EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: There’s a lot of negative chatter about the team, everything from the 0-2 record to the offensive line to the lack of scoring. The players don’t live in a vacuum, so they must be aware of it. Do you remind them to ignore what’s going on outside of the building?
Shurmur: “All the outside stuff, good or bad, is noise, so if you believe even the good things that people say, it can get to you in a bad way. We can’t worry about that, and we really have to turn our back on it and worry about the people in this building and putting a good product on the field that our fans can be proud of.”
Q: The same goes for the coaches. They’re human, they hear what’s going on, they’re certainly disappointed –
Shurmur: “Same answer, and I would say this: as professionals, we know that the season is long and that you just fight each week to get better, and that’s the reality of it. It sounds cliché, but that’s what you do.”
Q: Eli Manning is always described as steady, calm, unruffled. But he can be disappointed like everyone else. Do you need to remind him from time to time that you have faith in him?
Shurmur: “I think Eli is a professional and he’s a competitor, and we talk to Eli like we do all the players. I have no concerns about Eli losing his confidence.”
Q: You’ve been an offensive coach in the league for 20 years, you have a lot of new players learning a new system, getting used to new coaching. In your experience, how long does it take for it all to come together and start working as you want it to?
Shurmur: “It takes as long as it takes for the players, but I think we’re looking for results each week.”
Q: There has been not as much production in the first half of games as you’d like. It improves in the second half. What do you attribute that to, and what can you do as a coach to get things going earlier?
Shurmur: “We just have to make sure we get the ball in the end zone in the first half, that’s just it. We find a way to drive the ball a little bit, get stalled out on third down - we have to make sure we can’t get stopped third and inches, fourth and inches. We have to get the first down, keep the drive alive, and then find a way to get some big plays.”
Q: The average gain on first downs (an NFL-low 2.6 yards) hasn’t been good. You made a lot of third down conversions (eight) last week. Is that a good news, bad news thing? Would you prefer not to have as many third-down opportunities (17) as you had?
Shurmur: “I think we had – normally there’s between 13 and 15 third downs in a game, so that was a normal amount. To your point, we did do a better job on third down last week, so that needs to continue, but you’re always looking for success on first down.”
Q: You’ve said a few times you can’t evaluate a team after two weeks and maybe even later. Last year, your Vikings team was 1-1 and then 2-2. I don’t think anyone thought you were going to reel off eight wins in a row. When do you really start to get a feel for the character of the team and how well a team is going to do?
Shurmur: “I think you learn about the team as you go through the season, and certainly each week you learn more and more about each guy. What’s good is I’m getting a feel for players and how they embrace adversity. I think that’s an important piece, because every season, players and teams are faced with adversity, and how you handle it and how you work through it is what makes a difference in the end.”
Q: You’ve been through this before. Last year, you had quarterback questions with the Vikings. Do you see similarities between what you went through in Minnesota and now?
Shurmur: “I think I see similarities to every year I’ve ever been involved with this because every year has adversity. There aren’t many teams that go 16-0, and there’s a lot of teams that make the playoffs with a win in the last game of the season. I think what’s important is we just worry about beating Houston and then we’ll worry about the rest later.”
Q: You have twice won the coin toss and twice deferred - is that your default decision, or do you decide on a game-by-game basis?
Shurmur: “I have a reason for it, but certainly we talk about it each week or discuss it each week.”
Q: The offensive line has been criticized for its performance. Do you see the issues as assignments, technique or execution?
Shurmur: “Combination. Any time we don’t block them as well as we liked, there’s a combination of things. Sometimes it’s guys just not blocking their guys and other times – it wasn’t like we didn’t have a hat for everybody the other night, it was just we didn’t get it done up to our standards.”
Q: In the first two games, Saquon Barkley averaged 22.5 touches. Do you think that is a good number for him? Do you have a target number for him, or do you just want the ball in his hands as often as possible?
Shurmur: “I like to get the ball in his hands. Certainly, as a runner, you want to hand it to him as a running back, but there are times where he’ll get his catches, whether he’s a primary or check down, because I think with the ball in his hands he can do good things. So we’re going to attempt to get him the ball every week.”
Q: Does he need to be more consistent? He had the big play (68-yard run) in the first game, but his average otherwise is 2.4 yards a carry.
Shurmur: “That happens with runners, though. I think you can look each week – it’s three, it’s four, it’s two, and then it’s 10. I think that happens, most running backs have that if they’re going to get a bunch of touches. What’s important is you just try to maximize and get as many yards with each touch.”
Q: Your defensive ranking is pretty good: sixth in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed. But you have just one sack and one takeaway, none of either last week.
Shurmur: “Sacks aren’t always an indication of good pass rush. I know that’s fun to talk about, but I think what’s important is you keep the offense out of the end zone, and I think our defense has done a good job of that so far.”
Q: How about the turnovers? Are there things you can do in practice to try and facilitate and get more takeaways?
Shurmur: “I think that the two teams that we played did a good job of protecting the ball, but certainly you’d like more turnovers. I think sometimes they come in bunches and the important thing when you’re teaching turnovers is to make sure everybody is in the right spot and they’re running to the ball. Because when the ball is on the ground, if we have more guys around the ball, we have a better chance to get it. At this point, the teams that we played – the first game against Jacksonville, we had a chance for two more interceptions, but we didn’t catch the ball. In last week’s game, there weren’t a lot of – the ball wasn’t in harm’s way as much as the first game.”
Q: In your first year (2011) as the head coach in Cleveland, you traded for John Greco. Here we are seven years later and John Greco is now your starting center. What do you remember about John then that you wanted to trade for him, and what do you see in him now as a veteran?
Shurmur: “He’s a veteran presence and the reason we wanted him on our roster was he played center and guard. We felt like he’d be a three-hole backup for us, which he was, and unfortunately when you have an injury, then he’s forced into starting duty.”
Q: You get the sense that as a veteran, he knows what he’s doing and everybody has confidence in him?
Shurmur: “Exactly, yeah. He knows what’s going on. He’s a good football player, so he’s going to get his opportunity to start for us.”
Q: This week you play Houston, which has a defense that includes J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, who everyone knows about. But they also have outstanding linebackers in Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole.
Shurmur: “I think the marquee players on their defense are the linebackers, of course, and it’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re going to have to get them blocked and we’re going to have to be smart about what we do, and we have to be aggressive and get after them.”
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Q: Watt had six tackles and forced a fumble last week. As you watched him on tape, does he look like he’s rounding into form? He missed 24 games in the last two years.
Shurmur: “I feel like he’s playing at a very high level, like he did prior to being hurt.”
Q: The Texans lead the league in rushing yardage. Their lead back, Lamar Miller, doesn’t get kind of the acclaim that Leonard Fournette or Ezekiel Elliott do. What do you see in Miller?
Shurmur: “He’s a hard runner and I think he does a great job with the ball in his hands in terms of yards after contact. I think he’s a tough runner and we’re going to have to wrap him and tackle him.”
Q: Is Deshaun Watson similar to the quarterback you faced last week, Dak Prescott?
Shurmur: “In some ways, they’re similar. I think he’s coming back from injury, so you don’t see probably quite as much zone read as you did prior. But he’s a very, very good passer from the pocket. He’s tall, he can see, he’s very accurate on his deep balls, and I think he’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Q: Is he also dangerous out of the pocket?
Shurmur: “Oh, for sure, yeah. We have to make sure – he can extend plays as well as anybody in the league, actually, so we have to be smart about how we rush him.”