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Judge's Chambers: Preparing the next men up

JUDGE-CHAMBERS

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, Giants.com's weekly interview with head coach Joe Judge:

Q: Last week, we discussed game plans and whether they're based more on plays or players. You said players. This week, you're preparing to play a game against the Los Angeles Rams in which you have a lot of uncertainty about who's going to be available to play. How does that affect how you prepare the game plan? Do you need more contingencies because so many players are injured?

Judge: "You have to build in some flexibility within your game plan, based on who's going to be available. You've got to think in terms of who their players are and what you have to do within the game to neutralize their strengths. Then also, who you have available to try to go and expose a weakness, so you look at the players who are going to be available. Obviously, if different players are available, that may lend to another scheme or two. I'd say we try to stick close to the overall big picture of the game plan, so it doesn't alter a lot of how we're going to play the game. But obviously based on different players, there are wrinkles here or there, or a scheme here or there that you've got to go ahead and maybe omit or adjust based on who's available."

Q: We all know injuries are a part of the game. When you're a coordinator or a position coach, it affects your group. When you're the head coach, every injury affects you. Is it hard to not get frustrated or exasperated sometimes when you see so many guys going down and having to reshuffle the lineup?

Judge: "It's funny, when I was an assistant coach and a coordinator, when you lose a player at your position, you're so zeroed in and focused on that immediate picture that you're very consumed at times with personnel. I used to watch the head coaches I worked for and think, 'How can they stay so calm and almost seamlessly adjust no matter who is available for the game?' To be honest, being in this role for a little bit over a year, you look at it and for whatever reason, it becomes easier to just adjust. You still want all the players available, but you look at the big picture of, we're going to play a game regardless. My job as an assistant or coordinator is to have all my players prepared and ready to go. I expect every coach to have all their players prepared and ready to go, no matter what their roles may emerge early or late for the game."

Q: You mentioned the other day that you've talked to Daniel (Jones) about when it's time to push for the extra yards and times when it's better to slide or go out of bounds when he runs. His running has become such an important part of the offense. How do you teach him to walk that tightrope?

Judge: "I think it's just by going through the plays and explaining the situations of where it is. There's a time that you've got to exert yourself for the extra yard, and there's a time to go ahead and say that the journey is over on that play. We just try to make sure we compartmentalize it for him and let him play aggressive. I think Daniel has overall done a good job of understanding it. You see a lot of examples. I'd say starting really in Week 2 and going forward, sometimes in Week 1, but in Week 2 and really going forward, he's running and getting out of bounds before the hit, running and sliding before the hit, and things of that nature. I think he's done a good job of being a productive player for us, and also protecting the team, which, I say it all the time, but a guy like Daniel is a very aggressive player. He is a very tough player. It's tough sometimes to explain to those guys who are so competitive that, 'Hey, you may have to go ahead and remove yourself from trying to get the extra yard at times.'"

Q: Every offseason there's a lot of shuffling of backup quarterbacks. This year, you went from Colt (McCoy, currently with Arizona) to Mike Glennon. As you were looking at the available backup quarterbacks in the spring, what impressed you about Glennon?

Judge: "We just thought he fit our system. We thought there are a lot of things he did physically, and through the experience he's had in the league, that mirror up to what we do. It wouldn't really cause a great change in the game plan if he were to play. Mike has a good arm. He's an accurate passer. He's got good height to see the defense. He's got good command of the line scrimmage. He's got a lot of experience in different systems, so his ability to adjust with game plans and operate with minimal reps at times is very valuable."

Q: I think yesterday was the third Wednesday in a row that you've had two walkthroughs instead of the full practice. You must like something about that.

Judge: "Actually, yesterday, we went out and had a shorter practice to get our guys out there. It was a fundamentally focused practice. We went out there, and then, we came back in the afternoon and worked more on a longer walkthrough for the scheme part of it. These have really been pre-scheduled to a degree from before the season, based on where we're at in the year, the travel and things of that nature that you've got to factor in for your players based on past experiences we've had of trying to make sure we keep the total picture of the entire season in our frame of mind. The thing I know that I've liked, and the players have liked, is it gives them a jump start on having really the majority of the game plan in on Wednesday. It gives them more experience to go out there and rep it and get more exposure to it. I know that, speaking for a lot of the offensive guys, like Daniel, he's commented that he really likes it a lot. It gives him more experience to see the defenses and make all of the checks and the calls. It's something that we found that has been a benefit. It's something that last year, when we used similar walkthroughs, we found it was beneficial for our team.

"We talked at length after the year about everything we do, and that was something we took note of last year. When we played some of our best games last year, what are some of the things we did in common, the common denominators that we think may have helped lead to that? These types of practices and preparation have been good for us. The difference in doing it this year is that last year it was really one longer walkthrough, sometimes a hybrid practice and a walkthrough on the back end. This year, we're doing it kind of how we prepare for the Thursday games, in terms of going out there in the morning for one focus and in the afternoon, having another focus. It chops the day up a little bit and keeps the meetings moving quickly and more efficiently. It keeps the practices on and off. It gets the players' bodies moving the right way and gets them going."

Q: Sterling Shepard was talking about Kadarius Toney, and he called him "twitchy" and "electric" in the way he moves. How would you describe the way Toney is able to move, because it's really unlike anybody else you have?

Judge: "The thing I always say about Toney that I think a lot of people don't realize is how strong he is and how powerful a runner he is. It shows up in terms of the extended runs and breaking tackles, but he has great instincts. He has really good vision on the field of seeing where there's an open space, no matter how small it is. He's got a very good short area change of direction and burst coming out of that first step to stop and go very quickly. He's also got that long speed to stretch the field and really separate over space, so he's obviously a unique player with a very good skillset. Maybe the biggest thing that really helps him, more so than the physical attributes, is how intelligent he is on the field. We always say, 'He speaks ball.' He knows multiple positions. He knows the concept of what's going on. You can bump him from one position to another on the fly, and he doesn't hesitate. He just jumps right in and executes correctly. This is a guy that really learns the big picture of the game. Football is something that comes naturally to him, but he works extremely hard at it."

Q: The guy's a triple threat. He can catch, he can run, and he can throw. Have you had guys like that before?

Judge: "I'm not going to say on what level, but I've coached a guy before that kind of wears some of the same hats as his, and they're very fun to coach. It gives you some multiples you can work with. It gives you a lot of creativity. He's not afraid to try new things, either, which is good."

Q: What does it mean to have Shep (Sterling Shepard) back? Not just from a production standpoint, but also a leadership and experience standpoint?

Judge: "It's great to get Shep back. It's one of those things where you obviously don't want to lose any player. He's been working hard to get back. We were optimistic last week that he would have a chance, but that didn't happen. Seeing the way he worked and put himself back in position to come back this week, it's exciting to have him back out there. There's always good energy with Shep on the field."

Q: Do you have any concerns that the constant changing of personnel on the offensive line is adversely affecting the offense as a whole?

Judge: "No, injuries are a part of the National Football League over the duration of the season. I think the guys have done a really good job of adjusting and working together with good chemistry with changing parts week-by-week and within the game as well."

Q: You've been asked about the defense and it's fair to say it isn't playing as well as you'd like it to play. What do you do to change that? More self-scouting? Do you evaluate the calls in games? How do you react when a unit is not playing as well as you'd like it to?

Judge: "We always evaluate everything: what we're doing, how it matches up against the opponents, how we are practicing and preparing, how we're calling games, and how individuals are playing. We look at everything all the time, and we work to eliminate the mistakes. We work to eliminate situations that may set us back, so that's been a focus of ours in all three phases. It's always a focus of ours. That's our job. We have to continue doing that. We continue to make improvements on all three sides of the ball and continue being a better team every week."

Q: (Defensive lineman) Leonard Williams has not been as disruptive as he was for a while last year. Are teams focusing more on him? Are they assigning more players to block him? Are they making a greater effort to take him out of the game?

Judge: "I've definitely seen some extra attention to Leonard, and that's a respect thing. I think when you have a guy like that, you get more double teams. You get more slide protection to you to make you handle more things in pass protection. Leonard does a good job of moving to different spots and being versatile in how we use him. He prepares with a great attitude. He's a great teammate. We're happy to have him here. In terms of some of the number production, we're really looking at being effective in the run game and then disruptive against the pass game, so we have to keep on moving in that direction."

Q: Have the Rams changed schematically a lot offensively with (quarterback) Matthew Stafford?

Judge: "There's definitely been some variation, but I think at the core, the offense is still (head coach) Sean's (McVay) offense. It's still the philosophy of run the ball, play action, pass boots, and then shots down the field. They move with tempo. That all remains constant. I think Stafford is obviously a different quarterback than (Lions quarterback Jared) Goff, who did a lot of really good things. They had a lot of success with Goff. I think Stafford is obviously a very accomplished quarterback who poses a number of problems. His arm strength is at the top of the league. He's very accurate, experienced, and extremely intelligent. He knows pre-snap, does a great deal of studying, really knows what you're in, and really works to stay ahead mentally on things. That factors in how he gets the ball out so fast."

Q: They have two good running backs (including Sony Michel, who was with Judge for two seasons in New England). I think they have four wide receivers, and the tight end (Tyler Higbee) is playing really well. With that array of weapons, is it tough to defend everybody?

Judge: "They definitely pose a number of problems. Sean does a great job of knowing what you're in, adjusting, and making you play with his multiples. You can talk about stretching the field, playing underneath with looseness, or running the ball, but they have a number of weapons that really can change it up on you constantly. Again, I think you go back to just the core of what they are as a team. It's runs, the play actions and boots to shots down the field. They do it all with tempo, and they do it very well."

Q: From what I've read, their pressure numbers are good, their quarterback hits are good, their sacks are good, but the yardage numbers and other measurables are not. What do you see from a defense that gets pressure on the quarterback but gives up a lot of big plays?

Judge: "I think when you really watch someone's defense, I always start with negative plays and where they're making their plays. There's a ton of pressure, a ton of negative runs. You really look back at how these guys play in situational football, the red area and fourth downs. They do a great job of getting off the field and limiting what you're doing. To me, it's a very sound defense. It's a very aggressive defense. I think (defensive coordinator) Raheem (Morris) is calling it with a lot of aggressiveness right now. He's doing a good job of it. I really look at how these guys play. They're very talented and they're very aggressive. Sometimes, those numbers can be deceiving because I think at the end of it, you look at the results they've had as a team. This is definitely a very, very good defense."

Q: If they were all out there and they didn't have numbers on their jerseys, would Aaron Donald still stand out?

Judge: "Yeah, he doesn't need a number on his jersey. You know who that guy is when he walks in the room."

Q: Out of the defensive players you've seen in the NFL, is he as good as anybody you've seen since you've been in the league?

Judge: "I've been fortunate to be around a lot of good players and play against a lot of good players. He's definitely at the top of that category. I don't know how you rank some of these very special ones, but he's definitely in that top tier. This guy is a different kind of player. It's all I can really say as a very, very high compliment. He's a different kind of player. The effort, the urgency, the production, the disruption, the physicality, how fast he is, how strong he is. This guy is a different kind of player."

Q: They try to make (cornerback) Jalen Ramsey an unavoidable player. With (corner) Darious Williams out (with an ankle injury), do you expect them to maybe move Jalen around more? How do you think the back of their defense will be affected without one of the starting corners?

Judge: "We'll have to see. In the Seattle game, they ended up moving him (Ramsey) out to the perimeter a good bit. I think obviously they played him a lot in that nickel-star position, which has allowed him to be more at the point of attack. You can't really just narrow half a field down and say, 'We'll go the other way.' This guy is all over the field. He's a very effective player. He's very aggressive, has good length, good speed, good instincts, and good aggressiveness. This guy is going to be a factor either way. I'm sure they're going to keep including him in the plan to be a factor. We'll see how the game plan declares and adjust accordingly."

Q: On their special teams, (return specialist Tutu) Atwell hasn't had many chances to return, but he's been good when he has. The kicker (Matt Gay) is third in the league in scoring, and the punter (Johnny Hekker) has been there 10 years. Fair to say it's a solid group?

Judge: "It always starts with the coach, and Joe DeCamillis does a great job. He's always been very, very aggressive. He uses all his players. He's not afraid to roll the dice with gimmicks or different schemes. He's not really afraid to go ahead, put something out there, and have someone say, 'Why did you do that?' Joe plays it downhill with everything he does. When we talk about their specialists, Hekker is one of the most unique punters to ever be this league. The fact of how big his leg is, the different array of punts he has, and the control he has. Then also, you look at him, and it's how he's able to throw the ball and execute fakes. That's so unique with this guy because he truly throws it like a quarterback, not a guy who used to play quarterback. He throws it like a quarterback. That makes you defend it defensively. When Atwell has the ball in his hands, he's extremely fast and quick. He has great vision and gives opportunities for explosive plays. Gay is obviously a very good kicker. He's accurate and a top scorer. They're in position all the time for points with the way their offense plays. These guys are very, very good. There's some other guys covering kicks. (Safety) Nick Scott, (running back Jake) Funk, and those guys run down the field and cover. They have great team speed. They're built for coverage, but they're explosive in the return game, so you've got to be very, very conscious of these guys on the field at all times."

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

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