EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Coach’s Corner, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: Is it fair to say that this week is both similar and different than your first 18 games here? You’re preparing to play a game, but you’re also going to play with a rookie quarterback starting for the first time.
Shurmur: “The process of getting ready to play is the same. We’re getting Daniel (Jones) ready to play much like we did Eli (Manning).”
Q: Is there any sort of strangeness to it, having Eli take the scout team snaps? You’ve been involved with quarterback changes many times. Is it strange when it happens?
Shurmur: “It’s obviously something to get used to seeing. Listen, Eli’s role has changed with our team. He’s been an outstanding player for a very, very long time. We sort of covered all of this early in the week. He’s doing everything in his power to get ready to play, because certainly, he could be in the game quickly if something happens to Dan. But he’s also in a position to help Dan become a better player.”
Q: In your coaching career, there have been several instances where a backup quarterback became a starter, for whatever reason. Sometimes, that can inspire a team and make a difference. Is that analogous to now in any way?
Shurmur: “I don’t know. We’ll have to see how it plays out on Sunday. We’re putting Dan in there with the idea that he’s going to help us win football games.”
Q: When a quarterback change is made, do you normally tailor a game plan solely for that quarterback?
Shurmur: “You always tailor the game plan for the quarterback that’s playing, within and around the system that you run. So, that’s certainly what we’re going to do.”
Q: You’ve coached or been on teams with high profile rookie or young quarterbacks before, including (Donovan) McNabb and (Sam) Bradford. Is there a certain way you deal with a younger, less experienced quarterback that maybe you don’t with a more experienced quarterback?
Shurmur: “There are things that they don’t know yet about the game. You certainly try to give them what they can do and execute well. You try not to burden them with things that slow them down mentally.”
Q: Is there a common trait, beyond just the physical ability, that enables them to succeed at a young age, in your opinion?
Shurmur: “The key trait that good quarterbacks need to have is they have to be able to use good judgement, be good decision-makers and they have to be smart. The smarter the player is, the more football intelligence he has. The more he’s trained himself to be a good decision-maker, that helps him in this process.”
Q: Dave (Gettleman) has said that he solidified his conviction about Daniel watching him in the Senior Bowl practices and the game. What were your first thoughts or impressions about Daniel? What solidified it, and when, for you?
Shurmur: “As I got to know him going through the process, it became clear to me that he was going to be the right choice. Since he’s gotten here, he’s done everything we’ve asked, and in our eyes, competed and performed at a high level.”
Q: If somebody wasn’t aware that Eli was not the starter anymore, just watching him this week, could you think he hadn’t changed roles just by how he’s going about his business?
Shurmur: “Absolutely. When I visited with Eli and Daniel on Tuesday, it was just a conversation. Then they got back to doing Tuesday things, getting ready to practice. From that standpoint, nothing has changed.”
Q: Just to stick with the offense, the offensive line allowed two sacks in two games. Last year, it was almost three (sacks) per game. Do you think this group is pass protecting better than what you had in the past?
Shurmur: “I think they’re playing better than they did a year ago. It’s important to mention always that none of us have played well enough to win a game. But I feel like we’ve made some additions to the offensive line that has helped. I also feel like we’ve developed some of the younger players to a position where they can compete at a higher level."
Q: The defense has a lot of things going on - long touchdown drives by your opponents, no takeaways. Where do you start turning around the defense?
Shurmur: “It has to be each play, one play at a time. If they choose to run the ball, we have to make sure we control that. When they throw the ball, we have to be tight in coverage and get pressure on the quarterback. We need to do it one play at a time, and we have to string together more good plays.”
Q: After the Bills scored three straight touchdowns, they punt on four consecutive possessions, not including the kneel down. Did you think the defense had turned a corner? Then after TJ Jones’ touchdown made it 21-14, Buffalo went down and scored again.
Shurmur: “I think we played better in the second half on defense. I feel like there are some things there that we can build on. I feel like, generally speaking, we challenged better. Again, you don’t want to let them score, but I feel like there were some things there that we can certainly build on.”
Q: Speaking of that drive, it would have been just three points if it had not been for that penalty (for unnecessary roughness on Dexter Lawrence when the Bills kicked a field goal that was taken off the board when the infraction gave them a first down).
Shurmur: “It might have been none if we had intercepted the second (pass). Typically on a long scoring drive, the defense will have an opportunity to stop it, either by downs or by turnovers. In that case on that drive, we had two balls that were tipped up in the air that we just simply need to catch. To me, those are things that you can work on and areas that we can get better.”
Q: Can you teach takeaways?
Shurmur: “Yes. The ball got tipped in the air, which was good. We got pressure on the quarterback, and now we just merely need to catch it. Then in terms of balls on the ground, the more that we run to the football, the more guys we have around the football, the better chance we have to fall on it.”
Q: At the end of that drive, Lawrence had what seemed to be a questionable penalty. How do you teach a player to do the right thing on something like that, when it looks like he already did the right thing?
Shurmur: “You just have to make him aware of the fact that somebody on the field saw that as a foul. We’re continually trying to play error-free football with regard to penalties, and so you try to coach it that way.”
Q: (Rookie cornerback) DeAndre Baker has a lot of talent but has struggled at times. As you work with a young player in that situation, is it more technique-based, or psychological and mental?
Shurmur: “I think it’s everything. With a young player, there are obviously things physically that he needs to do at this level. Certainly, everything starts with being able to see things the right way, react to things the right way, and then use your skill and ability to play the technique that you’re taught.”
Q: Did you think the pass rush was improved last week?
Shurmur: “It was better. Yeah, we were a little better in pass rush. We forced their quarterback to run a few times. He just happens to be a guy that can run. But that’s what you want to be. You want to be able to disrupt.”
Q: How do you think (rookie inside linebacker) Ryan Connelly played?
Shurmur: “I thought he did a good job. He had his mistakes in there as well, but he has a good feel for the game. He’s the type of guy that as he plays more, he’ll become more and more proficient.”
Q: Saquon (Barkley) had 55 yards on the first drive. Defenses are always keying on him, but when he starts a game like that, do you see defenses focusing on him even more?
Shurmur: “No. I think he’s always the focus of the defenses that we’re playing.”
Q: The Buccaneers’ defense looks a lot different from when you played them 10 months ago. Todd Bowles is there as coordinator. Their front seven held Carolina to 39 rushing yards. What do you see from them?
Shurmur: “They’re a good defense. They’re hard to run against in their base defense because they have five on the line. They make it difficult on you. They’re playing well, so they obviously understand their scheme and they believe in what they’re being taught. They’re good players who have had success.”
Q: Jameis Winston has had turnover issues, but when he’s good, he’s very good. We saw that last year when he came into your game against Tampa Bay (and led the Bucs to the four second-half touchdowns)
Shurmur: He’s an outstanding player. That combined with the fact that he’s with a guy that will help get the best out of him in (new head coach) Bruce Arians and (offensive coordinator) Byron Leftwich, he’s fortunate to be coached by those guys and, for them, I think it’ll be a good combination.”
Q: A lot of their targets, (Mike) Evans, (Chris) Godwin, (OJ) Howard, are tall. Does size concern you in itself, to go with their skill?
Shurmur: “They’re big players, and that allows them at times to play above the rim. Listen, no matter how tall the receiver is, we have to do a good job of challenging them. Obviously, anything you can do to disrupt the throws helps. Then our guys have to do a good job of staying tight in coverage.”
Q: Evans can join Randy Moss as the only guys with six straight 1,000-yard seasons to start a career. Is he about as good of a receiver as you can go up against?
Shurmur: “He’s an outstanding player. He’s obviously had success for a very long time.”