EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Coach’s Corner, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: The team is going into the bye after this game and has lost five straight. Is the sense of urgency greater this week than usual?
Shurmur: “No. We’ve had the urgency, and the sense of purpose has been high all year. We’ve practiced hard. We just need to take what we do in practice and put it on the field. We’ve had stretches of really good play. We’ve just fallen victim to game-changing plays that have hurt us in close games.”
Q: You have both won and lost prior to a bye. Whatever happens on Sunday against the Jets stays with you for two weeks. Any greater urgency because you have the bye coming up?
Shurmur: “You’ve used the word urgency a bunch. I don’t necessarily feel like… I think you’re always urgent to win. I really do. I think everything just has to get done better.”
Q: On Monday night against Dallas, if not for a missed extra point, you’re tied in the fourth quarter. Moving forward, do you tell the players, “Just keep knocking, because we’re going to break through and when we do, we’re not leaving”?
Shurmur: “That’s the message. You just keep working hard, you keep trying to fix the things that have become problems and put a plan together to play the next team.”
Q: You’ve only had four possessions start in opposing territory all year, which is one byproduct of not getting a lot of takeaways. You don’t get the benefit of a short field. How much more difficult is it on on offense when you always have to travel long distances to get to the end zone?
Shurmur: “It goes without saying the further you have to drive the ball, the more good things you have to do, whether it’s executing a big play or being consistent with making sure you make yardage and then convert on third down. Certainly, you’re looking to get the ball as close to their goal line as possible. The closer you get the ball, the better it is.”
Q: You mentioned you wanted to give (Saquon) Barkley a chance to run in the red zone last week. You figure once the offense gets going, so will Barkley. Do you think with Barkley it can work the other way, that he can be the catalyst to get the offense going?
Shurmur: “There are a lot of things that we’re doing where we’re going pretty well. That involves running the football. Each game plays out differently.”
Q: You were asked a couple times about the red zone the other night. When you come close like that and you don’t get the touchdowns, can you devote extra practice time or extra meeting time to that specific area? How do you attack that when that happens?
Shurmur: “Well, there are individual reasons why things don’t work. You’re always practicing those areas and situational football. We just need to make sure we practice well and when we get to the game, do it in the game. We just have to be better. We have to work on it, we have to coach it better and we have to execute better.”
Q: It appears Spencer Pulley will play center this week in place of (Jon) Halapio (hamstring injury). Pulley started 16 games a couple years ago (for the Chargers), he started nine games for you last year. He hasn’t been on the field at all this year. With a veteran like that, do you say, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. We’re going to need you at some point. Stay ready?”
Shurmur: “I think he knew that. I feel like we have what I would consider to be two starting centers. We’re very fortunate, because I think as you go through the season, you need multiple players to perform at a high level. I think he’s going to do a good job for us.”
Q: We often think of those two players as a tandem. How are they different?
Shurmur: “They’re similar in a lot of ways. They’re very smart. Part of being a center is, obviously, directing us, and I think Spencer does a really good job in that area. He’s also got probably a little bit more quickness than Pio. Pio probably has a little bit more power. But for the most part, they are very similar in a lot of ways.”
Q: When you were asked about Daniel Jones’ turnovers, you said, “When you hold the ball, nothing you do is acceptable when you don’t end the down with the ball.” How do you stress that to Daniel so he takes better care of the ball without mitigating his instinctiveness and aggressiveness?
Shurmur: “Well, I think just that. I think there needs to be just a premium placed on when you’re moving around outside the pocket or whatever, you have to lock the ball up. The problem we had the other night was a scramble, which was good. He got down to protect himself, and as he was doing so, the ball came loose. That’s something that we work on, certainly. We practice it, but it’s something that needs to be executed in the game.”
Q: Leonard Williams has not always been a big stat guy, but he’s a very good player. Is he a guy whose presence helps because he occupies blockers and he commands attention, and that helps everyone else on the line?
Shurmur: “I think so. I think he can be an impact player in both the run and the pass. So, when you have a guy like that who can line up in many different spots, I think it helps your defense.”
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Q: (Corey) Ballentine was saying he never played the slot before (last week), that it was a new position for him. Does it require different attributes than out on the corner?
Shurmur: “There’s more happening when you’re on the inside. You have to have good instincts. He had been held back by injuries, so we haven’t been able to practice him as much as we would have liked to in there. But we feel like he’s one of our better corners, and so when you go to nickel, we’re going to put him on the field. But I think he has really good instincts as a football player. There are more variables when you play nickel because you’re on the inside of the defense. It’s like there are times, assignment wise, when it’s more difficult to play guard than tackle. As you get closer to the ball, there are more things that happen. The same can be said about the outside as opposed to the slot. You’re obviously looking for guys that can cover, you’re looking for guys that can tackle, and you’re looking for guys that can blitz and pressure, and it’s all happening faster because you’re closer to the ball.”
Q: What can you expect from Sam Beal, who hasn’t played a game in almost two years?
Shurmur: “We’re going to get him out there, get him going. We’ve seen him practice. He’s a very talented young man that has been held back by injury. We’ll get him in the game and see where he can have an impact.”
Q: Cody Latimer’s 181 kickoff return yards last week are the most by any player this year. Do you believe you now have somebody at that position you can count on?
Shurmur: “I think Cody did a really good job last week. We were very poor in our kickoff return the week before against Detroit. We made a conscience effort on that team to get better in terms of blocking it and running it, and it had a positive effect on the game.”
Q: Your kickoff returns are number one in the league - and your punt and kick coverage are in the top 10 in the league. Have your special teams taken a step up this year?
Shurmur: “I think we’ve made positive contributions. The players are intentional about their work. They play hard on our teams. We’ve had some negative plays that we need to clean up. Missed some kicks, had a kick blocked, those types of things ... obviously, those are the kinds of things that we need to continue to work on. But in terms of overall, I feel like they’re contributing in a good way.”
Q: This is your first Giants-Jets regular season game. There can be kind of a strange vibe in the stadium with fans from both teams and you have to go to a different sideline. Do you need to talk to the players about that, or do you treat it like just another road game?
Shurmur: “Obviously, the optics will be different because we’re on the other sideline. Somebody will tell us which way we have to enter the field, I’m sure. But once the game starts, the field is 53 and one-third (yards wide), 100 yards long, two end zones, and then you play ball. I think that’s where we need to stay in the moment.”
Q: The Jets’ run defense has been very good. They are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. Is the key to their effort the three players up front - (Henry) Anderson, (Steve) McLendon and (Quinnen) Williams?
Shurmur: “I think they do a good job. Gregg Williams does a good job with their defense. We have to do a really good job, whether we choose to run it or throw it, of being very efficient with what we do. Then, if a big play shows up, we need to take advantage of it.”
Q: On offense, they have (quarterback) Sam Darnold and (running back) Le’Veon Bell, but their receivers each have a different strength. Demaryius Thomas is bigger and strong, Robby Anderson is very fast, and Jamison Crowder is a quick player who works underneath. Do they complement each other well?
Shurmur: “I think they’re a good group for all of the reasons you just mentioned. You have one guy that can work inside, you have some size for guys that can play on the outside or guys crossing through the defense. They’re bigger targets. It is a good group.”
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