The Coughlin Corner, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Tom Coughlin.
Q: I know you take them one game at a time, but everyone is aware of the challenging schedule you face in the next several weeks and what time of year it is. It gets late early in the NFL. Do you talk to your team about that need to step it up now?
Coughlin: "You better step it up. You better play your best every game you play. That's what the whole thing is about. Everybody seems to think I need to talk to the team about that. What do you think we talk to them about every day? Being the best they can be. After we came back from the bye, it was a 10-game schedule. Now it's nine. This is the first of the nine-game schedule. We know that with the caliber of this team (the New England Patriots, their opponents Sunday), you're going to have to be at your very, very best. You're going to have to do the things necessary to help you win. You're going to have to be a physical team. You're going to have to keep from shooting yourselves in the foot, whether it be penalties, turnovers, whatever. You're going to have to be opportunistic. You're going to have to take advantage of whatever you can. You're going to have to do something about one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the history of the game (Tom Brady). So we know all about that stuff. The players know. We've certainly given them all the alerts, if you will, and we continue to reinforce that on a daily basis."
Q: I don't know if "frustrating" is the word to use, and obviously winning is most important, but to rely so much on the pass and not be able to get the run going, does that frustrate you at all? Or do you say we won the game…
Coughlin: "We won the game (last week vs. Miami), but we still have to have valid self-analysis. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to know exactly – exactly – what your intentions are, what you want, what your objectives are and why. You have to reinforce them, and we continually do that. Quite frankly, our team, we don't stop the run and we don't run the ball. So those are major issues for us. We've got to do something about that. We're playing against a team that has in six of the seven games they've played, they've not allowed a hundred yards rushing in terms of their defensive team. And they do have the ability to run, as evidenced by late in the Jets game. They decided to put the ball on the ground, and they did. They lined up in run formations, and they still were able to run the ball."
Q: It's a cliché to say when you play in this part of the country you have to run the ball to have success late in the year. Do you think that becomes more important the more you get into the season?
Coughlin: "I think it becomes more important in order to give yourself the best chance to stay away from turning the ball over. If you become one-dimensional, you can be stopped and you can be vulnerable to turning the ball over. If you turn the ball over against very good football teams, like the one we're playing this weekend, you're going to be sorry."
Q: People are looking at Eli's passer rating and completion percentage. My guess is your favorite number so far is five interceptions, although I know that's too much for you. Last year, did he get into a bad habit where he was taking too many chances and now he's not doing that and is more protective of the ball?
Coughlin: "He was very, very conscious of it. I think, in watching him and talking to him, that he's more patient. And that's a key word because sometimes as much as you believe you can, we've seen evidence of a ball being tipped for an interception, which is, again, happening around the league with a lot of teams. This kid, (Kyle) Arrington, that we're playing against this weekend, has been the beneficiary of a couple tipped ball interceptions."
Q: You finally had the defensive line intact last week and you used a lot of combinations. You started the game with five and Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck weren't even among the five. What does the depth and talent up front enable you to do?
Coughlin: "We have versatility if we have everyone available to us. It's a thing which we can be creative with, to a certain extent, but we do know where each individual does his very best work. And we've had the ability to create some issues over the years with the flexibility of our players and we've added to it with JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) and, of course, Mathias (Kiwanuka) plays up, plays down, does a lot of things and who was very productive the other day with the limited number of snaps he had as an end."
Q: Victor Cruz made more big plays against the Dolphins. I'd guess when a rookie free agent from the University of Massachusetts arrives at his first training camp, your first thought is not, "He is going to make a lot of big plays for us." Do you remember what kind of captured your eye about him at first glance?
Coughlin: "So do you. The Jets game (when Cruz scored three touchdowns in the 2010 preseason). He showed the quickness in training camp, but he was just like any young kid. He had a lot to learn and it wasn't something that occurred overnight. And he's still learning. That's one of the really good things about him.
"It doesn't matter where they're from. It doesn't matter. We've seen too much evidence around this league. Jerry Rice! When a player has talent and you can identify that, and he shows the ability to grasp it and move on with it and opportunities create themselves and he takes advantage of them, then you only hope it keeps going, keeps continuing."
Q: One of the most scrutinized decisions on cutdown day was choosing Steve Weatherford as the punter over Matt Dodge. Steve had a big punt the other day. Have you been pleased with how that's worked out and what he's given you?
Coughlin: "He's gotten better week in, week out. What he was able to do the other day was outstanding. It was when the game was truly was on the line and we needed to make a play. He needed a booming punt, and the coverage was outstanding and the tackle by Justin Tryon for a minus-4 made a net 59 yards. Talk about timing - when we needed a play and he made it. And the defense made some plays right on top of that."
Q: You were the wide receivers coach here when Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach. You have said many times that you worked well together…
Coughlin: "That was an individual thing where we had an amount of time each practice that was set aside for working together, whether it be one-on-ones, though after we got out of camp we didn't do much one-on-one work. But we did a lot of recognizing different coverage combinations, if you will. Bill was the coordinator and the secondary coach. What he wanted to experiment with, to find out or encourage the best way to play some of the outstanding receivers we were going to play against and we needed to make sure we were making the right adjustments on the offensive side of the ball. So it was very beneficial for both of us. We always looked forward to it. Even in training camp, we probably did more work together than the Giants were used to doing. Bill used to kind of complain about it a little bit, but he let it happen. He didn't stop it from happening. So we continued to do a lot of work. We did an awful lot of red zone one-on-one, a ton of that. You have to be extremely accurate. Your timing and execution have to be right on the money, period. I didn't realize it at the time. But going forward, I would just say that it was good for our staff, our entire staff, the way that we worked because it was very beneficial and everybody knew it was."
Q: Is that the kind of cooperation you demand from your assistant coaches?
Coughlin: "That's what I expect. We talk about that all the time – professionalism and how to work across the ball with each other. What we attempt to do is win games. It's not about offense. It's not about defense. It's not about special teams. It's about team. It's about everyone on the staff in terms of their ability to help everyone else be the best they can be."
Q: When outsiders look at the Patriots offense, they likely see Brady and Wes Welker. But is the fact that they use two tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) so often unusual in today's game?
Coughlin: "The Indianapolis Colts have done it for a long time. It's just the fact that Hernandez really plays like a wide receiver and they use all the formations that you would use if it was three-wides from his position. He is talented and they use him as such."
Q: They will go to the no-huddle at any time…
Coughlin: "You've got to be ready for it. But you've also got to be ready for the fact that it's sometimes a rally tempo, which is not a rush. It's a quarterback trying to decide what you're doing to put in the best play. And then other times it's at the two-minute pace, which is much faster. You've got to be ready for that as well. We work on that. He does try to catch you with 12 on the field, that type of thing, and he is good at it. You've got to be sharp. One of the things that I thought was missing from our game a week ago was we weren't really as sharp as we can be. We're going to have to be really sharp this game."
Q: Their defense is officially listed as a 3-4, but they use a lot of four-man fronts. Do they go back and forth with that?
Coughlin: "They can. They'll give you some looks that, to the pedestrian, it looks like a 3-4, although the personnel may dictate differently. They have tremendous size inside. That's one of the things they went out and accomplished. So you've got to treat it a certain way. You treat it a certain way in normal situations, and sometimes in pass situations, you treat it differently."
Q: You hosted your seventh annual Champions for Children dinner to benefit the Jay Fund Foundation last week. You had a big crowd and made a lot of money for a great cause. What was your reaction to the evening?
Coughlin: "It was our best to date. And it was very humbling, to be honest with you. I really did think the energy and the enthusiasm in the room was terrific. And our honorees were outstanding. We all feel badly that Steve Sabol (who is battling cancer) could not be with us, but Timmy Shinn and the people that came to honor him and respect him and enjoy the evening on his behalf was tremendous. And the same with Steve. I just thought our players did a great job. They came and they stayed and they had dinner and they enjoyed the company that they were with. That meant an awful lot to me as well. It's about the Jay Fund Foundation and it does provide us with an excellent opportunity at that time of the year to have a captive audience, which is primarily a football audience. We don't know the final number because we have to pay our bills first, but it certainly had the feeling that it was the best yet. It was an exciting night."
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