EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, an exclusive weekly interview with Giants head coach Joe Judge:
Q: You're not a believer in momentum. But if you win your last two games, how would that improve the frame of mind of the team going into the offseason and the 2022 season?
Judge: "You really just want these guys who have come out and worked very hard throughout the year for us, dealt with a lot of adversity throughout the year and stuck together very well as a team, to experience success, and we've talked a lot as a team. You just want these guys to go out and feel the rewards for their work. They've done everything we've asked them to do. There's been a number of things that they had to overcome this year as a team and a number of changes and different things that we've had to work through. But ultimately, I really love and respect the way they show up every week and empty the tank for us."
Q: Saquon (Barkley) said you mentioned in the team meeting on Wednesday that you never know when your last opportunity is going to come. Is that what you're stressing to the players, like you don't get to play football forever?
Judge: "I always stress that with the players. I stress that to every player and every coach, and I take that to heart myself every day of the year that I come out here. One thing I learned at a young age was the most valuable thing in life is opportunity because no one has to give you one, and you don't know if you'll get another one. You have to make sure you take advantage of every single one you get every day. I was talking with the team and I said, 'Hey listen, the unfortunate reality is there's people in this room right now that will never play football again after this year, and we don't know who that will be or why that'll be, but that's the reality.' This team will never actually be together again as this team after two weeks, and that's just the sad reality of what it is. You want to make sure that you finish strong as a team. You go out there and you play for each other. You work hard, and you enjoy every moment you get together."
Q: I've never seen a roster change as frequently as this one because of COVID and injuries. How do you manage that daily? Do you have to check every day who is available for practice or who might be able to play in the game?
Judge: "Absolutely. Went through that (Thursday) morning. We had a couple more guys pop on the COVID list this morning, so that will alter your game plan and preparation. It alters the way you practice sometimes. You go through the day and sudden change is part of it, just as it's part of the game on the field, it's part of the preparation off the field. My job as a head coach is to keep everybody moving. At different times, you may have to grab a coordinator, a position coach, or the entire staff and update them quickly on what's going on. Just let them know, 'Hey, this is the plan going forward, make the adjustments and let's go.'"
Q: Do you need different personnel plans for the game based on who you might or might not have?
Judge: "You absolutely do. There are different ways of bracketing players, whether it's receiver for receiver, maybe it's tight end for receiver, sometimes it's fullback for tight end, sometimes it's offensive lineman for tight end or for fullback, or things of that nature, so you have to find different ways of running what you want to run. But then, you also have to have contingency plans as well, and there's different modes you have to learn to play in. Sometimes, you go into games and say, 'Look, I don't only have a plan for personnel, we've got a plan for the weather as well.' You can use the Buffalo vs. New England game a few weeks back as an example. I'm sure both teams didn't start the week planning for how that game was going to play. They did a good job of adjusting to it, so you've got to always be flexible with what you do."
Q: How does it affect your practice schedule? For example, you just said you have more positives, you've already had positives. Thursday has become your big practice day. Were you able to have a normal Thursday practice?
Judge: "As normal as can be. We made sure our guys were moving around, getting tempo, communication, technique work and getting some competition within the practice. We're out here to play football, and we're going to enjoy that."
Q: One of the guys on the COVID list is Julian Love. You've said he's your most versatile defensive back. Is he someone you have to replace with multiple players?
Judge: "Well, I think he replaces multiple guys more so than having to replace him with multiple guys, if that makes sense. His ability to kind of add to the depth is very good. That versatility he brings to the group is something that really allows us to put some flexibility in the game plans. He also has a large role in the kicking game, those are things you have to consider as well when he's out."
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Q: A lot of times, a coach of a team that's been eliminated from the playoffs will get asked in their last couple of games if you want to look at some young guys? Because of all these things we've talked about, you've probably looked at most of the young guys, players like (cornerback) Jarren Williams. Is there anybody who you haven't really had a chance to look at that you want to see in these last two games?
Judge: "To be honest with you, I always take the approach that I'm watching everybody every day. I think you earn playing time, and it's your responsibility to be ready for it when your number is called. We've got a number of guys that have done that with practice squad guys, young guys, or whoever it maybe. So, I'm watching and evaluating everybody every day."
Q: (Running back) Devontae Booker has a chance to set career highs in rushing yards and catches. He was expected to come in here and be Saquon's backup, and he's the leading rusher on the team. Has he exceeded expectations?
Judge: "I think Book is a good back. To be honest with you, he's doing what we thought he'd do. I didn't know anything about career numbers or anything in that regard, but I don't get into personal statistics. However, I would say that Book has been practicing and playing hard. We knew he was a quality player coming in. We knew he was going to have a role this year along with Saquon. It's important for us to be able have two backs to carry the load and make sure we stay fresh throughout the game."
Q: You haven't said publicly whether Mike Glennon or Jake Fromm will start at quarterback. Do you expect both to play? This is an organization that had the same quarterback for 15 years. And you were rarely without Tom Brady when you were in New England. Does a change at quarterback affect the team?
Judge: "Well, I think that's definitely one position you want to have continuity in. When you had the luxury of having an Eli Manning for so long, first off, that comes into the level of play, consistency and health that he obviously demonstrated by taking care of his body and perfecting his craft. And look, it's unfortunate that we lost Daniel (Jones), it really is. But in the meantime, we've had a chance to look at a couple different guys, different packages, and things of that nature. In terms of this weekend, I wouldn't say necessarily that I want to play both guys. I just say I expect everyone to play. To me, we may have different things for different guys at different times. If that ends up factoring into the game plan, then we'll go ahead and use it."
Q: I assume the players have an idea of who's going to play, and I assume that helps their preparation.
Judge: "The players know through the way you practice what each player is expected to do. If they don't, they're just not paying attention, but they all understand. Obviously, this guy has a role within this package. This is what we're expecting to do with this player, so that all builds on itself."
Q: You started the year with a takeaway in the first 11 games. You went through a stretch where you had an interception in eight straight games. Now, you haven't had one in four, and you did not record a takeaway in three of the last four games. Is there an explanation why you're not getting the takeaways that you did earlier in the year?
Judge: "I think we're doing a good job with ball disruption as a team. You see last week we were able to knock three balls off of them in the first quarter through the kickoff and defense. We'll definitely keep making that a point of emphasis, attacking the ball. You've got to keep pursuing the ball and make sure you give yourself an opportunity to get on the ball. We had some near-miss interceptions and some near-miss fumble recoveries. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but I see the emphasis and the players playing with the right effort. Sometimes, the ball has to bounce a certain direction. We always talk to our safeties about breaking. Sometimes, they're in the right spot, it looks like it's tipped, it goes the other way, and we say, 'Look, you've still got to break full-speed because when it comes that way, you've got to be ready to catch that thing.'"
Q: (Linebacker) Tae (Crowder) hasn't missed a snap since Blake (Martinez) got hurt (in Week 3). I don't recall him missing a practice. He's your leading tackler. He calls the signals. For a young guy to come in and take on all this responsibility, is it safe to assume you're very pleased with his response to the situation?
Judge: "It's a large increase in a role to become the signal caller and play that kind of ball. Then, obviously, Tae is a young player who only played one year of linebacker in college. This is really his third year playing linebacker. He's definitely still growing within the position. But (linebackers coach) Kevin Sherrer and (assistant head coach/defensive coordinator) Pat (Graham) are doing a really good job of working with him and helping him come long. I'm very pleased with the progress he's making and how he's working."
Q: You fielded a (punter) Riley Dixon question the other day and said you support him, but you also expect a little more out of him. You're not a stats guy, but his numbers are identical to what they were last year – punts, gross and net average. Is it that one punt a game that causes people to say, "What's wrong with Dixon?"
Judge: "I go into special teams questions all the time, and I would say the statistics are the most misleading thing in special teams. Each play is truly situational. You're looking for situational execution of the play, the placement, how you're calling it game plan-wise. So, to me, I never get into statistics for special teams. We are in the northeast. I coached for a long time in a city that's pretty miserable for specialists, to be honest with you. We used to tell the punters all time, 'You're never going to lead the league in punting, that's not your job. Your job is not to have high statistics, your job is to be situationally effective.' So, I never get into or look at the statistics of the punters, I just don't get into it. I know what they're doing as far as helping our coverage or helping our field position by watching the tape, and that's how I evaluate them."
*Q: Last month, we talked about this week's trip to Chicago and you said, "the colder, the better." The temperature might be in the teens there on Sunday. Why do you like the cold weather so much? *
Judge: "I just think the elements are a fun part of playing football. The one thing that's great about football season is you get to start in the heat of summer, and you get to end it in the cold of winter. That's a lot of fun, you get to go through kind of the true seasons. We were talking the other day, and I told the guys, 'Listen, we're getting to play in Chicago on New Year's. If you play in Chicago, when else would you want to play there?' And if we're lucky, it looks like there is a chance of snow."
Q: The Bears had all three of their quarterbacks (Justin Fields, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles) in practice this week. How do you prepare for three quarterbacks?
Judge: "You've got to make sure that you build in the variety of what they do with different guys and that you're sound in all the schemes. But ultimately, you've got to make sure you fit the things they do with all the guys and make sure you're sound against that."
Q: Is it too simplistic to say that Foles and Dalton are fairly similar, and Fields is more of a runner?
Judge: "I think that is too simplistic. I think all three have their own element of game planning. They use these guys in similar ways as well as in different ways. Each guy has his own personality as a player. I don't think it's fair to lump those guys in the same category and try to separate Foles and Dalton from Fields. There's obviously differences, but I think they're all unique."
Q: Not to bring up an unpleasant day, but you've seen Foles at his best (in Super Bowl LII).
Judge: "Yeah, I absolutely have. This guy, he's a good quarterback, and I've seen him multiple times now. He's very, very effective. And yeah, exactly what you said, I've seen him up close and personal, and he's a good quarterback."
Q: So much attention is on who the quarterback is, but they're one of the best rushing teams in the league.
Judge: "They are. I think it comes from their commitment to balance. They stay very committed to the run. (David) Montgomery is a very good runner. He runs tough, he has good vision and good agility. He can really extend plays, run through arm tackles and bounce off players. I really like the way he plays with a good, high motor and toughness. When you talk about these guys, they have good schemes and good systems. I think (head coach) Matt (Nagy) just does a good job, and obviously (offensive coordinator) Bill (Lazor) calling the plays, of keeping balanced as a team and really playing the right way."
Q: Robert Quinn has 17 sacks. Does he jump out on the tape? Also, (linebacker) Roquan (Smith) has 50 more tackles than anybody on the team.
Judge: "They've got a lot of talent upfront on that defense. I had the opportunity of coaching (defensive tackle Akiem) Hicks before. I think he's a high motor player. He's a really good dude. He's obviously a very talented player, he makes an impact in the game. You talk about Quinn on the edge. They got a number of players in the stack as well, so there's a lot of talent on this defense. They definitely have been able to assemble the right kind of guys to fit their system, and they play very aggressive."
Q:*What*makes Quinn so effective?
Judge: "I think he's got a lot of really good instincts. He's got a good jump and speed off the edge. He's able to bend, turn around the corner and get the quarterback. But I think the biggest thing is he uses his instincts of when to counter back and when to make a counter move. He really understands the flow of the play and anticipates where the quarterback is going to be. He does a really, really good job with that first step off the ball. But then, he also has a high motor. A lot of his sacks come on extended plays. Not just scrambles, but just the length of your plays, where he makes a second move and gets you when you lull and fall asleep."
Q: And lastly, the special teams. They traded for a return specialist (Jakeem Grant, Sr.) who's going to the Pro Bowl. And (defensive back) Deon Bush has seven special teams tackles.
Judge: "They are both very good players. I had the opportunity to coach against both of them. I was in the division with Grant for a while. I'm fully aware of what he's capable of doing. He's definitely a strength of their team. He's made some big impact plays. This team is very, very aggressive. They'll return the ball in plus-50, they'll bring it out of the end zone with kickoffs or punts. They'll do a lot of things to roll the dice, but they know how to get that return game started. When you're playing at this time of year in the cold weather, the ball doesn't sit up there with quite as much hang time. The directional placements are never as good, so you've got to go down there and you've got to cover."
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