EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers, a weekly interview with Giants head coach Joe Judge:
Q: You had to alter your schedule twice this week because of positive COVID-19 tests (many of which were false positive), including holding virtual meetings on Thursday. I assume the experience of working remotely last year helps you deal with what you're now going through.
Judge: "That's definitely true. We took a lot of time at the end of last year to go through and make notes on what we did and didn't like, and what was successful for us, in terms of doing these types of meetings. Knowing that there was always a chance that this could come back up again, we wanted to be prepared. This actually started happening (Wednesday). We pulled out our notes, some of the schedules and things we've done in the past and used that to make sure we had the best schedule for Thursday, based on what was available to us."
Q: The meetings are virtual, but the practices are normal, is that right?
Judge: "That's correct. Outside, there's really no restrictions. In fact, to be honest with you, at this point (on Thursday), we've had all but one of the people who tested positive come back with a negative test. We're actually getting guys back in the building who tested positive this morning, and in their second test, they tested negative, so the league allowed them to come back in. It's kind of weird, the day actually started out a whole lot different than it seems like it's going to end with it moving in the right way."
Q: What was your first reaction when you were told that you had 13 positive results on Tuesday (which was reduced to one after re-testing)?
Judge: "The first thing is who are they? Are they players or coaches?' Obviously, it was a mix. Then, the next thing is what seems to be the common denominator? Where do we think this is coming from? What do we think they were exposed from? You want to try to figure out how it happened, although that's really like chasing a ghost in this instance. Then, it's what can we expect in terms of getting these guys back? You start going through the process of do we have an opportunity to get these coaches and players back. Obviously, we did. There's a couple guys who we're still kind of waiting on results, but it looks like it's going in the right direction."
Q: Regarding player availability for the game Sunday against the Raiders, you're in a pretty good situation, as far as you know?
Judge: "It's kind of in limbo with a couple of those (players). We don't have any final answers from the league. They're allowing us to bring guys into practice, but that doesn't mean they're going to be solidified for the game based on some other things. I'd say right now, we're kind of preparing everybody we have to play."
Q: You mentioned you've seen what has happened to other teams. Two head coaches missed games. The Saints had to play a game without eight assistants. This week, we got the Aaron Rodgers news. Has it constantly been in the back of your mind that COVID could affect you again? Have you continually reminded the players to remain vigilant?
Judge: "It's something that as you watch it happen to other teams, you never think that you're exempt from it. You kind of just take note of what they've had to deal with and maybe some of the reactions that they've had. You kind of study it a little bit more in terms of is that a better plan than what we have right now, is that something worth exploring and looking into? You always go ahead and make sure you know what's going on in the league."
Q: Last year, the defense gave up 27 points per game in the first five weeks This year, it was almost 30 points in the first six games. In the last two games, the defense has allowed 23 total points. Do you feel like the defense is, for lack of a better term, hitting its stride almost at the same time as it did last year, and if so, why?
Judge: "I think obviously we're executing better. That goes into how we coach it, how we prepare it, and how we play it, so it's everybody involved. They're playing good ball at this point. I'm pleased with the direction they are going. There are a lot of times I saw a lot of positive things. Sometimes, it's a play here and a play there that lead to an explosive play or something that extends a drive, and we couldn't have that. There are some similarities and parallels you could draw from last year, but I don't know that it's completely relevant with some different players out there. But in terms of how they're playing now, I'm pleased with the direction they're moving in."
Q: You talk a lot about situational football. When you defer at the coin toss and kick off to start the game, the ideal scenario is to score at the end of the half, and then come out in the third quarter and score again. You had that opportunity Monday night in Kansas City, but didn't score on either possession. Are those the situations where you think you need to improve?
Judge: "I think you have to work continuously on all the situations throughout the year. That's one of many, many situations that we work on and stress. There are the big situations of third down, two-minute, and red area. Then, there's all the micro situations that come up in the game that you may see once a year or maybe once every few years, but you have to prepare and work on them. We actually work on a lot of two-minute drill practice. You want to be able to start the half fast as well, but that's the situation that results sometimes in deferring. I think sometimes people think that that's the only reason you would do that. That's not necessarily the only reason you would do that. But we've got to make sure that any opportunity that we have with the ball has the goal to score points, and we're going to look to do whatever we can to do that."
Q: You brought up the two-minute drill. In a short week that's been impacted by COVID, can you devote more time to the two-minute drill?
Judge: "We work on it multiple times every week."
Q: You're usually pretty good at keeping penalties to a minimum. But you've had two games this year when you've had double-digit penalties, Washington and Kansas City, and you could argue the decisive play in each game was a penalty. How do you use those situations as teaching moments?
Judge: "You have to learn from everything, good and bad. If it's a penalty that comes from technique within a play, we obviously show how we have to play it better, cleaner, and make sure we drill it in practice. If it's something as far as pre-snap awareness or focus that leads to something, we have to make sure we do a good job of recognizing what it is, and then drill it within practice as well to make sure we correct it. It's not simply saying, 'Don't do that.' It's also what are you doing on the grass to make sure that they're not going to repeat that mistake."
Q: (Quarterback) Daniel (Jones) threw an interception on his first pass for the first time, then there was a three-and-out. On the third series it was third and 11, and he hit John Ross on a 50-yard pass to set up a touchdown. How important was that not just for him, but for the team, to see him rally like that?
Judge: "I don't think that's really anything new from Daniel. We've seen that a number of times. The important thing is to play 60 minutes. I think our team offensively has done a good job this year at really making progress through our games of seeing what the defense is giving you, making some adjustments, and making sure that we execute better as the game goes on. So, that wasn't really anything new for us with Daniel. He's definitely someone we count on to go ahead and facilitate the offense and keep moving in that right direction. He responds the right way for us."
Q: How do you think he's handled everything this season, given that he's had a different receiving corps almost every week and he often doesn't have as much time to throw as he'd like?
Judge: "I think it's important that, no matter who's available, we all produce at a high level, and that's really an emphasis here all the time. I'm pleased how Daniel has responded to every situation he's been in. I'm pleased with how he's handled a lot of different types of adversity throughout his career, especially this year as well. As a leader on the team, he does a good job of making sure he has a good relationship and chemistry with everybody offensively he's going to be involved with as well as the defense, too. He does a good job of getting ready and getting prepared, so I am pleased with the progress he's making. I am pleased with the way he's playing for our team right now."
Q: (Running back) Devontae Booker was one of the first, if not the first, significant free agent you signed in March. You probably didn't envision him playing such a large role. On Monday night, he had a career-high 125 scrimmage yards. He's not a guy who had overwhelming statistics at his previous stops, so what caught your eye about him?
Judge: "Devontae does a good job of getting the ball downhill. He's a big back. He has good size. He's got good speed and strength, so it allows him to go ahead and get in the open field and make some plays. I think that showed up the other day. He has very good hands as far as securing the catch and getting the ball into the coverage when someone is tackling him. In terms of the other night, I think it was just kind of the result of taking what was in front of him, following his blocks in the run game, catching the ball in the passing game, and making someone miss. Devontae has done a good job for us. I'm pleased with his progression."
Q: (Cornerback) Adoree' Jackson had 12 tackles on Monday. He seems to be a more aggressive tackler than he was earlier, was in good position on coverages and broke a deep pass. Is he playing with more confidence now, perhaps because he's more comfortable in the defense?
Judge: "I've seen him improve throughout the season. I couldn't speak for Adoree' in terms of anything with those adjectives, but in terms of his performance, I've seen him continue to execute at a high level and be an improving force. He's been in position to make a lot of plays for us, and I like the way he's been aggressive in the run game to get down there, fit it up, and make the tackle."
Q: I don't think (linebacker) Tae (Crowder) has missed a defensive snap since Blake (Martinez) went down. He's now your second leading tackler. Is it safe to say he's responded well both as a player and the defensive play-caller?
Judge: "I like the way Tae is working and the improvement he's making for us. He's really a young player that still is developing. He was thrown into a role that takes a lot of experience to really master. He's gaining experience on the fly. He has prepared for it in practice. It's why we made sure we practiced him throughout the spring and training camp to get him ready if this were to happen. He's really done a good job of improving his craft. I like the way Tae comes to work. He has a good attitude and a team-first attitude, and that's something that guys around him respond to."
Q: Have you noticed any schematic changes in the Raiders since (interim head coach) Rich Bisaccia took over?
Judge: "I think the core of the offense is the core of the offense, but I think Rich is doing a very good job of getting his team going and staying very balanced. They have done a good job with their ball security. They're not really having a lot of turnovers. It gives them opportunities to keep moving it down the field. They play very sound and situationally aware, so I think this team is a good team, obviously. (General manager Mike) Mayock and (former head coach) Jon (Gruden) really left their footprint on how they built this thing over the last three years. You can really see the progress it took. They hit this third year and are really getting this thing rolling. Obviously, Rich has done a good job since taking over and keeping this thing moving in the right direction. The more you know Richie like I do, you can see a stamp on the offense and the team as a whole."
Q: It seems like special teams coaches have kind of a brotherhood. Are you happy to see Rich get this opportunity, though it came about in an unexpected manner?
Judge: "Yeah, I have a lot of respect for Rich. He does a great job. He's very, very good coach. I've known Rich for a long time now, and you compete against these guys. I think the special teams thing is kind of unique. We talk about it all the time, like at the combine. The offensive line coaches get together, and they're not directly competing against each other. Their offensive line isn't playing the other offensive line. Whereas for special teams, you're dealing with a crew of guys who you directly go against on a weekly basis, so it's a unique thing and very close-knit group. There's a lot of healthy respect, and you really get to know people's tendencies and how they think. You really get to know somebody, and you can see them when you play their teams of how their players play. You can see their stamp on it and what their personality is within the game plan and philosophy. It's always just something to me that's very, very interesting about how they use the tools around them."
Q: (Quarterback) Derek Carr has completed 31 of his last 34 passes, and they're second in the league with 308 passing yards per game. They've got a lot of weapons, and they're the only team that hasn't lost a fumble this year. Are they, particularly in the passing game, playing at a very high level?
Judge: "I think this team as a whole is playing at a high level. The defense is very good. They play sound in the kicking game. They really control the field position. Offensively, you can talk about the explosive shots, they're at the top of the league with all that stuff, but they are really balanced. They run the ball and they hit the check-downs and screens very, very effectively. They keep taking the profit. That's a tough thing to stop when you have to worry about the deep shots over your head. They can bleed you to death underneath. Then, when you get impatient and jump forward to stop those plays, there goes a shot over the top. Their element of speed and playmaking from the receivers, tight ends and running backs keeps them very balanced."
Q: What has (defensive coordinator) Gus Bradley brought to the defense? Also, they traded for (linebacker Denzel) Perryman, which was not a big transaction, but he's now second in the league with 81 tackles.
Judge: "They're very sound in what they do. They play very fast, that's the thing you watch all day. They play very, very fast. They have good team speed, but they play fast, they play confident, and they play aggressive."
Q: Lastly, (punter A.J.) Cole is second in net punting in the league. (Daniel) Carlson is obviously a very good kicker, but are their kickers potentially game changers with the way they play?
Judge: "Yeah, I think the way Cole can flip the field by driving that ball down there is a weapon. The punter is one of the best defensive players you can have on the roster. I don't know if everyone looks at it that way, but you punt the ball and it's 'P and 10,' possession and 10 for us. When you play a team that doesn't have as good of a punter, that's an advantage for you. When you play a team that has got a big-legged punter, that's something you've got to go ahead and manage and make sure you can get the return game set up, rush, or whatever way you want to stop that. But they've got the opportunity to make the field shorter for them and longer for you."
Q: Carlson scored 144 points last year and has 58 this year (as does Graham Gano). He's a guy you have to be obviously very mindful of when you're making decisions on the sideline.
Judge: "Absolutely, because he's a big-legged kicker. He's very accurate and does a good job. I remember when he came out of college, and like a lot of kickers, sometimes it takes him a team or two to kind of really get in the rhythm of stuff, but he got on a second team early with the Raiders, really caught on fast, and started making an impact right away. He's been a great pickup for those guys. Look, he's one of top kickers in the league for a reason."
View photos from Thursday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 9 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.