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Pat Shurmur will adjust and adapt to running back injuries

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Takeaways from Shurmur’s press conference Saturday afternoon

NFL: New York Giants at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Giants left the Meadowlands last Monday afternoon for a week of joint practices and a preseason game with the Detroit Lions, they appeared to have a lot of problems to fix.

The defense looked fragile, the offense looked anemic, and there were serious questions about the quarterback position after their 20-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Despite not getting back from Detroit until 5:00 am on Saturday morning — “Sleep is overrated,” Shurmur said — the team has to feel better about their performance following a 30-17 victory. But there is still work to be done, as Shurmur told reporters in his press conference Saturday afternoon.

On the offensive line

The Giants’ offensive line should still be considered a work in progress. The coach isn’t expecting them to be great right away, but is looking for progress over the course of the pre-season.

“I thought they performed better than the week before,” Shurmur said. “Aside from the one play where the ball potentially got knocked out of Davis (Webb’s) hand, I thought the protection was pretty good. I thought we did a decent job run blocking. There’s certainly plays in there where we can do better, but for the most part, I think they battled. I think they had 25 snaps together, and there were really no communication errors. So it was a solid performance. There’s plenty of areas where we can get better, but each week they’re doing some things better and better.”

About run blocking, Shurmur mentioned that he wasn’t happy with how the team ran the ball to start the game, but they responded well to a mid-game adjustment.

“Again,” Shurmur said, “that’s part of adjusting. We try to adjust in-game. We weren’t running the ball as well as I wanted to early and then we made some adjustments and found a way to do it later. It’s just like your practice plans, too. I think what’s important is you make adjustments to them. I have a certain amount of work I think we need to get done and certain things we want to practice, but if you have less of this player and more of another in terms of groups, you just feature those guys in practice.”

He also added that the apparent issues timing the snap between Davis Webb and Jon Halapio aren’t a concern.

Shurmur said, when asked if that was evidence of a communication issue, “No, that was actually us working our operation. We were in silent count, sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get it done because of the communication and how we do it. It’s great because we had to practice it and Davis (Webb) was involved as the starter, so it’s just a little bit different than having Eli (Manning) in there. It’s all good in a preseason game. We were fighting the clock a little more than I wanted to, but those are the things you learn by being in silent count in an away arena.”

On the running back situation

Giants were already down one running back with the injury to Saquon Barkley. Shurmur confirmed Saturday afternoon that the team would be without a second running back with RB Jalen Simmons, as well as linebacker Calvin Munson, in the concussion protocol.

“Yeah,” Shurmur said, “I guess I can comment on that. Jalen had a concussion and he’s actually doing well today. At least the reports are that he’s doing well. He’s moving around, he was actually moving around last night, so we’re just going to take it day by day with him and see how he progresses. Calvin Munson also had a concussion, so they’re both involved in the protocol and certainly we don’t ever want to put a player on the field that shouldn’t be out there, and so we’ll let this thing in both these cases, we’ll let them come back as they can.”

With the team now down two running backs for the time being, Shurmur will have to get creative and make adjustments. Interestingly, one of the adjustments he mentioned could be using fullback Shane Smith as a running back.

Shurmur said, “Yeah, we will just manage it. I think we have ways we can get into different personnel groupings. We have quite a few (running backs) and we will get what we can out of them. We have a fullback in Shane Smith that can take someone’s running back work. We’ll make it work.”

In addition to using Smith as a running back, some also noticed a play in practice which saw Evan Engram line up in the backfield as a ball carrier — that, however, doesn’t seem like a wrinkle the team would use in a preseason game.

On the defense

Perhaps the biggest coup for the Giants of the 2018 offseason was the hiring of James Bettcher to rebuild the Giants’ defense. Once Bettcher became available, Shurmur said that he didn’t have to sell himself or his defense.

“There was no sales pitch,” Shurmur said. “When I put this thing together, I had a coordinator in mind that I wanted because he was hard to play against. So, I saw on tape, by playing against him, what our defense should look like, and he’s just trying to implement that. There was no sales pitch. I think I’ve been pleased with how hard they’ve played, especially the first couple of groups. We’ve been able to kind of control the run, and at times get pressure on that quarterback, and that’s what you want to do, but he didn’t have to sell me. I think just having played against him and knowing that he was available, I wanted to bring him here in New York.”

Perhaps the biggest concern with the Giant’s starting defense after two preseason games is covering running backs and tight ends in the middle of the field. This isn’t a problem which is exclusive to the Giants — their own offense will attempt to cause those same issues for defenses throughout the season.

But, it is a problem, and may not be completely avoidable.

“Any time a linebacker gets matched up on the back,” Shurmur said, “it’s something that we all work on. Actually the sack, what would have been a sack but was actually an incomplete pass, we were doing the same thing against their linebackers, so it happens at times. The key is if the ball gets completed, then we have to get it on the ground. It’s not secret, all teams try to do it.”

That attitude springs from his general philosophy regarding football: Take care of the football, disrupt the on defense, and don’t make a bad situation worse.

Shurmur said, “I’ve always believed if you take care of the ball and on defense if you take it away from them, that’s the obvious, and then if one of those things happens to you and you’re on the bad side of it, you’ve got to keep them from scoring or if you get a turnover, you need to score. That’s the mindset, and it’s kind of a totality of the things I’ve learned over the years.”

On the Herzlich penalty

The Giants mounted a respectable pass rush against the Detroit Lions, generating pressure from all across their defensive front. Their box score would have looked even better had the officials not thrown a questionable flag on Mark Herzlich for unnecessary roughness.

It’s a call that Shurmur feels some kind of way about.

“I have a very strong opinion of that play,” Shurmur said. “We’re going to send that play in to get evaluated and we’ll see what they say, and what they do tell me, I won’t tell you. I don’t think it’s necessary to get fined in the preseason. Here’s the thing – we want to teach a physical, safe game, played by the rules, and things happen fast in games, and we all certainly see things differently in real speed, so sometimes it gets left to interpretation when you replay it in HD very slowly, so we’ll just see. Part of the preseason is everyone getting used to the new rule. Not only how to play the game, but how to officiate it; and I’m hopeful I’m going to get an answer on that play.”