The Coughlin Corner, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Tom Coughlin:
Q: The season opener is Sunday in Washington. What does opening day mean to you?
Coughlin: "It still generates a lot of emotion and enthusiasm. The feeling you get on the sidelines and during the national anthem will be even greater this year because it will be the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is just as exciting as ever, the balancing factor being the opponent and how you go into the game and those types of things. The emotion and excitement and why you coach it and why you play it is all there."
Q: What are some of the challenges you face when preparing for an opening game?
Coughlin: "There are unique challenges, particularly when you are facing someone you don't have any past record on or if it is a first-time head coach or someone you don't have any research information based on the offseason. You always have to balance things out in regards to what are they showing and what are they not showing. What has he done in the past that he is not showing now? How does he cater to his personnel? What is the obvious objective of preseason and then it is looking hard at what they have done with their personnel.
"This team (the Redskins) went out and got seven starters and I'm not talking about the draft sequence either, I am talking about through free agency and trades. They built themselves seven starters and their number one draft choice gives them eight starters that weren't there a year ago. You have a lot of things that have to be analyzed and how these people fit with what they are trying to do and the influence of these different players in their system and how those players can impact what they already have. You have a lot of that type of analysis and conjecture that you have to speculate on. You can't just sit and say, 'Okay, that is what I see in preseason.' You have to speculate on where you think they are heading."
Q: Are there more adjustments on the fly in the first game?
Coughlin: "You have that anytime anybody comes in with a different plan, whether it's on offense, defense or special teams. That is what you do. Your whole sideline and game day circumstances are about adjusting, changing or reacting. What do you see and what don't you see? That type of stuff. In a normal year, you have studied the offseason and you already have a game plan and all you are doing is updating it based on what you see in preseason and then you have to weigh again what kind of emphasis you put on what you saw in preseason. Are you disregarding it or are you disregarding what you saw last season."
Q: Because you didn't have an offseason program and didn't have two-a-days in training camp, do you have any less of a feel for your team than you normally do prior to the season opener?
Coughlin: "Well, again you have to have people that are going to come through for you and play the way you visualize playing. You always have adjustments. You always have things that have to be changed based on personnel. Those are the real issues. How are people going to perform under the pressure of the first game in the National Football League? Therein lays how you are going to play and how you are going to perform. Then you go through the gambit of, 'Has the opponent improved? Are you going to protect the passer well? Is everyone on the same page in regards to the blitz timing and who can cover and who can't cover? What issues are you being forced to confront, even if you don't want to with the style of attack on defense or offense?' You have a guy like (Brandon) Banks, who is a kick returner and punt returner, what are your thoughts there? Are you going to be the kind of punt team that is going to be able to keep the ball away from him or pin him on the boundaries? Are you going to be able to do that for the length of the game?"
Q: You've lost six defensive players to season-ending injuries. Do you discuss them with the entire team? Or does mentioning them give the players an excuse?
Coughlin: "There are no excuses. Most of our feelings are for the player that is injured and, of course, we wish him well, knowing full well that he is emotionally in a state of shock right away. Everything he desired and wanted and was excited about from a professional standpoint is taken away from him for that year. We just were honest about it and then the next move is to move on. Let's go and move forward. There is absolutely no thought or pity and there is no spending anytime for remorse. You get yourself off the floor and you go make your adjustments and move forward. Dealing with it is not an easy thing and one thing is you are reminded of it all the time. Somebody wants to carry a list around and it is there. But my thing is, if we could have changed anything that would put ourselves in a better position for this then I would have done it in a minute. When you look at the way these injuries have come about, what are you going to do or how are you going to change anything? Poor Jon Goff was basically nothing more than a jog through at a Monday practice in the first team period. On about the sixth or seventh play he bumps knees and you think they just bumped knees and that was not to be."
Q: You have 10 rookies on the team. Are you going to have to be more patient with this team because of that?
Coughlin: "We have had four preseason games with these guys and they have brought an element of enthusiasm and speed to the team. And that's first and foremost. You are always looking for great effort and an opportunity for these guys to know enough about their assignments to go out and play and that's the big thing. Let's not get hung up on the X's and O's. Let's put them in a position where they can go out and play and help us win a football game. That's where you come from. Do you know they are going to make mistakes? Sure, you know, and hopefully they are minimized. Hopefully, the other guy is not able to take advantage of it and that's what you are praying for."
Q: On Sunday, Eli Manning will start his 104th consecutive regular season game, the longest streak among active NFL quarterbacks. What are the tangible benefits to having him in there for every practice and every game?
Coughlin: "The continuity and the incredible reliability, dependability that you place in Eli. The idea that he is a great stabilizer in your team, people rely on him and they know they can rely on him. They look to him not only for leadership but direction. He is consistently meeting with receivers and running backs about protections. He exerts himself and he reacts. He is such a great example and it is a great example for all of us. He is intellectually stimulated by the game and he is a student that wants all the information and all the answers. He wants it all and if he doesn't have it all, he is not comfortable. When you have all these things and you know there is a certain level of preparation he is going to go through and his teammates know they have to be able to get up to the level that he is at. The stability, continuity, reliability and the fact that you know you have a guy in the driver's seat that you know is going to be a playmaker and the guys around him are going to benefit."
Q: You made significant changes on the offensive line, which has been the heart and soul of the team. Are you pleased with that group's development?
Coughlin: "They have gotten better and better, but game day will tell a lot. They have grown closer and communicated better and (new center) David Baas has fit right in with those guys and that's a very, very smart group and they know what they are doing. If they can communicate it as fast as possible and David is on the same page, we will make the kind of progress we believe we are going to make."
Q: Do you think Steve Weatherford will give you more consistency at punter than Matt Dodge did?
Coughlin: "Yes, the statistics have said that in the preseason. We think that as the game unfolds, we can make adjustments with Steve and put the ball outside the numbers. He can give us a reliable feeling when we punt the ball, where the ball is going to be placed. I do think very highly of Matt Dodge and I think he has made outstanding improvement and he will be a very good punter in this league for a long time. He just has to improve his directional punting, but he does have a very strong leg and his consistency this preseason was pretty good."
Q: Do you think the Redskins will look significantly different than the team you played in the 2010 season finale?
Coughlin: "They have had a good preseason and they have a lot of yards and scored a lot of points. If you look at just the first two quarters, their ones have scored 30 and 31 points, so they have done well in the preseason. Running the ball, they are averaging 145 (yards) and 240 passing, so they have had a good preseason. Their defense has played well. They have pressured well and I think we can anticipate what the style of play will be and we just have to figure out how we can stop the offense and move the ball against the defense."
Q: The opener will be played on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. You've often said you're not usually reflective, but are the events of that day something you've looked back on?
Coughlin: (Holds up a USA Today) "All you have to do is look at the national papers and for a week it has been nothing but 9/11 memories and how it has changed our lives. You can feel how the league is going to recognize the tragedy that took place to this great country on 9/11/01. Recognizing the terrible loss of life and the people who have lost loved ones and recognizing the heroes, the firemen, the emergency people, the policemen, the people who immediately sacrificed their lives to save others. What it taught all of us about how we are responsible to a certain extent for our own safety in terms of being alert and recognizing it is a different world today. It is a different kind of warfare and we have to be really alert and aware of that fact. We have been taught a very different and radical lesson from this and our lives have changed. The world has changed and I don't think you can help that.
"My own personal feelings have to do with being close to General (Raymond T.) Odierno (the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and the current Chief of Staff of the Army) and being in Iraq and seeing a little bit of the world and how it reacts to terrorism. I have some personal feelings about it because my son (Tim) was in the second tower and the blessing our family received by him being able to escape. I read about the guy that died because his lungs were ruined by breathing the debris. There were so many ways people were affected by this terrible tragedy. I can think of wanting my son to get as far away from there as fast as he could."