EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: No matter what your record is, every coach wants to see his team on an upward arc in the final month of the season. Since the bye, you’ve won three of four games. You’ve mentioned the offensive line, but what are some of the other factors in the team’s recent improvement?
Shurmur: “I think we’re playing better as a team and we’re finding a way to make enough plays throughout the game, and then doing the right things at the end of the game to win. We’ve done that three times in the last month, one time we had a chance to win and we didn’t. There’s things you learn by playing these games. Obviously, right is right and you want to win them all. I did mention the offensive line. In my mind, we sort of stabilized the right side of our line starting with the bye and those guys, again, because they’re in there playing together longer, they’re getting better. It’s very hard to evaluate what you can do offensively if you’re struggling to block, and I think we’ve done a better job there.”
Q: During the bye, did you make some strategic adjustments that people outside the team are not aware of?
Shurmur: “(During the bye), you get a chance to sit back and look at what you’ve done. You go back in kind of a non-pressurized setting and say, ‘Okay, these are the things that work well for us, here are some new things we want to try, and there have been some things tactically that we’ve done. But we’ll still keep those private. We have done some things tactically since the bye that I think helped us.”
Q: You said the other day you’re trying to get to 8-8 one game at a time. No one starts a season hoping to be 8-8, but when you start 1-7, wouldn’t an 8-8 record be quite an achievement?
Shurmur: “We had such a poor start in the win-loss category. I do think, though, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and teams that find their way into the playoffs, there are certain things that need to happen. In my opinion, you have to first of all win enough games to get in the playoffs, whatever that is. You have to be playing well, you got to be healthy, and you have to be playing your best ball at the end of the year. When you talk about an NFL season, it’s always not how you start, but how you finish. I think the one thing that we can do is finish the right way, because we certainly didn’t start the right way.”
Q: Speaking of finishing the right way, Eli (Manning) was seven-for-17 in the first half against Chicago, but completed 12 of 16 passes in the second half and overtime. Is that one of the traits, in your opinion, that has helped make him successful, the ability to shake off a bad pass, a bad half or a bad game, and go on to the next task?
Shurmur: “I’ve mentioned it before in many different settings, but I think the thing I admire about Eli is he just stays in the moment and keeps playing. And he’s won enough games, he’s executed enough plays well that he knows what it looks like and feels like, and he understands that you can’t let one bad play affect the next one. He just keeps playing. I appreciate that about him. I think you need that in a quarterback. You really have to have a short memory when it comes to bad things, because if you throw an interception early in the game, you’re still going to have an opportunity to throw a game-winning touchdown pass at the end. I think if you let some of the early game stuff affect you, then you can’t finish right.”
Q: Do you think one of his best passes last week against the Bears was the incompletion to (Sterling) Shepard in overtime?
Shurmur: “That was a good ball. That would’ve given us the chance to have a walk-off touchdown in overtime. It would’ve created a lot less stress. He made some good throws throughout the game. I think early on we weren’t executing well enough, and that was obvious because we didn’t score many points early. But by the end we had found a way to really – in the second half we had three pretty good drives.”
Q: When (Saquon) Barkley makes the play where he leaps over Adrian Amos, is your first reaction, “What a great play?” or “How did he do that?” Or are you thinking, “It’s first down at the 13-yard line, I have to call a play?”
Shurmur: “I was more immediately concerned with, ‘Okay, where are we, what are we going to keep doing?’ That’s where my thoughts go. I’m certainly watching the action and like everybody else when somebody does something heroic like that, you marvel at it. I think the important thing to do, though, is not be reckless, and we just have to make sure we’re doing what we can to be aggressive, but not reckless. A lot of times there’s injuries up in the air, so you have to not be cautious, but be smart about it.”
Q: When someone makes a tremendous play like that, do you not fully appreciate it until you watch the tape, because you’re quickly on to the next call?
Shurmur: “No, I think I’ve trained myself, especially where it involves where the ball ends up, seeing it live and saying, ‘Wow, that was a good play.’ I didn’t necessarily need to see that on tape to know that was a good play.”
Q: Have you ever been associated with a rookie as impactful as Saquon?
Shurmur: “I don’t think so. I was with (quarterback) Sam Bradford his rookie year (in 2010 with the St. Louis Rams), and he joined us after a one-win season and really the impact of him as a rookie – we were a couple plays from winning the division the next year against Seattle. So I saw the impact a young, healthy Sam Bradford could make on a team. We were playing in Seattle the last game of the year to win the division, and really the only significant difference on our team was Sam.”
Q: On the OBJ (Odell Beckham, Jr.) throw, did you see (Russell) Shepard open down field and were you saying to yourself, “Throw the ball?”
Shurmur: “There were certainly a couple options on that play, but Odell executed that very well and he kept the play alive. The guy we were initially trying to throw it to drew a lot of coverage, and I think Shep just ended up being a player, saw he was uncovered and just took off downfield. Odell saw him and made the throw.”
Q: The defense had five sacks and six quarterback hits the other day. Do you think that was the front’s best game?
Shurmur: “I think so and you can see the impact pressure on the offense has. There were times when we had guys penetrating and disrupting runs in the backfield. The pass rush production is pretty obvious. It was OV’s (Olivier Vernon’s) best game, B.J. Hill played his best game, (Alec) Ogletree. I think when the front can be disruptive, then you can have that impact on a team.”
Q: Landon (Collins) is the team’s leading tackler, and he is seldom off the field. He’s the first starter to go down long-term since (Jon) Halapio. How difficult is it to compensate for the absence of a player who is out there every play?
Shurmur: “He’s been a warrior that way. I guess the things I appreciate about Landon are basic to his nature. He’s tough, he always answers the bell. Nobody’s 100 percent this time of year, but he always practices, he always plays, and he’s passionate about playing. The fact that he’s our leading tackler is really by design, because he’s a good tackler and that’s what he does best.”
Q: With Collins sidelined, Sean Chandler’s role will expand. He is a rookie free agent from Temple. How and when did he first catch your eye?
Shurmur: “During training camp, he did the things that we thought gave him a chance to make our team. Like any young player, he didn’t know enough initially and he’s getting better each week. A lot of times, you’ve got to try and manufacture it to get him reps, but he’s been forced into action and he’s done a good job. I think he’s getting better each week, and if he continues on that path, then he’s got a future.”
Q: Are he and (Grant) Haley on the same arc - they came in as rookie free agents and they’re improving?
Shurmur: “Yes, similar. I think, again, forced into action. Most rookies are probably playing before their time. Most. Saquon’s probably different, but most rookies. There’s just a lot to learn, and no matter where you went to college, there’s a lot to learn about this league. The other guy is Will Hernandez. He was forced into action and he’s steadily getting better and better and better. I think the same can be said for Haley and Chandler.”
Q: Keeping with safeties, Michael Thomas is the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, which is based on both on and off the field contributions. What have you learned about his character and leadership ability this year?
Shurmur: “I could tell right away in the spring that this was a high-quality guy from my interaction with him. He’s elected captain, and I spend a lot of time with the captains, just them and me, and I’ve gained a real strong appreciation for him as a man. He’s got social awareness, he’s very thoughtful about all things and he develops strong opinions about things, but it’s not willy-nilly because he’s got core values he believes in. I admire him as much as a man as a player, and I think that’s a credit to him.”
Q: (Kicker Aldrick) Rosas is having a tremendous season. Does having a kicker who’s that reliable and with that strong a leg affect your playcalling on third down in the sense you know you have three points on the board, so maybe can call more of a risk-reward type play? Or do you not let that affect you when you’re calling a game?
Shurmur: “I think anytime you get in that kind-of sort-of area, it’s punt or field goal, depending on the length of the third down you’re trying to make. It may factor in some, but you’re always trying to convert on third down so you can keep drives alive. I think in most games, though, I do have confidence he’s going to make every kick, and that’s a really, really good thing for a coach and for a team to just count on the fact that he’s going to make the kick wherever we put the ball down. I’m happy he was able to make that one (44-yard game-winner in overtime on Sunday). I think that field goal before the half (a Giants-record 57-yarder) maybe jump started us a little bit. We just got to keep him going. My sense is this guy is a humble guy and he’s a real football player, so he won’t get a big head. But I think he just needs to keep working and keep producing like he has.”
Q: How concerned are you with the 23 penalties the last two games?
Shurmur: “I am concerned about it, because that’s really not up to our standards. Penalties happen in games. There’s the aggressive penalties, there’s the things that happen – what you have to eliminate are the pre-snap penalties and the stupid penalties. The ones that involve roughing, the ones that are pretty obvious. You just can’t do that. Any of those penalties where for whatever reason you lose your composure. It’s never right to lose your composure and first things first, it’s never right to have those pre-snap penalties that set you back. The competitive penalties, we obviously have to clean up some of the holds and the PI’s (pass interference) and all those things, and those are things you can work on. Those are competitive penalties and you don’t ever want to stop being competitive, you’ve just got to clean up the technique.”
Q: This week you play in Washington, which has endured numerous injuries. But you ran for just 37 yards against them in the first meeting. And the defense is largely intact. They even added (safety Ha-Ha) Clinton-Dix.
Shurmur: “It’s the same defense, very hard to score against and I think we’re going to have to execute well in a road environment. It was a low-scoring game (20-13) the last time we played. We had an interception on the way in and we had a fourth down we didn’t convert, so there were some reasons why we didn’t keep drives alive against them the last time. I always point to first and second-down execution. You want to try to get your first downs on second down. I call it playing Canadian ball. I think when you can do those things and you can rack up over 20 first downs in a game and maybe only have 10 or 11 third downs, that’s good. We have to be efficient on first, second and third down.”
Q: They’re down to their third starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez. He started eight games in Philadelphia in 2014, when you were the offensive coordinator. Sanchez went 4-4, so he must have done a lot of good things. You’ve seen the good Mark Sanchez.
Shurmur: “I appreciate the good in all quarterbacks, and I certainly got a chance to work with Mark and I know the good in him. He’s ultra-competitive. My assumption is he’s the first one in the building and the last one to leave. I remember the little note cards – he would draw the play on one side and then he’d put the words to the play on the other and then he’d quiz himself. That was one of his little techniques he would use. I remember that vividly, that worked for him. I was impressed with how he prepared to get himself ready to play, and he’s high energy. My sense is they’re going to play well for him.”