EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants head coach Joe Judge:
Q: This is basically the halfway point of the season. Some coaches like to use the first half to set up the second, because you want to be playing your best ball late in the year. What are you looking for in the second half of the season?
Judge: "The goal is always to play your best ball at the end of the season. We need to improve every week as a team, so that continues to be our goal. We want to make sure we keep playing with consistency, keep playing as a unit on defense, find ways to execute and be efficient on offense, and in the kicking game, to continue to establish good field position, especially through our coverage units, which has been a strength for us for the first part of the season."
Q: In your second season as head coach, do you do things differently than you did last year as far as your personal schedule, when you meet with coaches, and how you game plan?
Judge: "I'd say in terms of the communication of the game plan, that still remains about the same. Obviously, being in year two working with a lot of guys who I worked with for the first time last year, that's been a little more fluid, just in terms of understanding each other's personalities and what to expect. That's been a little bit smoother this year in terms of just working out the schedules and knowing when we go ahead and hit some things on the run as we have to as far as meetings. I'd say the overall process remains really fairly the same in terms of how we prepare for games and making sure that we check all situations and we account for everything, being fully prepared.
"In terms of hours in the day, you're always wishing for more. I don't think that's ever going to stop being the case, no matter what year you're in. Last year, the big thing was COVID. That was something that has crept back up lately. We're drawing a lot of our experience from last year, so that's given us windows of opportunity to draw on our experience. But in terms of it being year two versus year one, obviously going through it for a year gives you experience on how to handle different things and what to anticipate as a head coach. But as far as preparation for the game, there hasn't been a significant amount of change in just the overall process of that."
Q: With you personally, how far ahead in studying opponents do you try to get?
Judge: "I'm always a week ahead on the opponents. You like to go ahead and kind of tie up and put a lot of things to bed with your current opponent by Wednesday of a normal week. Then, on Thursday, Friday and through the weekend, you start preparing for your next opponent. It gives you a jumpstart because you want to be ahead. Then, you start talking with the coordinators earlier in the week about what they're looking at, what they're expecting, and you would have already watched the tape, so you have your opinions. You can give them a window of how you want to see the game plan before they get too far in their own game plan."
Q: With how you deal with the players, you always strive for consistency. You have your rules, but you've always been aware that players have individual needs at some point to have a day off here and there. Have you changed at all how you approach the players in your second year?
Judge: "I think my approach has always been the same. Look, we treat people as individuals. There's rules and structure of the team, but you have to know the players as individuals as well. But we don't put anybody above the team. We don't compromise principles of the team for anybody, coach or player. That being said, there's obviously a number of guys that now we're in multiple years with relationship-wise. Last year, everybody was relatively new to each other, but we have a large number of new guys right now as well because of the constant turnover of the roster. That's just the nature of the NFL. So, I'd say that you're able to draw from a lot of experiences with guys from last year. Some of the older players that have been in captains meetings and leadership meetings probably have more of an established history with us and more of an established kind of trust-base, in terms of knowing the players and them knowing us, so the conversation is a little bit more open and fluid, in terms of handling things going forward.
"One thing right now that we've navigated over the last few weeks is having a Monday night schedule in Kansas City, a short week against the Raiders, a bye week, now a Monday night in Tampa, and we'll have a short week at home against Philly. So, being able to get the direct feedback from the players in terms of, 'Hey, how did you feel coming off that road trip?' We've already changed some things within the schedule for the Philly week based on feedback we got within the Raiders week. You talk to the players going through it by asking, 'Where did you guys feel challenged in terms of rest and recovery? How did you feel in terms of the prep work? What are some things that we can push around and change?' That's been good. Then also, throw in the other wrinkle of Thanksgiving next week, drawing on those players and being able to take honest feedback of if we keep it a shorter day, as is the plan for Thanksgiving, so guys can go home to be with their families, how can we make sure we get the necessary work in on Friday to Saturday, and what the best way is to structure that? So, that's all been very positive as far as just being around the guys longer and having more of a relationship with them."
Q: You communicate publicly through the media. Last year, it was all Zoom. Now, you are in-person. Just as you don't publicly criticize players, you never lash out at the media and never seem to get angry with reporters. Do you also try to be consistent in how you present yourself that way?
Judge: "There's always a different audience where I can't assume that somebody has the same perception or knowledge base that we do. Someone is always speaking to a direct audience. I always want to give the best answer I can, so when someone is writing their story, they can do their job. I've always taken the approach that everyone has a job to do.
"We meet every day with the beat writers, who have a very challenging job. These are people who have to come up with a different story that's unique. They're here every day. It's not the national media, where they pick up and you'll have a story a week or maybe when something significant happens here. There are people here that have stories every day, keep up with the team and tell the story of how the team is going through the year. I have a great respect for how they're trying to do their jobs, and I try to help them do their jobs by being honest. At the same time, there's different ways I'm going to approach and handle things as far as our team and what I let out there.
"But to be honest with you, between being in-person and Zoom, I'll take being in-person every day of the week. I wasn't crazy about Zoom last year. I like personal interaction. I think that's a key part of everything we're doing. I'm not really one who's much for the digital age, to be honest with you. Whether it's social media or getting stuck in the internet, I try to get out of that as much as possible, so just being able to have one on one conversations like we are right now is, to me, much better than last year through phone calls with Zoom."
Q: Do you have a very specific game day routine. Do you have any superstitions or things you like to do on game day?
Judge: "I consciously got away from superstitions a couple years ago. I just realized that if it came down to how I put my socks on or how I closed doors on the way out of the house that I could get home a lot earlier and go to bed. Ultimately, it's going to come down to our preparation and the execution of the players, but the answer is yes, I do have a game day routine. I think everybody does. There is variation of home versus away, one o'clock, four o'clock and night games that maybe change a little bit. Generally speaking, if it's a one o'clock home game, I stay at my house the night before, and I'm up early. My wife (Amber) drives me to the stadium and drops me off. She's done that since the time we were GAs (graduate assistants) and working our way up. I get to the stadium early. I watch a lot of tape with a couple of coaches in our office. We go through situational tapes and opponent specifics. It's almost an exercise for your mind with some of things that come up throughout the game. If it's a night game, I still try to get there early. If it's a night game, we have meetings with the players earlier in the day."
Q: When you say early, how many hours before kickoff?
Judge: "Well, if it's a four o'clock game, we'll generally have a meeting somewhere around 9:30 in the morning to make sure the players are up, going, and we give them a couple quick reminders. It's a quick in-and-out meeting. If it's more of an eight o'clock start, like Monday night or Thursday night, a lot of times we'll do our Saturday night walkthroughs that morning to give the guys a little bit of a reprieve the night before, in terms of letting their minds rest a little bit. Then, we wake up the next day and kind of get them back going with the walkthrough and the reminders. It's really about the gap in between the meetings, so if it's a late afternoon or night game, you're going to fill that time with something.
"For me, I'm normally working ahead on the next opponent until call it 3½ hours, or I'd say more about four hours before kickoff. That is when I switch back over to situations and kind of watch more things that may come up throughout the game that I've got to be prepared for and have to talk through.
"Then, if it's a deal where it's a Monday night game and you're on the road, you've got a lot of dead time in that hotel to fill, so we'll meet with the coordinators throughout the day. We'll have meetings with the players. We'll work on the next opponent. You have to travel over to the stadium, so there's a lot of dead time to fill. But I'd say my general game day routine is the earlier it is, I'm up, going to the stadium, and I get started on it. If it's a delayed game, as far as the late start at four o'clock or a night game, once we're done meeting with the players, I try to get almost back into that early day routine of getting back in the stadium."
Q: Is there ever a time when you have that meeting with the coaches prior to a game where you add something to the game plan late, or is it more of a refresher type of thing?
Judge: "Well, it's both. A lot of times when we talk to the coordinators early in the day, we're talking through different situations that'll come up, two-minute situations, third down, fourth down and things that nature. We talk about how we want to handle certain things, and we kind of talk out the best course of action. We ask, 'Do we really like this look? Do we want to get out of something? Do we want to check to this play or a certain look?' We're just making sure that we have all the final things nailed down before we get to the sideline. There's always something to adjust and something to change. It never stops. I'm of the school of thought that you want to always leave yourself flexibility to adjust as you go. If there's something you could put in on the front end, go ahead and do it. If you would make a change at halftime, why would you not do it hours before or the night before when you have time to really thoroughly go through it with the team?"
Q: Let's talk about Monday night's game. The Buccaneers are 4-0 and average more than 40 points a game at home. When they lost in Washington last week, Tom Brady was so disgusted he only took three questions at his postgame news conference, an indication he's as competitive and as fiery as he's ever been. I would assume that as someone who knows him pretty well, you see that as well.
Judge: "Absolutely. I mean, Tom is extremely competitive. It doesn't matter if you're playing football, checkers, or whatever it is, he's trying to win. Look, this guy is playing at a very, very high level. I have a tremendous amount of respect for how he prepares and how he executes. So obviously, they're having a great deal of success down there in Tampa with him. It's going to be a big challenge for us going down there. They play well at home, they play well everywhere. I don't really think it matters if it's home or away. These guys are very talented and very well coached. Look, Tom has won a lot of games in every stadium in the league."
Q: When you have receivers like (Chris) Godwin and (Mike) Evans, is it a pick your poison type thing? They're both so good.
Judge: "They use them differently, but I think ultimately, they know how to use them to their advantage based on the matchups that are presented. I think, ultimately, that's what they're looking for. They want to make sure that they go ahead and put themselves in a favorable position per play. You've got to make sure you execute and, obviously, Tom is one of the greatest players to play the game. But, it's really about the entire team you're going to play, so whether it's Evans, Godwin, if (receiver) Antonio Brown comes back, or if (tight end) Rob (Gronkowski) is back, it doesn't matter, the backs, (Giovanni) Bernard and (Leonard) Fournette, these guys are all weapons. You've got to make sure you play with good technique and good execution."
Q: They're a top 10 defense and second against the run. I don't know if they will have (defensive lineman) Vita (Vea) this week, but they have many good players. (Linebacker Devin) White put up tremendous numbers last week. White and Lavonte David may be the best linebacker tandem on the inside in the league.
Judge: "They're very, very talented. Their front is as good as anybody's in the league. They can really get after you upfront as far as penetrating. They have tremendous speed and power coming off the edge with JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) and Shaq (Barrett). Inside with (Ndamukong) Suh and Vita Vea, these guys are very, very talented. (Defensive lineman Rakeem) Nunez-Roches, I've known him for a long time. I actually had him briefly when I was at Southern Miss. He's a very athletic big man. He's good for penetrating, can pop out, and can play the underneath for crossers coming out based on situation.
"When we talk about those linebackers, the first thing is speed. They're fast, and they can fly. They're sideline-to-sideline linebackers. These are guys that they can use in coverage equally as well as the run game. They're very good at blitzing. They know how to disguise their looks. Having this unit together almost entirely, they had some injuries here and there, but almost entirely is very unique to this league. You can see the chemistry in how they play. They understand what (defensive coordinator) Todd (Bowles) is going to do with the game plan."
Q: Devin White had 18 tackles and two sacks last week. Do you have to focus on him, maybe come up with something special to try to neutralize him, or do you just play your normal game plan?
Judge: "There's always elements of every game plan where you have to account for their strengths and their top players, that's no secret. But with this team, they have so many that if you try to structure an entire game plan for a linebacker, you're going to get eaten alive by the defensive ends and the interior pressure. So, we've got to be balanced in how we attack it and know, based on what scheme and match-up we're trying to create, that we have answers for where we could be vulnerable."
Q: Nothing jumps out about their special teams numbers, but you think they are very solid, correct?
Judge: "I think (special teams coordinator) Keith (Armstrong) plays the game as it comes to him. I think they do a very good job playing situationally aware. They're a good protection team. They do a good job in their coverage units. If they have the opportunity to get a return, they can make you hurt. Keith coaches his guys to outhustle and out-tough you. They play very physical. They use a lot of good combination bodies. There's a lot of size with these units. They have some good speed. They have talented specialists. And look, Keith has been around for a long time. He's one of the most respected coordinators in this league for a reason. I have a tremendous relationship with Keith. He's a friend. I have a lot of respect for him. I know those guys are taught, and I know they're prepared. It's going to take a lot for us to win our individual matchups against these guys this week."
Click through the history of the New York Giants facing legendary quarterback Tom Brady, a series that includes two meetings in the Super Bowl.