EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: Before last week, did you ever before have a 40-0 lead in an NFL game, and what was it like when you did?
Shurmur: "I don't ever remember it being that much, but things went our way. I think we played really good football in all phases. Things went our way, we scored points when we got down there, and so the guys earned that lead. The challenge then always is to finish the game the right way. We did some things at the end to try to see some other players because we felt like that was the right thing to do. But we found a way to win it, and I'm pleased with the fact that we got a win."
Q: How satisfying is it as a coach that you lost two of your best players, one on offense and one on defense, and everyone else kind of stepped up and picked up the slack?
Shurmur: "Landon (Collins), certainly, and Odell (Beckham, Jr.) are two valued members of our team. I think teams beat teams. Along the way, every team deals with injuries, so it sounds very cliché to say next man up. But I think it's important that the guys are on the field feel the responsibility to play well and help the team win."
Q: Every wide receiver in uniform contributed to the victory in Washington in Beckham's absence. Did you specifically challenge them to step up?
Shurmur: "Not specifically, but I think that the same can be said in all of our victories. That hasn't been any different. I think the focus was on the fact that Odell was not there. But along the way, this group of guys has helped us win games by blocking, catching balls and doing what you have to do as a receiver. There was more focus on it because Odell wasn't playing, but I think that group has done a good job of contributing, especially here in the last part of the season."
Q: You're always looking ahead, but is there any part of you that asks, "Why couldn't we have played this well in some games earlier in the season?"
Shurmur: "No, because you can't live in that world. If you just live in that world a little bit, then eventually you can't totally live in the here and the now, so it is what it is. We still have the opportunity to finish 8-8 one game at a time, and we're going to have to beat a good Tennessee team this week."
Q: You're still in the playoff race. Things have to happen, but if you win all three, there's a chance. Do you raise that point with the players, or is that still too abstract?
Shurmur: "That's as abstract as looking back. You can't do that. You either look back and say, 'What if,' or you look forward and say, 'What if,' and the things right in front of you slip by you. So no, we can't do that."
Q: After he dropped a pass early in the Washington game, Saquon (Barkley) went to the other offensive players and said, "I'm going to make up for that." Did he say anything to you, and what does that say about him that he would do that and then back it up?
Shurmur: "I didn't hear that initially. It's good. It's another example of a guy that is super competitive, knows he's going to get more opportunities in a game, and it's reassuring to the guys that, 'Hey listen, I made a mistake here, but I'm going to do what I can to correct it.'"
Q: He has 1,124 rushing yards and he could win the rushing title. Could you have imagined he would be this productive?
Shurmur: "I don't know what I expected other than we knew – we hoped we were getting the player we thought he was and he is. He's an outstanding player, he gets better each week, and I hope he's a really good player for many, many years."
Q: The offense has improved lately for several reasons. I was wondering if one reason is Eli (Manning) is simply throwing the ball better. One example is the throw he made to (Corey) Coleman down the sideline the other day, which he couldn't have walked over and placed any better.
Shurmur: "That's the same throw he threw to Odell twice against San Francisco, so he's – obviously, it's all connected and we're all doing things better – quarterback, the O-line, receivers, running backs, the whole unit has played better in the back half of the season. It's all connected. When you block better, the quarterback has more time, and an accurate passer like Eli can do what he does. When he's under duress or being harassed, that's hard on any quarterback. Same can be said about the run game. If you give Saquon a little bit of room there, he's got the ability to make big yardage, and the same can be said of the pass receivers. If you catch balls and make good catches, we're able to kind of move the ball and keep drives alive and get in the end zone."
Q: Eli ran down, at least after the one touchdown, and "photobombed" the celebration in the end zone. Do you sense he's really enjoying playing with this group?
Shurmur: "I think that's the takeaway from last week's game. I've sensed that all along. It's easier to show joy when you're winning. I think that's something I'd like to see more of, certainly."
Q: The last two games, your first touchdown was scored by the defense. How big a boost is it for the entire team when that happens?
Shurmur: "That's a huge boost for a couple reasons. It's demoralizing for an offense, certainly, to turn the ball over and then have it be turned into points. It's encouraging for our team, because we get ahead. I think it's just one of those things where it's – when you score a touchdown on offense, it's encouraging, but when you do it on defense, you've got both sides of the coin there, and so it gives you a little jump start."
Q: The first time you played Washington, Adrian Peterson ran for 149 yards. Last week he had 16. Is that an indication of the improvement in your run defense?
Shurmur: "We played better and, again, it's all connected. We were able to kind of zero in on the run game, being they were playing with their third quarterback. But tactically speaking, I thought our run fits were much better than the first time we played them. We tackled better in the open field, so they didn't get long runs, obviously, and it just was a better performance."
Q: You had 14 sacks in the first 11 games and have 10 in the last two. Does a healthy Olivier Vernon make that much of a difference? Is that the catalyst there?
Shurmur: "I think so. I'd like to think as he gets further and further away from his preseason injury, he'll be more and more disruptive. The last couple of weeks, he's really made an impact, and you can see how damaging that is for an offense when you have players in the front that disrupt both the run and the pass game."
Q: Last week, we talked about the high number of penalties (23) in the previous two games. In Washington, you only had two, and it was the first time ever the Giants had 13 fewer penalties than the opposition. Did the team play smarter in that regard?
Shurmur: "I think so. That's a big difference in penalties, so I don't know what to take of that. But we preach the pre-snap and the stupid penalties, and that we need to avoid those at all costs. There's penalties of aggression that happen at some point. You're just playing hard and you may get a hand to the face or an errant facemask or whatever or a PI (pass interference). But the dumb ones and the pre-snap ones, those are the ones that we certainly coach to avoid."
Q: You selected six players in this year's draft, and with (Kyle) Lauletta's debut last week, all of them have played in a game. Obviously, Saquon's the headliner, but the first three (including guard Will Hernandez and defensive tackle B.J. Hill) are starting, and Lorenzo Carter and RJ McIntosh are contributing. Can you talk about the impact this draft class has had on and off the field?
Shurmur: "Obviously, we knew a lot about them and we vetted them out because we wanted terrific players that were going to be terrific teammates, and I think they've all displayed that. I think they're going to be part of our cultural shift, and we have them out there playing. They're all contributing in some way and we're pleased with the guys that we picked - not to mention the Grant Haley's and the Sean Chandler's (rookie free agents) and the other guys that are not part of the actual draft class. I'd like to think that (linebacker) Alec Ogletree's part of this class, as well, because we traded a draft pick for him. When you look at the impact of this year's draft on our team, we're hopeful that we got a lot of good, young players that are going to be with us for the long run."
Q: I'm sure how you've seen the double lateral that Miami used the other day to beat New England. What did you think of the play and do you practice plays like that every week?
Shurmur: "We all have those plays. The last play of the game against Philadelphia was hook and ladder, so we all have them. The percentage of those scoring is very low. Obviously, they talk about New England's inability to defend it. I think there should be more focus placed on Miami's ability to execute it. When the ball was passed, the runner (Kenny Stills) did an excellent job of bringing everyone to him before he kicked it away (to DeVante Parker, who lateraled to Kenyon Drake). I think Miami did an excellent job of executing. We all have those plays."
Q: This week you play Tennessee, which has the NFL's top-rated red zone defense. They're fourth in the league in points allowed (19.5 a game) and sixth in third-down defense (36.4 percent). What do you see when you look at their defense?
Shurmur: "I've competed against (defensive coordinator) Dean Pees in the past. I worked with him at Michigan State. I have a great respect for what they've done there. I think (head coach) Mike Vrabel's done a really good job with their team. I feel like he's probably trying to do a lot of the same things we're doing here. From a defensive standpoint, because they're hard to score against, that helps them. I think that situational football is critical. To be first in that stat – the only other stat you want to be first, there's only a couple, turnovers certainly and then third downs. If you can be a defense that is high in the rankings in third down, turnovers and red zone, you give your team a really, really good chance of winning."
Q: (Running back) Derrick Henry had a great game last week, and (Corey) Davis is having a good year and (Dion) Lewis is a productive receiver out of the backfield. Do you expect to get such a heavy dose of Henry?
Shurmur: "I think they'll spread the ball around and I think the quarterback is the key component. I got to know Marcus (Mariota) through the draft process, and I think he's doing a really good job. It runs through him. He's good from the pocket, but he can also scramble. They do enough zone read to keep the number right, and then they have a runner they can just hand it to. The young receiver is doing a nice job of having production. There's enough balance there where we have to defend them as a team and just make sure we play good ball."
Q: (Darius) Jennings and Adoree' Jackson are they about as good a kickoff and punt return duo as you've seen this year?
Shurmur: "Very dangerous. That's the piece that a return for a touchdown can break a game open. I think, check my math, but I think if all else being equal, if you have a kick return for a touchdown, your chance of winning goes to about 80 percent. That's where we have a real strong appreciation for who they are."
Take a look at the projected starting lineup for this week's opponent.