EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants coach Joe Judge exclusively for Giants Season Ticket Members:
Q: Was the bye a nice break in your routine? Were you able to remove yourself from football for a while? Or is it hard to set aside football when you're the head coach?
Judge: "I think for anybody you have to kind of force yourself to build in a little bit of downtime. You almost want to schedule that in, structure that, you have to almost put it on yourself that, 'Ok, on this day and a half or two days over the weekend, I'm not picking up any ball.' That being said, you're still watching on T.V. Your mind never really stops, so you're still texting with your coordinators and different things, saying, 'Hey, you watching this game? See what just happened there? Maybe we can do something similar.' Or maybe, 'If we got that, how would we handle it?' Sometimes you can never really put it down. But I think that's why we enjoy it so much. Ultimately, it was good for the players to get physically refreshed. These guys stayed in town, so a lot of them came in and still got workouts in and got some extra treatment and some body work throughout the week. But we've seen a good response this week in terms of going out to practice and guys feeling fresh. Good juice and energy out there."
Q: Did you get a chance to watch the Washington-Dallas game yesterday?
Judge: "Absolutely. I watched it while we were sitting there eating dinner. Thanksgiving, we always have the game on in the background in our house."
Q: When we last saw the team, you were finishing up a stretch in which you had five division games in six weeks. During the time, the team improved a lot. Were there one or two areas where you thought you really made big strides in that six-week stretch?
Judge: "I think just the team as a whole improved dramatically. I thought our fundamentals really showed the improvement. To me, that was the biggest thing. That was a big emphasis for us, and we watched a lot of the tape early on in the season, and we had to make sure the players were able to tie together the fundamentals, which is truly the most important part of it, to the scheme that we were doing on a weekly basis, and make sure we did a good job as coaches of simplifying what we're doing schematically to match up with things that are similar for each player in different concepts we're working. The biggest improvement I saw from the team was just fundamentals across the board elevating. That's allowed us to play better. You tackle better, you run better, you take care of the ball better, those things are going to help you win."
Q: Six games left, you're in the thick of the division race, you essentially control your own destiny. Is this about as good of a position as you could ask for as you enter the final six weeks of the season?
Judge: "I would just say for our entire division, everyone is really on equal ground right now. The most important thing for us is to improve on a daily basis and be the best team we can be at the end of the year. That's really all we're talking about as a team that we're concerned about. If we don't improve, it's not going to matter anyway. If we don't get better every week and give ourselves a chance, it's all going to be irrelevant. To us, it's about going 1-0 each week. Obviously, the division thing is something that's out there. But really, our emphasis right now is just going 1-0 this week against the Bengals."
Q: You have some roster decisions to make this week. You always have decisions to make about inactive players, although I think most of them have been pretty clear cut this year. It may be a little bit more complicated in Cincinnati. Do you prefer to have a good idea early in the week who will be inactive so you can practice the players who will be on special teams, or would you rather have the players earn a uniform during the practice week?
Judge: "It goes both ways, to be honest with you. The first thing we discuss as a staff is how do we want to play the game. That ties into different positions that are going to be up for the game and different areas where you may need more depth based on how you want to play the game. We do a preliminary list of guys who may be down. That being said, it all comes down to how they practice throughout the week. What we do is we bracket a lot of guys. It could be guy A or guy B based on how they practice, or guy A or guy B based on how a certain scheme shakes out or whatever it may be. But ultimately, we want to let the players earn it throughout the week in how they practice, especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They've been good. They come and they compete every week, that's been positive for us. You want your coaches to have a general idea of who they may have available, although we're very clear that it's not going to be decided until Friday after practice. But we want to make sure we have a good preliminary idea that they can go ahead and map out what's going on."
Q: You're making an effort to really recognize practice squad players who do well. This week in practice, Carter Coughlin wore Lawrence Taylor's No. 56 and Colt McCoy wore Frank Gifford's No. 16. What's the genesis of that?
Judge: "It came from a conversation (assistant general manager and vice president of football operations) Kevin Abrams and I were having one day. We were talking about different ways of making sure our guys understand the history of this program and organization. One thing that we're trying to always do is educate our players on the area we represent and the organization we represent. To me, it's critically important that they understand the players that came before them. It just came up in the conversation. There are certain retired numbers. Wouldn't it be something if we let those guys pick a number? That led to retired numbers and the Ring of Honor guys. What we did was put together a book on the members of the Ring of Honor, and the players, if they earned player of the week, they can go in and they can pick what number they want to wear. But they have to learn all about that player. When they're called on, they have to present to the team in terms of who that player was, what was significant about his career, what was significant about what he did for the Giants organization. Colt presented Wednesday at the end of practice on Frank Gifford. I thought he did a tremendous job of really setting the bar high for everyone else who has to go after him. But I just thought it was a good tribute. Look, these guys were obviously great players. If you're going to put their jersey on or represent their name and number, then you better have another great week of practice. You can't afford to go out there and slack off, because God knows what happens if some of those guys watch someone wearing their jersey and they weren't out there giving 100 percent."
Q: Daniel (Jones) had the two turnover-free games just prior to the bye. Was more emphasis placed on taking care of the ball or is that part of the natural evolution of an improving quarterback to play a clean game like that?
Judge: "We're always emphasizing ball security with all of our players. It starts with the center, goes to the quarterback who touches it every play, then the running backs, receivers and tight ends touch it when the ball comes their way. But I just think as a whole, our players have been working hard on that. It ties into the fundamentals I've talked about in terms of what's improved over the last stretch of games. I think Daniel is just having constant improvement throughout the entire season on a weekly basis in all areas."
Q: Graham Gano's status for the game in Cincinnati on Sunday is uncertain (because he is on the Reserve/Covid-19 list). He has 245 career field goals. If he doesn't play, you're going to replace him with Ryan Santoso, who has never attempted a regular season field goal. Any particular concerns about that if that happens?
Judge: "No. Ryan's shown a ton of improvement since he's been here. I think Tom (Quinn, the assistant special teams coach) and T-Mac have done a great job working with him. He's a very talented player, he has a huge leg, and he's a big, strong dude. We have a lot of confidence in him. You know what, we try to rattle really all of our specialists occasionally when they're out there performing. I try to go ahead and pick at him when he's out there performing, and this guy is mentally tough. He kind of ignores all of the external factors and concentrates on his job. He's demonstrated to the team that he has the ability to get in there and help us compete and win games, so we have all the confidence in the world in him."
Q: Keeping with the theme, (punter) Riley Dixon had 53.3-yard net average, allowed no returns and had a 71-yard punt against the Eagles, and he's tied for the league-lead with 21 kicks inside the 20. He's been under the radar a little bit. Can you talk about the year he's having?
Judge: "I think he's having a tremendous year. He's definitely a very good punter. He's a really good athlete, which opens up a lot of windows for different fakes or how he can handle different situations. But just in terms of being a pure punter, I think Riley does a really good job. It's not just his traditional punts of sitting back there and trying to hit it as far as he can and as high as he can. It's using the alternative kicks right now, whether it's the plus-50 trying to pin that thing inside the 10-yard line or learning how to use the wind and not fight against the wind in what he's doing on a weekly basis. He's shown a lot of growth. Again, I think Tom and T-Mac do a tremendous job with those specialists. They really do. He's a guy that just keeps on getting better and improving. I love having him on the team. He has a great, calm demeanor about him. A lot of poise, but at the same time, he's a guy that brings some competitiveness and fire to him every day. He's definitely his own toughest critic. Again, I like to kind of poke at those guys a little bit and see if I can rattle their cages when they have to perform. He never disappoints."
Q: The Bengals have the third-lowest percentage of running the ball in the league. Do you think that might change with a new quarterback? Or because the strength of their offense is that wide receiver group - (Tyler) Boyd, (Tee) Higgins and (A.J.) Green - they'll stick with what they do best?
Judge: "I think (coach) Zac (Taylor) does a really good job of game planning against specific opponents. Whatever he identifies our weakness to be and how he wants to go ahead and match up against us, we'll definitely see a share of that. I would just say, as a whole, their team has a ton of talent. This receiving corps is really elite. I'd be shocked to not see them push the ball down field as they've done all year. I think they have two very capable quarterbacks, both guys a little bit different. (Ryan) Finley gives you a little bit more legs outside the pocket to extend plays and scramble. Brandon (Allen) does a good job of sitting back there dissecting, and he really gives his receivers an opportunity to go up there and make tough catches. Whether it was in Denver or whether it was in L.A., he demonstrated that he'll put the ball up there and the guys he had there went up and made catches. This corps of receivers has already shown with Joe (Burrow) throughout the year that they'll go up there and make those 50/50 catches at a much higher percentage. This is a very talented offense. We're going to expect them to play with that explosive, big-play mentality. But the one thing that people forget about with these guys sometimes is they really extend drives well. They have 29 drives over 10 plays. That's one of the tops in the league right there. They can stay on the field, move it and get it down into position. They have a kicker (Randy Bullock) who has a big leg. Once they get into some kind of range, they have not been hesitant to go ahead and put him out there and let him take a shot."
View photos of the history between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals ahead of the Week 12 matchup.
Q: Boyd does a lot of his work in the slot. Is that a particular challenge for Darnay Holmes this week?
Judge: "I think it's a challenge for anyone who covers him. He's a very talented receiver. We have to all play our best. We have to make sure we understand where he is at all times and the types of routes he runs in different positions. But whoever covers, whether it's Boyd or Green or Higgins, I can keep going down the list of guys they've got, this is a tremendous challenge for our defense. We have to make sure that we're prepared to go win this game."
Q: Their top two tacklers are (Vonn) Bell and (Jessie) Bates. In some circumstances, you don't want your safeties to be your leading tacklers. But you said this week that (Lou) Anarumo coordinates from the back going forward. Is that unusual or do you think their injuries upfront have played a part in that?
Judge: "I think their safeties play aggressive. A lot of their tackles come from lining up in the box anyway. They're playing a lot of single-high defense, which puts a safety at linebacker depth anyway. It's the same as looking at it as the linebackers making tackles or that box safety. It's not that they're getting a lot of runs down the field and making all these tackles. They have just been in an aggressive position to get up there and fit it and make those plays. I think they play aggressive from the backend, and Lou does a great job of tying everything together in front of them. But no, I don't think that's indicative of them having issues. I think it's just how aggressive their safeties play and how Lou plays aggressive with them to get them down in the box and make plays."
Q: You mentioned Cincinnati's special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and his special teams yesterday. (Brandon) Wilson led the NFL with a 31.3-yard kickoff return yardage last year. He's still pretty good at 24.1. Is he someone you really must pay attention to this week?
Judge: "Yeah, I don't care if it's with the ball in his hands as the kick returner or he's covering on kickoffs or punts. This guy is a weapon. He really is. He's one of the tops in the league. He's an elite player. You have to have a lot of respect for this guy right here. For Giants fans, he is kind of like Dwayne Harris in terms of having a core player who also is your returner, which is very rare. To have that dual skillset of being a guy who can run down the field and make tackles also with the offensive skillset to be the returner, that's something that's rare and is really a weapon for them. You find a guy like that, you want to hold onto him and keep him. But he's definitely… Darrin knows how to find these guys and develop them, and this guy has made a lot of plays out there."