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Judge's Chambers: 'Capitalize on the opportunities'

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants coach Joe Judge for Giants Season Ticket Members:

Q: You have consistently said you've seen improvement in the team throughout the season and the other day you mentioned you want to be the best team you can possibly be at the end of the year. Were the losses the last two weeks a bump in the road for you or did you see enough to say, "I'm disappointed in the outcome, but we're still making the progress I want to see?"

Judge: "I still see a lot of progress. Progress in how they work on a daily basis, progress in how they respond to coaching, progress in their knowledge of the game situations. We have to make more plays than we've made the last two weeks. Look, the other night (vs. Cleveland) was far better than the week before (against Arizona). We need to capitalize on the opportunities. We had a lot of missed opportunities out there. But in terms of the overall execution of assignments, it was a much cleaner game on both sides of the ball. But we have to do a better job of making the plays in front of us and capitalizing. You can't play a team like Cleveland, who's a good team, very, very talented and well-coached, and not capitalize on the plays in front of you. We have to do a better job coaching that, and we have to make some plays on the field."

Q: You were aggressive with the fake field goal and then going for it on fourth down. Are those decisions largely made prior to the game knowing you don't have Daniel (Jones), knowing you don't have (James) Bradberry and you're going to have to do a little something to manufacture some points if you can?

Judge: "We just knew going into this game this was a high-powered offense. Field goals weren't going to win the game. We've done it both ways. I've gotten down there and we've taken the three points when maybe we could have gone for it. We've gone for it and scored touchdowns. At the end of the night, you roll the dice and those are calculated risks. You play to your defense. In terms of the fake field goal, we felt good about it in terms of it being a little bit of a gimmick scheme. We knew that it was something that would give us a little bit of a chance. It was either going to be a touchdown or incomplete pass. Obviously, it ended up being incomplete. But we played to our defense. We had confidence, they stopped them, we took it back down and we ended up getting three points out of it."

Q: You only had two penalties in each of the last two games. You have 70 the entire season, the fifth-lowest total in the league. Have you been pleased that, for the most part, this team does not hurt itself with bad penalties?

Judge: "We've gotten a lot better throughout the year. That's something we always emphasize. We don't want to have turnovers, penalties or mental errors. Those three things right there will stop your opportunities of winning the game before you get started with what the opponent can do to you because they're self-inflicted wounds. To me, the lack of penalties really stems from better decision-making, which comes from paying attention to the coaching and making the right decision at the moment of truth. The other is, it's improved fundamentals, because really bad fundamentals are what puts you in position to have penalties."

Q: You sound more confident that Daniel Jones will be able to play this week. Are you a little more hopeful this week than you were at this time last week?

Judge: "I'd say in general, because it's not really a two-injury thing at this point. He's had several weeks to get the hamstring better. He had positive days on the field on Wednesday and Thursday. I'd say things are moving in the right direction."

Q: Do you expect to have (offensive coordinator) Jason Garrett this week? Is Freddie (Kitchens) working as the backup play caller in case he has to do it again in the game?

Judge: "Freddie is always ready. That's something we work on, and he's just approached it that way week to week. But we do expect to have Jason back. We've been doing all of our meetings with Jason through Zoom. I don't want to speak for him, but I can say with confidence he's getting very tired of being in the hotel. To be honest with you, this is a rough time of year to be in a hotel isolated. We have a lot of sympathy for what he's going through. Fortunate enough, we're pushing on his health to remain positive. But we expect to have him this week."

Q: You've been practicing outside all along and will continue to do so. Some coaches like to go inside at this time of year because they say you'll get better execution in better conditions. You prefer to practice outside. Why?

Judge: "Because those are the conditions that we're going to play in. We're going to always try to make practice a little bit tougher than what the games might be. We're going to use every element that we have to our advantage. There may be a situation where it's raining throughout the week and we're not expecting rain on the weekend. But we're going to use the opportunity to go out there and practice with wet conditions, wet balls, wet grass, and make sure we keep our feet under us and we can handle the ball accordingly. It may be a situation where we're going to play a warmer weather team on Saturday or Sunday and it may be snowing outside. But that may be the only opportunity you have to practice in snow that entire year, so you better go ahead and take advantage of it. We don't control the weather. We control how we play through it. That's just going to be our mindset, that whatever it is, we're going to go outside and we're going to get better that day."

Q: One of the themes this week is (Baltimore's) John Harbaugh going from special teams coach to head coach. You followed that path. Special teams coaches work with players on offense and defense. What about being a special teams coach has helped you this year in your first season as a head coach?

Judge: "I'd say the biggest part is you talk about building the roster and you're always evaluating talent, and you're always evaluating players and the total puzzle comes together and the different pieces how they complement each other. The other thing is every day you're working with every position on the team. That includes the quarterbacks. You're always managing personalities. You're always teaching things that may be foreign to what they do on a down to down basis on offense or defense. But you're working with everyone on the team, and you have to know how to manage their time, their personalities, and what you really need to get out of them. The other thing I think that helps just in development is every day standing in front of the team and talking, presenting something, so it's not foreign that you have to address the team and know how to hit the different spectrum of personalities within the room. You have to make sure you hit something to keep everybody engaged and everybody learning at all times."

Q: Last week, Julian Love moved from safety to cornerback and (rookie) Xavier McKinney got more snaps than he had in any of his four games. How much progress have you seen from him since his return (from foot surgery)?

Judge: "Starting with Zay, we've definitely seen weekly improvement with him. The biggest thing with Zay is he just hasn't had an opportunity to play. He got hurt in training camp, there was no preseason, he went on I.R., he came off and he's been playing. Part of the plan was to kind of ramp him up gradually throughout his time back. We weren't going to throw him out there the first game and give him 70 plays. But he's demonstrated more and more that, number one, he's handling the responsibility effectively. Then also, that his body is in condition and responding to the rigors of playing NFL games. A lot of it is just protecting him physically. But he's at a point now we can go ahead and just let him play. He's doing a good job for us.

"In terms of Julian, he's a guy that brings a lot of versatility to us. He's just a steady, even-keeled guy. Last week, we had a situation come up with the corner position. When we went to Julian and said, 'Hey, you have to play corner this week,' he didn't blink. He said, 'Whatever you need,' and went out there and worked it. I thought he played a solid game for us right there. That just kind of shows his overall value to the defense, is his ability to play nickel corner, perimeter corner, or deep field safety. He does a lot of things for us and that's a strength."

Q: You have two Pro Bowlers, Evan Engram and James Bradberry. The Pro Bowl is important to the players. What were your thoughts about them getting that recognition?

Judge: "I think both guys have worked very hard and have earned that recognition. Both guys have benefited our team. They've done a lot off the field as well as on the field to help us. They're great teammates, they're a pleasure to coach. In terms of both of those guys, we couldn't be happier for them."

Q: You had mentioned yesterday that the Ravens are a very good first quarter team (with a plus-45-point differential in the quarter). Logan Ryan was on the Tennessee team that went up on them 14-0 and forced them to play catch-up in the playoffs last year. Is that something you've talked about this week, the importance of being ready from the first snap because the Ravens are very good early in the game?

Judge: "Absolutely. I think you have to understand how your opponent wins, what they do that makes a difference, and you have to understand how they hurt other teams. This is not a team you can start slowly on. They're an explosive team in a lot of different ways, and you have to go in there ready to go from the jump. You have to do your due diligence in studying tape and understanding what they're capable of, because to me, a lot of it is guys are not mentally prepared for the game plan, physically prepared for the speed of the game or emotionally prepared for the physicality and the emotion that's going to be brought in down there in Baltimore. You have to come into the game ready to go."

View rare photos of the history between the Giants and Ravens ahead of their Week 16 matchup.

Q: You just played a very rush heavy team in Cleveland. The Ravens run on a higher percentage of plays than any team in the league. Do you have to change your defensive mindset because this team runs the ball a lot more than it passes?

Judge: "We change our game plan week by week based on the opponent. We hit a string of teams that have some similarities, whether it's mobile quarterbacks or now obviously a couple of run heavy teams in front of us. I think again, though, it always ties back to what is this specific team. This is a power run team. But it's different than the Cleveland Browns running game. The element of how they use the quarterback in the run game, the misdirection, the motion, there are a lot of things they do that's very different. Just the fact that they're handing the ball off is a similarity. However, the type of run game they have is very different." 

Q: This month, you faced (Russell) Wilson and (Kyler) Murray. What is the one characteristic that sets Lamar Jackson apart from them?

Judge: "They're all very good players and they all have unique skillsets, and they all play their own, I would say, style of football. They all have the ability to scramble, they all have the ability to extend plays, and they can all make plays with their arms. Not comparing but just saying directly about Jackson, I think this player is explosive. He's very elusive, he's extremely fast, he has great running instincts, he has very good balance and body control, he's tough to take down, he breaks a lot of tackles. He can get to his top speed very quickly, but then also decelerate and change direction at will. This is a guy, he's a much different type of player at that position than really any other quarterback I can think of in the league. Obviously, he's having a tremendous amount of success with what he does. I think this guy coming out of college, what he did in terms of saying, 'I'm a quarterback', and kind of demand that he wanted an opportunity, and he's obviously made the most of it. You have a lot of respect for guys who do that. He knew what he wanted to do, and he proved that he's obviously one of the tops in the game doing it."

Q: Defensively, they're fourth in points allowed. They've got Pro Bowlers on every level, and (cornerback Marlon) Humphrey is playing very well. When you studied their defense, what jumped out at you?

Judge: "There's the pressures and the elements of multiples. But they've always been a very physical team, and they've always been a very disciplined team in the way they play. Even though there's a lot of multiples, they play within the structure of the defense. Their front is very talented, their back end is very aggressive. This team attacks the ball, I mean, attacks the ball. They're turnover machines. You see guys like Humphrey out there, this guy is two forced fumbles away from the league record (he has eight this season). You know he's going for it every time he gets a chance. You have to study their opponents. They know what the weaknesses are. We have to do a good job with ball security this week, and we have to do a good job playing on the same page and protecting the quarterback."

Q: Sam Koch has been their punter for a hundred years (actually, 15). He is 22nd in gross punting average (44.9-yard average) but seventh in net average (42.9). What does that tell you? That he has a good coverage team? He's a good directional punter?

Judge: "I think it's a combination of things. First off, he does such a great job disguising his punt direction and really moving the ball on you. He hits a different style of punt, and it's very, very effective. It's not just that he's booming it down the field and letting everything get set up, he's moving it on you, and you have to react to where the ball is going. Then they have a top core team in the league. They have explosive penetrators at the gunner position. They have good, solid linebackers inside who can run. They play fundamentally sound, they play with good leverage in space, they do a good job of tackling. Obviously, this is a phase that's been very emphasized by them. They really built the talent on the roster to complement this phase."

Q: How was your Christmas morning? Did you spend some time with your family before going to work?

Judge: "Absolutely, yeah. Waking up and watching the kids open presents and having breakfast with the family, spent a little bit of time. From about 12-3 (p.m.), we'll in the building. We handled some of the Friday meetings after practice yesterday. When we're done with practice today, we'll clean some things up and get home in time for dinner, make sure we're with our families. It's one of the obstacles that you deal with in terms of having a holiday season around football time. If it was earlier in the week, we could have adjusted the week slightly. If it wasn't a COVID year, we could have adjusted the week slightly. But we had to make sure we get this work in today. Talking to the captains and several of the older players, especially guys who have children themselves, I wanted to use the feedback they gave us, and I wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to watch their children open up presents."

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