EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: Tell me about Christmas in the Shurmur household. I guess your family is used to you having to leave to go to work.
Shurmur: "Yes. Well, what we did was we shared Christmas, the six of us, on Friday night, so actually it was quiet (on Christmas Day). It was my wife and my youngest daughter (Claire) and I and we went to mass. We worked half a day on Christmas Eve, and we worked pretty much a full day on Christmas."
Q: Did (older daughters) Allyson and Erica come up?
Shurmur: "They didn't come up. My oldest daughter was working. She's a nurse, so she worked Christmas. That's why we kind of shared a meal last Friday."
Q: You play Dallas in the season finale. You said you'd like everyone back, but realistically, this is the last time you're going to coach this group. Is it emotional, or have you learned after all these years to stifle your emotions and focus on the task at hand?
Shurmur: "I think you focus on the task at hand. I think we are all aware of the fact that we won't all be together next year, so to be able to – we have a good group and we've grown a lot. We didn't win enough games, especially early, and we lost some close games here late. You have that in the background, but I really appreciate all the efforts that this group has made. We certainly didn't succeed in reaching our goals, but this group is not – they aren't failures. There's a lot of growth that happened from what was a 3-13 team. I feel like as we finish the season, we need to do it on a right note, so it can catapult us into the offseason where we can then continue to get better and then make the proper progress for next year."
Q: When you coached for teams that haven't made the playoffs, is it a better psychological step into the offseason when you do win that final game?
Shurmur: "I think so. I think this game's about winning, and it's about putting a winning performance on the field for our fans to enjoy. At some point, unless you win the Super Bowl, it comes to an end, unless you're playing in the Super Bowl. Before the Super Bowl is played, it comes to an end for 30 teams and then after the last game, unfortunately, it comes to an end for that 31st team. You like to be able to win it."
Q: Is it safe to say there's a big difference between 6-10 and 5-11?
Shurmur: "I don't know if there's a big difference other than what's different is you win your last game. I think that's what's different. If you don't make the playoffs, you don't make the playoffs, but at this point we're going to stay in the moment and do what we can to win the game."
Q: How about beating the team that's already won the division title, that's going on to the playoffs?
Shurmur: "I've never used that as motivation. I think you play the team for who it is, and I think that's more for the fans to enjoy. I think what's important is we understand it's a division game and you're always trying to match up against your division. So to beat a division opponent who this year won the division would be a good thing."
Q: You've noted you've won some close games. The Giants are tied with Carolina with a league-high seven losses by seven points or less. Assuming the nucleus of this team returns, will having played so many close games be beneficial next year?
Shurmur: "It will be as long as we learn from it and we keep working. There's no moral victories in losing, so we have to look at each game and how it played out and why we did or didn't win and try to learn from that, and practice those situations in the offseason."
Q: Two areas where you have improved recently are in the red zone and on third down. In both areas, did you try different plays, different personnel groupings until you found something that worked, or did you simply improve what you were doing?
Shurmur: "I think we're playing more coordinated, complementary offense, and I think it's safe to say it's the tale of two seasons for us on offense. When we did a better job of blocking, the run game is more meaningful, we're getting more out of the run game, which helps you all the way through all up and down the field. Certainly, if you're blocking better, then your quarterback, Eli (Manning), has a chance to be more successful on third down. It's all connected, and I think we played more of the way I want to play on offense in the latter part of the season. We've given up 46 sacks to this point, but only 15 in the last half of the season, so all those things that you're talking about — better in the red zone, better on third down, more efficient running the ball — that's all connected."
Q: You've talked a lot about the offensive line's improvement. What are your thoughts about the line's performance last week in Indianapolis, where you didn't run the ball as well as you'd like, but Eli wasn't sacked for the first time this year?
Shurmur: "Those are all indicators, certainly. Giving up sacks or preventing sacks is a team thing. But we did protect better, and I think that allowed Eli to have a good game throwing the ball. They were doing some things to make us less efficient in the run game, but some of it still came down to us being better, and so we made more yardage and had more success through the air."
Q: Saquon (Barkley) has rushed for 31 and 43 yards the last two games, which is the first time he's faced that kind of adversity, if that's the correct word. The expectations are so high for him now. How has he handled the lower rushing totals?
Shurmur: "I think the lower total rushing, you noticed he had great production catching the ball. So it's just whether you throw it to him or – ideally you want to be able to run the ball for your team and have him gain yardage. But as long as he's touching the ball, he can also do it catching it."
Q: After the game you were asked about Eli's last throw, which was intercepted. Once you reviewed the tape, did you still think he made the correct decision?
Shurmur: "Yeah, he was fine with his decision. A guy running down the middle with two deep and we just missed on it, so the decision making is fine."
Q: Evan Engram has had three big games in a row, and even ran the ball twice last week. Do you think as you've learned more about his capabilities, you can better call plays that are a fit for him, and that has helped improve his production?
Shurmur: "I think I certainly know all our players better, but we've tried and attempted to get him the ball throughout the season and he's had production. He had a little stretch there where he was injured. He's been injured, he was injured twice this year. Once with the hamstring and then prior to that he had the knee. So when you're in and out of the lineup like he was, you just have to kind of get re-involved in the offense. I feel like I know Evan well and what he does well, and we'll just try to keep featuring him."
Q: Tae Davis seems to have played well as a rookie free agent linebacker. Against the Colts, he led the team with seven tackles and had the only sack. He also had a penalty…
Shurmur: "For two yards, wasn't that costly. I thought he had production in the game. I think he's getting better. He was forced into action because of our injuries at linebacker and he's taken advantage of that, and I think he's getting better each week."
Q: For a long time, when you looked at the Dallas defense, it started with Sean Lee. He was a healthy scratch last week and now they've got Jaylon Smith and (Leighton) Vander Esch, two young linebackers. What do you see when you look at their defense?
Shurmur: "They're fast, they can run sideline to sideline, but they play downhill. They play well within their scheme. You can see they know what they're looking at, know what they see, know when they see it and then they're able to pull the trigger. It's a really good, probably one of the better combinations of inside backers in the league."
Q: Their defense is very highly rated in a lot of areas – fourth in scoring defense, fifth against the run, second in average per rush. Have they done a good job controlling the line of scrimmage with their front?
Shurmur: "They're very disruptive up front. Similar style defense to what we just faced with Indianapolis, but they're also like Seattle in terms of how they cover. They're very active and disruptive, and I think that's what makes them good."
Q: You don't really know how much (Ezekiel) Elliott's going to play. Two years ago when they were in this position, Elliott didn't play at all. Are you preparing as if he will play the entire game?
Shurmur: "We're preparing to defend the Cowboys, and I don't think their run plays or what they choose to do will be any different with Dak (Prescott) or Ezekiel in there. I think they're going to run their system and whoever's in there is going to be expected to execute it."
Q: Has (Amari) Cooper added another dimension to their offense?
Shurmur: "He's given them a legitimate outside playmaker. I've always thought their receiving corps was good and then you add a marquee player like Amari Cooper, certainly, it makes them better."
View the Dallas Cowboys' key personnel ahead of their Week 17 meeting with the New York Giants.