Head Coach Pat Shurmur -- September 4, 2019
Opening Statement: I really donít have anything to lead with. Good walkthrough. We have a couple guys still that you might not see out there. (Darius) Slayton and (Garrett) Dickerson probably wonít make it this week. But other than that, weíll just see how practice goes today. As we get going here, Iíll let the injury report speak for itself. Iím not trying to be cryptic about it. If thereís a big injury or something, weíll talk about it. But if thereís a guy thatís going to end up being out there on Sunday, I wonít mess it with it too much. With that, Iíll try to answer your questions.
Q: It looks like youíre going to go into this week with 22 starters. What does that say about the process of keeping these guys healthy, and how much does it ease a coachís mind knowing you can go in with your best guys?
A: Well, I think thatís important, obviously, to have what you consider to be your best guys. We did have some tough decisions at the end when we put the initial 53 (man roster) together. Some of the guys that are playing missed portions of training camp. As you play through the season, itís important to still keep practicing. Youíre obviously doing everything you can each week to win that game, but itís a long journey, as we know.
Q: Ezekiel Elliott signed today. Whatís your reaction to that, and how do you approach that now?
A: Itís not a surprise. That just adds another outstanding player to whatís really an outstanding offense. They have an outstanding offensive line, they have an outstanding quarterback, they have really outstanding receivers, and they added Jason Witten back to the mix. Like I talked about on Monday, we have to defend that offense, and theyíve added another outstanding player to the mix. Weíll get ready to play.
Q: Will you address that to the team? Did you? Will you?
A: We talk about all of the players that weíre playing against every week.
Q: I believe you have two injured cornerbacks, (DeAndre) Baker and (Antonio) Hamilton. Theyíre both listed unofficially as starters. Will they be ready to go?
A: Yeah, theyíll be ready to play. Youíll see both of them in the game.
Q: Tight ends last year gave you guys some trouble with the inside linebacker coverage. Obviously, (Jason) Witten is one of the best if heís still what he was (before retiring). How do you guys improve against tight ends in coverage?
A: Yeah, itís been a focus, obviously, schematically on defense to make sure we take away the tight end when heís a primary target. You just work on it. Then we have some things schematically that we can do a little bit differently.
Q: Do you expect (Jason Witten) to be the guy he was before he went into the broadcast booth?
A: Absolutely. I saw him throughout the year last year doing games. He looked pretty fit to me. Iím sure there were a lot of teams that he broadcasted their games that offered him a job, I would imagine.
Q: You werenít one of them?
A: No. I like Jason. We have a good relationship. Heís where he belongs. Heís a Cowboy.
Q: How important is this game for your team? Itís sort of like a litmus test, even more than normal, just because it seems like this is one of your top competitors in the division. Do you look at it that way?
A: Itís the first game of the year, and we have to put our best foot forward. We have to do everything in our power to beat Dallas. Thatís the importance of it. I tell the players all the time, itís the players, not the plays. So, we have to get the players ready to play and go do it. Thereís always some uncertainty in the first game. Theyíve probably lined up in a formation and run the ball that theyíre now going to throw out of, and theyíve probably lined up in a formation and passed that theyíre going to run out of it. We all do all those things. Itís important that we go play hard, we play very fundamental, and we do all of the things you need to do to win games. Take care of the football, defend the run effectively, pressure the passer. Then on the flipside, we have to score points when we get a chance.
Q: With the uncertainty with (Ezekiel Elliott), was there always just one scheme for the Cowboys? Or does he add a wrinkle to the playbook that you now need to add in?
A: No, I think you play team defense. Youíre certainly well aware where the outstanding players are on their team. But they sort of simplify it for you because they have outstanding players everywhere. So, you play defense. Thatís not the first time Iíve been asked that question about Zeke. Itís sort of like, was just talking to Pat (Hanlon), halftime adjustments. The third preseason game is the tune-up, or the dress rehearsal. You have to play defense. You have to play team defense, and you have to defend everything the Cowboys present. I just mentioned, itís going to be a big challenge.
Q: You have a pretty young defense. You have guys could be playing starting caliber snaps for a guy at every level, rookies Dexter Lawrence, Oshane (Ximines) and (DeAndre) Baker. How much of a challenge is this Cowboys offense right out of the shoot for that young group, and are you concerned about so many moving parts coming together all at once?
A: Thatís the 10th question about that. Yeah, theyíre very talented. I think thatís why we have to be really good and fundamental about what we do and buy into the team concept. Then do the very best you can when youíre forced into matchups with their best players. Thatís where it comes down to the tactics defensively, and then the players playing their best.
Q: I donít know how much youíll be willing to tell us, but youíve mentioned in the past that youíve done work on the Cowboys going back months. The roster wasnít finalized until recently. As they changed, how has your preparations behind the scenes progressed along the way so that youíre current with what theyíre doing?
A: Iíll just give you a little background on what our offseasons look like. We do projects on all of our opponents once we know (who weíre playing). We know who they are early in the deal, we just donít know when and what weekend. So, we know who weíre going to play, and certainly we know who weíre going to play every year in the division. We work on it constantly. There are certain plays and schemes that you run in practice that youíre going to run against Dallas, then Washington, then the Eagles and so on. Iím answering these questions with the idea that we always work on things that are important, things that we feel weíre good at, but also how they apply to the teams weíre going to play.
Q: How much has Dakís (Prescott) game progressed? Is he the same player he was two years ago, or do you see a different quarterback now?
A: Heís improved. Itís just like any player. Heís an outstanding player. Early on, he did a lot with his legs. It appears to me like heís more comfortable in the pocket. He can beat you in the pocket as well as running around. He has that ability, too, that a lot of quarterbacks have. The 60-yard check down, where he breaks contain, heís running around, he keeps his eyes downfield and finds a guy wide open. That to me is a big challenge for a player like Dak. Then he can pull it down and run with it. Heís built like a running back. I think heís developed nicely for them.
Q: In the past few years that you guys have played Dallas, preceding you obviously, the Giants have went in with an offensive line that was not able to function 100%. How confident are you that you guys have the right guys with this group heading into the first game?
A: Well, we made progress from a year ago, and Iím looking forward to seeing those guys compete. Weíve made progress. I feel like weíre better upfront as a unit, and now we just have to go do it. All this progress weíre talking about now. The rubber is going to hit the road here. Weíve got to go play.
Q: You mentioned before that itís the players, not the plays. But you as the play-caller, do you feel good about what you have at your disposal? That you can run through your offense as well as you would hope going into a season?
A: Sure. I really like our unit. I look forward to trying to give them good stuff to work with. When I say the players, not the plays, letís not minimize the tactics involved. But I think whatís important when I say that is we have to do everything we can to help the players play fast and play well. Thatís what we have to do as coaches. There are a lot of plays that Iím fond of that our guys would probably not run as well as those plays would be run when I was in Minnesota. You kind of get away from some of that. When youíre thinking about the players, you try to do the things that help accentuate what they can do.
Q: It being the second season opener with the Giants, are there things that you know now that you couldnít have possibly known the first year? Or are you more convinced about some things as they relate to the opener?
A: Iíve certainly learned a lot about the Cowboys of last year and this year and where theyíre at. Their schemes are going to be a little bit different on offense. Iím sure theyíve held back on some things. Very similar on defense. Theyíre very active on defense at all three levels. But when theyíre matched up, they can play extremely well. So yeah, I have a good feel for who they are, and theyíre an outstanding team.
Q: After a long offseason of a lot of talk about Eli Manning, where he fits and his future, are you excited to see him play on Sunday?
A: I am. I am, because Iím excited to see a continuation of what was the back half of last season. Iím excited to see that.
Q: I asked Dave (Gettleman) the same question. Youíre entering Week 1 of a new season. What to you would indicate progress as you enter the season?
A: Well, youíre always looking to win the game.
Q: Is there a number? Is there a threshold for you?
A: Letís worry about the Cowboys. Again, Iím not trying to avoid that question. The progress is we need to start playing winning football in general.