Q: I just have two questions unrelated. The first is regarding Sterling (Shepard) and just how he seemed to kind of inject some energy to you guys last week in his return. Curious what you saw out of him in the game and where you thought he brought the offense.
A: Sterling is just a good football player. I played against him for a number of years. Real fortunate to get an opportunity to work with him now. He’s probably the most accomplished skill player that we’ve had. A veteran guy who’s made a lot of plays in this league during his time with the Giants, and it’s just good to get him back. He’s a really smart football player, he has great quickness and change of direction, he has a good feel and instincts for playing, he has savvy, he’s quarterback friendly, and he has playmaking ability. I think we saw all of that in the game the other night, so it’s great to have him back on board. Certainly helped our offense.
Q: Just second question unrelated to that would be the close games you guys have been involved in, a number of them this year. You pulled out the Washington game, but some others you haven’t. What is it going to take to kind of get over the top on those? What can that do for the team’s confidence once you do kind of solve that riddle?
A: Well, I don’t know if you ever solve it. Every week in the NFL, these games come down to one possession. It’s really all across the league. If you look at the stats, the teams that make the playoffs, the teams that don’t make the playoffs, the number of one-score games, they’re pretty similar. Ultimately, the teams that get a chance to play in the postseason are the ones that win these games. Ultimately, it comes down to execution in all three phases. All the stuff that you emphasize from day one throughout your football team, that’s the stuff that wins the game at the end of the game. At times this year, we’ve done a good job of that. Other times, we simply haven’t. We have to do a better job. Us as coaches, we always look at ourselves first. Are we putting our players in a position to execute really throughout the game, and certainly at the end of the game? Then it’s the execution by the players. It’s never solved. It’s never this mystery that somehow, someway we’re over the hump. Every week in the NFL, you have to go out there and do it. You have to execute at nut-cutting time, and hopefully we’ll continue to have some opportunities to do that and we’ll come through.
Q: What was it like practicing with four offensive linemen yesterday? How did your fifth fill-in do?
A: It was a really interesting challenge, obviously. I don’t know if we’ve ever been out on a practice field where you try to function with four offensive linemen, a couple young guys playing, guys playing out of position, and then Eric Tomlinson playing right tackle for you. But I thought those guys handled it really, really well. Coach Judge did a great job organizing the practice in such a way that it could be productive for everybody. I thought those young guys benefited from the reps and handled themselves well. Hats off to Eric for being able to jump in there. He’s a good football player, he’s a smart guy, he’s a tough guy, handled the work well and allowed us to function. I thought we got something out of yesterday’s work.
Q: One more if I may. I know you’re focused on the Giants, but the Dallas Cowboys are reeling. Do you feel maybe you were underappreciated at the end there given how things have kind of gone off the rails there?
A: You said it right. Just really focused on what we’re doing here and what we’re trying to do to play our best football on Monday night against Tampa. That’s really where my attention is.
Q: I just wanted to ask you, a guy that you’ve seen and played against and coached against for a long time that’s a former Giant, Jason Pierre-Paul. What are you seeing when you watch Jason Pierre-Paul on film now, and are you at all surprised that this far into this career, he’s as productive as he still is?
A: He’s a hell of a player and has been for a long time. You said it, I had the opportunity to play against him a number of times when he was playing here and I was coaching in Dallas. Just the utmost respect for him as a player. He’s always been someone that’s been disruptive, both in the run game, affecting the quarterback in the passing game, always had playmaking ability, always one of those guys when you’re breaking the huddle, you’re saying, ‘where’s number 90?’ It’s great to see him continue to do so well in his career, and certainly he’ll be a great challenge for us Monday night.
Q: Everyone that wants to talk about Tampa obviously says Brady. But if you look at their defense, I think they’re third against the rush, second in the league in sacks. How much of a headache are they?
A: Oh, they’re really good on defense. Obviously, Tom Brady makes a big difference to the football team. He’s doing a great job with their offense and doing a great job leading their team. But this defense is really, really good. They’re stout. You said it, great against the run, great affecting the quarterback, great taking the ball away. The way they play leaps off the tape. Todd Bowles does a heck of a job putting these guys in position to have success. It starts up front. They have really good down guys. Fast, aggressive, playmaking linebackers. They’re good in the backend. It all works together. They pressure you a lot of different ways. They win one on one matchups, really across their defense. As rushers, defeating blocks in the run game, making plays in the pass game. There really are not many holes in this defense. If you look at it, they’re, whatever, 28, 29, 30 stats that you look at with defenses each week. They’re in the top 10 in probably two thirds of those. They’re in the top 5 in probably a third of them. They’re really good, there are not many holes, a lot of good players, an excellent scheme. It’ll be a hell of a challenge for us.
Q: In a situation where Devonta Freeman isn’t able to play, how much do you feel like you can lean on Wayne Gallman to handle a heavy load? Or would you rather spread it around?
A: Wayne did a really nice job in the game, got some extended work against Philadelphia and really responded well. Wayne is still a young player. We’re trying to help him grow and develop as a player and be a complete back for us. I think there’s been evidence over the first part of the season where he has demonstrated that. Inside runner, outside runner, pass receiver, pass protector, I think we saw all that. Again, we’re trying to help him continue to grow as a player. Burton Burns and Stephen Brown do a great job with him. I think Wayne is embracing the opportunity. Hopefully, Devonta is ready to go, Dion has been a real asset for us, and we have Alfred Morris as well working on our practice squad. We have a lot of confidence in each of those guys. Again, trying to help them grow and develop as players and help us.
Q: Back to what happened yesterday, everyone always seemed pretty sure that you were going to get most of your offensive line back by today. But I’m curious, when that happens, are you just sort of trying to get through the day of practice? Or do you have to actually take time out of your preparation to figure out emergency scenarios? What happens if you only get three guys back or two guys back or something like that?
A: I think anytime as a football coach, you’re always thinking about contingency plans for any situation. I think all of us, in football and out of football, in 2020 are having to think about contingency situations. Yesterday was an up-close look at it for us as a coaching staff. Again, I thought our players responded well to it. But you’re always going through those ‘what if’ situations and you’re probably doing it more so now, just because of the situation that everybody is in around the world with COVID. You try to make sure you dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, and more so now. We’ve talked about different situations. You throw out different hypotheticals and you say ‘how would we respond to this?’ The thing you don’t want to do is chase ghosts all over the place and spend all of your time on stuff that the likelihood of it happening isn’t very high. But having said that, yesterday we had a number of offensive linemen who weren’t in our building. That’s a real-life situation that we have to contend with and have to be ready for.
Q: Just to kind of follow up on that, how much of a relief was it that you’re going to have those guys back today? How much does losing yesterday impact you guys at all, if anything?
A: Again, I thought our guys embraced the heck out of yesterday and really handled it well. It was a productive day for us. Really excited to get the rest of the group back, though. It helps the flow of practice more than anything else. This is a Thursday practice for us, so it’s a critical day, the third down day. This defense is really good on third down. They’re really good on all downs and all situations. Getting these guys back, putting their pads on, getting a chance to go through a typical Thursday practice will certainly help us for Monday night.
Q: To follow up on that, how much was yesterday’s practice different than it would have been if you guys didn’t not have all those guys?
A: Probably a little bit more of an emphasis on some of the early down passing game, some seven on seven-type stuff. But again, we did team stuff with that group. The guys handled it well, it was good reps for them. A little bit of a challenge for the guys on defense because typically you have a scout team offensive line going against your first defense. We didn’t have enough guys for that, so we had to manage that situation. I thought Coach Judge and Patrick (Graham) did a great job getting the looks our defense needed as well. A challenging day, but our guys embraced it. We’ve been talking about being mentally tough enough to be your best regardless of circumstance and thriving under adversity from day one in the offseason. A good example yesterday of our guys stepping up and getting that done. But again, certainly excited to have our guys back today and have a more normal practice.