EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, Giants.com's weekly interview with Giants head coach Joe Judge:
Q: COVID is back, unfortunately. You see what's happening with teams like the Rams and the Browns and you have seven players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as of this conversation. What extra precautions are you taking this week? What are you doing differently?
Judge: "We've gone virtual with our meetings once we started having the tests pop up. We've spread the team out. We're thinning out how many guys are in the locker room at a time. Everybody is masked up around the building. Outside, we'll continue with practice, we'll see how (Thursday) goes, and we'll see how we're going to handle Friday and Saturday, but I would anticipate it again being more virtually based at this moment. So, probably the constant has been consistent reports with trainers of multiple guys getting tested. It's COVID along with the flu coming on through the building, so there's a mix of what the different tests are bringing back."
Q: I imagine you've talked about this with the players all along. It's never really gone away. Do you just keep reminding them that they must be careful, watch what they're doing and who they're with?
Judge: "I think it's important for everyone to follow the protocols that the league has set forth. You've got to keep in mind, especially this time of year, with what the NFL has warned guys about with the holidays and things of that nature, who you're around and things. But I think the thing we're all finding out and learning is how this stuff spreads so unpredictably and how fast it spreads. Sometimes, it can be assumed how somebody got it, and when you're all together in the same room at the same hotel for a short time, and one guy gets it, and five guys don't get it, who were all in the same spot. It's funny how it spreads."
Q: You have (three) defensive backs – and another who is a close contact - two receivers, and two linebackers with it. How does it affect you constructing a game plan, and do you have to have more contingencies based on who may or may not play this week?
Judge: "We're going through a lot of gymnastics right now with all the depth charts in terms of as we lose players or get players back, how does that affect what we do schematically and making sure we everybody is prepared. We're doing some bonus extra time with a lot of the younger guys and practice squad guys to make sure they're thorough on the game plan. We're anticipating having some movement going all the way up to the game. We've told every player it's their job and responsibility to be in-tune and prepared for the game. It's our job as coaches to make sure we give all the information and get everyone prepared."
Q: You've never really been in this situation before, four games to play and effectively out of the playoff race. You've coached on winning teams. You've won championships. Your coaches have won championships. Is this difficult for you and for them to go through this?
Judge: "Our focus remains the same: get our team prepared every week and go out there and compete for 60 minutes to be successful. That doesn't change. Look, I know there's a lot of progress that we want to go ahead and make as an organization. There's a lot of foundational pieces that are being put in place that can carry over into the future, so the emphasis is on continuing to build where we're going. But every team I've ever been a part of, I don't care if it's years we've won world championships or years we come up short, the focus has to be on what you're doing that week and keeping the focus narrow on what the task at hand is. At no point have I ever been part of a team that's been successful where you even thought about hypothetical games, or you even thought about some kind of big picture that doesn't exist yet. It's all about the steps at hand and making sure you improve week-by-week as a team."
Q: As you just said, the goal remains to win every game, and you've talked several times about the foundation you're building within trying to win the game. Is part of your objective in this last month to identify more of the pieces of the foundation or at least get a better idea?
Judge: "Yeah, absolutely. That's what has to happen continuously throughout the year anyway. We've got a lot of young players. A lot of them who have started playing more throughout the back end of the year. It's important that they gain experience, and it's important for us as a team to keep gaining continuity with each other. As we talked with (quarterback) Daniel (Jones) the other day, Daniel's been limited with what he's been able to do with the team. He's practicing, but he hasn't been able to play. It's important that he continues to stay involved and throw with the skill group. These are going to be his teammates next year. These will be the guys he's throwing to next year. It's important to keep on building with the chemistry and rapport, and build toward not only what we're doing with remaining four games, but also in the future as a team."
Q: We see him throwing in practice, interacting with teammates, staying engaged. How is he on game day? Is he good with suggestions? Does he talk to the coaches? Would you prefer he just step back and watch? What do you want him doing on game day, and how is he on game day?
Judge: "He's a phenomenal teammate on game day. He's very supportive of his teammates. Whether it's him with (quarterbacks coach) Jerry (Schuplinski), (senior offensive assistant) Freddie (Kitchens), (offensive quality control coach) Nick Williams or myself at times, he's very clear about something he may see. You talk with the quarterbacks, and those guys always kind of ping out ideas of things they like. They'll say, 'Hey, this is what they're playing. This could have a chance.' So, it's good to get that feedback from the player's perspective. Bouncing ideas off each other, coaches and players, that's just a natural process of what happens throughout a game, but he's done a great job for us as far as staying in-tune to the game plan and tuned into the game. He's being a very supportive, helping teammate, and that's where his leadership is really showing up strong right now."
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their NFC East matchup against the Cowboys.
Q: With (quarterback) Mike's (Glennon) third start, you've seen him play a couple of games now. Can you tailor plays to him in the game plan now that are maybe better suited for him, that he's more comfortable with or runs better?
Judge: "I think Mike has run our offense. The coaches have already done a good job within the game plans of doing things that are carved out to Mike's strengths and putting our players in positions where they can win matchups and have opportunities in space to make plays."
Q: You are 4-0 at home against division teams. You have won your last three home games. Do you have a sense that you are developing a home field advantage here?
Judge: "Only if we play our best football. We love the crowd here. We love the energy. We love the atmosphere, but it always comes down to how you play on that select day."
Q: (Defensive lineman) Raymond Johnson III was the only rookie free agent to make the original roster, and after (defensive lineman) Leonard (Williams) went out, he played a season-high 25 snaps last week. How has he progressed? What did you see from him last week in his extended stint?
Judge: "The more experience Ray gets, the better he plays. Throughout the year, sometimes the volume of the game changes with Ray based on the opponent and based on the players' roles as well, but he's done a good job progressing. He's getting a good feel for the speed of the league. He's getting a good feel for the schemes and techniques he's got to play with, so I'm pleased with where he is at this point. He's far from what he's going to be as a player, but he's still developing."
Q: You recovered an onside kick last week. How many successful onside kicks have you had in your NFL career?
Judge: "I can think of three right now. We haven't had to kick a ton of onside kicks. I think it's three right now."
Q: Is that one of the hardest plays to convert?
Judge: "It really is. It's become more challenging for the hands team this year, but it is. You have to keep in context the limited approach that the kickoff team gets, the spacing from where the ball is going to leave the tee, to the hands team and giving them the perspective on judging the ball and reacting. It takes some good execution. It takes the right bounce at the right time. It's one of those plays where you've got to be very on-point as the team kicking the ball. You got to take advantage of some kind of mistake or miscue by the hands team at some point."
Q: Is (punter) Riley (Dixon) just better at doing that than (kicker) Graham (Gano)?
Judge: "That's really not too unique to the NFL. Normally, it's between the specialists. And look, I've had (defensive back) Nate Ebner kick onside kicks for me before in games with his rugby background, so it's not overly unique to just find whoever has the best kick on the team. Graham has different types of kicks than Riley. Riley has a variety of kicks as well, so we kind of fool around with a lot of things. Those guys do it in practice, and we use the best one for that game."
Q: A league-wide special teams question. Last week in the Chicago-Green Bay game, we had the first punt return for a touchdown in the NFL this season. Why do you think there's been so few of them now? I can see it on kickoff returns because there are so many touchbacks. Why do you think it has happened with the punt return touchdown?
Judge: "Well, I think it's a combination of a lot of factors. One, punters have gotten a lot better. Two, the threat of fakes on fourth and short force a lot of people to play eight in the box, which puts singles over the gunners. The gunners are fast and talented. They can get down and force fair catches and cover more effectively with singles. Then, the other thing is that league-wide offenses are in better field position when punting. When you're closer to midfield, that changes the way you approach returns, and it changes the way you approach the schematics of the play. A lot of times, it limits the opportunities as well as just makes it a longer return for the return team. So, I think there's some different factors in that. I don't think it's forever. I think you're going to see it come back. A lot of times, it's based on who the returners in the league are, to be honest with you. When (former All-Pro returner) Devin Hester is out there, he's going to catch that ball and bring it back. A lot of times, it depends on who the returners are and the opportunities that are presented to you."
Q: You host Dallas on Sunday. When you play a division opponent two months after the first meeting, how helpful is it to go back and review the first game?
Judge: "It's critical. You have to be able to see schematically and also matchup-wise with your own personnel what happened and what was the result? But then, there's also differences as well. You got to see what they have changed since your first game schematically and personnel-wise. How are different players playing for them? Young players play better. Has there been a player that's being taken advantage of somehow? What have different teams done against them to neutralize some their strengths? And then, what are they doing as far as different modes? What has evolved through their game plan throughout the year?"
Q: The Cowboys are number two in the league in scoring and yards-per-game and ranked in the top 10 in both rushing and passing. Do you think this is as talented a team as you've played all season?
Judge: "Yeah, absolutely. First off, I think the way they've built that roster up over years - that offensive line has always been one of the strongest in the league, and that really enables you to do everything. You can run the ball, you can pass the ball, you can sit back there with time. Then, when you have a successful offense, the defense can play with the lead and play more aggressive because teams have to play catch up with you. But, Dak (Prescott) is doing a phenomenal job. I think he really is a great player. I love the way he handles himself off the field. He's a tough competitor. He's done a great job coming back from that injury last year and really not missing a beat."
Q: Defensively for a lot of years, DeMarcus Lawrence was their only consistent player. Now, they have several of them. You talked about (linebacker) Micah (Parsons) this week. (Defensive end Randy) Gregory has six sacks. (Cornerback Trevon) Diggs has nine interceptions. Does (defensive coordinator) Dan (Quinn) move Parsons around a lot?
Judge: "They move him around throughout all their packages. They find different ways of matching him up in the rush game of who they want to put him over, whether it's an edge player or it's one of your guards inside. They can put him in a stack and then shoot a gap off some movement in front of them, so they do a good job moving around and disguising it. He's a very athletic, very effective player. He's strong, he's got good first step quickness, and he's got good power to lean on through and get a good dip to the rush. He does a very good job. He's obviously evolving very quickly through his career."
Q: When you have a very good player who moves a lot, do you tell the quarterback that he must know where that player is before each snap?
Judge: "Based on the scheme you're running, absolutely, but they have a number of players you have to be aware of where they are, so you can't send everything on just one player. But absolutely, you have to be aware of where '11' is at all times."
Q: When you face a team that has 27 takeaways and leads the league in interceptions, I know you remind the team all the time about ball security and taking care of the ball, but is it a particular emphasis this week?
Judge: "Ball security is always our top emphasis. The turnovers and the penalties are the two biggest factors in winning and losing a lot of times, and those are things you control. So, in terms of the ball security, it's obviously a main point for us. We'll continue to emphasize that throughout practice this week."
Q: Their punter, (Bryan) Anger, leads the league in net punting. I don't know if (running back) Tony Pollard is going to play, but he has the league's best kickoff return average. You always talk about (special teams coordinator) John Fassel and the job he does. What makes his group so special?
Judge: "I think the success the punter is having, and he's a very talented punter, but it's tied into the scheme Bones (Fassel) gives him. Really, look at the history of Bones with the fakes, it makes a lot of teams play eight in the box against them. And as I said earlier, when you have very fast gunners, like (Cornerback C.J.) Goodwin, you put him outside in a single, and you get a big-leg punter punting it, you eliminate a lot of return opportunities, so it all ties into how teams have to play schematically to make sure they eliminate the fake by playing extra players in a box. And then, it combines and ties together with the talented specialists and core players at gunner to go ahead and give them that field position."
Q: Their kickoff return average is one of the best in the league, their punt return average is the lowest. Why the big difference in your opinion?
Judge: "They had the (100-yard) touchdown against the Raiders, that's a huge return. Normally, when you have the one big return, one thing about the return game is statistically you almost want to do like a bell curve and take away the top and the bottom number to see really where you are in the middle. Special teams can be very deceiving in statistics because a lot of times, it takes one big return to go from 32nd in the league to the top 10, and that's just the reality of what it is. Coaching special teams for a long time, you look at it without the top one and the bottom one. But they have explosive returners back there in both phases. A big part of the difference, like we talked about earlier in terms of the punt returns, is sometimes the opportunities just aren't presented to you, and you can't force it in the return game. You have to take what comes to you."
View rare photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.