EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, Giants.com's weekly interview with Giants coach Joe Judge:
Q: You've said you're not a believer in momentum. But the way you came back last week, scoring 17 points after being down 11 and winning in overtime, can there be any carryover from that to the game in Dallas on Sunday?
Judge: "I think the carryover comes from the lessons that we've learned through the game and the things that we put ourselves behind with, what we could correct, and how we were able to execute down the stretch. To me, that's the only carryover. This week is a different team, different opponent. We've got to start completely over and go down there and execute well for 60 minutes. In terms of the carryover and momentum, we enjoy it for 24 hours. Then, we come back in and we start over every week."
Q: You are you playing the first-place team in your division with a chance to close the gap. Some might call this a statement game or a barometer game. Do you buy any of that?
Judge: "I just think it's a division game against obviously a tough division opponent, who's a very good team in the league right now. They're playing at a very high level. In terms of all those adjectives that go before the words, to me, every game is important. I don't think we want to make any game more than what it is. They're all important. We've got to go out and play our best, coach our best, and make sure we have a chance for success."
Q: We saw last week that (quarterback) Daniel (Jones) has so many different targets now. As you put together a game plan, do you focus more on the plays or on the players and the situations and matchups in which you can best utilize them?
Judge: "I always think in terms of players. My train of thought in all phases of the game, offense, defense and kicking game, is always players. It's a players' league. They've got to be the ones who go out there and execute. Our job is putting them in position to have success. There's obviously a combination of schematically what plays work against certain things the defense presents you with. You try to put certain players in a position where you think you get the right matchup or the right situation to get the ball in their hands and make a play. We don't go in there saying we have to force it to this player on this specific play, but you want to create a situation where they're very live on a certain play, you would say. Then, you make sure that you have outlets and secondary choices if that's not there."
Q: So, you spend a lot of time before the actual game planning looking at potential matchups?
Judge: "Absolutely. The first thing I always look at with the opponent is the personnel. That's the biggest part of every game, who they have available, who you have available, and how you match up with each other. You could draw up the best play in the world, the best defense in the world, it doesn't really matter if you don't have the players in place, and you don't put them in the right place to be successful."
Q: After what (wide receivers) Kadarius (Toney), John Ross and Kenny (Golladay) did last week, do you believe you have more options now than you did previously?
Judge: "I just think we have guys that are obviously coming off of injuries, or maybe periods of time where they weren't as readily available to us as a team. I think I see more guys coming into the fold where we can go ahead and play together. There's obviously more chemistry with Daniel and the receivers at this point, just in terms of being available to him on a weekly basis. I just see guys making plays when it comes their way, and that's the biggest thing. I see more guys and more experience they have in our system. Obviously, the guys are moving forward in a positive direction, but we're going to play a very good defense this week. We've got to go out there and make sure that we're on it."
Q: Ross' speed and talent is evident. He gives you an element that you don't have otherwise, but he does have an injury history. Do you have to be cognizant of that as you plan what you want to do with him, or you just put him out there and whatever happens, happens?
Judge: "I don't think you can ever plan with that in your mind. To me, if a player is healthy to go out there, you let him go out there, and you let him play. In terms of the medical part, I'll leave that to the doctors. We have a great medical team here. They keep me informed in terms of what may be the limitations a guy may have throughout the week in preparation and if a guy will be available or not for the game. In terms of planning for a guy only doing certain things, to me, if you can play, you've got to go play."
Q: Daniel was so impressive last week. Is there anything you can share that maybe hasn't been mentioned publicly, or a play that was not as obvious as some of the big plays that really caught your eye?
Judge: "Well, I've seen him do a lot of things through preparation. There's been a lot of improvement for him, just as a player in this league over the period of time we've been together. I thought last week was just a good example of him playing a lot of good situational football and making the right decisions. I just think when you watch him, the thing that jumped out for me, obviously, you could highlight all the throws he made, how good the throws were, and him finding open receivers. But to me, there were decisions equally as important on some of the incompletions he threw away as there were on the completions he threw down the field."
Q: You never really got to coach the Saquon that we all saw in his first two years. He played only five quarters last season. The way he moved in space and powered in for the final touchdown in New Orleans, are you starting to see the the pre-injury Saquon?
Judge: "I'm familiar with Saquon from just being in the league, I think we all are. What I see as a player, he's making plays for this team. He gets better every week and puts the team first. The comparisons of what he was in the past to where he is now, I see a highly productive player who teams have to account for when we put the ball in his hands. He can make plays."
Q: All five offensive linemen played every snap last week. Have you put aside your line rotation because of the lack of experienced depth you have now, or was it because they were playing well? Daniel didn't get sacked all game.
Judge: "There's always a multitude of reasons for how we do things. Sometimes, it just falls under the game plan that way. That doesn't always reflect a lack of confidence, or a point that we're only going to play a certain amount of people. I still expect everyone to play in every game. They should expect to play in every game. As a rotation comes up and things happen, that's how we'll go ahead and move guys on through."
Q: Two things with the defense last week. You gave up 170 rushing yards, but they ran the ball 39 times and not one of those runs was more than 10 yards. Did the total yardage bother you at all, or the fact that they had to work so hard to get it mitigate those feelings?
Judge: "I think it's all within the situation of the game. We knew they had some very, very good runners. Look, (Saints running back Alvin) Kamara is one of the best runners in the league. Taysom Hill with the quarterback packages. Some other guys are very capable of making moves in space, but we want to always go ahead and minimize the opponent's rushing game as much as we can within the situation in different games. Statistically, that could look one way or another. I thought the defense made critical stops at critical times. I was pleased with that, and obviously there's a lot of things we have to clean up from last week's game, but there are some good things going forward. We're going to have to play our best run defense this week. This is one of the top rushing teams in the league. They've got arguably the best back in the league (Ezekiel Elliott), they've got arguably the best offensive line in the league, and they've got a passing attack they can feed off the run, so this team is extremely talented. We're going to have to make sure that we bring our best, as far as playing the run this week."
Q: You didn't have (linebacker) Blake (Martinez) most of the Atlanta game, but last week was the first week you prepared without Blake and then played without him. How did you think that group responded?
Judge: "First off, you never want to lose a player like Blake. He's a leader. He's a good football player. He's a great guy to have on your team. He's fun to coach. There's a reason he was voted captain by his teammates to represent them. That being said, I think the guys who had to step up in his place came in and did a good job. There are things that we've got to keep improving on as a team. There's things that those guys have to keep on getting better at to improve their level of play, but I was pleased with how they started playing. I think Tae (Crowder) is really embracing the role of being the signal caller. He's doing a good job out there communicating with the team. Reggie Ragland and Justin Hilliard will be more in the fold going forward, Carter Coughlin, too. Eventually, we'll get Cam Brown and those guys back. They're doing a good job right now working and plugging in at that inside linebacker position. To me, it's always the next man up. You don't want to lose any of your players. You don't want any player in the game to get hurt, yours or somebody else's. You never do, but to me, it's important that everyone understands that they're always one play away from having a role and to be prepared."
Q: When someone mentions to you about sacks, you say it's not sacks, it's the pressure. Last week on the official stat sheet, there wasn't one quarterback hit. What are your thoughts on the pressure, and considering (Cowboys quarterback) Dak (Prescott) was not sacked last week, must that improve?
Judge: "We're always working to pressure the quarterback. Again, last week's game plan was a lot different than some other game plans. I was pleased in a lot of ways of some things that happened in the pass game last week, and there are some things we obviously have to clean up. So, I think there's a lot of things going in the right direction. We've been productive with getting pressure on the quarterback in some key situations. Obviously, you want to finish with sacks, but to me, it's always about the pressure on the quarterback. Stats sometimes are the tangible result, but it doesn't tell the whole picture A lot of times, it's a pressure that forces bad throws, errant throws, gives you opportunities for PBUs (pass breakups), interceptions, things of that nature, and gets you off the field. So, the most important thing is just disrupting the timing of the passer."
Q: The Cowboys are fourth in scoring, third in yards gained and second in rushing yards. Do you think this is the best offense you've faced?
Judge: "I think this is clearly the best team we've played so far in all categories. You talk about how high they're ranked in their rushing offense, the kind of quarterback they have, the offensive line, their passing attack. Their rushing defense is among the top in the league. They're in the top of the league with turnovers and takeaways on defense. To me, with all the metrics you look at with these guys, in terms of leading the league in first quarter scoring, starting fast, playing from ahead, being disruptive with their pass rush, you have to throw the ball to get back into the game. This is the best team we've played, so we have to play our best game."
Q: They've rushed for more than 600 yards in the last three weeks. Zeke had 143 yards last week. Why have they been so successful running the ball so far?
Judge: "They have a very, very talented offensive line. I think it always starts with the bigs up front. They've got a very good offensive line. Schematically, they're very sound, and they have very talented runners. Zeke and (Tony) Pollard are both very, very capable and can have explosive runs at any time. They have a quarterback that keeps you honest with the pass game, so you can't always just load the box against that because he's got the arm to throw it down deep. They have talented receivers on the edge. They can go ahead and stretch it. I think it's a combination of, number one, how sound they play, but also they're very, very talented."
Q: I want to ask you about a wrinkle they've used in which they put (guard) Conor McGregor in as a fullback. He has twice blocked for Elliott on one-yard touchdown runs. When you have a 308-pound guy as a lead blocker like that, how difficult is that? How do you combat that?
Judge: "That's a tough scheme, now. It's a tough scheme. Again, it's an extra lineman on the field. You have to be very conscious of who they have in the game, how they're using it, and what comes off that. Obviously, that guy poses a threat as far as plugging, making the blocks, and leading. You've just got to go in there, play with good fundamentals, and make sure you're sound in your gaps."
Q: You focus on turnovers every week. You're playing a team that is tied for the best turnover differential in the league. They're second in takeaways. I don't know if you could emphasize it anymore, but how cognizant do you have to be that this team is very good at taking the ball away?
Judge: "You have to be in everything you do. That's how we have to practice, prepare, and be very conscious about it throughout the week. We talked to our players, like we do every week, but we've shown all the clips of their turnovers and takeaways and the techniques they use in the open field. Our ballcarriers have to be very, very conscious of how they're holding the ball with two hands through two points of contact. Defensively, we've got to take advantage of our opportunities for turnovers as well. But to me, it's all about protecting the ball in this game, and so many of their points have come off turnovers. So many of their explosive opportunities come off the turnovers. This is a team that plays very aggressive on defense. This is a high effort, high motor team that looks to get after you and play very disruptive. They've done a great job of doing that so far."
Q: When a team has a great receiver, as you have in Kenny, the defense will say, 'We always have to know where Golladay is.' Is (cornerback) Trevon Diggs their defensive player in that regard? He already has five interceptions, so it's probably a good idea to be aware of his location.
Judge: "I think he's obviously been very, very productive to this point in the season, but I think they're very talented on defense and you can't just single out one of their guys. The others will hurt you equally as well. They're very talented on all sides of the ball. They've done a great job of assembling their roster and putting a lot of talent on all three sides of the ball. You talk about their defense with the production they've had with the defensive backs and pass rushers upfront. You've got to look at the kicking game as well. Between (punter Bryan) Anger and (kicker Greg) Zuerlein, there's two big leg specialists. They can flip the field very, very fast. They're capable of scoring points with 60-yard field goals. That really makes their field shorter. You've got to understand that in terms of their offensive mentality. Once they get across the 50, they start thinking points. That's just the nature of what it is with those guys. They're very, very talented. They have explosive returners. They have offensive weapons at every turn. Defensively, they can get after you upfront, and they can create turnovers on the back end. This is going to take all of us to play very well the entire time."
Q: (Rookie linebacker Micah) Parsons moved to end for a couple games. Now, he's apparently moving back. How impressive is it for a rookie to have that versatility?
Judge: "I think everyone knew he had that kind of versatility coming out of the draft because of what he had already shown in college. I think his ability to transfer that and be productive at this level so early in his career is very, very impressive. I don't think anyone doubted how good this guy is going to be coming out of college. He's an elite athlete, a special type of player, so there's really no surprise in how well he's playing."
Q: One last thing. We all remember Zuerlein from last year (when his 34-yard field goal as time expired gave the Cowboys a 37-34 victory in Dallas). He kicked a 56-yarder in Los Angeles in Week 2. We asked you a couple weeks ago about game management and strategic decisions with (kicker Graham) Gano. When the opposing kicker has such a strong leg, how much does that factor into your decisions?
Judge: "It can factor a lot, based on the situation in the game, depending on the timing of the game, score, timeouts, things of that nature. Everything goes into it. I think you just have to consider, in terms of the kicker on the other team and how short their field is. When you play against the Zuerleins, the (Ravens kicker) Justin Tuckers, for other teams, Graham Gano, you have to consider as the head coach, as the defense coordinator that their field is shorter. That's the way you have to look at it. There are some teams that have to get their kicker to the 35, some guys have to get to the 30. These are guys are very capable of kicking that ball when it gets outside the 40s, sometimes 45, or even beyond that. You watch these guys and some of the attempts they've had. It's obviously their weapon. When you get a guy like that who can score points from that far out, that's a weapon for your team."
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