The New York Giants returned to practice on Thursday after having Wednesday off for Christmas. With the players’ return to the practice field, the Giants also made offensive coordinator Mike Shula, defensive coordinator James Bettcher, and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey available to the media.
The future of all three are clouded beyond Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. While this might be the last time any of these men speak to the media as coaches for the Giants, this is certainly our last chance to hear from them before Sunday’s game and our last chance to get their takeaways on the 2019 season
Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula
On Saquon Barkley and the Eagles defense
Saquon Barkley had a good game against the Miami Dolphins and what might be the best game of his career against the Washington Redskins. However, the are also two of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Eagles are a different beast altogether. While their linebacking corps isn’t what it used to be, and their secondary is both poor and depleted, they still have one of the best and deepest defensive line rotations in the NFL. They are both talented and well coached up front, giving up the third-fewest yards per game, the sixth-fewest yards per carry, and are Football Outsiders’ third-rated run defense.
Faced with that, what is offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s plan for the running game?
“Yeah, I think we just need to keep on keeping on with what we’re doing,” he said. “They’re really good upfront for a lot of reasons. They have a lot of guys up there that can win one-on-one battles and get off a block and make a play. Most of the time, they’re going to have an extra guy up in there. But I think Saquon, we’ve all seen it, he just looks fresher, and I said that a couple weeks ago. The number one thing for him and for our offensive line is understand there are going to be some runs that we just have to kind of grind it out on. Be patient. We want to try to stay ahead of the chains where we’re not playing in long yardage situations. That helps with more carries and, hopefully, anytime you get 26 the ball more, the production will be there. But again, it’ll be tough sledding because these guys are really good against the run. Not just because of their ability, but they’re well-coached and they have a good scheme.”
On Daniel Jones’ rookie year
As this is the last time Shula will be speaking with the media in 2019, he was asked for his impression of Jones’ growth over his rookie year.
“I think he’s done a really good job,” Shula said. “Unfortunately though, we don’t have the wins to show for it. But just going back from day one of the offseason to training camp, his knowledge of what he’s being asked to do and then the speed at which he does it has been impressive for a young guy. I think that like anybody else, he needs to continue to make strides in that area. He’s very talented, but there are a lot of things that come with the position. The ups and the downs and the highs and the lows, and handling all of the ‘what ifs’, as we say. Things that maybe show up that you hadn’t quite talked about, whether or not it’s on the field or off the field. All the things that you’re going to go through as a first-year player, and then you move into the second year. But right now, we’re just kind of locked in on this week. He had a good practice today, so hopefully we’ll have success early. But again, it’s just kind of, as we talk to all of our players, just dial in on one play. Don’t worry about anything else. Just worry about the things you can control and what you’re asked to do.”
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher
On lessons learned from week 14 against the Eagles
The Giants are in the uncommon position of playing a rematch against a division rival just three weeks after playing them for the first time in a season. Ordinarily things will change between match-ups — players will be injured, rookies develop, veterans be signed, or trades will be made. This time, however, the Eagles are much the same as when the Giants last saw them. That being said, the Eagles’ have also seen the Giants’ defense very recently as well.
“There’s certainly a balance,” Bettcher said. “It is recent, and you believe in some of the stuff you were doing in the game. And you also look at whether it was injuries they might have or maybe how they have shifted using different personnel in the last couple of weeks, which they have done. You try to build your plan based off of both thoughts, the early season thoughts and these last two weeks since we have played them.”
One thing the Giants learned they have to contend with is the Eagles’ ability to convert third downs and keep plays alive. They are second in the NFL in converting 3rd downs, and last game Philly was able to convert 42 percent of their third downs while the Giants converted just 16. Getting off the field on third downs will be one of places in which the game will pivot for the Giants’ defense.
“One of the things is they have two really dynamic targets in the two tight ends,” Bettcher said. “Whether the ball is going there, or the ball is going somewhere else, you have to account for those guys and some of the routes they’re able to run. Those guys run receiver type routes and they do a great job of creating separation in space on their routes. They are very detailed in the way they run it. Overall, they do a nice job running the ball on first and second down to try to create some two to sixes where on that third and two or third and three, just like when we played, they are going to try to run the ball too and keep you on your toes in regards to that. That helps them have a good balanced mix. The first thing that pops into my mind is the two tight ends.”
On the Giants’ young secondary
The Giants’ defense has struggled this year, and much of the reason why has come from their reliance on a number of rookie defensive backs. The secondary has one of the sharpest learning curves of any position group for rookies, and the Giants’ young corners have had plenty of bumps in the road in their rookie seasons. Overall, however, Bettcher believes that while each is in a different place in regards to their development, the arrow is pointing up.
“I’ve been around it enough in this league to know that, whether it’s one of those guys if you said he didn’t have a good rookie season, or he didn’t have a good second year,” Bettcher said. Players develop at different rates and that might be just them learning things at a different rate than other players. That may be their bodies physically maturing at a different rate than other players. I don’t think there will be a true assessment on that until year two or three with some of the guys. That’s the same with some of our second-year players. It will be year three, we all know pass rushers, that’s year three and four. We’ve seen that with some guys that are now this year having really great years that some people probably tried to write them off early in their careers. That’s just a development thing, it’s strength, its physicality, technique, fundamentals. I know I have said this before, for instance, as a corner, the releases these receivers in the NFL are able to give you are so different than the college receivers. That’s just because they’re faster and they’re all physical and most of them are pretty tough. To be able to play from press is different for those guys. The same thing for rushing an offensive tackle in this league. He’s the most athletic guy that you might have rushed against in college. Some of the things you might have gotten away with, you can’t get away with. You have to narrow those techniques down. The second piece of all that is narrow the techniques at the position that match you, match your body type, your skill set, what do you do well and understanding how you can use your tools to go compete on week in week out basis. I think all these guys are progressing. Their arrows are up and I’m anxious to keep coaching them each and every day.”
Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
On the Giants’ blocked punt
The last quarter of the Giants’ win over Washington could be defined by a pair of punts. The first was a great punt by Riley Dixon which was called back by a penalty, then blocked. That mistake by rookie linebacker Josiah Tauaefa effectively became a 70-yard penalty and lead to Washington scoring a touchdown to bring themselves within seven points of the Giants.
“You know, it was a great punt by Riley (Dixon), you’re talking about going from one extreme to the other,” McGaughey said. “Great punt by Riley, downed the ball at the 2-yard line, had a call that could’ve went either way. They called it. To come back and then Josiah (Tauaefa), it was just a simple day one rush, it was nothing fancy about it, the two just came underneath and he got beat. There’s no other way you can…literally it’s a simple day one installation rush we’ve seen since the spring. It happens.”
“Josiah has been in that spot for eight weeks now, nine weeks. He knows it,” McGaughey added when asked if injuries elsewhere on the roster changed anything. “It’s not an excuse and it’s just something that is part of his job. He knows, ‘I block the two, I’m a tackle.’ Since day one when he walked in here, that’s where we started off. Same exact look. It’s just unfortunate that it happened to him. Josiah is a great kid and I promise you he’s learned from this mistake.”
On the Giants’ special teams as a whole
It might be odd for Giants’ fans to think about, but special teams has been the teams’ strongest and most consistent unit over the course of the 2019 season.
The play of Riley Dixon, which earned him a multi-year extension, was an asset all year long, and Aldrick Rosas returned to something like his 2018 form once long time long-snapper Zac DeOssie was sent to the IR and Colin Holba was signed.
Of the coordinators, McGaughey has the most to be proud of, saying “Yeah, when you look at our group overall, I think our coverage units have been pretty good for the most part (knocks on wood). We’ve got one more. The return units have been good. Obviously, we’ve felt like we left a lot of meat on the bone as far as making plays in the return game. Coverage wise, again, I thought we did pretty good. Punt protection wise, obviously when you get two punts blocked, that’s not good. Field goal wise, I think we could’ve been better. We had some issues with the operation and just being consistent. We’ve got to find that again. Field goal block wise, our guys have rushed hard the whole year. So, I mean overall, it’s been solid. I think we could’ve been better in spots. I think situationally, we could’ve been better. Overall, I think we were solid. Moving forward, I think that with the good base of young guys that we have, having Riley, having Aldrick, having Colin (Holba), and just being able to create competition throughout the roster, I think we’ll be better.”