EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: The loss last week in Philadelphia was clearly very difficult for everyone. In 20 years as an NFL coach, has it gotten easier or harder for you to get past those kinds of last-minute defeats?
Shurmur: “No, it’s never easy to get past a loss. I think especially division losses, they all count one certainly, but a division loss and especially one where we got ahead on them and we didn’t do enough to either extend the lead or keep the lead.”
Q: At your Monday news conference, you said your goal is unchanged, and that is to win the next game (Sunday at home vs. Chicago). Did that need to be repeated to the players?
Shurmur: “I remind the players every week that our only task each week is to prepare for the next game. That hasn’t changed and that will never change.”
Q: Several costly penalties hurt you in the loss to the Eagles. Some of them were questionable. Who are you most annoyed with, the players who were cited, or the officials who might have missed some of them? And as a coach, you’re always looking for teaching moments – can you do that in this instance?
Shurmur: “Certainly, it’s excuse-making to blame officiating for anything. We can’t expose ourselves to penalties, we can’t have them, and especially when they come at critical times. So it is part of the teaching to instruct the players not to have that happen again.”
Q: Eli (Manning) has experienced numerous ups and downs. You have other captains - Zak (DeOssie), (Nate) Solder and (Alec) Ogletree, who have played a long time. How have the veterans responded during the tough times?
Shurmur: “I think if you play and coach in this league long enough, you’re going to face periods of adversity, and I think the veteran players have done a good job of helping me provide a constant message to the whole team that we just need to keep practicing, keep playing, and keep doing what we have to do to win a game each week.”
Q: You entered the season expecting (Cody) Latimer would be the third receiver. He had just six catches before going on injured reserve. Jawill (Davis) got hurt, (Bennie) Fowler has eight receptions, (Corey) Coleman had a key drop the other day, and you’ve played basically five games without (Evan) Engram –
Shurmur: “This is a fun question.”
Q: How difficult has it been without that third wide receiver and with your receiving tight end missing roughly half the season?
Shurmur: “I think injuries are part of the business. The guys that have filled in, although they don’t get a lot of production, because obviously at the receiver position our most targeted receiver is Odell (Beckham, Jr.) and our second-most targeted receiver is Sterling (Shepard), those guys have filled in and done their role well. I think it’s important to remember that there’s other things that you can do as a receiver other than just catch passes. Those guys are battling in the run game, they’re involved in all the route combinations, and so at times, if the ball doesn’t go their way, they do a good job of just keep playing.”
Q: One guy who stepped up the other day was (Rhett) Ellison, who had a career-high 77 receiving yards. What do you like about him?
Shurmur: “Rhett’s a football player who tries to perform well in all the things that his job requires him to do. Block the run, block in pass protection, and then when given an opportunity to run a route and catch a ball, he’s done a good job of being very steady in terms of being where he’s supposed to be and catching the ball. He’s a very dependable guy. He’s easy for a quarterback to find, because you know where he’s going to be and I think that’s just a part of his nature. Doesn’t say much, he just comes in and does his job. I think, as a coach, those are the things that you really appreciate about players.”
Q: Saquon (Barkley) is third in the NFL with 242 touches. When the season began, did you have an idea in your head how many times you wanted him to touch the ball, and has it evolved, or is there a game-by-game feel for it?
Shurmur: “Everybody’s adding things up, but for the people that care about that stuff, the two guys around here that touch the ball the most are Saquon and Odell. For whatever it’s worth, they’re two guys that we consider to be playmakers and we’re making an effort to give them the ball. I don’t see much beyond that.”
Q: I know your expectations for Saquon were high when the season began, but has he even exceeded how good you thought he’d be?
Shurmur: “We knew he was a good player. I think as the season’s gone on, he’s had production. He’s competed in a way that has been good. I think he learns and gets better every week, and that’s just a function of the fact that he’s a young player and it’s a function of – it really is a testament of how hard he works and how he listens and takes coaching. I think one of the most dangerous or fatal flaws for a great player is if he’s un-coachable, and he has displayed that he is coachable.”
Q: The defensive players after the defeat in Philly said, “We have to finish the game ,” but they seem to be at a loss to say why they couldn’t finish the game. They seem frustrated. Do you get frustrated or can you not show frustration to them?
Shurmur: “I think we just have to fix problems. I think that’s the frustration part. Hey, listen, I have my feelings, I’m a competitor, and I think what the outside wants me to do is throw a tantrum for them. This isn’t about them. I think what we have to do is fix problems. In the two weeks previous, the offense we were playing against was on the field and we found a way to stop them and win the game. In this game, the offense was on the field at the end of the game and we didn’t, and so the challenge is then to fix what we didn’t do right tactically and fundamentally and move on.”
Q: When Connor Barwin was signed, Dave Gettleman said that you needed another veteran pass rusher. He got a lot of snaps early in the year and then O.V. (Olivier Vernon) returned, and his snaps have been sharply reduced. Is there not a place for Connor now?
Shurmur: “No, I think, to your point, O.V. came back, so he’s playing more, and we’re also using Lorenzo Carter more. He’s a young player who has made progress throughout the year, so it’s more of a function of that than of trying to not use Connor.”
Q: You got (RJ) McIntosh in there for a dozen snaps the other day in his first game action. Can you tell anything from that small sample?
Shurmur: “It’s a good start, certainly. He hasn’t played a lot of football since he’s been out of college. Did a good job in the practice sessions, he basically filled in for Kerry Wynn, who was not active (with a concussion). So it wasn’t a player tryout, he was filling in for an injured player or a de-activated player. I thought for the small amount of snaps that he took, he did some things that we’re encouraged by, and we hope to see him get better.”
Q: You mentioned that you played the Bears twice a year when you were in Minnesota. Vic Fangio is still their defensive coordinator, and it’s the same scheme. Does that help you prepare for this game?
Shurmur: “I recognize what I see from their defense. They certainly have new wrinkles, but they’ve added two very dynamic players. They’ve had some change to their scheme. They got (Leonard) Floyd back, he’s healthy, but then obviously when you add Khalil Mack and then Roquan Smith, you add really two dynamic players, one at the rush level (Mack) and one at the linebacker level, to a really solid, salty scheme, it makes them better.”
Q: The Bears defense has put together a lot of impressive numbers, including allowing the second-fewest points in the league. They have outstanding players on all three levels of the defense. When you watch them on tape, what stands out? Is it the front seven?
Shurmur: ”There’s two guys that stand out in their front, Akiem Hicks on the inside and then certainly Khalil Mack on the outside. But the other guys in there playing do their jobs well, also. I’ve seen the production that Hicks can have, and then on tape you see what Khalil can do and then they’ve done a good job of getting turnovers. And the safety, (Eddie) Jackson, has done a good job. They’ve done a good job in turnovers, they’re fundamental in how they play, and they can create problems.”
Q: They have league-high totals of 29 takeaways and 104 points scored off turnovers. As an offensive coach, you stress ball protection every week. Do you emphasize that more this week?
Shurmur: “No, that’s just SOP. You talk about turnovers and the effect they have and really what’s more important than the turnover is what a team does after it happens. When we get a turnover, we need to turn it into points, which they’ve done a good job of. And on the rare occasion that we turn the ball over, on defense we have to make sure they don’t score a touchdown, depending on where they’re at. I think there’s a lot of conversation about turnovers, which you can’t have. Turnover margin speaks to winning, but I think the other part of the conversation is what do you do with the turnover. I think that should as big a part of the conversation as the turnover itself.”
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Q: The Giants played Mack last year when he was in Oakland. It was (Chad) Wheeler’s third start, and Mack made some big plays. Wheeler will face him again on Sunday. Did you go back and look at that game, or did you have Wheeler look at it?
Shurmur: “I’ve watched the game. I’ve watched all of last year’s games, but because he’s playing in a different scheme, I think it’s more important to watch the scheme and how he’s acted in it.”
Q: On his conference call, (Bears coach) Matt Nagy, who also comes from Andy Reid’s coaching tree, was very complimentary toward you. He said you were the only coach who always returned his call or always responded to a text when he reached out to you. Is helping out younger coaches something you like to do?
Shurmur: “I think that should just be part of being a human being and participating in life. We communicate with one another and especially in a way – I think we’ve got a really strong professional friendship. Although I don’t know him as well as I would have if I had worked with him more years, I just think that’s just part of how you should live your life. I think he’s done a good job there. I think he’s followed a model that has been successful in the past. You look when Jon Gruden went to Tampa, he preserved what was really good about the defense and then brought some stability to the offense, and they were able to continue to have success. When Jim Harbaugh went to the San Francisco 49ers, over the years they had compiled and established really a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and he kind of kept that intact with the coaches and players and then kind of worked to stabilizing and get production out of the offense. When I see this model, Chicago had developed a really stout defense and for whatever reason, they had some injuries along the way. But they have those injured players and they added a couple more pieces and they kept Vic Fangio and the key guys on the defensive staff in place, and then he (Nagy) has come there and given the offense stability and production. I think, to his credit, I think they have a model that works for them.”
Q: With your knowledge of his offensive system, can you help your defensive coaches a little bit more this week?
Shurmur: “Certainly, there’s a lot of plays that they run that I recognize and I know what they call them, just because they’re off the rack, standard plays that are part of what we teach. From that standpoint, because I recognize some of the things, it helps. Their offensive coordinator (Mark Helfrich) was the head coach of Oregon who was also Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator, and having been with Chip for three years (2013-15 in Philadelphia), I recognize a lot of the zone read concepts. The fact that I recognize them doesn’t necessarily mean you know when they’re going to call them. At least you can just tell the defense what maybe the quarterback’s thinking or what they’re trying to get done.”
Q: Did they look appreciably different on offense with (Chase) Daniel at quarterback rather than (Mitchell) Trubisky?
Shurmur: “Not really. I think there were a couple things in play there. It was a short week (Chicago played on Thanksgiving), so they probably had kind of a chopped-down game plan, like we all do on a short week. They came in, they repeated some plays, things that were working. I thought he (Daniel) was steady and he took care of the ball, which is important. They sort of played a steady kind of grind-it-out, gritty-type game, and that’s what you kind of expect from your backup.”
Q: Offensively, they have a standout at every position with (Taylor) Gabriel at wide receiver, (Trey) Burton at tight end, (Tarik) Cohen’s been doing a lot at running back, and (Jordan) Howard (their leading rusher).
Shurmur: “And they use them well. Cohen, they utilize his speed. I would say he’s probably like their Tyreek Hill from the place (Nagy) had just come from (Kansas City). I think Howard is sort of their banger back. A lot like the running back they have in (Kareem) Hunt at the Chiefs, so it sort of fits. Trey Burton is their tight end productive-type guy and, then they have a couple of other bigger tight ends (Ben Braunecker and Daniel Brown) that block for them. Gabriel’s an outside threat. I think because of the way their offense is assembled, some of the things he’s done in his past sort of fit, based on the players that they have.”
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