EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants coach Joe Judge for Giants Season Ticket Members:
Q: You coach a young team. On Sunday, you're going to play a Week 17 game with postseason implications, the definition of a big game. Do you think playing in a high-stakes, late-season game accelerates a team's or a player's development more than a midseason game?
Judge: "I think everything is an opportunity to learn from. But I don't disagree with what you're saying. I do think playing in these games at the end of the year are definitely very good learning experiences for our team. As you pointed out, we have a lot of young players. The more experiences they can have will benefit them. That being said, I think there are a lot of myths about the experience carrying over into postseason play. We can talk about that later at some point. But I just think it's important that on every step of the way, they get a different feel and flow for different games. We opened up on Monday night, that's a different kind of a feeling. We played short weeks on Thursday, we had a long week off the Thursday into a Monday night game against Tampa, and that's a different type of feeling. Playing late-season games, division games, that's a different feeling. The more experiences they can have, the more they can learn from and they carry on the experience."
Q: What about the coaches? Do all those different experiences and playing in a game like this help you coaches evaluate players better because they're in these different situations and playing in these important games?
Judge: "You get to see the development of your young players especially playing through these games right here. It allows you to see how they've developed throughout the season, how they're handling different levels of pressure. That's very important. I don't think it's anything career-defining with any of these young players. However, it does give you some insight into how they go ahead and step up in different types of games and different types of matchups."
Q: You've been playing in empty or near empty stadiums all season. This is a big game. Do you think this will have a big game feel on Sunday in MetLife Stadium?
Judge: "To be honest with you, it's our job to bring our own energy. Once we get out there, you're focused and locked in. I've been saying all year and I'll say it again, it's definitely a different feel and a different element not having fans there. It's definitely something we want to have back as soon as possible. Look, it's tough. I don't know if the fans really realize, but the energy part of the game, the energy part of the stadium, the team interactions, that's a key part of what we do and it's really what you work hard for. It's really the reward for your hard work. We definitely would rather have fans. That being said, once you get out there, you can play in the backyard, you can play in the parking lot, you can play in the sandlot, it doesn't really matter. It's two teams going after each other. It's a rivalry game."
Q: Daniel Jones said (Wednesday) that he's essentially still limited in his ability to run (because of his hamstring injury). He said, "I've played from the pocket the last couple of weeks." Do you have any concerns about what he'll be able to do and how that will translate into what the offense can do if his mobility is limited?
Judge: "I wish he wouldn't have revealed all that. But I'd say in terms of Daniel, look, we're going to go ahead and make sure we have things in the game plan to supplement for his lack of mobility."
Q: You've been very forceful in your support of Daniel. You talk about his work ethic, decision-making, toughness, leadership. Outsiders point to his numbers, the nine touchdown passes, that he's won seven games. Do you think that if he has the foundation of the attributes that you like so much about him, eventually those numbers and that production will come?
Judge: "Yes, absolutely. The production is not really how you have to evaluate a player at all times. Stats can be very misleading at times. That being said, we have to do a lot of things better as a team. That will bring the stats and those kinds of numbers up. But to me, the development of Daniel is about a lot of things that have nothing to do with numbers. He's really demonstrated a lot of progress this year in a lot of things, on and off the field. It gives us a lot of confidence going forward with him."
Q: Eli Penny is an unsung player. He doesn't touch the ball a lot, but he is a very good blocker and he's a core special teamer. What did you miss last week not having Penny?
Judge: "One thing Eli always brings is an element of toughness to our team. There's something about having a fullback at the game, a guy that plays in the kicking game for you, plays with a high effort. Eli's a great teammate, he's a fun guy to coach, he brings a lot of experience. He brings some elements to our offense and kicking game just with his body type and athletic ability. Obviously, he's a guy we want at every game. He's an important piece of our team. When you don't have him there, obviously you want him there, but we have to make do with who we do have available."
Q: I asked you about Dalvin (Tomlinson) recently when he was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. On Sunday, he will become the first defensive player since the merger to begin his career with the Giants and start each of his first 64 games. What does it mean to have a player who is always available for games and never misses a practice?
Judge: "We tell the players all the time, the most important ability is availability and dependability. He's definitely those two things. He's always available, he does a great job keeping his body right and getting fresh for the next game. He's very dependable in how he works. He's very consistent with what he gives us on the field. Look, this guy is a tremendous guy. He's a good player, he's a great teammate, he's a fun guy to coach. I can't say enough good things about him. Obviously, he's being recognized with awards for off the field stuff, for his leadership and the way he handles himself and holds himself as a person. It's no surprise to anybody inside the building when he gets accolades like that. The fact that he's the first Giants player to ever do that, one, that's very impressive for the length this team has been around, the great players who have come through here. But his ability to get out there and you can say stay healthy, but the reality is it's really playing through pain. This guy goes out there, no one's 100 percent in the league at this point. The position he plays, it's a collision sport, it's a collision position. This guy is at the point of attack on a play in and play out basis. He does a really good job of doing everything he can to be out there for the team. You never hear him complain about anything. Not once. Not one time."
Q: James Bradberry is fourth in the league with 17 passes defensed. He's very quiet. When he talks to the media, he's very modest. He's not demonstrative at all on the field. In your experiences, is it sometimes those quiet guys who are the most competitive?
Judge: "I think everyone has their own personality. One thing that someone told me a while ago that I've always kind of laughed about but taken to heart is whether you're possessed by the holy spirit or the devil, when you walk between those lines, you better be playing possessed. Just because you're a quiet natured guy, it doesn't mean you're not going to play with a lot of fire. Some guys that talk the most are the ones that back down the fastest. To me, it's just about how guys compete. I think James just shows day in and day out that he's a competitor, he prepares the right way, he's a professional, he takes care of his body. He really goes out there every time, and no matter who he's matched up on, he does a heck of a job for us."
Q: I'm not breaking any news here when I say you haven't scored as many points in the first half of games as you'd like. You were productive in the first half early in the season in games against Dallas, Tampa Bay and Washington. As coaches, when confronted with an issue like this, how do you react? Do you review what you did when you were succeeding?
Judge: "First off, we have to finish drives as coaches and players better than we have. We have to play complementary football to put ourselves in position to have better field position. That ties into the offense, defense and the kicking game, all three have to work together. But there's always a self-scout element of what we've done before vs. common opponents, as well as just what we've done within our own scheme. Other teams are studying it, we should study it as well. Are there some things we try to get back to? There are, but it's really more applicable to who you're playing that week and how they play. Simply put, we have to keep doing a better job across the board in everything we're doing. But we have to play better complementary football, and that will help with the production going up in the first half."
Q: After four weeks facing mobile quarterbacks, this week you're playing a more traditional pocket passer in (Dallas') Andy Dalton. Does that require an adjustment for the defense?
Judge: "I wouldn't say it requires an adjustment. I've been pointing this out, Andy is very capable of extending plays with his legs. He's had a career where he's run some zone reads, he's pulled the ball down, he's scrambled. He's a smart runner. But I think the way Andy really affects the game is he's extremely intelligent, he gets the ball out fast and on rhythm and he's a very accurate passer. You put those together, it kind of negates the need for him to extend plays because the ball is out of his hands to the playmakers very quickly."
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Q: You said their offense goes through Zeke (Elliott), but if you look at the numbers of some of their receivers, (Amari) Cooper, (CeeDee) Lamb, (Michael) Gallup and (tight end Dalton) Schultz, they're very impressive. Do they put a lot of pressure on a secondary because they have so many guys who can catch passes and make big plays?
Judge: "It's rare that teams have multiple receivers, let alone three big-time ones like these guys have. They've done a great job of identifying, bringing them into the program, developing them along the way. They've done a really good job of getting these guys incorporated into the offense for explosive plays. There's been a history of these guys making plays down the field on big passes, and there's been recent history watching them catch a slant, break a tackle, take it for 70. Catch a screen, take it for 50-plus. They can make explosive plays whenever they catch the ball. Obviously, the passing game is huge for how they make plays. But to me, it all still goes through the running game, and that fuels the passing game."
Q: There was a period there with their defense where Demarcus Lawrence was their only consistent playmaker. Now (Randy) Gregory is playing well, they have (Trevon) Diggs and (Cedrick) Wilson in the secondary. Jaylon (Smith) is playing well. Their defensive numbers aren't good, but I'm sure you think that doesn't reflect their talent.
Judge: "I think it's a very talented unit, and think they're playing very good as a team right now. You look at what they've done these last six games, they've really hit their stride. These coaches have found a good comfort level with how to play their players. They've been very productive, they're producing a lot of turnovers and putting a lot of pressure on opponents. To me, this team, you can take a lot of those numbers that are maybe skewed throughout the year, I think all you have to do is look at the tape and see how they're playing as of late. This is a very good team."
Q: Both times you have played Dallas, you talked about having to be ready for John Fassel's special teams gadget plays. But they're also good on the basics - third in the league in kickoff returns (26.6-yard average). Lamb is already a dangerous punt returner.
Judge: "Oh, absolutely. They're two very explosive returners. They're different. CeeDee Lamb, he's more of a big field returner. He can get it vertical if you give him space, but also, he'll stretch the field and look to go ahead and get it out there to space and create a return a little bit on his own with the big walls. Then (Tony) Pollard back deep, this guy hits the thing hard vertically. He's a really good one-cut runner. You have to wrap him up and tackle. I think people forget about his history sometimes as being a receiver in college, and really a kind of telling sign of how fast he really is. But this guy is a tremendous returner. I remember watching him coming out when he was at Memphis, coming out of college and knowing that this guy was very, very explosive. He was a guy that I had on my own personal radar. Obviously, he ended up getting down to Dallas. I think they made a good move bringing him in. He's definitely doing a lot of good things for them."
Q: For a long time, when teams won the coin toss, they took the ball. This year, in every game you've played, the winner of the toss has deferred. Why do you think that's changed? Why do you like to defer?
Judge: "There are different reasons for every game, so there's not one specific reason. You see a lot of teams, what they try to do is get the ball at the start of the second half and see if they can't double up on the scores in a lot of ways. The points before the half, the points to start the second half, a lot of teams take that approach on it. Look, there are different times you want to take the ball and either start strong or aggressive with your offense. Maybe sometimes it has to do with the elements outside you're playing with. There are different reasons you want to go ahead and either kick off or receive or defer. I can't speak for every other organization. While there are multiple reasons we may want to defer in specific games, we have different strategies every game. It just so happens that the few we've won, we've elected to defer."