EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants coach Joe Judge exclusively for Giants Season Ticket Members:
Q: I apologize, but I'm going to start today with a frivolous question: When it's 75 degrees and sunny on game day, why do you wear a heavy sweatshirt?
Judge: "I've kind of just worn hoodies, I don't know, the last decade or so. To be honest with you, I kind of wear heavy stuff in training camp, and it goes throughout the rest of the year as well. Not trying to make a statement or anything, it's just what I wear."
Q: You were talking earlier this week about how you want your team's identity to be something that jumps off the tape as you watch it. You've talked about wanting to have a physical team. What else do you look for when you talk about an identity?
Judge: "Well, I look for good, fundamental football. Pad level, striking with your hands, creating a line of scrimmage or re-setting the line of scrimmage defensively. You look for effort to the ball, flying around. We're looking for 11 hats on both sides of the ball finishing through the echo of the whistle. We're looking for skill players making tough plays through contact. Offensive linemen, defensive linemen playing scrappy in the trenches. There are a lot of things. But you want to be able to see the identity come off in terms of how they play. When you watch the tape, to me, you can see a difference in the finish in plays. Is the score dictating how your team is playing? I don't care if you're up by 30 or you're down by 30, it should never dictate the effort they play with. When I watch the tape, what do we see in those regards?"
Q: In each of the last four games, you've rushed for more than 100 yards. You had 166 the other day. You've held the opposition under 100. One of the common coaching clichés is, the first key to victory is running the ball and stopping the run. Are you a believer in that?
Judge: "I've said from the beginning we want to be a physical team, and physical teams do three things. That's run the ball, stop the run and cover kicks. If you can't do those three things, you can't say you're a physical team. That's our goal, that's what we want to be, and it starts with those three elements right there."
Q: With your plus-five in the turnover differential the other day against Washington, you easily have the best season differential in the division. How often do you talk about turnovers to the team?
Judge: "On a daily basis. We talk about it all the time. We're always talking about our own tape and what we have to clean up. We talk about opponents' tape of what it is on there that we can use to our advantage. Look, it's all about the ball. We have to make sure that we do everything we can to hold onto it, and we do everything we can to disrupt it on defense."
Q: Earlier this week, you were asked about Daniel Jones being cautious vs. aggressive. Before the opening game in 1984, Bill Parcells said to Phil Simms, 'If you don't throw two interceptions today, you're not taking enough chances.' Simms says if a coach said that now, he'd get struck by lightning because avoiding turnovers is such a priority. You always want him to be careful with the ball, but does the priority change situationally?
Judge: "We just want him to operate within how we're calling the game. I think he's done a very good job of doing that. There are times in the game where we take shots, and he's done a good job of pushing the ball down the field and taking shots, giving our team opportunities to make big plays. That showed up the other day. First play of the second drive, a 50+ yard completion getting down the field. There have been a lot of times he's gotten the ball into tight windows down the field for shot plays. Some of those shots come to him pulling the ball and running the ball. He's been very aggressive in that regard of doing what we want him to do. Then there are other times, some people may look at it and say, however you want to phrase it, but look, he's operating in the way that the plays have been called. I like the way (offensive coordinator) Jason (Garrett) is calling the game right now. We're running the ball effectively, we're moving the ball systematically down the field, we're pass protecting good, we're run blocking good, we're finishing with the ball in our hands, we're running tough. I like the way our team is playing right now. The way we're calling the game is how we expect Daniel to operate within it."
Q: You've been noticeably improved in the red zone the last three games. Is it simply better execution?
Judge: "I think we have just improved as a team over the course of the year. You're starting to see a lot of that mass up. I'm not a big statistics guy, so you can look at rankings or whatever it may be. I look at the overall execution, game plan and however we carry it out within a game. That's what I look for in terms of the level of improvement. I can see it on a weekly basis. Sometimes it's small steps, sometimes it's big steps. But they all add up over time, and I see us being a much-improved football team in all regards at this point of the season than we were earlier in the season."
Q: Leonard Williams is playing as well as he has since he joined the Giants, maybe for many years. Where do you see his biggest improvement from last year?
Judge: "I think he's doing a really good job against the run and the pass, so I don't want to narrow it down and say there's just one area. I think this guy has done a really good job with everything we've asked him to do. He's playing good, fundamental technique and good, sound execution within the schemes. He's using his hands very well to get off blocks, he plays with a high motor. He's really using his pass rush moves and his counters off it to get him to the ball. Leonard's a guy that obviously we knew had a tremendous amount of potential. He has a great attitude. This guy comes to work every day with his hair on fire, really into his football. The team loves being around him, he brings a lot of energy to the building. He's fun to coach. I think this guy has really helped our team just on all avenues, but for his own specific game, I don't see any area of his game that hasn't been improved this year. I think Spence (defensive line coach Sean Spencer) has done a phenomenal job working with him. Then obviously, Pat's (Graham, the defensive coordinator) calling the game and really using his skillset."
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Q: Devonta (Freeman) didn't play in Washington but you had seven different rushers. You also had 10 different receivers. Only two offensive linemen played every snap. Is the depth and versatility you've developed this season something you're particularly pleased about?
Judge: "Absolutely. That's something that we've always talked about, and it's something we want to be as a team, is we want to have good depth. We want to be a team that has versatility within game plans, within our personnel. Again, I answer all the time, I expect everyone who's at the game to contribute and to play, and we're definitely getting that across the board from all of our skill players, our offensive linemen. I don't feel that we have to get locked into just only having certain people on the field. To me, it's whoever's the best for that moment, for that situation, for that game plan, just go ahead and use them. We owe that to the team to make sure everyone has the best chance to go out there and be successful on a weekly basis. Look, all of our guys practice, all of our guys improve, so when we get to the game, I have no hesitation and I have confidence in all of our players. We're going to play them all."
Q: Graham Gano has the benefit of working with three experienced special teams coaches. He's also made 18 consecutive field goal attempts. When a kicker is in a groove like that, is it like a pitcher in the late innings of a no-hitter - you let him keep doing what he's doing?
Judge: "I don't think you can ever be afraid to coach somebody. I think if you try to start handling it with those kid gloves, just don't screw him up, well then you're going to allow something to kind of trickle off. I think T-Mac (Thomas McGaughey) and Tom Quinn have done a tremendous job with this guy. I have a background with special teams, but T-Mac and Tom are coaching the special teams. I'm obviously very involved with the entire team across the board. I'm very pleased with how Graham's been doing for us this year. He's been a weapon for us. But that whole, 'hey don't talk to the pitcher in the no-hitter', I don't think you can do that over the course of a season with any player at any position. When you see something, you have to coach it because if something's off and you allow it to go ahead and snowball, it's eventually going to beat you. Then you're going to turn back and what's your answer going to be? 'Okay, I just didn't want to get you out of your rhythm?' Well, obviously, he was out of a rhythm. Good players want coaching. They want things to reinforce what they're doing and what's going to correct what they're doing wrong, so you just have to go ahead and have an eye for what it is and know your players and be willing to tell them the truth when you have to."
Q: You play the Eagles on Sunday. You said this week the previous Philly game is irrelevant. The players think they should have won the game. When that happens and you face the same opponent, it's natural to have more incentive. Do you not want them to use payback or revenge for motivation?
Judge: "Every game is different. Every situation is different. That game is over. The result of whatever happened is completely irrelevant to how we're going to play this Sunday. There's nothing that we've done in any previous game that's going to help us win this game. We have to learn from the lessons we've made, and the corrections we make based off what happened in the past will help us improve as a team. But there's nothing that's happened in a previous game, you can't dwell on momentum. I think that's a myth. You can't carry over any kind of momentum. Momentum doesn't exist. Each play is its individual play. You can be moving the ball down the field, you can be winning game after game, you have to execute on each individual play, you have to execute through each individual game. To me, there should be motivation anyway because it's a division game. It's a rivalry team, and it's a tough team, a physical team, it's an explosive team. We better play our best ball to give ourselves a shot to compete in this game, and that's what we're working on right now. But in terms of what the last game was, to me, the only thing that that game was is that it's over. Regardless of the result, it's over and we have a game coming up this Sunday."
Q: It looks like they're getting back several players - Miles Sanders, Alshon Jeffery, Dallas Goedert, Jalen Reagor, a couple linemen. How different do you expect this team to be than the one you faced three weeks ago?
Judge: "I think they're still going to have a lot of characteristics of how Doug (Pederson) has always called the game offensively, and a lot of the weapons coming back are on the offensive side of the ball. But obviously, they're good players. This is not going to be the same team we played a few weeks back. This is a different team in terms of who's on the field and how they're using some of their personnel. But I think when you get into the game, everyone has tendencies, everyone has characteristics that stick with them throughout any game plan. Obviously, Doug has, we do. But it's all going to come down to the players on the field making the plays when it counts. They're adding a lot of really good players back in their roster, back in their lineup at a key time. I'll say this, Philly has always done a really good job of kind of weathering the storm early in the year. Then they get a lot of guys back and healthy, and they make a run. They're always a better team at the end of the season when they get healthy, and that's something we have to be very aware of."
Q: This is the second week in a row you're playing a defense that has a very strong front and also statistically is one of the league's best against the pass. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry – is that group similar in skill level to the front you faced in Washington?
Judge: "I don't want to go ahead and rubber stamp anything and say they're the same because of their setup. But there are some similarities in terms of you talk as a team that they're both extremely talented defensive fronts. They're very disruptive defensive fronts. They're capable of ruining your day by stopping the run with penetration and negative runs. Then also getting to your quarterback and applying pressure. That's really where the backend success comes from. They get after you with the front, it helps the defensive backs, it makes the quarterback throw bad passes, and it really sets up what they want to do down the field. This defense is very, very talented. (Defensive coordinator Jim) Schwartz does a phenomenal job of coaching. He knows how to go ahead and create multiples. But ultimately, within his multiples, he keeps it simple for his team and he keeps them playing hard. I have a lot of respect for Jim. You go against him, you always know what you're going to get, that 'rush, crush, chase' philosophy. His guys play to it, they play very aggressive. Are there similarities in terms of there are talented fronts between them? Yeah, but you see that in a lot of divisions. A lot of divisions are kind of set up very similar. If you look at us, we have a very good front as well. You're going to go down to Dallas and Dallas has some talent down there as well. Within the divisions, you may see a lot of teams that are set up very similarly to kind of counteract each other."
Q: Cameron Johnston has been one of the best punters in the league all season. But they've actually had 22 punts returned, which is the second-highest total in the league. Do you think part of that is they have a lot of confidence in their coverage team and they don't mind returns?
Judge: "Yeah, I think they're just letting him punt. He's a big leg punter, they're creating field position and they have good gunners who go down there and cover. Dave (Fipp) is a really good special teams coach. His players always play very fundamentally sound. I don't think you can be afraid to do anything. If you go into the game and you're afraid to cover them, you're going to end up giving up a return. You have to be aggressive and let your guys do their job. Let the specialists put the ball down there and let your coverage teams cover. It's what we have guys on this roster for. They have to make plays, we have to make plays. But this guy is a very, very talented punter."