EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: Is it safe to say that in 20 years of coaching in the NFL, you’ve learned you can’t get too up or down after an opening game, no matter what happens?
Shurmur: “That’s fair. I think it only takes you one season to realize that. I think you can win your opening game and not go anywhere and you can also lose your opening game and move on. I think the key is, regardless of what happens Week One, you have to get back and start training and get ready to play in Week Two, and think that’s the mindset.”
Q: You were on teams in Philadelphia that lost openers and twice finished 12-4 and also 11-5. More than 90 percent of the season remains to be played. I assume it’s obvious to the players the opener can be forgotten. Do you need to verbalize that even though it should be implied?
Shurmur: “I think the important thing is we’ve all been through this before, where things go your way Week One and it has no effect Week Two. Then we’ve been the other way where you’ve been able to come back and win the next game, so that’s behind us. We obviously made corrections from Week One. Our whole focus, really, starting on Monday was getting ready for Dallas (where the Giants play Sunday night).”
Q: It’s sometimes said that the first job of a head coach is to manage a game. Last week, your first time as a head coach since that 2015 finale with the Eagles, you managed the game, called the plays, made many decisions - how do you think it all went?
Shurmur: “I think it went well. I think I’ve got a really good staff. We share a situational awareness as to what’s going on in a game, so we’re able to communicate with one another. I felt like there’s certainly areas that we can get better as coaches, but I thought for a first time out, there was some good stuff.”
Q: In that game, Jacksonville and you ran the same number of plays. Both teams were four-for-13 on third-down conversion attempts. The total yards and time of possession were similar. When you look at the game, was the difference their touchdown on an interception?
Shurmur: “No, I don’t think that was the case. You can always point to maybe one play in the game, but there were many other opportunities where we could’ve done better. And there were some opportunities where we stopped them from doing good things. So I will never look to one play, and I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.”
Q: In your experience, is going into the second game a week where there are a lot of details to clean up offensively, defensively and special teams – maybe more than usual, because you just played your first game?
Shurmur: “No, I think teams typically, if you’re fortunate to stay healthy enough, teams typically make big improvements between Week One and Week Two and certainly Week Two and Week Three, really through the first month of the season. I really do think it takes a little while to see what your team is going to be like, but along the way you got to fight to win games.”
Q: Many coaches say it’s important to stick with the run game even if it’s not working. The other day you were down two scores in the fourth quarter, you really hadn’t done anything in the run game, and then Saquon (Barkley) takes off for 68 yards. Is that an example of why you sometimes should stay with it even if it’s not working?
Shurmur: “I think it’s important to run the ball throughout the game. I think it was working a little better than you might express, but for the most part, I think it is important.”
Q: As a play caller, when you’re down two scores in the fourth quarter, do you have to tell yourself to keep running the ball?
Shurmur: “I think it’s just natural to do that. I think it’s important that our running backs touch the ball.”
Q: Barkley got a lot of the attention, but you also had Will Hernandez and B.J. Hill starting; it was the first time since ’97 the Giants started three draft choices in an opener. Lorenzo Carter also played a lot. What does it mean to be able to integrate so many young players so quickly?
Shurmur: “I think when you draft your players, you need to play them and certainly in some spots, we’re extremely young. I thought those guys went in the game and did a good job.”
Q: You threw the ball to OBJ (Odell Beckham, Jr.) 15 times. Is that like from page one from the playcaller’s handbook - get the ball to your playmaker?
Shurmur: “Well, I don’t know if that’s page one, but I think it’s important that your star players touch the ball. I think what’s important, really, is to do what you can to score and score enough points to beat your opponent. I really do believe that you have to spread the ball around, and we still did spread the ball around. Usually, catches come in bunches. Some games, a player will get more than another as the game plays out.”
Q: Odell had a very productive day. His longest catch was 24 yards. Were the Jaguars making a conscious effort to keep him in front of them? Do you expect to see that in the future?
Shurmur: “I think you attack the concept you’re playing on defense, and they played mostly with a middle safety, which doesn’t allow you to get too many deep throws at times. But we’ll just keep doing what we have to do and keep trying to game plan in a way that makes sense against our opponent.”
Q: You’ve coached in a lot of NFC East games and the rivalries in this division go back many decades. Is there a different feel when you’re on the sideline in an NFC East game?
Shurmur: “I think any division game is important. Certainly, the games count one, but you need to do what you can to win your division and certainly beating a division opponent is important. I think the NFC East has great tradition. Every NFC East team now has a Super Bowl trophy and I think they’re always very, very competitive games, and I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
Q: Last week, you played last year’s number one rushing team. This week you’re playing last year’s number two rushing team. Do you see similarities in the offenses between the two teams?
Shurmur: “They are similar in some ways. They (the Cowboys) feature their running back and they have a quarterback that’s very dangerous not only throwing but running, so I think that presents a challenge for our defense.”
Q: How much does their ability to run help them get ahead on down and distance, controlling the clock, play action, letting Dak (Prescott) run?
Shurmur: “All of those things – when they can create positive gains by running the football, then all of that other stuff becomes part of the game.”
Q: How dangerous is Prescott when he gets out of the pocket?
Shurmur: “He’s very dangerous. He’s a very dangerous quarterback in the pocket, but certainly he’s made a lot of very big plays when he breaks contain and makes a throw downfield, basically in a scramble mode.”
Q: I’m sure you’ve watched a lot of tape over the years in which you saw Jason Witten. Is it a little strange to look at the Cowboys now and not see him?
Shurmur: “A little bit. I met with him a little bit this summer when he came to visit training camp, but I think he had such a great career. He did so many great things for the Cowboys. I think he’s moved on and I think he’s at peace. Certainly, when he’s not on the field, it’s better for our team.”
Q: Defensively, they have long defensive ends, athletic defensive ends, very athletic linebackers, speed guys that can cover sideline to sideline. Do you see that as strength in their defense?
Shurmur: “They’re structured certainly differently than some defenses. In some spots they’re not quite as big, but they’re very long, they’re very athletic, to your point. They can run and that helps create or helps keep teams from making big plays. Even if a play breaks out on them, they’re able to run it down and they play their scheme well.”
Q: Their punter, Chris Jones, has a knack for putting the ball inside the 20-yard line. Is he a weapon in that way?
Shurmur: “I think anytime you can make an opponent’s offense start and go more than 80 yards, you really minimize their chances of scoring. So his ability to do that is a little bit unique, because he does it so well.”