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Spags Speaks: Adjusting to multiple roles

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Spags Speaks, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with Giants interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo:

Q: In your two tenures here you've watched Eli Manning lead many drives at the end of games, as he did last Sunday against the Eagles. Was there a different feeling for you watching him as a head coach? Did you even watch him when you were the defensive coordinator, or were you working on adjustments while he was passing the ball?


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Spagnuolo: "I haven't thought about that until you just said that, but it was different, because I was watching every play. I was in constant communication with Sully (offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan) about when we might need a timeout or not need a timeout. We were talking about using as much of the clock as we could. When you're on defense and you're not on that offensive line (on the coaches' headset), you don't get to give that input. They usually like to score as quickly as they can, but it was really good. I thought the interaction during that two-minute drill was great between Sully and Eli, and then I was able to chime in and give some advice. I was letting them run it, and let me know when they wanted the timeouts. I thought it operated really, really well, obviously, except for the last play (a fourth-down incompletion to Evan Engram). But it sure would have really been a memorable Giants-Eagles game had the 2-11 Giants beaten the 11-2 Eagles. It didn't happen, it went for naught, but it was exciting when it was going on."

*Q: Sometimes an issue with a head coach who calls the offensive or defensive plays is that he's perceived as only coaching half the team. Since you've become the head coach, have you made a concerted effort to spend more time with the offensive and kicking team players, just to get to know them better and to learn what makes them tick? *

Spagnuolo: "No question. You know where I find most of my time is during our practice stretch, our stretch lines when we go out there. I try to get to especially all of the offensive guys who I don't see. But I'm in their meetings, not all the time, but I've been in offensive meetings just to watch and get around to talk to guys. I've been in special teams meetings, and certainly around all of the coaches. But the major focus is on the defense, because I want to make sure I keep doing that part of my job. But it has been really good to get to know some of the offensive guys on more of a personal level, which I had not had the chance to do."

Q: I know special teams is not your area of expertise, but given how important the three blocked kicks were to the outcome of the Philadelphia game, have you gotten more involved with that this week?

Spagnuolo: "Not really that much more involved. I trust Tom (Quinn, the special teams coordinator) and Dwayne (Stukes, Quinn's assistant) and what they're doing. It was really just technique things and just being a little bit firmer. It's unfortunate, because in a tight ballgame against a good football team, mistakes like that come back to haunt you, and it came back to haunt us."

Q: The offense struggled most of the season, and then last week against the top team in the conference, you gained 504 yards, had 429 passing yards, and scored 29 points. Did that performance make you change your opinion about what the offense is capable of?

Spagnuolo: "I think it certainly gave everybody confidence to know that if you operate a certain way and approach things a certain way, that we can do that. I'm hoping that will help us going forward. Time will tell, but I think we got in a groove there. We took advantage of some of their over-aggressiveness and certainly made a couple of big plays. It's just too bad that we couldn't get the other two phases to play equally as well. Otherwise, we would have had a pretty good win there."  

A look at the key playmakers from the Cardinals roster heading into Week 16

Q: And the way Eli played the other day, getting the ball out quickly, sometimes hurrying up, sometimes not. Does that show that even 14 years in, he's very adaptable to different situations?

Spagnuolo: "He's really good at that. Anytime a quarterback can orchestrate the game, dictate the game, that gives your team an advantage. Eli has been in the league long enough that he's able to do that. He thinks quickly, he gets out of bad plays and into good plays, and he's certainly found ways to attack that Philadelphia defense, which is pretty damn good."

Q: You didn't run the ball as you would have liked. Have you developed an understanding why this team has had trouble running the ball? Is that an area where you need to improve?

Spagnuolo: "No question. You have to be able to run the football in this league and stop the run, but I do think we're starting to understand the value of a four-yard run. When you run the ball, it doesn't have to be eight, 10, 12, 20 yards. If you can keep the chains moving, on second-and-six, we had one of these, if on second-and-six, you get a four-yard run, third-and-two is a heck of a lot better situation than third-and-six, or going backwards and being third-and-eight. So I thought there was a lot of that in the game, there was a bunch of two-yard runs that should have been four, five-yard runs. If we could do that, I think the numbers will be right at the end of the game. Running the football obviously helps you win."

Q: Philosophically as a coach, do you prefer just having one workhorse back, or do you like to spread the carries around?

Spagnuolo: "I don't know if I have a preference one way or the other. I do know in this league, it's hard to get through a full season with just one. So you got to have at least two, and if there is a third that gives what we call a change of pace-type back, I think that can be challenging for a defense."

Q: Eli Apple has become a controversial player this past month, but he went in and led the team in tackles. How do you feel he responded and how he played?

Spagnuolo: "He responded like we hoped he would. There was never a question in his ability. It was just getting over some things on the outside of football, and hopefully he can get in a groove here and play some good football, because we're going to need him."

Q: How did Andrew Adams play after Landon (Collins) left the game?

Spagnuolo: "Solid. Andrew is the type of backup that you know is going to go in there and he knows what he's doing. I thought he played very solid. He's what we needed when somebody goes down in the middle of the game. You don't want the dropoff to be too drastic, and I thought Andrew did that."

Q: Landon has said that he hasn't been the dominant player he was last year. He doesn't have sacks this year, not as many interceptions, but he's had a couple of 14-tackle games. How do you look at his season?

Spagnuolo: "He's had a good year. The injuries have hurt him. I noticed it early on there. He's been fighting this ankle now, and he's played in some games with that ankle and he fights through it. You can tell he can't run nearly as well as he used to. He can really run, he's fast. So that set him back a little bit. But the way he plays the game, the warrior mentality and the physicality that he plays with, that never changes. And, quite frankly, when he's not in there, we miss it." 

*Q: How was Romeo (Okwara) playing when he went down, and what do you want to see from him these next two games? *

Spagnuolo: "We put him back up on the 53 (from injured reserve) because I thought he deserved it in working back from the injury. Now I don't know if we can get him to the 46 (on game day) yet, but we'll see. A lot will depend on special teams and other things. But he's a good football player. He helped us out a lot last year. He didn't play great early in the year, but I thought he was getting better right before he got hurt. So we'll see where we are."

Q: You spent time in the NFC West, so you are very familiar with (Arizona receiver) Larry Fitzgerald. What is it about Larry Fitzgerald that is so special?

Spagnuolo: "I'll tell you what, he's an ultimate competitor, that's what I see first. Just knowing him a little bit off the field, he's such a high-character guy, it's great to see his career develop the way it did. He's been playing for a long time and when I watch him on film, it doesn't look like he's dropped off that much. And they still get him the ball a ton. He's a guy we really need to be concerned about." 

Q: The Cardinals are starting Drew Stanton at quarterback against you on Sunday. You said the scheme is more important than the quarterback. What stands out about Bruce Arians' scheme?

Spagnuolo: "I really think they want to throw the football, but what I notice is they have their best games when they also are able to run it. If they're two-dimensional and they can run and throw it, I think they're tough to defend because of the stress he gives you throwing-wise. So we got to take away one dimension, and then deal with the other one later on."

Q: Chandler Jones leads the league in sacks and is among the leaders in pressures and hits. Does he really stand out on their defensive tape?

Spagnuolo: "They move him around all over the place and you have to find him. We say, 'Where's Waldo?' You got to know where Waldo is. All 11 guys on offense got to know where number 55 is, whether they're responsible to block him or not. He's that disruptive. He's long and he's fast and he's quick and he's strong, and he's been doing it for a while now. (Defensive line coach) Pat Graham had him in New England, so I know through him the character he is, how hard he works at it and he dissects a game. He's a student of the game, which shows on the field with all of his production."

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