EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Shurmur Sez, Giants.com’s exclusive weekly interview with head coach Pat Shurmur:
Q: You said Thanksgiving has always been your favorite holiday – family, food and football –
Shurmur: “That’s fair. That’s a little too cliché for me, but that’s fair.”
Q: You said you like to watch the NFL games. Does the rest of the family as well?
Shurmur: “Oh yeah. We’re football fans and certainly growing up in Detroit, the Lions always played on Thanksgiving, so I’ve always been into Thursday Thanksgiving football.”
Q: Do you try not to scout when you’re home watching?
Shurmur: “No, I always scout when I’m home watching, just because that’s what we do. You sort of scout every game. You see a play somebody runs and you say, ‘Oh, that’s great, it was in the first quarter,’ so I come in in the morning and check it on the computer. But I always watch it with, I like to say, a trained eye. You tend to root for teams just because that’s what you do, but at the end of it, just kind of watch it like a fan.”
Q: It’s sometimes said about New York sports that it’s either euphoria or disaster, and you’ve seen why. Two weeks ago you were 1-7 and the sky was falling. Now you’ve won two in a row and you’re getting questions about winning the NFC East. You said you’ve embraced that, but do you have to temper that thinking, because you can’t win six games until you win one?
Shurmur: “I’ve answered this question each week the same way. All our energy, all our attention is pointed toward our next opponent, which happens to be Philly, and that’s all you can do. You can only compete against one team a week, so you put all your effort into that. I certainly am forced to answer the questions regarding people’s optimism or pessimism, but I try to keep that out of it and just do what we have to do to get ready to play the next opponent.”
Q: As a playcaller, how much does your mindset change when you have a game like last week (the 38-35 victory against Tampa Bay) and so much of what you call is productive? Earlier in the year, not as much was working. Is it more of, “We can try this, we can try that” as opposed to, “We have to stay away from that, we can’t do that?”
Shurmur: “No, I think what happens though is when you can move the ball and do it in the way you choose to move the ball, then you can get to some of the other fun things that can make a difference in a ball game. When you’re grinding it out for whatever reason, the plays may be working, but you’re getting four yards instead of six, then you can’t get to all the things you might want to. That’s just the way it goes and that’s the competitive nature of it.”
Q: Before the previous two games, you challenged Eli (Manning) and then Saquon (Barkley) with exceptional results. Targeting anybody this week?
Shurmur: “No, a lot was made of that my conversation with Eli over the bye, which all coordinators/head coaches/quarterbacks do. They speak during the bye, so a lot was made of it, and that’s fine. Then we had a coaching point with Saquon just in terms of some running style stuff. The good news with that, in both cases we made some suggestions that we thought would help them, and they displayed to us that they’re both very coachable guys.”
Q: In terms of Saquon, you spoke about the dirty run concept. Is it hard sometimes for a back, especially one with his talent, to accept the fact that sometimes a three or four or even a two-yard run is not a bad thing?
Shurmur: “They all understand that, I think, but part of what makes them special is their ability to make the big play. In situations where the defense may overplay, it makes sense to cut it back or bounce it out or do whatever. You don’t ever want to coach that out of a player, but you also, aside from being dynamic and explosive, you want them to be efficient as well, and I think that’s the gist of it.”
Q: In a game like the other day when Saquon had 27 carries, does he wear down the defense a little bit?
Shurmur: “I think any running back that can touch the ball that many times and get yards while he’s doing it can have that effect.”
Q: We talked a lot earlier in the season about how teams covered Odell (Beckham, Jr.). You mentioned the other day that teams are still doing things to take him away, but he had some big plays in the game, the 41-yarder early, the touchdown later. Is it a matter knowing when to take your shots with him or would you like to see him get more than four targets in a game?
Shurmur: “It’s important for him to touch the ball, but in a game where they’re doing things to take him away, we still have to find a way to get him the ball, which we did. But that’s why the stats sheet shows nine guys touched the ball, and so it’s important that this is a team game. When we put a guy with the ability to receive the ball on the field, they need to catch it and we did a good job of that last week.”
Q: The offensive line has played better since Jamon Brown stepped in. I don’t know how much you attribute that to him, but you are a former offensive lineman. Is it unusual for one guy to come in like that and make such a difference on an O-Line?
Shurmur: “I think it’s a combination of things. It just timed up that way a little bit. He’s a good player and he’s done a good job for us, but I think that group as a whole is playing better together.”
Q: You look at some of the players who have made key contributions lately – Corey Coleman, Tae Davis, (Grant) Haley, (Bennie) Fowler, Michael Thomas. As a coach, how often do you talk to the team about the importance of everybody contributing?
Shurmur: “It’s a team game and everybody’s got to go out and do their job well. That speaks to contributions, so whether you’re a full-time starter or a role player, when you’re asked to go in the game, you’ve got to perform at a high level.”
Q: You called the defense the other day a mixed bag because you had the takeaways and the touchdown (on an interception return). You also gave up 35 points and 510 yards. Is it tough for you to evaluate a unit like that when there’s that kind of disparity?
Shurmur: “Not evaluate. I think what’s important is that you build on the good things that we’re doing, which is the takeaways. In order to take the ball away, you’ve got to disrupt it and somebody’s got to be there to either intercept it or fall on it, so that’s good. There’s some things you can teach from there in terms of team defense. Some of the big plays we have to get better at. Big plays that can end up being game-changers. A 38-yard gain on first and 30, a long pass or a long run on short yardage, so some of those things, those handful of plays, we have to get better at.”
Q: You had some uncharacteristic penalties in the game – Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins), OV (Olivier Vernon), (Chad) Wheeler. Do you talk to those players individually and say, “We can’t have those?”
Shurmur: ”Penalties are unfortunately part of the game. Until we no longer have officials, penalties will be part of the game. There’s penalties making an aggressive play where something happens. But there’s also things that we can control with regard to our emotion or in terms of technique and the pre-snap stuff, so those are the ones that you certainly have to – first of all, you have to talk about them and then explain why it’s important they don’t have them, and then take it from there.”
Q: Before most games, you spend a few minutes talking with the opposing coach. Do you enjoy the chance to chat with other coaches and have a bit of camaraderie with other coaches?
Shurmur: “I do. I think we’ve all grown up in the profession. It’s fair to say that I know most of the head coaches extremely well. Some of them I’ve worked with. Some of them I’ve competed against for many years, and I think we have a shared appreciation for how difficult our jobs can be. So to stand there as two generals getting ready to do battle, just to take a few minutes and exchange pleasantries and just see how everybody is doing, I think is normal and that’s standard.”
Q: This week, you face the Eagles in Philadelphia. How do you approach a rematch with the only team that beat you convincingly this year? Is the challenge more mental or strategic?
Shurmur: “Both. I think we need to remember that we didn’t play well and that was a contributing factor in getting beat, and that’s the part that we need to control. We need to play better, we need to do the things necessary to win the game and then do it again against a good opponent.”
Q: You spent 13 years coaching in Philadelphia. All road venues can be tough. Is there anything special that you can tell the players that haven’t been there about The Linc?
Shurmur: “Only the things that everybody knows. They’re extremely passionate about their team. They love their team. They’re not afraid to show their pure emotion, good and bad. I think I’m good with that because I think genuine is good. They show what they’re genuinely feeling in terms of their team. If the team is having a tough, tough stretch, they let them know it, but they cheer as loud as any fans in the league for their team when they’re playing well.”
Q: The Eagles have had injuries to key players, but they still like to control the ball, limit their defense’s time on the field. Last time they had a five-minute advantage in time of possession. Is that something you –
Shurmur: “It’s about points and you can possess the ball all you want, but if you drive down and kick a field goal and then in two plays they score a touchdown, then that really doesn’t matter. Now, in an evenly-fought game where there’s no turnovers, there’s no special teams contributions, all that, then the time of possession really matters. But I think it’s something that we look at after the game. There’s many times when you win the game and you don’t win the time of possession. It’s certainly a better and easier way to go when you do, but the turnovers and the points are certainly more important.”
Q: (Rookie) Josh Adams has been really good coming on for them as their back. What do you see from him?
Shurmur: “I think he’s done a good job. He’s become their back of choice because of injury and guys that are no longer in there, and he’s been efficient for them. So he’s a guy that we certainly have got to pay attention to.”
Q: (Zach) Ertz has far more targets and catches than anyone on the team. Some of that is due to the fact that (Alshon) Jeffery didn’t play the first three games, but when the tight end has so many more receptions, does the emphasis on defense have to change? They still have receivers on the outside who can produce.
Shurmur: “They do. We’ve got to cover the outside, but certainly you’re right. Zach is a target of choice for good reason. He’s an outstanding player. They exploit matchups well, they target him even in situations where he’s covered, he’s a tall receiver. He and Carson (Wentz) can play above the rim with high throws on shorter safety/linebacker-type guys in coverage. It’s just the way it plays out.”
Q: Last time you played them,we talked about their front seven and most of the attention was on Fletcher Cox. It seems (Michael) Bennett is playing very well lately. Did you see that?
Shurmur: “He’s an outstanding player, he has been. It’s only a matter of time before one of them has more production than the other, because you have to block them one-on-one and he’s done a good job.”
Q: They’ve lost several defensive backs with injuries. When you play a team that has a position group with numerous injuries, how much do you focus on that when you’re planning or is your mindset just that you’ve got to do what you do well?
Shurmur: “You have to do what we do well. I think it starts always with blocking their front, and I think that’s where we start. Take it from there.”