week. You keep from saying this most of the time as a coach, but this is a playoff atmosphere. It has to be. It’s win and in and it isn’t a pretty thing if you don’t. I don’t have any problem talking about that and putting it exactly where it is. And this is what I did with our players on Tuesday. I stood before them, and I don’t know what they were expecting – probably some backlash from the previous game. I said nothing about that. I said, ‘Gentlemen, get your heads up, get your eyes on me, get the frowns off your face. You’ve created the greatest opportunity in the world for yourselves if we win two games. Win the division and we’re in the playoffs. And that’s exactly what the goal was at the beginning of the year.’”
Q: You’re making this game like a road game. You’re staying at a different hotel.
Coughlin: “We have to.”
Q: You have to?
Coughlin: “We share that hotel (with the Jets, so the home team stays there the night before a game).”
Q: You play well on the road. Is there some advantage to having that road routine this week?
Coughlin: “We’re here. We’re home. We’re playing in the same stadium. It’s the Jets’ home game. It will be treated... we documented this in our literature for the players, it’s a road game. We’re on the road. I’ve had crowd noise all through practice. We’ve done all of those things.”
Q: Did you see progress in the defense last week? There were no plays longer than 20 yards, no run longer than 14 yards.
Coughlin: "As the game went on, definitely. Once the score was 17-0, I think there wasn’t any doubt we did things better. And that was a good thing. But you certainly don’t want to be down 17-0.”
Q: You mentioned you talked to the captains and the leadership council this week. After the game last week, you were asked about
Coughlin: “No question. No question. No question. And we’ve had conversations this week with some of our players and it’s really been about that. It’s been about...the interesting thing is that all of us love what we do or we wouldn’t be doing it. You’re supposed to enjoy this, and you’ve got to go with every fiber of your being and enjoy the opportunity that you have. I am talking to our players about that kind of stuff.”
Q: Earlier in the season you had some difficulties offensively on third down and you said it was more of a first and second down problem, because you were leaving yourself a lot of third-and-long situations. Defensively, you’ve struggled the last few games on third down. Is that also a first and second down problem?
Coughlin: “Well, it is, but we still have a problem with third-and-long. Let’s face it, unfortunately it provides a negative feeling on you if it’s third-and-11. They converted a third-and-17 on us last weekend and it was a touchdown drive. If we make the stop there, they’re out. That score is already down at the 16. That’s the thing that’s just frustrating as heck. And lots of times, this in particular was not a long play. It was about a six-yard throw and catch and the guy makes someone miss and runs for a first down. We weren’t very close to him, and we certainly didn’t tackle well. All you had to do is make a tackle and they make 16 yards, they’re still going to punt.”
Coughlin: “They have to. They’ve got to. They’ve got to take on that role, and they’ve got to play well whenever they’re given the opportunity. Our team needs those guys to step forward.”
Q: I know
Coughlin: “I don’t because he wants it like that. He should want it like that. But in reality, he has to have contributions from everyone in order to do his job, to be in position to where there can be some patience executed and we don’t make those throws into traffic and we can go ahead and move the ball or punt the ball. So everybody has to contribute. Eli is the quarterback. He’s had a very good year. Naturally that’s what’s being said, and that’s just the nature of what we do. The quarterback is extremely, extremely critical to your opportunity to win.”
Coughlin: “There’s an awful lot of that sheer camaraderie that you look for, and it very, very many times is a product of the offensive line. So, yes, it’s a thought. It’s a consideration, but we have to also – because of the nature of our game and because of the nature of the depth that you have to have, which has been magnified this season for us – we have guys contributing. But we need to have the best of our players available and utilize them properly. That’s what you do.”
Q: The Jets’ defense uses many different formations and exotic blitzes. What is the key to playing them when they have so many personnel groupings and movements prior to the snap?
Coughlin: “The key is the tips that you have on the recognition of the packages that are in there and then how you go about protecting based on those packages. So there’s recognition, certainly. There’s certainly a lot of study before that, which our people have done. You just hope that you’re all on the same page. Their objective is to create confusion and cause the offensive team to have issues with the placement of personnel – who it is – and then the pressure packages. From the standpoint of the offensive team, you have to find a way in which you identify and then communicate exactly what you’re looking at so that everyone knows not only how you’re going to pick up those people that you can, given five offensive linemen, a back, sometimes a tight end. But if it’s outside the realm of that, then who’s responsible for the hots and the sights and the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand? So there’s a lot to it, and it’s cumulative, just like everything else.”
Q: Offensively, one thing that stands out is their success in the red zone, where they have the league’s highest touchdown percentage.
Coughlin: “They do lead the league in that particular area. They run the ball very well. The quarterback has five running touchdowns, so they use him as well. They pound away and do what they do out on the field – try to take advantage of their run-actions when they do throw the ball and the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand fast. They try to create the down and distances they need by virtue of the run.”
Q: We’ve talked all year about returners and now you’re facing Joe McKnight, who has the NFL’s highest kickoff return average.
Coughlin: “Week after week, we’ve played against the best in the damn league. So they take a lot of pride in their kickoff return unit, which is third in the league. So it’s just another challenge. Last week we played against the number one kickoff coverage unit in the league. This week it’s the number three kickoff coverage unit in the league. It’s the number three kickoff return unit in the league. They take a lot of pride in that, and their flagship team is their kickoff return team. They’ve had a lot of success with it, and they do have multiple returners back there who have made sizable contributions. When you look at their averages, the two top returners, you kind of go ‘Whoa, wait a minute now.’ One guy (McKnight) has a 107-yard return”
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