EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, an exclusive weekly interview with Giants head coach Joe Judge:
Q: You've never been in this situation – knowing the last regular season game is your last game of the season. What is it like for you?
Judge: "We put a focus here where we truly do invest ourselves in every opportunity. It's an opportunity we can't afford to waste, and you get 17 opportunities each season. This is the first year with 17, it used to be 16, but we talk all time that whether it's how we meet, how we practice, or how we play, everything has to look the same. The first play of the game has to look like the last play of the game. We've got to have the same energy, enthusiasm and team spirit throughout the remainder of the game. This game is no different. We talk all the time that, regardless of the situation or circumstance, we play the same way. When the tape turns on, it's got to jump out, that that's our style of play, and that's what our team is focused on doing. So right now, I'm committed to this team and making sure we prepare for this game
"There are some feelings obviously when you look at guys and know the end's coming up. That's the same whether it's a situation like this, or you're entering the playoffs, because once you get to the playoffs, every week could be the last week. You look at players that you've developed relationships with and have emotional bonds with and you say, 'This may be my last chance to coach this player.' You want to make sure that you give it your all and you give that player an opportunity. There is a part of you that looks at it and says, 'Man, I really hope it's not my last chance to coach this specific player.' So, there's always a little bit of an emotional tie, whether it's Week 18 or in the playoffs as well."
Q: You said last week that you talked to the players about this being the last time together for this group. There's always change. Despite the record, you seem to enjoy coaching this group. You've talked a lot about their work ethic, commitment and preparation.
Judge: "The amount of respect and appreciation I have for the team with what we've gone through this year, how they've continuously fought as a team through a lot of adversity and challenges, and how they've repeatedly come in throughout the year with the right demeanor, the right attitude, and committed to sticking together and working through the week with all their effort is indescribable. Regardless of the record, you form different bonds with each team, a different bond with each player. There are things about this team that I will always remember in terms of how they stayed together and how they worked through the tough times. That's what I will remember."
Q: You play Washington on Sunday. Both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs, but you expect to give your best. How important is it for you and for this team to go out on a high note?
Judge: "It's important that we go out there and play good team football, and that's it. Whether it's the first week of the season or the last week of the season, regardless or the situation or circumstances, it's important for us to go out there and play good, complementary team football and do everything we can to compete for 60 minutes."
Q: Do you expect to see a better (quarterback) Jake Fromm this time, two weeks after his first start?
Judge: "Obviously, the first start for any rookie in National Football League at any position is not going to be as good as it will be going forward. With the way Jake's been working and preparing, I expect to have positive results, and that's what he's working on right now in practice."
Q: (Quarterback) Brian Lewerke has been here all year. Have you seen him progress in practice, and do you think he could be a factor down the road?
Judge: "He'll be prepared to play this week if he needs to. I've seen him progress and improve throughout the year. He's a young player who's still developing in this league. He's done some good things for us in the preseason as well as through some of the practices. He has worked hard throughout the year and played a variety positions. Sometimes, those guys that are on scout team or on the practice squad may play quarterback. And other times, when (quarterback) Mike Glennon or Fromm were getting their reps, he may be playing receiver or different positions at different times based on need and injuries on the team. He's done everything we've asked him to do with a good attitude. He's going out every day and working his hardest."
Q: You've got two guys at quarterback who have thrown a total of 17 NFL passes. Has it been helpful for them to have (quarterback) Daniel (Jones), who's still a young guy, to bounce things off of and have his guidance?
Judge: "Daniel has done a tremendous job since he was placed on injured reserve of being a leader, staying engaged, helping these guys in the classroom, and helping them on the field and on the sideline. He's done a very good job of doing that, and that's really Daniel's personality. He's really a team player. I think he's shown a lot of leadership this year in a lot of different ways, but maybe some of his best leadership has come since he's been injured, showing his commitment to the team, how he has stayed involved, and how he's present at practice. He continues to work his hardest, and the guys know he's out there with them. The guys understand how tough it is for him to watch and not be able to go out there and get in the huddle."
Q: Last week in Chicago, Saquon (Barkley) had 21 carries, which is five more than he has had in any other game. You ran it 40 times. Do you think being so committed to the run helped him get into a rhythm?
Judge: "Yeah, but I think it's the rhythm of the entire offense. I thought the offensive line did a good job coming off the ball and blocking last week, and Saquon did a really good job, him and (running back Devontae) Booker, of hitting the ball downhill aggressively. He was able to make some positive runs out of plays that could've been negative runs, and he took advantage of any seams that opened up. I really like the way he ran. I thought he ran with good toughness, I thought he ran with good ball security, and those are two things you have to do consistently to be a good running back. I've seen Saquon work throughout this year. I've been asked a lot of questions about his health and where he's at, but the thing I refer to is how I see him working. He's been a very positive team player, and he's worked his hardest throughout the year."
Q: One facet of the offense I would assume you'd like to improve is the number of big plays. You've had relatively few long passes and runs this year. Does that put more pressure on an offense when you always have to go station-to-station rather than get that big chunk?
Judge: "The simple answer to that is yes. Obviously, the longer an individual play is, the less plays you have to have within a drive to get down there and score, so you can cut the field faster. But you have to go out there, execute every play, and make sure you don't have negative plays to set you back. We talk about the consequences of penalties within a drive and how that negatively affects the percentage of scores on a drive, how you have to operate and how you have to play. One thing our team has been able to do in games is getting into a rhythm, having some extended drives and staying on the field. We've got to keep on pressing, stressing and finish drives better, go down there and try to get the ball in the end zone instead of just field goals."
Q: Defensively, you've allowed very few 100-yard rushers (three), 100-yard receivers (two) and 300-yard passers (three). When you're game planning on defense, do you first say, "Who can hurt us the most and how do we take him out of the game?" And second, do you think the defense has done a good job of taking the big producers from the opposition out of the game on a weekly basis?
Judge: "I do, and that's always a focus for us. We will always go back to watching the opponent, neutralizing their strengths, and trying to expose a weakness. But really, when you talk about strengths in this league, it's the themes of how they play, but ultimately, it's the players. You have to identify who can hurt you within the game and who are the guys that make impacts on the other team, the other side of the ball, that really affect you. When we start defensively, we look at what does this team do well, how do they affect other teams, and who are the key players they get the ball to. It all starts with the focus of making sure we understand that it's a people league, how the coordinator is going to call it, and who's affecting the game. We have to make sure as a team that we understand the targets we cannot allow to wreck the game. That's the focus for us going through the week."
Q: Leonard Williams won the Good Guy Award from the writers who cover the team for his cooperation. He always seems to have a smile on his face. Leonard is a good guy and a good player. Can you just talk about your relationship with Leonard and how much you enjoy coaching him?
Judge: "For someone who's such a good player, plays so hard and has been so productive, sometimes it's funny to see his personality off the field and how much he enjoys the game on the field. I love Leo. He's been a pleasure to coach since day one. He's comes out every day with a great energy and really loves the game. He takes coaching very well. He's a big supporter of his teammates, brings a lot of positive energy. As you said, he has a smile at the podium, he has a smile all the time. Very rarely do you see Leo without a smile. I know this team means a lot of to him. I know competing and winning means a lot to him. That's why he comes out and works his hardest every week, and he challenges his teammates to do the same thing. I can't say enough for what he's done for us as a team. He's an absolute joy to have in the meeting room and on the field. He's a guy that I constantly have contact with throughout the week in preparation, throughout the game weekend, and during the game as well. He's a pleasure to have here."
Q: As we come to the end of the season, it seems like you've been asked repeatedly about the same players. Is there a player, based on the questions you received during your media availability, that has been overlooked, in your opinion?
Judge: "I think there's a number of players on our team that make a lot of contributions that sometimes go under the radar. Sometimes, it's tough, you start listing one and you take something away from another, so I won't go ahead and start naming guys. But I think the thing that I really like about this team is our commitment to each other and doing the little things. There are some guys who are little bit quieter that bring great leadership behind the scenes. This year when (kicker) Graham (Gano) got voted captain, I thought that spoke volumes. It's very, very rare for any specialist to get voted a captain. He's a guy who's not out in front of the team, the boisterous type of guy, but you can tell how he impacts guys through the way he prepares and works. But, also, the trust they have in him and his willingness to grab a guy and share some wisdom from his experience. He's not afraid to tell a guy the truth, and he's a guy that I rely on a lot of times for input on how the team is doing. I'll say, 'Tell me about the locker room? Tell me where these guys are?'
"People tend to tell me what I want to hear a lot of times. I need people who are willing to tell me what I need to hear, and Graham is one of those guys. But I don't want to take away from a number of guys. There have been guys removed because of injury. We talked about Daniel. (Linebacker) Blake Martinez has stayed very engaged with the team. (Wide receiver Sterling) Shep(ard), who's been in-and-out due to injuries, stayed very involved here on the sidelines. (Offensive linemen) Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates, these are guys that are in the building every day that are very positive to be around. They're in the locker room with the guys, you just don't see them on the field. There's a number of people who have been factors in the team element this year for us, a lot of guys under the radar. There are a lot of guys who have done a lot of things that you know have benefited the team, and I appreciate everybody's hard work and contribution."
Q: This week is your 17th game. If you wish, you can review all 16 games Washington has played. How many games do you look at, and do you look at the game when you played them 16 weeks ago?
Judge: "Well, it depends on what phase you're looking at, it depends on what situation you're looking at. For special teams, you've got to watch every game. When you get to the offense and defense, you want to look at the most recent games. Normally, you go back at least four games. Then, you want to look at the games that are relevant to you schematically, whether that's something that you do offensively that other teams do or something defensively that the other teams do. You want to see how they've attacked it, or you also want to see specific personnel matchups similar to what you have that they may look to go ahead and exploit. You always want to watch the games that you've played directly against that team, how they've played offensively, defensively against you, in special teams, and how they've game planned.
"Normally, you watch a team and there's a lot of similarities game-to-game in terms of how they're attacking you. Every once in a while, you get certain coaches - I thought Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles did phenomenal jobs when you played them. Every time, it seemed so different. They were able to really game plan and find different ways of getting after you, so you're always kind of guessing. I thought those guys did tremendous jobs. But there are other guys who you see what they do and how they want to match up against you within the schemes and systems."
Q: Washington last week played Philadelphia, the league's leading rushing team. They started the game with five defensive linemen. You ran the ball 40 times last week, and you have an inexperienced quarterback. Would you expect them to employ a similar strategy this week?
Judge: "Absolutely. I would expect to see a loaded box, extra defensive linemen in there, the safeties triggering very fast. That's what we're expecting to get. That's part of what you watch, what they've done against similar teams. Sometimes, you can just turn on cutups and say, 'Okay, that's how they're playing on early down, third down, or whatever you're watching.' A lot of times, it's not relevant to you. A lot of times, you can look at it and say, 'Well, that's what they planned for this team, but we're not that team. We don't have these players here or this kind of offensive scheme here.' It doesn't matter, you just have to know what applies to you. What we saw last week in how they played Philly in the run game would be very relevant to us."
Q: When you played them, (quarterback Taylor) Heinicke had just been thrown in there because of (Ryan) Fitzpatrick's injury. As you watched the tape of their offense, have you seen him improve over the course of the year?
Judge: "He's a fun quarterback to watch when you're not playing him, to be honest with you. He's got that kind of gunslinger to him, and he really knows how to improvise and make plays on his feet. I like the way he plays, I really do. I think he's an aggressive player. He knows who the weapons are on the team, and he finds a way to get the ball to them. You can tell he plays with a lot of energy, excitement, and the kind of joy with how he plays the game. I've got a lot of respect for this guy. I think he's definitely improved because he's had more experience in the league."
Q: (Wide receiver Terry) McLaurin is one of the three guys who had 100 yards receiving against you this year. He's not normally mentioned among the elite receivers, but it seems every time you play him, he has a good game.
Judge: "He's a heck of a player now. I remember last year, (former Giants quarterback) Colt McCoy, who had been his teammate the year before, was telling us how talented he is and how impressed he was with him. That was something, as you prepared for him, that really showed up, and this guy continues to get better at his craft. This is a guy that they take shots down the field with. He's got very good speed. He's a strong runner, so when they hit him on those perimeter screens, the underneath drag routes and quick slants, he can take the ball, break tackles, get vertical with it and really make explosive plays. For a long time, the explosive plays came from the catch-and-runs, and this year, they're really trying a lot of shot plays down the field, throwing the ball down the field and getting it to him vertically. So, he's really expanding his game, he keeps on improving. I think he's a heck of a player."
Q: For a punter, is Tress Way about as valuable a weapon as you could have on a team?
Judge: "He does a great job. He's got a fast operation, he's got a big leg. The other thing he's got that's kind of a unique stat that you wouldn't really look at too much is he's got balls that are hard to track sometimes because of how he hits him. He's a very long ball hitter. But then, also, if he miss-hits it, like 99 percent of the time, his ball takes a great roll and keeps advancing. Part of the key to playing him is the ball handling, not only off the catches, but also stopping the roll. He can gain an extra 15-20 yards on the roll consistently. When you watch the tape, you say, 'Okay, they couldn't get to the ball to make the catch, but then they let it roll, and Tress ends up getting that extra yardage.' It's really unique, the way his ball hits, and it always hits that way, but he's a very effective punter. He has had a lot of great experience in this league, a lot of great years. When you play against him, you know that he's a guy that can flip the field."
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team.