EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants coach Joe Judge for Giants Season Ticket Members:
Note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that cornerback James Bradberry will not play against the Cleveland Browns. He was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list because he was deemed to be a high-risk close contact of an individual (not a member of the Giants organization) who has tested positive.
Q: When did you learn (offensive coordinator) Jason Garrett had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unable to attend the game Sunday against Cleveland?
Judge: "We were alerted, it was about 10 o'clock Wednesday night. That's typically the time we start finding results on who may or may not have tested positive. Sometimes you get false positives, so you have to wait to get the official word when you wake up the next morning. But you have an idea going to sleep. The first step we did was make sure that all the coaches in the building were isolated and that we weren't meeting in groups. Even when we do meet, we have the meeting rooms spaced out so there's no risk of close contacts and spreading. However, you still want to make sure that when you find that out, you get everyone as absolutely isolated as can be. We just made sure we got everybody in their offices, had the doors closed, we made it available where if people wanted to leave, they could leave. There was a little bit of (Wednesday) night as well. At that point at night, it was about time for guys to kind of wrap it up, head to the hotel or head to their house and get ready for (Thursday)."
Q: Was (tight ends coach) Freddie Kitchens the obvious choice then to replace Jason as the play caller on Sunday?
Judge: "Well, Freddie's a guy that we've had ready to go and do it. He's handled some responsibilities for us throughout this season. There are other coaches as well on the offensive side who have had experience as play callers and are familiar with this system from working at it for nearly a year. We have a number of guys that are all prepared and ready. To me, it's important that everybody understands the game plan well enough to call the game."
Q: What specifically about Freddie do you like as a play caller?
Judge: "Obviously, I've always had a lot of respect for how Freddie sees the game. I think Freddie is a very instinctive football guy. Football is just something that he's always been comfortable in, growing up and his time as a player, and it carried over to his experience as a coach. I think he does a great job of seeing what the opponent's strengths are and understanding what his own players can do. I always love watching Freddie's players improve throughout a year. I've seen that definitely with his tight ends group this year. They respond to him both in a learning standpoint, but also an effort and technique on the field standpoint. I've always seen his guys compete and play tough. It's been no different this year."
Q: Does Jason normally speak to the quarterbacks - maybe late in the week – about what plays in the game plan they prefer to run in specific situations? If so, will Freddie also do that with Daniel (Jones) and Colt (McCoy) this week?
Judge: "I think it's important that we keep everything as cooperative as it's been on the offensive side. All of the coaches have had input throughout the season. This should be no different. Obviously, Jason through Zoom can still have communication with the quarterbacks. We'll keep those meetings going forward. Obviously, Freddie will be a part of those, as well, going in. But it's important for anyone who's calling the plays to understand how the QB sees it through the game. They have to be on the same page."
Q: Practices in the NFL are sacred. Thursday has become your big practice day. How will not being able to practice on Thursday impact your preparation for this game?
Judge: "I just think it's a challenge that we had to make sure we did our best and got the most out of it, a day we got more meeting time, an opportunity to really study the Browns. We had to make the most of that. Obviously, we would rather be on the field and getting on the grass work. There's nothing more important than practice for how we prepare for a game. Meetings are important, but that leads to on the field execution through practice. We just have to do a really good job on Friday as a team of making sure we get both the early down reviews, as well as the third down and red area install accomplished, and then come back in on Saturday morning and walk through and make sure we clean up any final adjustments or mistakes that may have happened at practice the day before. Look, it's a challenge. It's no different than having a short week where you play a Thursday game and you have to go in with limited practice opportunities. You have to be creative and find the best way to get your team prepared."
Q: You mentioned it's beneficial that the game was flexed to Sunday night so you got extra time to work on Saturday and Sunday, is that correct?
Judge: "That was actually big for us. When this happened unexpectedly, we were able to shift around a little bit of the meetings and how we're going to do things. Now we're going to use Saturday morning as more of a walkthrough practice for us. That will allow us Saturday night to review some tape and have some night-before-the-game meetings. But then also on Sunday morning, wake up and do our hotel walkthrough where the offense goes through their plays in a ballroom and the defense really kind of goes in and works through some variables and adjustments together."
Q: Will Daniel Jones have ample opportunity to show you that he's healthy enough to play?
Judge: "I think so. (Friday), we'll be on the grass. It'll be an opportunity for him to get out there and move around. We're encouraged by how he worked (on Wednesday). Obviously, he was limited in what he did. But I know this guy is working and doing everything he can, and he's doing everything we ask him to. Because it's two separate injuries, that's a little bit different than what it was last week. We just have to make sure we watch him and make the best assessment and decision."
Q: With an ankle injury added to his hamstring, does he have a greater burden of proof to show you that he can defend himself properly and that he's not at an unusual risk? In other words, if he had to show you last week that he could do A, with the additional issue, does he have to show you this week that he can do A and B?
Judge: "I think the A and B is just one big A, to be honest with you. It's the combination of whatever it may be. Can he still accomplish what he needs to do? I wouldn't put the burden on him. I think the burden is really more on us to make the right decision. We just expect him to go out there and do whatever he's capable of and try to get better every day."
Q: A couple of weeks ago, you said you had benefitted from watching the Seahawks play Philly on Monday night before you played them. When we faced the Cardinals last week, you made the point that you like to see how division teams play your upcoming opponents. This week, you combined the two because your next two opponents (Cleveland and Baltimore) played on Monday and they're AFC North foes. Did you get to watch that game Monday night and was it beneficial?
Judge: "I definitely got to watch it. I actually had it on in my office while I was breaking down some other tape at the same time. Interesting enough, I had just finished watching the first Baltimore-Cleveland game, and then that game followed it. It was interesting to see the things that each team repeated and things they looked to do and adjust the second time around."
Q: Did you watch the game until the end?
Judge: "I did. It was a great game."
Q: I was going to ask when you watch a game like that, does the football fan in you come out and say, "Wow, that was a tremendous game?"
Judge: "Yeah. You have to just have respect for the game, that way you can watch it and understand there are two good teams that are out there slugging it away. At the end of it, you had some great players make big time plays. Whether it was Lamar (Jackson) or Baker (Mayfield) getting them all the way down the field, or (Justin) Tucker hitting the game-winner, it's a combination of really good players on the field doing really good things."
Q: That game ended with a play that included a short pass, two fumbles, a lateral and a safety in the back of the end zone after 25 lost yards. Several college games had similar plays this season. How often do you practice plays like that?
Judge: "We carve out time every week to work on unique situations. We do something on Saturday mornings to kind of close out our day, and we put together about three different unique situations. That being said, we're always working the end of game situations on Friday and Saturday. Sometimes you build in those kind of, we call it desperado, where there are laterals going all around the place. To me, it's not an every week thing, necessarily. But you want to build it in every several weeks and keep a steady rotation. You want to work those Hail Mary jump ball plays. You want to work the lateral, hook and lateral type plays. You want to work the desperados. You want to work, hey, it's the last play of the game, ball is on the 11-yard line, what are they going to call? You want to combine those different situations and add an element of clock management to it and make sure the team can handle the stress of the situation in practice so that when it comes up in a game, it's not new to them."
Q: (Cleveland coach) Kevin Stefanski and you were briefly teammates as high school freshmen.
Judge: "Very briefly. I went to a high school where he was at briefly. Then we had some family issues and I ended up transferring high schools. It worked out pretty good for both of us."
Q: Have you maintained a friendship with him?
Judge: "We actually crossed paths a little bit through the remainder of high school being in the same area and obviously being on teams in the area. We didn't play against each other in high school. But as we got through college and got into coaching, we started crossing paths a little bit more. Seeing each other at the combine, talking ball, playing against each other when he was in Minnesota and I was in New England, and kind of having conversations on the field before and after the game. But yeah, it was really good. It's fun to see Kevin and all the success he's having. It's really no surprise at all."
View rare photos of the storied history between the Giants and Browns ahead of their Week 15 matchup.
Q: (Rookie linebacker) Carter Coughlin played almost as many defensive snaps last week as he had in the first 12 games combined. Some of it is out of necessity, but he would not be getting that if he hadn't earned it. Is he a young player who has really made big strides throughout the season?
Judge: "He has, he has. He's a young player that's really come on for us in some different ways. I've been pleased with his progress. He's done some things for us in the kicking game, he's done some things for us on defense, he shows consistent improvement, he plays with a high motor. I love the attitude these young guys have really taken. They've all shown a lot of improvement. I think they've shown some good signs for us going forward."
Q: Cleveland is one of the three teams in the league that runs more than it passes. With (Nick) Chubb and (Kareem) Hunt, that's obviously a good idea. This is the third week in a row you've played a top seven team in rushing average. The Browns are almost at 5.0 yards a run. You're playing another mobile quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Do you see the similarities in these opponents back to back to back, or are the Browns a very different team than Cardinals and the Seahawks?
Judge: "They're all very different and unique in how they do things. But there are similarities in the teams, whether you're talking about Seattle or Arizona or Cleveland, just in the fact that they all have very good quarterbacks who have the ability to make plays with their legs or their arms, they extend plays and if they get outside the pocket, they really present problems to defenses. Then ultimately, all three of those teams, really it starts up front with the run game. You get so concerned sometimes with passing attacks, you forget about the run games. At heart, these teams really are run heavy teams, and that's where they really build their identity. They're physical teams, they're downhill teams. You have to make sure that you play complementary football with run and pass defense, and not go ahead and sell out for one because they'll hit you with the other."
Q: The Browns are very good in numerous situations - first down, two-minute, red zone. How much of your focus, this week particularly but any week, is on the situations that your opponent excels in?
Judge: "We practice every week on situations. The way our practices are structured and our install goes, everything we look at is really situationally. It's not just calling a play first-and-10 and P-and-10, P-and-10 being the first play of a possession, So, if we punt and it's your first snap, that's P-and-10. How does a team handle P-and-10 versus first-and-10? Then you get into second down. Okay, is it second-and-long, a second-and-nine situation, second-and-10? Let's get back on track and try to gain some more yards, how do they handle it? Is that run the ball and try to make that third-and-manageable? Is that throw two passes and try to treat your second down like two third downs and try to gain it in one play but with two attempts? If it's second-and-short, that's a completely different situation. Second-and-one, it is a short yardage run team? Is this a team that's going to go ahead and run play action and take a shot down the field? That's what we call a waste play because you figure if it's a one-yard deal, they probably think on third down they can get that one yard as well. You have to understand the situation of each play.
"Then again, within third down, every team offensively and defensively does something unique based on the down and distance. If it's third-and-two to six, or two to four, what do they do relative to five to seven, then seven to 10 and 10-plus? Teams call the plays differently within those zones. Is it more man beater type routes for an offense, or more tight man when it's third-and-shorter? Is it more sticks routes when it's third-and-long to get to the sticks and turn around, or more sticks defense with zone vision when you understand they have to get 10, 11 yards with where you're sitting? Everything we do is situational. We're never just practicing, 'Hey, it's third down, this is the third-down call.' Why are we calling it? What are we calling it for? Every time the defense gets the call, they should understand the down, the distance, the hash, the score in the game, the time in the half. It should always be the situation that ties together with what they're trying to do. It's a third-and-long situation, okay, where is it? Third-and-long and it's on the 44-yard line. Well, are they trying to get the first down and if they don't get it, they're punting? Or are they trying to get half the yardage and kick a field goal? You have to make sure you understand why we are calling what we're calling. We don't want to just throw darts at the wall and try to hit something. We want to make sure we have a direct target for why we're calling certain calls."
Q: You gave up eight sacks last week. You have a quarterback that has a couple of leg injuries. In this league, teams attack weaknesses. Do you expect the Browns to bring a lot of pressure until you show that you can block that, particularly with (Myles) Garrett there?
Judge: "This team can bring pressure whether they rush four or they blitz. This team is very talented up front with Garrett and O.V. (Olivier Vernon) on the edges. You have (Sheldon) Richardson and the other guys inside. This team is very explosive. They make a lot of plays. It's a penetrating front. To me, if they want to get penetration, they don't necessarily have to add in blitzes. They can do that, and they do do it, but this isn't a team that has to do that to get pressure. To me, obviously, everyone is going to try to attack your weaknesses. It's up to us to make sure we protect. It's up to us to make sure we execute and we call the right plays at the right time."