EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: Coaches have different philosophies about a bye week. Some see it as a welcome one-week break in the routine. Others would prefer to keep playing. How do you look at it?
Shurmur: "I think it's important that you go back and look at what you've done, evaluate the good, try to do more of that, and try to stay away from the things that are bad, and the areas that you need to improve you need to improve. I think we've highlighted some of those areas and made efforts to change."
Q: When you were home last weekend, did you watch football or did you try to get away from it?
Shurmur: "I'm a football fan, so I watch football on Sunday. But basically I was just home, spent time with the family."
Q: Was the entire family (wife Jennifer and four children) home?
Shurmur: "Yes, Kyle (the quarterback at Vanderbilt) had a bye. Typically, I'd watch him play, but since he was home, it allowed us a chance to get a good visit. All six of us were together, which was nice."
Q: You said you did a lot of evaluating during the bye week. Did that basically amplify what you already knew, which is you need to score more points, particularly in the red zone, and is that a continued focus?
Shurmur: "I think that's the focus, obviously, as we move forward - making sure when we get down there close that we put it in the end zone."
Q: We focus so much on the offense. Did anything defensively stand out?
Shurmur: "I think the important thing on defense is we have to eliminate the big plays. We've given up some big plays that turned into scores, so we obviously need to avoid that. Do better on third downs so we get the ball back. But there's a lot of good things that we've done. Teams have not really scored a ton of points against us, so I think we just have to keep building on that."
Q: As you talk about these things that you need to get better at offensively and defensively, is it also important that you emphasize to the players what they've done well, and build on that?
Shurmur: "No question. That's part of the process. You explain the good, the bad and the ugly, and you really try to build on the things that you're doing well. Certainly, until we win and win consistently, none of us are doing enough of the things well enough, and so that's where you go."
Q: Statistically, you're ninth in the league in passing yardage. Odell (Beckham, Jr.) and Saquon (Barkley) are both on pace to set the single-season franchise receptions record. Eli (Manning) is completing almost 70 percent of his passes, yet there's not enough points. Does all of that emphasize the fact that it's largely a red zone issue?
Shurmur: "Largely. We're moving the ball and we're doing a lot of good things. We just have to finish by putting the ball in the end zone. I've talked about it now for – you've probably asked me that question three times, so I think that's certainly something we've got to get fixed."
Q: The issues you have running the football, do they become more acute when you get in the red zone?
Shurmur: "I wouldn't say that. I think teams play differently, but you should be able to run the ball in all areas of the field on all downs."
Q: One issue is first quarter points (23), and not starting games as well you'd like. Is there a self-induced pressure on a team when it's always playing from behind like you've had to do so many times?
Shurmur: "I don't know. Listen, every time the offense goes on the field, you're charged with scoring and I think we need to obviously get a faster start in some of these games, which will help us."
Q: I think every game but one has been a one-score game in the fourth quarter. You have so many close games. Does a team have to learn how to close out those games?
Shurmur: "Right is right, and I think whether you're playing from the front like we did against Houston when we won or when you're playing from behind, you have to find a way to win in both scenarios. I think we're doing some things to get us close, now we have to do them better and get over the hump."
Q: The comments you made about Eli Manning this week have been portrayed by some as an ultimatum and that Monday night in San Francisco is his last chance to keep the starting job. How do you respond to that?
Shurmur: "I don't look at it that way. Again, part of the bye week is to talk about areas we need to get better. He's done a lot of good things, but I think you always talk to the quarterback individually, and certainly the head coach and the coordinator do that. So I don't see it quite that way. But again, I'm not going to try to tell other people what to believe. Eli's going to be our quarterback and I expect him to play winning football."
Q: It's no secret that the offensive line has struggled at times this year. Does that make it more difficult to evaluate the play of a quarterback, or is it one of those situations where he's the quarterback and no matter what's happening around him, he has to produce?
Shurmur: "I think it all goes hand-in-hand. Certainly, the more effectively you block, the better chance the quarterback has to have success. I said it early on, we're going to go as far as our line will block for us, and I think that's something I can say every year. I think we've got our tenth different combination of guys going into this game. It's hard to build some continuity there with them playing together a lot, because we got a lot of new faces - even though we had a lot of new faces to begin with. Certainly, they just have to go fast and play well together."
Q: We have talked about Barkley's rushing attempts and touches. He is averaging about 14 carries a game. If you add the receptions, he gets about 21 touches a game. Is it more important to you how often gets his hand on the ball, or does he have to run the ball more?
Shurmur: "I think he's got to touch the ball. You can move the ball by throwing it, so I certainly would like to see him touch the ball more, and I think if he has more runs and more carries, that'll point to winning football."
Q: Do you feel fortunate to get (guard) Jamon Brown, who started 17 games last year for a playoff team, and to put him next to (Spencer) Pulley, who also started 16 games for the Chargers?
Shurmur: "We're fortunate that we've got two guys we're sliding in here late in the season who have played – they have starts under their belt. That always helps when a guy has played, so the fact that they've played is a good thing."
Q: You mention you like Brown's size. Does he move well for a 340-pounder?
Shurmur: "He's a big man, but he's got good feet and we're trying to get him up to speed so that he could go out there and play."
Q: What is the biggest challenge concerning a new player like that in the middle of the O-line at this point in the season. Is it terminology, learning the scheme, or communication with the other linemen?
Shurmur: "Everything runs parallel. What we're trying to get done against the 49ers - learning what we do and all that – his learning process needs to get expedited."
Q: Riley Dixon is fourth in the league in net punting yardage. Has he given you what you expected?
Shurmur: "He has been an effective punter for us. We feel good about what he's done. I feel good about what the kicker (Aldrick Rosas) and the punter both have done."
Q: You probably don't usually watch the Thursday night game, but last week you had the bye and our next opponent was on. Did you watch the 49ers?
Shurmur: "I did."
Q: As you watched, were you thinking, "Where did (Niners quarterback) Nick Mullens come from?"
Shurmur: "Certainly, we know of all the players in the league, but he came on and helped his team win a game and that was a good night for the 49ers. I think they played well as a team and
it's fitting that he'll get a chance to start again."
Q: No matter who's playing quarterback, they're the fourth-best rushing team in the league right now. They have a solid offensive line. And running back Matt Breida has been playing well. Are they a run-first team?
Shurmur: "I think so. They're a run, play action, boot and naked-type team and they do a good job on offense moving the ball. They've had some games where they've scored points, so we're going to have to play good team defense to keep the score down."
Q: It's unusual in the NFL today for the key offensive player to be a fullback. The way they use (Kyle) Juszczyk, move him around, throw him the ball. Is he a different weapon than what you see on a lot of teams now?
Shurmur: "They think of him as a fullback. They're in 21 (personnel, which is two backs, two wide receivers and a tight end) probably as much as anybody, if not more. They have (George) Kittle and him, and they use them a lot like tight ends both – well, they use Juszczyk a lot like the tight end, but he also serves as a fullback in terms of his blocking from the backfield. But they're good players. They obviously like him, because they keep him on the field a lot."
Q: You mention Kittle. When a tight end like that has far more targets and has 17 more receptions than anybody else on the team, does the defensive emphasis have to change?
Shurmur: "To some degree. We like to take away what they do best, so we have to make sure we do a good job of covering him."
Q: Lastly, as you watch their defensive tape, does (tackle) DeForest Buckner stand out in the way he disrupts both run and pass?
Shurmur: "He's a good player, and whether we're running or throwing it, we have to make sure we get him blocked."