EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Coach’s Corner, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: In Dallas, the offense gained 470 yards, the highest total since you became coach last year. Is that an indication that you did do some good things in Dallas that you can build on?
Shurmur: “Yardage is one thing. Scoring is another. It’s important that when we get our opportunities to score, we score.”
Q: So, you’re not that thrilled about the yards?
Shurmur: “No, because I think we need to do a better job of taking advantage of our scoring opportunities.”
Q: As you go through the week, do you emphasize the positive things you did and try to build on them, or do you look more at the negative things that you need to correct?
Shurmur: “Both. You always want to practice the things that you did well. But then you also have to, really first, address the things that you didn’t do well and try to correct them. It runs parallel.”
Q: Last week when we spoke, you said we are going to see if the offensive line is better this year. Based on the first look the other day, what were your thoughts on the line, particularly your new right side (Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers)?
Shurmur: “Comparing to how we blocked early in the year last year, I thought there were big improvements. Certainly, the challenge now is to make sure that we do it on a consistent basis. We’re playing a Buffalo team that’s outstanding at rushing the passer and stopping the run. So, it’ll be another big challenge for us.”
Q: You’re frequently asked this, but I want to address the Saquon Barkley touch issue. In the second quarter in Dallas, you ran 11 plays, seven of them in the two-minute drill. How much of his workload is dictated by how the game is being played? Do you have to call plays according to how the game is being played and not force the ball to him?
Shurmur: “No, I mean it’s important that he touches the ball. I’ve acknowledged that, and I think it’s important the way it played out in that game, and there are many reasons for it. We had four possessions in that half. One of them was a two-minute drive, which typically means more passes. That’s just the way the game played out, and you have to try to call it. But as I mentioned earlier in the week, he’s had some of his biggest games when we’ve thrown him the ball. That’s the advantage that Saquon brings. He can run with it and be explosive, but you can also throw him passes and he can do the same.”
Q: Two-for-11 on third down obviously leaves room for improvement. As you looked at the tape, was there a common thread or two that caused the third-down issues?
Shurmur: “Well, two-for-11 basically means that of those plays, we need to convert on probably three or four more in order to be at an acceptable level. You’re certainly trying to be 100%. But in each situation, it came down to something different. You just correct it and move on.”
Q: One of the big defensive questions prior to the game was whether you could generate a pass rush. You didn’t have a sack and had just two pressures. What can you do to get more pressure on the quarterback?
Shurmur: “Part of it is we need to keep trying to improve the basic techniques with regard to pass rush. Certainly, there are some schematic things that you can probably do. We just need to do better. We faced an offensive line that blocked extremely well, and we weren’t able to generate much pressure there. We just need to keep working on it.”
Keep an eye on these five players when the Giants host the Bills in Week 2.
Q: The rookie you brought in, Tuzar Skipper, had five sacks in the preseason for Pittsburgh. What did he show you when you looked at him?
Shurmur: “We felt like he was a guy that could generate some rush and play on the edge for us. We felt like he was a good add.”
Q: The issues that you had in the secondary have been well-documented. You have veteran guys like Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins), (Antoine) Bethea, Mike Thomas here. How much can they help the younger players get past a rough start?
Shurmur: “We just need to keep working. This is a game that you need to practice. It’s a long season, and we need to do what we can to just keep continuing to get better each day. The older players can help the younger players because they’ve been through it.”
Q: It’s often said that the team improves the most between the first and second week. Have you seen that with young players in situations like this?
Shurmur: “Young players, especially good young players, will improve throughout the season. As long as they keep working and keep going out there and competing, then they will improve. I think that’s what’s important.”
Q: You spoke many times during training camp about the benefits of Eli Manning being in his second year in the offense. Did you see that during the game, whether it be his communication with the coaches and you, the decisions he made or the way he played?
Shurmur: “I did. I thought he did some things in this first game that we as an offense weren’t able to do last year in our first game. It was more typical of the way we ended the year. I thought he did a good job there.”
Q: When you were in Minnesota during Evan Engram’s draft year (2017), did you study him? Did you envision him becoming this kind of weapon when you first saw him?
Shurmur: “I think he’s typical of what we thought he might be. He’s an outstanding pass receiver and a guy that we felt could develop as a blocker. He did some good things the other night blocking as well. Like anything else, we’re looking for consistency and improvement. He’s still a young player.”
Q: You brought back TJ Jones, who had a good preseason for you. What specifically do you like about him?
Shurmur: “He’s familiar with our system, first off. He has experience returning in the league, so if we need him, he could fulfill that role as well. We feel like we can get him up and running quicker while we’re dealing with what could potentially be some injuries there.”
Q: Conversely, Kareem Martin is not a guy you’re asked a lot about. What do you lose without Kareem (who was placed on injured reserve)?
Shurmur: “He’s a pro and a veteran presence in the room. But he’ll still be around. He’s on I.R. and there are rules about what they can do, but his presence will still be felt in the building.”
Q: This is stating the obvious, but Buffalo, as you mentioned, has a very good defense. The Jets forced four first half turnovers the other day and didn’t score a point off any of them. Is it safe to say that when you get the ball away from them, you need to take advantage?
Shurmur: “Yes. As you said, it’s stating the obvious. I think it’s important that we try to score on every drive. If we’re fortunate enough to have that scenario, then we certainly have to do something with it.”
Q: As you study their defense, (Jerry) Hughes up front, (Tremaine) Edmunds at linebacker, the secondary with (Tre’Davious) White, (Jordan) Poyer and (Micah) Hyde - is there a strength of their defense? Or are they just good everywhere?
Shurmur: “I think they’re talented throughout. They play extremely well together, and I really feel like there’s a reason why they’re one of the best defenses in the league. Obviously, (head coach) Sean (McDermott) and (defensive coordinator) Leslie (Frazier) do a great job coaching them. That’s their culture and they play it well.”
Q: Dave Gettleman and you obviously studied all the quarterbacks coming out in the ’18 draft. You face one of them this week in Josh Allen. You were asked earlier this week about your evaluation of Allen last year…
Shurmur: “Right, I said he is a big, strong-armed guy who we felt had a chance to be a starter, one of 32 in the world, which I consider high praise. I also mentioned that he has already helped his team win some big games, so he’s a winner. He is an outstanding young player with a bright future.”
Q: Allen has a very strong arm and he can also run. He’s bigger than Dak (Prescott), but can he do the same things as the quarterback you faced last week?
Shurmur: “Yes, (Allen is a) big, strong player. He does good things with his arm as well as with his legs. I think he’s an outstanding runner when he breaks contain. They have some structured quarterback runs in their system, and I’m sure they carry those into every game. Situational runs, third down, and red zone. He’s a hard guy to tackle.”
Q: You compete against your friends all of the time in the NFL. Sean and you were on the same staff in Philadelphia for 10 years. Do you prefer to not compete against someone you’re close to? Does it not matter at all?
Shurmur: “Well, it’s unavoidable in our league, because a lot of us grew up in this profession together. Sean and I were originally on the same staff with Andy (Reid). I have a great deal of respect for Sean and what he’s accomplished. We broke in together. I root for him to have success, and then our paths cross and we fight to win. That’s sort of the scenario around the league. I think teams play teams. It’s important for our team to play well and put our best foot forward and try to make enough plays to beat them.”