EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Coughlin Corner, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Tom Coughlin:
Q: In the victories over Chicago and Houston you were pretty much in control the entire game. But last week against Detroit, you had an early turnover and Lions' touchdown, gave up a long touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson and had to stop them when they had a chance to tie the game late. In short, you had to overcome some adversity and obstacles. What does it do for a team to win a game like that?
Coughlin: "You have to play through it and you prove that in some different circumstances within the game you can overcome them. I thought the good thing was that our sideline remained very positive, very much into it, supportive of the young punter (Matt Dodge, who dropped the ball for the turnover). So, I think as a team we're growing and continuing in that direction, which is a good thing."
Q: You have allowed so few big plays like the 87-yard touchdown – is that a shock when that happens?
Coughlin: "It's not a shock, but you don't expect it to take place, and there it did take place. That's another thing - it's 21-17, and you're not out of the woods. You have a lot of work to do. You go up and score again, and all of the sudden, they're right back into it. They get the ball at midfield, kick a field goal, and then they're within a touchdown again. So, it's constant."
Q: So much focus has been placed on this week's game in Dallas, because it's your first within the NFC East this season. Because the team has waited so long for a division game, do you expect the intensity to be ratcheted up this week?
Coughlin: "To say we've been waiting to play a divisional game, that's not true. You take them as they come. Each game is the most important game of the year and so is the next one. Certainly, we have been very familiar, especially around here, with playing division games right off the bat at the start of the season. That did not take place this year on the schedule, so we play our way into the divisional games. In the offseason, you always study your divisional opponents and your new opponents just to make sure that you've got those things as recognizable and understandable as you can make it. We also realize that the most direct route to where you want to get is right through your own division, so that adds extra importance to the game. We're constantly looking at the division and how the teams have matched up and what their records are. That's why when we play this game, we talk about Dallas being 0-1 and we're 0-0."
Q: At this time of year, do you talk to the players about how the division is shaping up and how each team is faring?
Coughlin: "We always talk to them about that. We always show them the divisional record just to keep them posted on who is playing whom, and last weekend was a big weekend in the division."
Q: If you combine the rushing statistics of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, that back would be leading the NFL in rushing. In Jacksonville, some years you had Fred Taylor handle the vast majority of the carries and sometimes you split it up. Do you prefer to use one back extensively or two backs, or do you decide according to what's available to you?
Coughlin: "I think you have to have more than one because, over the course of the season and the many ups and downs, you're going to have trouble with just one guy. We've done it that way, and we've had that experience. But we've also had Natrone Means and James Stewart, then James Stewart and Fred Taylor. We've had opportunities where guys have made strong contributions throughout the course of the 16-game season, and even when one guy gets the majority of the carries, the other guy is critical."
Q: So you prefer to have to two?
Coughlin: "Yes. We have had three around here and that has worked out, too."
Q: The NFL has become such a pass heavy league, yet a lot of 300-yard passers lose and 100-yard rushers most often win. Why do you think it is still so important to run the ball well?
Coughlin: "I think it's the ball control thing in itself. You run the ball and you establish an identity in terms of your physical ability up front. I always think that you have to win the line of scrimmage if you're going to get any place in this business. You're going to have to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. You have to establish who you are from the physical toughness standpoint. When you look at the people in our division, it basically comes down to that. Even when you don't expect the other guy to run the ball, they come up with a game in which they will - like Philadelphia, for example. I just think it has to do with ball control and turnovers and opportunities. You're hoping because you're able to run the ball, that you do have a greater opportunity to take full advantage of your play-action, and that should become a little bit more creative that way. If you do run it, and basically you're getting eight or nine (defenders) in the box, you create some opportunities for the big play and for the passing game."
Q: When Madison Hedgecock got hurt and you moved Bear Pascoe from tight end to fullback, what did you see in Bear that made you think he could successfully make that transition?
Coughlin: "We had been using him there from day one. In training camp, although we had two fullbacks, we always have to have a tight end to know what the assignments are and what's happening at that spot. So, as the season progressed and even when Bear wasn't on the 53 (man roster), he would take the scout squad fullback assignments or he would help in that regard and be very much aware of what was going on with us. We simply continued, and we didn't want to lose track of that. If you can't do that, we could get caught again with having to trade roster spots in order to solve issues. That's not always a good game to play because once you start, you have to continuously balance your roster so that you do have your proper availability on both sides of the ball as you go through the season and experience some of the nicks."
Q: It must be invaluable to have someone who can play two positions like that:
Coughlin: "It is. The one thing that I think about Bear is that he gives you everything he's got. He's smart."
Q: Osi Umenyiora is second in the NFL with 8.0 sacks. Physically, Osi isn't the biggest guy in the room and he is significantly outweighed by the tackles trying to block him. So how does he succeed?
Coughlin: "He's relentless and he takes full advantage of what he has. He has incredible quickness. His premiere move is the edge move, but he can go underneath and he definitely has the bull move. People who are not ready for that really do get shocked back on their heels when he comes with that move. He has a full variety of compliments, and he loves it. He's persistent, he's relentless, he just keeps coming until the opportunity is there."
Q: Is size itself underrated at that position?
Coughlin: "No, not really. You do have to be able to play the run, and he has played the run well for us this year, too. I don't want to say it's underrated. You like to have all those ingredients."
Q: Matt Dodge seems to have an issue a week, but he has rebounded nicely and kicked well. Do you look at him and say to yourself that if he develops some consistency, he's going to be a very good NFL punter?
Coughlin: "That's how it starts. It's very difficult to come back from the kind of setbacks that occur unnecessarily right within your own backyard. He's well aware of that. Again, the mental toughness part of it to overcome those things as a team and as an individual, along the way you're going to have to do that. He learns from it, and if we harden ourselves because of it, and we have occasions where we overcome, those are all good. You certainly recognize the strength of leg immediately, and he works very hard."
Q: Is Tony Romo more dangerous when he gets out of the pocket? Is he one of those quarterbacks you try to keep bottled up?
Coughlin: "He buys times, and he has such an outstanding group of receivers that when you buy time, and now he's not on an absolute clock, it's difficult to stay plastered on those receivers. You like to think that he has to throw the ball on your time."
Q: Do those receivers present different problems because they're so tall?
Coughlin: "They're big, strong, fast. They present problems that way, too. They have tight ends, third receivers, all these backs that can be thrown to. They have a lot of weapons."
Q: This week you were asked about the fact that Dallas is the first 3-4 defense you've seen since the preseason, and you said you have to know all your rules. What do you mean by rules?
Coughlin: "With your run game and your pass game, you have different rules for the different fronts. You quickly point back to the 3-4, first and second down 3-4 mode. Of course, there are sub-packages and different packages all together in terms of your recognition of what the personnel presents. The outsider rushers (DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer) are very good."