EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with coach Joe Judge exclusively for Giants.com:
Q: The division and the postseason races have crystalized with four weeks remaining. You've always coached where you have been in the thick of it in the last month. Your focus remains on the next game, but is it important to you to discuss with the players where they stand and what's at stake?
Judge: "No. I think the only thing you have to explain to the players is that there are a lot of people out there talking about hypothetical games that don't exist yet. We have a real game this Sunday, and we have to get prepared for it. That's what we have to do. The only thing that's going to help us is playing good ball and improving as a team, and that's where our focus is."
Q: Before playing Seattle last week, you were asked if the offense would change with Colt McCoy playing quarterback for Daniel Jones. You ran the ball often, but actually had your fewest rushing attempts in four games. Was there much of a change in the offense with Colt in there?
Judge: "No, I don't think so. I think Jason (Garrett, the offensive coordinator) drew up the game plan based on who we were playing. I thought Colt did a great job of operating within the game plan and made some plays down the field, made some big throws for us. That final drive in the second half, the final drive of the game, really did a nice job, made some tough throws, extended the drive, took a lot of time off it, really limited Seattle's opportunity of getting back out there. He did a good job last week in terms of what we asked him to do. Obviously, he's preparing hard this week. We'll see how it goes in terms of who's going to play."
Q: Early in the season, I think you were asked every week about Andrew Thomas. The inference was that he wasn't playing well. On Thursday, you fielded a question about Thomas for the first time in weeks. Is that an indication he is playing well?
Judge: "I've seen constant improvement from Andrew, as well as all of our rookies, the entire season. Those guys have done a good job of coming in and getting caught up with our system, getting used to the speed of the game. The position coaches have done a phenomenal job of really developing these guys. It's obviously a different year for these guys coming in with the way training camp was and not having a spring, for them to kind of get ready to play an NFL game as opposed to maybe a vet. But they've done a good job really learning on the fly and adjusting, and I see every single one of those guys, including Andrew, improving."
Q: The three young offensive linemen – Andrew, Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates – are all essentially first-year players. Nick's a first-year center. Not to discount Will Hernandez, but do you see those three players developing a rapport?
Judge: "To be honest with you, I see it with all of the combinations we have. That's definitely something I've been asked a lot about because we're rotating linemen on the inside and the outside with tackles. I think the one thing that's really been impressive about them is although you're told constantly that it has to be the same five guys so they develop a rapport, I see all seven, eight guys we're using really, getting in there and communicating well and being on the same page. I don't see any drop off in communication or synergy when a different combination is in."
Q: That is the prevailing cliché in the NFL, that you need to have continuity on the offensive line. Did you ever buy into that? Has what happened with your players this year changed your thinking about that at all?
Judge: "I think throughout the course of any NFL season, you're not going to be able to have absolute continuity because there are going to be injuries, there are going to be guys that miss games, there are going to be changes in the lineup. We're just doing that voluntarily by playing as many guys as we can because I think we have good players and I want them all to play. That's going to help each one of those guys develop, it's going to help our team improve, it's going to keep us fresh through the stretch of a game. We're running the ball a lot. We'll want to make sure we keep these guys as fresh as we can throughout the game."
Q: Leonard Williams is the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. You don't care about the past, but last year he played 15 games and had a half-sack and 16 quarterback hits. In 12 games this season, he has 8.5 sacks and 24 hits. He's clearly a more productive player this year. Why do you think that is?
Judge: "I don't have any comments on anything from the past. I wasn't here to know what was or wasn't going on, so that's not my area to comment on. However, I just like the way Leonard comes to work every day. I think he's improved in everything we've asked him to do. The techniques and the areas of focus that we've emphasized with him, he's really done a good job of improving on the mastering in some cases. He plays with a high motor. This guy is really a pleasure to coach. He's come every day with a smile, great energy, great teammate, and he's just fun to have on the team. He plays with that same energy that he comes through the building with. I think when guys have passion for what they do, they're productive in it."
Q: In the 4-0 streak, you have an NFL-best plus-8 in turnover ratio - 10 takeaways and two turnovers. Before that, you were minus-5. You talk about turnovers every week. What has changed?
Judge: "Ball security and takeaways, that's a total team emphasis. It's never one person making the play. It's the way everyone comes together and fits in. It can be a situation with an interception and the defensive back does a good job making a break on the ball and creates a turnover. But how did it start upfront? Was it pressure on the quarterback? Did you force a bad throw? Was there some kind of a break and a tipped ball from a linebacker before it gets to that defensive back? It's never just one person. Offensively, it starts up front with the offensive line protecting, with the running backs running with ball security, the skill players coming back downhill and protecting leverage on the throw, they're not getting undercut by the defenders, quarterbacks making the right decisions on accurate throws. It's never one person. I think as a team, we've just improved. Obviously, things are very connected. Turnovers are the number one factor in wins and losses in this league, so we want to do everything we can to prevent losing."
Q: Niko Lalos has an interception and a fumble recovery in his first two games. That's a small sample size, but do you believe some players have a knack for finding the ball in those situations?
Judge: "I think if you're a guy who follows your keys and plays with a high effort and hustles to the ball, that puts you in a good position to make plays like he's made. From day one, physically, his body looks completely transformed already. He has a full-time nutritionist, a full-time strength coach, he works extremely hard at practice every day. This guy is playing at really a raised level, and that's where he earned his spot on the roster, by coming to work every day, demonstrating what he can do with the look teams. Eventually he put himself in a position where we had a need for a spot at the outside backer. I wanted to give him an opportunity. He went in there, he made plays, he earned himself more plays, then he earned himself a spot on the roster."
Q: Have you changed the practice schedule toward the end of the season by making the workout on Wednesday a little lighter and Thursday a heavier day?
Judge: "Earlier in the season, we ended up making some moves just because of the flow of the schedule and travel and short weeks, extended weeks, things like that. We had to kind of massage the schedule and make sure we accounted for how the flow of the games went. As we got into the latter part of the season, talking to the captains and getting feedback in terms of the preparation of what's really helped them the most, we made the decision on Wednesdays to commit at least part of our practice to a longer, extended walkthrough. It's not a true walk in place. It's kind a bounce through at a lower tempo. We get a lot of plays run, we get a lot of communication, a lot of things ironed out. That's kind of helped us get a jumpstart really throughout the entire week in early down work, third down work, on some shot and gadget plays. Defensively, we kind of get into early down and some third down in with the game plan.
"At this point, I rely on a lot of the feedback from the players and what they're responding to. At the end of the day, when you're playing well and something is going well in terms of how you're preparing, you trust the feedback that they're giving you. Our guys have never shied away from a day of work. If I put them out there and just told them to run sprints, they would do it without asking. They've already proved that. They've gone out there and they've worked really, really hard for us. So, when you get a chance to pull off, you have confidence in their work ethic they've already demonstrated and established here, that it's not going to poison the way we want to work."
View rare photos from the all-time series between the Giants and Cardinals, which dates back to 1926.
Q: This week, you signed Joe Webb, a very intriguing player who can play numerous positions. Are you going to look at him in different spots?
Judge: "We are. We're going to move him around to different spots and kind of see how he fits into different systems and schemes. Obviously, he's played receiver, he's played quarterback, he's played with special teams. He's done a lot of things in his career. We've had a short window of actually being with him, but we were on the field with him this week. He's definitely a high-energy guy that loves ball. We'll move him around a little more and see what he can do. I've never coached him. I've coached against him. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him as an opponent, and if there's something that he can add to the team, then we'll look to use it."
Q: The Cardinals have a lot of impressive offensive numbers. One of them is a league-best 5.0 yards-per-carry. They have a mobile quarterback (Kyler Murray), they have outstanding receivers (DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald) and very good running backs (Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds). Does your defense face a similar challenge to what it had last week in Seattle?
Judge: "I think there's an element you can compare because it is an explosive team. But this is a much different team as well. You can always draw similarities. Both teams run the ball very effectively, have mobile quarterbacks with big arms and big shot opportunities, and they have very talented skill players down the field to catch the ball. You can draw those parallels across the board, but you can do that with a lot of teams in this league. I think this team is very unique in how they do things. I think their coach does a good job. Kliff (Kingsbury) schemes up other teams. He's very good at creating matchups. Obviously, Murray is a headache back there. You really have to do a good job trying to keep him in the pocket. It's easier said than done. He makes a lot of plays with his legs and he has a very strong, accurate arm that he's not afraid to take shots down the field, and it's sort of paid off for them throughout the season."
Q: Earlier this week, you said with regard to Murray and Wilson, "I think they're very different players." But you also said they have similar skillsets. So, are they similar or different?
Judge: "I think you can draw parallels with the skillsets saying, it's a quarterback who can throw the ball, who can extend plays, who's athletic and who can run. A lot of people like to clump those quarterbacks into the same category. You can say Russell Wilson and you can say Murray, then you can say Patrick Mahomes and you can say Lamar Jackson, and they would all check the boxes of everything we just said. They're all four different players. You have to understand how each player plays situationally and how they react to different things you do defensively to understand how you have to play against them. To just paint them with a broad brush and say these guys are the same because they have multiple talents that they can use to beat you, I don't think that's an educated statement right there. But I think they all have the capability of using their talents in different ways to really mismatch you. We have to do a good job with him in terms of protecting against the pass and the run. It's not going to be exactly the same as last week. It can't be because it's a different player, different team, different schemes. But it will have the same elements of things you try to always accomplish every week."
Q: Their leading sack guys are (Hasson) Reddick and (Dennis) Gardeck and (Budda) Baker. None of them are linemen. Is that an indication that they'll pressure you with anybody who's on the field?
Judge: "These guys do a great job of spinning the dial on you and changing up who's coming. They're going to pressure you a lot and they're going to make sure everyone gets a swing of the bat, everyone gets a chance to come. We have to do a good job of IDing MIKs and making sure the offensive line plays together upfront with shared vision and communication to make sure we adjust and pick it up. They have a lot of production this year with three runners through the middle of the pocket. We can't allow it to happen. We have to make sure to protect inside out and that we're on the same page to make sure we take the rushes away."
Q: Last week, the Cardinals lost their seventh consecutive game to the Rams. When a team has that kind of success against another, do you study what they've done to be able to beat them so many times in a row?
Judge: "I think it's always important to look at divisional opponents when you play a team that's outside of your division. The teams that play someone twice a year normally have the best feel on how to play them. That being said, you have different rosters, and ultimately, it's the roster that dictates what you can or cannot do. But at least it gives you some glimpses into what they do as a team, and what they may have had success against or struggled against. To me, watching division opponents is always the best window into how people see them and what they do."
View photos from practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center as the team preps for the Arizona Cardinals.