Coughlin: “People asked me those kinds of questions earlier in the week and my first reaction is it’s not like we haven’t had many tough football games around here. We’ve played on the road in many difficult circumstances, so that part of it, looking forward to the challenge – we’re looking forward to the challenge. They’re a really good football team, but we’re looking forward to playing against this team. The rest of it is they’re 4-1. We’re well aware of that. We have studied the Minnesota game (the 49ers only loss) along with all the other games very deeply and we have some ideas about how that all takes place. “Every time we go out there we’re the underdog, so there’s nothing new about that. And we do have the experience of going there, of not turning the ball over, of special teams making a great contribution, defense playing so well, offense taking care of the football and coming away winning. So we have a formula. Nobody stands still. This is a team that has improved themselves. They have included some more variety into their attack (with the wildcat), which they used, for example, somewhat over here at MetLife against the Jets, but then quickly put it away. They’ve gone right back to just physical, physical football. So that’s how they play. That’s how they prefer to play. They are very good in their offensive line and defensive line and they play a style of football...for example, on defense, you’re not going to see a whole lot of different people on the field. This business is about rotating players in and out. Not them. They play them. They play their front. They certainly expect not to play a lot of snaps, I think, as they design it. But that’s their style and then they’re going to run it and if you’re going to have a chance to beat them, you've got to stop the run and you’re going to have to run the ball on the other side, because if they get in a situation where all they need to do is crank it up and come after the quarterback, we’ve seen evidence of our quarterback getting hit more than we would ever like him to be hit.”
Q: You’ve been involved in athletics your entire life. Have you always relished the underdog role?
Coughlin: “I don’t know if it’s relish, but I’ve been in it a lot. Look at the jobs I’ve had. That’s kind of been the way it’s been for me. The first time I ever turned any other way was when I was an assistant with the Giants (1988-90). And then certainly the road has always put us or seemed to have put us in that spot, but it’s okay. People want to say that I relish it. I’ve certainly been in that situation many times with teams that I’ve been fortunate enough to be around.”
Coughlin: “Not really. I saw a different determination when he had the fumble (on the game’s first play) and there wasn’t any question about his resolve, his determination. And he went back to the physical, physical nature of the way he runs the ball and he’s as good as anybody when it comes to that. He’ll gain, he’ll drag people for yardage. He’ll do all of those things, so was I surprised? No, I wasn’t surprised. As a matter of fact, I really thought he did a heck of a job for his team when we lost
Coughlin: “It’s patience. It’s patience and it’s the fact that they have to understand you've got to keep communicating to them. What are the hurdles toward getting the opportunity to play? For each position, it's different and so in this case, it’s a couple of very skilled athletes that have a lot of particular abilities. But you have to understand until you gain the knowledge of a wealth of responsibilities, your chances of playing are not there and once you start to understand all the small details of how to play your position and responsibility as it goes to the other members of your team, you don’t get to play much. But when you do capture that, these two are certainly gifted enough.”
Q: You’ve been asked a lot about your pass rush and the fact that the Giants have only eight sacks. Are teams playing you differently? Are they loading up to stop the ends? Are they getting rid of the ball quicker? Are teams playing you vastly different than what they did in the past?
Coughlin: “Not vastly, but it is what it is. You look at it and you see what it is. The quick game is there and then the max protection-type schemes are there and the max protection schemes are still affording the quarterback to get rid of the ball in time. Very rarely does he stand back and hold it. He, the opponent quarterback, does once or twice a game, but not very often. But that doesn’t stop you from getting to the quarterback and that’s what we’re trying to encourage our guys to understand. It doesn’t matter if it’s three-step (drop). It doesn’t matter whether it’s five. If you are fortunate enough and even if you’re not, if you’re going to get some kind of protection where there are two people that are coming your way, you’re still working your tail off to win it, to beat them. And that’s the only way that when in fact you’re in a full speed rush and you do determine that you’re being single blocked, that’s where the conversion has to come in. But first things first and in this regard, we play by attacking and we need to penetrate more. We need to do some things that are north-south and not east-west.”
Coughlin: “We’ve protected him pretty well most of the year and he does get rid of the ball and he has done a very good job of that, but it’s a combination of things. It’s a combination of pass protection, the quarterback making very decisive and quick decisions, the receivers and tight ends and running backs getting to their specific depth and executing the route the way they’re supposed to in a time frame that allows the quarterback to carry out his assignment and be decisive in delivering the ball. So there are a lot of things that go along with the fact that he’s thrown some balls away. He’s very smart about that and we try not to create unusually long yardage situations. We still have them, but that’s a combination. Tight ends, the backs, people creating extra time for him.”
Q: Your admiration for Eli probably can’t grow at this point, but in the championship game last year he was sacked six times and seemingly hit every time he dropped back, but he kept getting up and firing away. What were your thoughts about how he kept getting up off the mud?
Coughlin: “I think he is a great example for his teammates. That’s what he was doing and he wasn’t going to stay down. He was on his feet, actually, before anybody else most of the time. He bounced up and he doesn’t let that affect the next call or the next play and that’s where he’s unique in his ability as he’s grown and understood more about the role that he plays and the message that he sends to everyone. He’s done a really good job of that.”
Q: The 49ers like to run the ball in what has become a pass-happy league…
Coughlin: “They’ve been that way since Jim (Harbaugh, the head coach) got there. It’s just the style that they use. It’s not that they don’t throw, but if you look at the games they win, they believe that they would like to have a lot more runs than passes and that’s how they take care of the quarterback and the turnover number. They only have one interception. That’s pretty good. But they only ran the ball 20 times in the Minnesota game and they turned it over three times in that game.”
Q: Their defense has only nine sacks, but they have the league’s second-ranked pass defense…
Coughlin: “I’m not sure how that comes about. I think a lot of it has to do with they have the ball so much by virtue of their ability to control the ball. They do win time of possession most of the time. The only game they haven’t is the Minnesota game, so I don’t know where the correlation is. They do have a strong, physical rush, don’t get me wrong, but the correlation between their coverage and the sacks … they’re good, they’re sound, and they’re in excellent spots. Their safeties are very good. Their safeties can cover a lot of ground and make up for some sins and they do push and push and push. Really, their sacks are all in their outside rushers. That’s where they come from.”
Q: Do you see the strength in their special teams in their kickers (David Akers and Andy Lee)?
Coughlin: “That’s part of it, but their return game, no matter where you look, is very good. They’ve unleashed Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn (Jr.) hasn’t really been a factor yet. They have tremendous return ability, so they’re very good at that. Some of their people are outstanding special teamers and they, of course, have a very good veteran punter and a very good veteran kicker. The kicker is very talented. Long range he’s got a 63-yard field goal. He’s one of the top onside kick guys in the league. He can do it from different positions. He can put the ball pretty much anywhere he wants to. He moves the ball around a lot and he’s strong. So you have a well-shaped, well-designed team.”