EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Coughlin Corner, Giants.com's exclusive weekly interview with head coach Tom Coughlin. (Note: This interview was conducted Thursday morning, before practice and Thanksgiving dinner.)
Q: When you come out of the last weekend of byes, everybody has played the same number of games, and you know exactly where you stand. You own a one-game lead in the NFC East with six to play. You always focus solely on the upcoming game, but have you talked to the players about the six-game stretch run?
Coughlin: "You talk to the team about where they are at the bye, and the fact that it is a six-game season. And in those six games, it will be determined who is the divisional champion in the NFC East. That's the way we look at it, and this game against Washington (on Sunday) is the most important game of the year for us. The cry for our team has been not only to improve the level of execution, but our concentration. It means no split focus. It's the next play, it's the next play. Don't worry about the result; I'll let you know what that is. Get your responsibilities, let your eyes instinctively indicate to you or give you some kind of range about what's next, what's coming, so that you can line up and be your best on that particular play. We've always talked about being the most physical team, always talked about being the team that wins the turnover battle. And, really, what we've done is make a huge, huge drive that hopefully will help us to eliminate the penalties. We have a little more penalties per game than I'd like to have. I'd like to have it in the five area. It's not an easy thing to do. But nevertheless, it's a goal. The whole idea is about details, details, details. Get all the little things right, don't shoot yourself in the foot."
Q: You've had early byes, middle byes…
Coughlin: "Never had one this late."
Q: Any preference as to when you have a bye?
Coughlin: "No. It's just like the schedule for me. You look at it, you don't have a thing to do with it, so don't worry about that. Give it some thoughts so that you can take full advantage of it. And let's face it, we needed the rest, we needed that. Are we coming out totally whole? No. And you know it's always a concern. It has to be a positive for us after that many games (four in the preseason, plus 10 in the regular season). For rookies, it's 14 games in a row."
Q: You're in a very close division race, which could go down to the final game. How much do you lean on guys who've been through it before, like Eli Manning, Cullen Jenkins and Zak DeOssie?
Coughlin: "What is important, first of all, is that we're relevant and we're in the hunt, that's what's important. What I've always asked the leadership group to do is to take care of practice, and that's really where they have to be a great example. We can't have any distractions and we have to practice well. We have to practice with championship quality execution, so that we can feel good about our preparation, because that's where you win. You win with your preparation."
Q: You talked about your study during the bye week, the worst to best. I would imagine third down defense was part of that study (the Giants are last in the league, giving up successful conversions on 47.8 percent of their attempts). How much of the third down issues are due to what happens on first and second down?
Coughlin: "Well, it depends on how it goes. The one thing that's always driven me crazy is the third-and-long conversions, and that's happened over the years more than I'd like to think. But certainly, first down is a critical down. It's going to reduce or add to whatever happens at the other end. So they're all interconnected, there isn't any question about that. But it is the down in football that we always say is the quarterback's down. You get them off the field; that's about stopping drives, and these great teams that have all this talent, the whole idea is, 'How many times can you by either turnover or a stop get that guy off the field?'"
Q: In your most recent game, against New England, you got more pressure on the quarterback than you had previously. As Jason Pierre-Paul continues to work his way back to top football condition, do you expect teams to pay more attention to him?
Coughlin: "They know where he is, there's no doubt about it. They know exactly where he is. But what I like is, I think it's really given us a lift in the room. I think the other defensive players, they're thinking about getting to the quarterback as a team in those circumstances. For a couple weeks now, we've done a decent job against the run."
Q: Hakeem Nicks rejoined the team last week. He hasn't played in a game in almost a year. What is the biggest challenge he faces? **
Coughlin: "For him right now, it's learning the system because it's a different system and he has to learn it, and he has to learn the signals. He has to learn it all fast, and obviously he has to prove it and it's very difficult, it's very difficult. You have to figure out how to get a suit (uniform), and you've got only a few opportunities. That's a challenge as well."
Q: He hasn't played in a while. Are you intrigued to see what he can do?
Coughlin: "He's getting more reps as a scout team player in all kinds of ways so we can watch him play. That's going to give us an idea about how we can use him. The difficulty for any newcomer in learning the system is that you're just not going to go line up in one place. Because of what we do with Odell (Beckham Jr.), all those people have to know how to flip around and be in different spots and that adds to it."
Q: You lost one veteran tight end, Daniel Fells, early in the season, and now Larry Donnell is sidelined with a neck injury. Now you're down to two young, undrafted newcomers in Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham. Have they improved?
Coughlin: "Oh yeah, they've improved, they definitely have. They're going to have to continue to improve, to be honest with you. We talk so much about the run game. They've got to be able to help us there. You're talking about Will Tye, who's a big, strong kid - give us something on the edge, so maybe the ball has a chance to get two more yards a run or something, a yard-and-a -half per run. And I still think that directly relates to our problems in the green zone; we just don't run the ball well in there."
Q: With Prince Amukamara, J.T. Thomas, and Uani 'Unga back and JPP continuing to improve, do you expect more from the defense in the final six weeks?
Coughlin: "The defense has been getting a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better, and there's no reason to think we're not going to keep getting a little bit better."
Q: On Thanksgiving, you'll be with your family, which is an unusual break in the work week, though one you are accustomed to. Are you able to set football aside for a few hours and enjoy the time with your family, even though you have an important game in three days?
Coughlin: "You know, the best you can. You also get questions from the family, so it's not like it's something that you just shut off and then pick up again in a couple of hours after you have dinner. This is what we do. You train yourself, you've got to be focused. We've got a big Thursday practice and when that's over and we get our work done in here, I'll enjoy the Thanksgiving meal with family, and we'll get together and say thank you for our blessings. And we have a lot of them. I said to the team this morning, 'Guys, we are blessed. I mean, we are so blessed beyond comprehension,' and that's the truth. Those kids sitting in that room down there, did they ever think they would have an opportunity like this, or be in this circumstance playing for this franchise? I remember watching black and white TV when I was a kid. The first television we ever got, it was a Saturday afternoon, and guess what, there was a football game on. Whoever would have thought?"
Q: Washington is 4-1 at home. As you watch the Redskins on tape in FedEx Field, do you see a confident team?
Coughlin: "I see a team that plays hard. They play hard, they make things happen. They're able to overcome things. That tells you a lot about a team, and about what's going on behind the scenes with the coaches there. They were down 24-0 to Tampa Bay and came back to beat them. That's quite a thing."
Q: Now that DeSean Jackson is back, have they been taking more deep shots with him?
Coughlin: "They certainly will. As he gets more healthy and communicates to them that he is, there will be more balls way down the field, there's no doubt. That's what he's there for. The tight end part ofj it, it's very difficult to separate them from the receiver corps. (Jordan) Reed plays like a wide receiver, and there are a lot of very difficult matchups with this team. They're talented, and they have a lot of weapons."
Q: Speaking of weapons, they have two players with long kickoff return touchdowns.
Coughlin: "And one was against us (Rashad Ross' 101-yarder on Sept, 25)."
Q: So they have both a strong return game, and a good coverage unit?
Coughlin: "Very good. Yes, they are. We've added to their numbers as a kickoff return unit. They've always covered well, always. They've always done a nice job of that. Their kicking game is solid and it's good. They've got a returner, punt returner (rookie Jamison Crowder), I don't care what the numbers show you, he's a guy that can go to the big field. So contain and defend and all of those things, that's got to be done."
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