EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Dabs' Digest, an exclusive weekly interview with Giants head coach Brian Daboll:
Q: You earned an exhilarating 21-20 victory with a stirring comeback in Tennessee and now you play a Carolina team that lost on a 58-yard field goal in the final seconds. Do you believe in momentum in the NFL?
Daboll: "No. It's really what you do. Obviously, how you play and coach on game day is the most important thing. But leading up to it, how you prepare and how you practice with great speed and urgency and tempo and the mindset you have, that helps leading into the game. And ultimately you have to perform on game day, all of us do. Be resilient at times and not let things really get to you because you have to play the next play. Game-to-game is like play-to-play. One play can be bad; you have a next play. And the next play you have to be tuned in, whether the previous play was good or bad. Again, I've talked about a win. Naturally, everybody's got a little bit more juice when they come in on a Monday. But there's so many things to correct in every game from a coaching side and a playing side, that you just move on. That's how we want to approach things for our football team."
Q: I'm curious about the communication with your coordinators in your first game as a head coach. Did you talk to (defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) when the offense was on the field, and (offensive coordinator) Mike (Kafka) when the defense was on the field?
Daboll: "It was very similar to the preseason game. Even though the preseason games weren't game planned, what we tried to do operation-wise was be as similar as we could being a new staff of how we're going to do things, keeping the airways clear, communicating when we need to communicate. I communicated with all three coordinators throughout the game. They did a good job of calling the game in the heat of it. I tried to stay out of their way the best I could."
Q: Did you succeed?
Daboll: "At times. Most of the time."
Q: This was your first regular-season experience with game and time management and replays. You had a big decision the fourth play of the game.
Daboll: "Yeah, on fourth-and-one there. I have two guys (Ty Siam and Cade Knox) that I communicate with during the week on game management, on statistics, on probabilities. We usually sit down for a quite a long time throughout the week and go through different situations that happened in the NFL, how we would handle it. There's a numbers side to it. I'm a big believer in probabilities and numbers. There's also a feel to the game of how your team is playing and some of the choices that you need to make. And I'd say we try to be as well thought out when we're sitting here in a clean, nice room when we're looking at tape, because you have to be very confident. You never know when it's going to happen – whether it's the fourth play, the last play, in between, they're all important. I think if you believe in the process that we go through, which I do strongly, that you feel very prepared come gametime. Most of those decisions happen on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday rather than on a Sunday in terms of our preparation and knowing what we want to do, because you can communicate that to the coaches before the game even starts. Now, are there some things that happen? Absolutely. And again, you look at specific numbers, probabilities, field goal percentages, where they are on the field, there's sun, there's momentum in a game. There is momentum in a game, and you just want to try to make the best decision for your football team and your players."
Q: Were you at all tempted to go for it (instead of punting) on the fourth play?
Daboll: "Not on that one. Now, if it was in a different area of the field, potentially. But where we were – our first game, on the road, on the other side of the 50 (at the Giants' 31-yard line) - not at that point in time, I wasn't. Now, that's not to say in another game Week 8 or Week 2 or Week 4 … we had that very discussion honestly on Thursday. We went through probably an 80-play tape of situations the past few years (and asked), 'Alright, what if this happens?' (And we said) 'Alright, the numbers say this. I got it,' or 'If it's in this part of the game or this happens.' You always have to do the right thing for the team, and I think if you prepare well enough before the game, you have those answers in your head hopefully before they happen, and you can make a split-second decision and not waver from it.
"Case in point: the (game-deciding) two-point play. We talked about it before the drive. Mike knew it, pretty much the guys knew it. I talked to some of the defensive guys; they're the ones laying it out on the field. I want to make sure they know my thought process, and if they would've rather gone into overtime and play it out. There's something to listening to your players that are out on the field and understanding the momentum, the matchups, how things are going. But we were prepared for, I thought, every situation we could possibly be put in. I know in a game, there's three or four that you never (think about, and you say) 'Oh my gosh,' and you got to react quick. The more you can have the answers before the test, the better the result usually is on the test."
View photos from the life and career of Brian Daboll, who embarks on his first season with the Giants
Q: As an offensive coordinator, after a game you watched the offensive cutups. How did you watch the game as a head coach? Did you watch it beginning to end, or offense, defense and special teams separately??
Daboll: "I watched it from beginning to end. I try to really go through with a fine-tooth comb. That's one of the different things for me. Coming back on an airplane, 60 to 70 plays, you can crank it out usually in a plane trip, and we got home at whatever it was – 12:30 – then I drove home. By then it was past one, and I finished watching it when I got home, because I didn't make it all the way through. I made it until about a couple minutes to go in the third quarter. I just watched it straight through to get a feel of the game, the choices we made, the decisions I made, the calls we had as coordinators, the players' techniques, so that takes a little time to evaluate. The only way you get better is look at the competition on gameday, and make sure that you can fix those things. They might not come up this week, but they might come up in Week 8, and that's the important part of correcting the things. If you make a mistake once, I got it. We're all going to make mistakes once. But if it comes up again, we can't make the same mistake twice."
Q: When you thought prior to the game how it would play out, did you ever think you would have six more rushing attempts than drop backs and 82 more yards on the ground?
Daboll: "You go in with a plan of particular plays. And we talk about how we want to play the game. I try to communicate and have meetings with the three coordinators so they can understand how I think we need to play the game, and we can complement one another. Does that always take place? No. You never know how any of these games are going to go. You can be up quick; you can be down quick. The thing that we preach is let's not focus on the scoreboard. Let's focus on the play, let's focus on our job. Let's move to the next play. The minute you start thinking of 10 plays down the road or what just happened on the last play, that's when you lose focus on the most important stuff, which is that particular play."
Q: Daniel (Jones) had the highest completion percentage of his career and led the team down the field on the game-winning drive. He also threw an interception in the end zone and lost a fumble. When you review the game with Daniel, is your coaching nature to start with the interception and what went wrong or with the more positive plays?
Daboll: "Usually you deal with players different. Treat them all fairly, not the same. You watch tape. The way we watch tape as an offense is we watch the entire game, so it's one play at a time. Start from the beginning and go all the way through. Quarterbacks, in particular, I would say Daniel but all of our guys, they watch it on their own. They'll watch it one time with (quarterbacks coach) Shea (Tierney) and then they watch it again. They'll watch it about three times. They watch it on the airplane.
"There was, I would say, a lot of good teaching off that tape. And that's all it is – teaching. Sometimes you're teaching decision-making. Sometimes you're teaching technique. Sometimes you're teaching leadership. Sometimes you're teaching resiliency. We just go right through the tape, and I'll remind guys throughout the week of some of the things that we need to get better on. I think Daniel's done a good job.
"I'll give you a good story about Daniel: on the play we hit to Shep (Sterling Shepard, who caught a 65-yard touchdown pass), I've run that play a lot in my career. I think Mike's run it. Daniel's run it, maybe not last year but a couple years before. We were talking about specific things. And the communication that he has with us is really good. So, we just adjusted one little thing that he liked a little bit better than one thing, and it happened to turn into a pretty good play."
Q: You told everyone throughout training camp that Saquon Barkley looked good. The fact that he played so well (194 yards from scrimmage), did it alter your thinking about how you can use him? Or did it confirm what you already thought?
Daboll: "When I saw him out in the spring for the first time, I saw his explosiveness and his athleticism. And then the more you get to know him as a person, his competitive spirit, his competitive nature is as good as I've been around with players. So, when you have a very competitive individual who is very talented, as a coach, that gets you excited. We've used him through spring and summer and training camp, and nothing surprised me with him."
Q: (Rookie tackle) Evan Neal played every snap. No one asked you about him, which is great for an offensive lineman. Can we assume Evan Neal had a pretty good debut?
Daboll. "Yes. There were some good plays. There were some plays like everybody – coaches and players – that we would like to have back. He's a dependable, smart, tough player who has played a lot of football in his life. He's played every practice out here; played every rep. He's had a lot of good work.
"There will be things that happen for all these young players. I told the young players a couple of days before the game, 'You've all played football your entire life. You know how to prepare for a game and get ready and what you need to do the day of a game. How you need to eat, all this stuff. We're here to help you, but you just go do what you know how to do, which is play football and prepare yourself mentally. We'll help you prepare physically with the plan and the reps and the rest periods and the nutrition and the sleep habits and our team psychologists – we'll help you do that.' Whoever it is, not just Evan, just go out there, play football and stay loose. You can make it more than it is for young guys, and then you add in a whole different element of stress and anxiety for these guys, and that's not something I subscribe to."
Q: What did you think of (inside linebacker) Tae's (Crowder) hit on (running back) Derrick Henry?
Daboll: "Explosive. Tae's explosive. He's an explosive player. Made some good plays, and much like Evan, there's certain plays that you'd like to have back. We're a team right now, and I don't want to speak for any of the other 31 teams, we're out here working our way through a lot of different things, and the biggest thing for all of us, whether it's Evan, Tae, myself, the coordinators, is let's build on what we did well, and let's fix what wasn't good enough. You're never going to have a perfect game, and you're never going to have where everything just goes your way. You're always going to have to deal with something, whether you're down, whether you're up, and we're just lucky to be up. We just have to fix the things we need to fix, and most of the time they change from week-to-week based on what it is. You just keep on building off the things you're not doing well and keep improving based on the things you are doing well, and you start figuring out the type of team that you have. We're a ways away."
Q: You had a big home-field advantage when you coached in Buffalo. This team has won 12 home games in the last five years. How important is it to succeed on your home field?
Daboll: "I'd say that's what we want to do, and let's make no mistake. When you're going out there with great effort and you're playing with great energy and you're executing, that's the stuff that the players and the coaches have to control so that we're playing as well as we can at home. And we're giving our 12th man, 12th person, 12th woman, we're giving those people an opportunity to be part of the program. And it really does help. I've seen it firsthand.
"And I'm excited about this first (home) game. I'm glad the guys competed the way they competed last week, regardless of the result – but the result does help. These people spend their hard-earned money to come support our football team, and we owe our football team and each other a lot. But we also owe our community a lot because they're great supporters of the organization. So, it's very important to try to establish a standard, a level of play, at our house.
"I think part of homefield advantage is recognizing the players and coaches that came before us -- coach (Bill) Parcells, coach (Tom) Coughlin, Eli (Manning), (Michael) Strahan, (Justin) Tuck. I could go on and on - Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Jim Burt, (Phil) McConkey, Phil Simms. You could go on and on about all these guys. That's important to me, and it's important to our organization because those teams that won, they laid a groundwork of what it's supposed to look like. And we're not there yet; I understand that. But it's the fanbase and it's also the alumni that have done it. It hasn't happened in a while, and we're just taking it day-by-day and going to try to put our football out there the best we can."
Q: You played the Panthers last year when you were with Buffalo and beat them (31-14). But they had the No. 2 defense in the league, they sacked Josh (Allen) four times and intercepted him. What do you remember about facing their defense?
Daboll: "They're fast. They're fast, and they're physical. And I don't know what the score was, but it really wasn't indicative of how the game went. This team early on is a challenging team to get used to because of their team speed. They are fast. (Panthers linebacker) Shaq (Thompson), (safety Jeremy) Chinn, (defensive end Brian) Burns, then they got (defensive tackle) Derrick Brown inside with (tackle Matt) Ioannidis. I just remember it being very, very fast. And we talked about it all week. You try to simulate it the best you can on the show team. You have to be ready to go and ready for their team speed defensively. And I'll just say now, being in a different seat, that speed translates to their kicking game, which is good. And their offense has a lot of dynamic playmakers and I think a very good quarterback (Baker Mayfield) who can make all the throws, can make loose plays, is a competitor, is tough. So, it'll be a challenge for us."
Q: The other day, Mayfield struggled for three quarters and then got hot in the fourth quarter and almost won the game.
Daboll: "I've done a lot of work on Baker. He came out the year Josh came out (2018). I've just got a tremendous amount of respect for him: his competitive nature, how he can throw the ball, his decision-makings. He's a good quarterback, and I got a lot of respect for Baker. I think he's a good player."
Q: How about Christian McCaffrey?
Daboll: "He's a unique player. They can put him really anywhere. It's 'Where's Waldo'? Where is he? You put him in different spots. You better know where he is. He's a threat every time he touches the ball. He's not a threat for just five yards. He can take it the distance. He's extremely gifted running the ball, but he's extremely gifted catching the ball. People talk about dual-threat quarterbacks. He's a dual threat running back."
Q: You almost got to face a returner you know very well (former Bill Andre Roberts, who has 476 career returns, but was placed on injured reserve this week). Now you're facing Shi Smith and Chuba Hubbard, who have one return each.
Daboll: "The players that have done it, guys like Andre, who I know very well – he's an excellent, excellent returner. The guys, just like our team, when someone's down, the person behind them, you tell them, 'You're a starter in waiting right here.' Shi did some in the preseason. I think these guys are fully capable of handling that role and have excelled in it when they've had an opportunity to."