Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
Q: Last night, Justin Tuck said that he thinks if you get it all together as a team, you can make a run this year, but he feels like something is missing. He said that he knows that he is on the outside looking in, but that the group of guys that can light a fire underneath you are missing. Do you agree with that or dispute that?
A: I mean I never really thought about that. I am not sure what Justin is talking about.
Q: Just like intangibles.
A: Yeah, I think we have some pretty good guys and I think we have guys that will take on the challenge of what we are facing right now. Look, I love Justin and everyone has their opinion.
Q: Can you talk about the challenge that Jason Witten presents? You guys have had some issues against tight ends this year.
A: Yeah, we have gone against this guy a lot. He makes a lot of plays, he is still every bit as threatening as a pass receiver and I think he is a better blocker now. I think he has taken that on as a challenge, to be a good blocker, he does that really well. He will have to be a focus, but it is the same thing that we have faced in the other games, pick your poison. Who do you want to take away? Last week we, in some regard, did what we wanted to do.
84 (Antonio Brown) had that touchdown, but we didn't want him to wreck the game and throw the ball down field and they didn't do that. They had some other places that they could go and they did. This team presents the same problem. They have a running back, they have a wide out that can wreck the game, they have a tight end that is crafty – they have a slot receiver who makes a lot of people miss when he gets open, so we will put something together, let the guys play and hopefully it is well enough to win the football game.
Q: How will you approach life without JPP?
A: Look it, first of all, nobody is as crushed as I am and he is. I wish him well. I am glad that he is on the road to recovery. That is a tough thing to go through. I felt that he was doing one of those (gestures that he was on the rise) and certainly when you have a guy of his caliber on the rise, it makes our whole unit on the rise.
But anytime this happens, everybody else has to step up their game and if you can come together as a unit and everybody can get better as a unit, then you can survive. We will miss him. You can't replace him, but you just have to find other ways to make up for the production that he has given us.
Q: What kind of growth have you seen from Romeo Okwara?
A: Yeah, Romeo is a young guy that was kind of a surprise when he came here. He has got some length, he is a smart football player, high effort guy. I think he will give us some productive snaps and he has big shoes to fill. It will not be just him; it will be a bunch of other guys. Look it, he has gradually gotten better. I think that Pat Graham and Z (Coach Jeff Zgonina) have done a great job with him and we will see what he can do for us when it comes Sunday.
Q: Across that stretch of the season, how much attention was JPP taking from the other guys?
A: You really would have to ask offensive coordinators. The beauty of what we had was two guys that people had to worry about and some inside guys that get a middle push. That may change for people. We are aware of that. We will have to do some things to make sure that we can open up in some areas, but when you have a guy of that caliber, people have to pay attention to him, so it is kind of naturally opening up something somewhere. We don't have that now, so we move on and find other ways to do it.
Q: How much do you have to change to compensate for that?
A: I don't know that we will change that much. We can't throw everything out, we are what we are, our system is what it is. We can tweak things a little bit, move some guys around, get some productivity out of other guys at other spots and go from there. Look, it is a team game, it is a unit. Great players make a unit a lot better. When you are missing one, you find ways to compensate for that by guys just – everybody's level of play going up and that is what the challenge is for us to do.
Q: You have always been able to read your players very well. Do you sense that even though they know they will miss JPP greatly, they can still rebound?
A: Yeah, I think so. This is a confident, bold group. Look, guys that make it in this league are prideful guys. Every one of them thinks that they should be starting, should be a great player. They don't get to this level if they don't do that, so every guy, to a man – I haven't seen anybody blink. I go in those meetings and out on the field and I don't see anybody blinking, so hopefully we can put something together on the field without JPP that is going to make everybody proud.
Q: On Owa (Odighizuwa), Kerry (Wynn) and Romeo (Okwara)
A: Those will be the three guys that will find some time in there, inside and outside. That is where we are going to have to get it from. They have been hearing all the same things that everybody else has, they have been in the system now, all those guys for a year and a half. It is time for those guys to step up. I think that they will face the challenge, we will see what we come up with, but we are going to let those guys go out there and role.
Q: How much has Owa progressed?
A: Owa was up and down. He went through injuries last year, he fought an injury last week, so he has to come back from that, so he has fought that bug a little bit. But we have a lot of faith in Owa. He is a high motor guy. At one time last year, we had him in what we call the joker, doing a bunch of different spots. We had other people to fill in after he got hurt and he never really got that spot back, but we have high hopes for Owa.
Q: You said recently that when you played the Bears, Jordan Howard was the best back you saw on tape. Does that change this week?
A: We have seen some pretty good ones. Look, Zeke Elliot just gets better and better. I thought that he was pretty good when we played him the first week, but he gets better and better. There isn't anything that I can say about him that hasn't been said. The guy leads the league in rushing for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because he is a good football player.
Q: They lead the league in time of possession. How much do you have to be mindful of your rotations and keeping the defense fresh?
A: That is a good point. We are hopeful that we don't play as many plays as we have. A lot of that falls on us and third down. They do a great job, I think, of keeping that offense in manageable situations. Very rarely do they get behind schedule. Mainly because mostly all of their run plays are productive run plays, very few tackles for losses and negative plays in the run game, so when you do that, it makes it a challenge. But to me, it is going to be when we can get them to third down then make sure we win the third down, get off the field and get the ball back to the offense, but they are pretty good at possessing it. When you have a run game like that, it makes it difficult.
Q: How excited were you to see Eli Apple's break on the ball for that interception?
A: Yeah, that was a nice play. I still go back to Cleveland when he got the pass interference penalty and on the very next play he came back and picked it off. I know he was out of bounds, but to me that tells me a lot about him. He is resilient and you have to be like that as a corner, so it was good to see him step in front of that play and pick it off.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan
Q: If Shane Vereen is able to return, how will that affect the running back position?
A: That's a great question. I'm hoping he's able to return and we're going to see how that plays itself out. Obviously the things he did before he got injured helped our offense a great deal from a pass game perspective. He also was running the ball quite well. Obviously we have to wait and see where he's going to be at physically. Hopefully he's going to be there for us and certainly he could be a weapon that can help us get back to where we need to be.
Q: You always preach next man up with the guard position. I was wondering what kind of affect that had had on Ereck Flowers, playing with a rotation beside him?
A: Well you know, continuity is very important, you hit the nail on the head. The communication, the calls, the anticipation and there's no substitute for having the consistency, having the same guys on your left and on your right. It's been a challenge for those guys and I think it's a credit to those who have been given the opportunity that they've been able to step up and do some good things. It also helps the development of Ereck Flowers and Weston Richburg to try and get themselves to be able to compensate from a communication standpoint and help whoever is in there to be successful.
Q: Was Sunday the most frustrated you've seen Victor Cruz?
A: It's hard to say, I really didn't have a lot to say to him after the game other than you go around the locker room and check to see how everyone is from a health standpoint. Obviously no one is happy, everyone is disappointed and frustrated. So I really couldn't speculate if he was more disappointed than anybody else was in that locker room after a disappointing and tough loss.
Q: I'm sure you heard his comments after the game and he spoke to Coach McAdoo, what did you make of all of that?
A: Well, I spoke with Victor as well, had a very productive and positive conversation. I have a history with the young man and have a great deal of respect for him. He's made plays for us this year and we anticipate him making plays for us in the future. The week before, it was Sterling Shepard as far as the targets not being there and this game happened to be Victor.
Those things aren't by design and sometimes they turn out that way because of the quarterback read. He might have been the primary receiver but maybe the protection breaks down and some other things come about. It's unfortunate in terms of how that plays out because obviously we need all of our receivers and all of our offensive players on the perimeter to be able to win for us and be successful and be able to contribute.
Q: Why hasn't he played in the slot more?
A: We try to cross train guys as much as we can and you've got a guy like Sterling Shepard who's done a good job on the inside and has been very productive on the inside. One of the things is that we've had these kinds of conversation in terms of how we can kick start things and how we can get more productivity offensively. It's about trying to move people around, so he's had some more opportunities recently and we're constantly looking at that from a matchup standpoint, from a cover standpoint, to try to be able to put those guys in the best position.
Q: As much as you guys commit to the three receivers, wouldn't you have to also commit to involving all three of them?
A: To a degree, absolutely. There's definitely merit to your comment or your point as far as trying to get all three involved. Sometimes the defense can, I don't want to say dictate and give them too much credit, but they can do things from a look standpoint, particularly when they're going to commit extra players to Odell, for example, one or the other is going to get singled up and there can be a more advantageous opportunity for one over the other based upon alignment or based upon matchup.
Those are things we do look at and, again, from the surface there is definite merit to what you pointed out but sometimes based upon what we're seeing from a coverage, one or the other is going to be in a better position and based upon the concept. That's going to direct the quarterback in where he's going to start.
Q: How do you get the disparity you have where Odell gets one target in the first half but 15 in the second half. Did Pittsburgh change something because it seemed like you were forcing the ball.
A: Talked about it throughout the year and mentioned it last week, there's obviously good things that will happen when he gets the ball. Obviously if we're turning the football over, if we're having penalties that negate 36 yards of gain, if we have some of those tackles for loss, that is going to set everything back.
We try to find ways and get the ball in the hands of playmakers but that isn't going to be exclusively for him. We'd like to have other guys have their opportunities and step up and have attempts at the plate, so to speak. I think it depends on how we're being played and where the openings are and how it plays itself out.
Q: How far is this offense from what you envisioned in week 7?
A: It's been disappointing. Everyone wants to know why, why is the offense struggling and why is there no consistency and rather than go through the litany of various reasons and mitigating circumstances, if we had to look at one thing that jumps out, it's ball security. Right now we're 28th in the league, we've got 21 turnovers and it's hard to get consistency and get those snaps and score points.
It's hard to … the ball, get the run game going, you name it. If you're on the sideline without the ball, you can't do those things. It's things we've addressed. It's been a combination, whether it's the fumbles, or the interceptions. The most important thing that we have to do, and certainly this week against this team, we've got to take care of the football.
In terms of not being able to have that consistency, being unable to have the offense that we all want to have and expect to have, that's really something and when you go back through, as much as coaches, we're so locked into this week, but if we take a step back and I'm sure in the off season looking at cut ups, it's really going to jump out how we have a turnover in the first play of the game, or here's a turnover when we're in a position to score points. That's probably the biggest thing when you talk about why we're not where we want to be, that probably jumps out.
Q: After the game Ben said, we are what we are right now. What makes you think that 13 games into the season anything can change?
A: The thing that I think it goes back to, first off, it's cliché but it's true, the past doesn't equal the future. Just because we've had inconsistencies, the penalties, the turnovers, that doesn't mean that there's no magic wand or force field power force that's going to make that happen on Sunday night. That future is in front of us and that's where our focus is.
I think if we can do the things as far as taking care of the football, if we can do the things where we have an explosive play and get a first down then suddenly a penalty negates it, some of those self-inflicted wounds. I know everyone says that and we certainly give the defense credit for things they're doing. I think we have shown those flashes, we have had those runs, if you will, those drives; the first drive in Chicago, the first drive in Cincinnati, when things are in a good groove. I think it's just been those turnovers, negative plays and penalties that have shot ourselves in the foot, so to speak.
I think from a confidence standpoint, we really believe that we've had a great preparation, we had a heck of a practice out there today and being in the elements was a lot of fun. We're going to build upon the success we had this week and bring that preparation to Sunday night and we know that the future and everything we want is ahead of us and there's no reason we can't eliminate those things and be the type of offense we want to be.
Q: On one of the receivers tipping plays by rubbing hands together before pass plays
A: I don't read too much into those things. I think it's always easy after the game to second guess or comment. They did a heck of a job...Oh he made his comment before the game or after the game…?
A: I wasn't aware of that. To share with you guys, we're constantly in the mode of having people somebody take a look at TV copies, and all the little tells and the unusual words that have been reported that you hear at the line of scrimmage. There's a method to the madness.
DE Olivier Vernon
Q: Obviously a big game against the Cowboys this week. Now without JPP, what do you guys have to do to pick up for the loss?
A: Guys just have to step up. It's a big game. One of our rivals. Come Sunday, we're going to see what the young guys can do. We have a lot of confidence in them. They've been working their tails off since day one. We just have to wait and see come Sunday.
Q: You and JPP have worked so well together. How much added pressure does this put on you?
A: Really it's just about adapting. Hopefully we can get back sooner than we think. Just play ball. We can't control anything that's happening right now. All we can do is just adapt.
Q: To what degree does the pressure increase on you?
A: We just have to go out there and play. There's going to be obstacles out there. You just have to go out and play. Do what you have to do. Hopefully the other guys are going to come in and step up. Make the plays like they have to. I know they are. Nobody is really losing any type of confidence right now. We're just sticking to it. We have the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday and we're ready to play.
Q: How have you worked on your communication with Romeo Okwara and or Kerry Wynn this week as a result of the absence of JPP?
A: That's something that we've been working on since day one. Everyone on the defense pretty much communicates. That's probably been one of the biggest things that's helped us get to where we are right now. Just the communication aspect of everything. Just continue. Continue as follows. Stay communicating.
Q: Now that JPP is not here, how much more has that changed in terms of the volume or how you have to communicate because it's not the same?
A: That's true, it's not the same person. As far as when it comes down to practice, the young guys, they're communicating as well. They just have to step in and do what they have to do. One thing about them is that they have a lot of confidence. That's one of the big things I admire about them. When they get in the game, they do what they have to do. They do their job and make things happen.
Q: What do you worry about first when it comes to Dallas?
A: They have a lot of weapons. They can run the ball and pass the ball. They have an elusive quarterback. He's very calm, cool and collected. We just have to bring our A game. Bring our A game and focus on Giants football.
Q: Are you surprised, impressed when you look at what Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been able to do?
A: I'm impressed by two rookie guys doing their thing. You can't even call them rookies anymore. It's already past that stage. We're in December. December is all that matters. Pretty much have to just play Giants football and keep it moving.
LB Keenan Robinson
Q: There is a lot that Dallas can throw at you. How do you handle all of that at once?
A: They are well rounded. First thing is to stop the run. That's the number one focus. Number two is to convert on third down. Limit them on converting third downs. Get off the field on third down for us. Those are the two things that we do. That makes our chances of winning pretty high. Thirdly, get turnovers.
Q: Does it get any bigger than this Sunday night against your rival?
A: Yes, it does. The Super Bowl or division playoffs. At this point in the year, I guess not. Every game is big for us. We just look at one game at a time. The next opponent is the biggest challenge. They're the biggest obstacle facing us at the moment in order for us to get to where we want to get to, which is the playoffs.
Q: What's your take on Dak Prescott?
A: He's very confident in what he does. In the scheme that they give to him and allow him to do, it plays really well to his strengths. They have a great running game, of course, but when he's asked to throw the ball, he's able to do that very well. He's able to make crucial throws and decisions. He doesn't turn over the ball that much. That is something you see.
Q: What's the key to stopping Elliott?
A: Just keep doing what we've been doing all year. Keep building a wall and being aggressive.