Head Coach Joe Judge
December 30, 2020
Opening Statement: It’s Wednesday, we’ve turned the page. We’re fully on to Dallas as a team and an organization right now. We’re looking forward to the opponent this weekend. Obviously, this is a big game for us being that it’s a rivalry game, a divisional game, and obviously, there’s a lot at stake. When you talk about this team, this is not the same team we played early in the year. I think notably, the pace they’re playing at is different, the way they’re playing a balanced attack on offense. They’ve gotten away from playing a fast-paced tempo. They’re not so much a pass-heavy team at this point. Really, the offense always goes through Zeke (Ezekiel Elliott) and the run game. That’s what they use to set up those explosive receivers on the outside. Kellen (Moore) has done a really good job of mixing it up, using the screen game and the run game to create some shots down the field. Obviously, this offense can pose a lot of issues. There are some similarities to our own. But I’d say at the same time, it’s a totally different offense based on how it’s being called, who it’s being called with, and some of the plays that have evolved throughout the year.
Defensively, this unit is playing very well. The thing is turnovers that have really separated them right now in how they’ve played lately than probably earlier in the year. This team is making a lot of plays with the pass rushes off the edge. The backers inside are making a lot of plays. They have a young defensive interior that’s really stepped up. There are a lot of new faces and names that we have to get familiar with in a hurry and know how they play. But this team has really made a lot of gains defensively, and we have a lot to handle in our hands. We have to have a good week of practice.
Of course, in the kicking game with Bones (John Fassel), it always comes down to it’s an attacking mindset. He has a lot of multiples. He’s going to have some kind of gimmick in every phase, and they’re going to call it. The bigger the game, the more gadgets you see. That ties into (Mike) McCarthy’s own personal history as well. End of season games, whether it has playoff implications or something tied in with just wanting to use something for an edge, he’s always practicing and always preparing for the onside kicks, the fake punts, the fake field goals. These are things we’re going to have to be alert, aware, communicate and play with a defensive mindset anytime we don’t have the ball, being on kickoff returns, punt returns or field goal blocks. That being said, I’ll open it up to any questions you may have.
Q: You mentioned some of the ways you’ve seen this team change. What stands out most about your first meeting with the Cowboys, specifically when you think about the emotions of Dak Prescott’s injury, how memorable is that?
A: I’d say just in terms of Dak, look, you never want to see any player hurt, on your team or any other team. Dak’s a really good player and he’s a really good person. I’ve obviously followed him from having just alma matter ties with him. I’ve been a fan of him for some time with the way he carries himself off the field and the way he plays on the field. When you go against a guy like Dak, you have to prepare for the run and the pass. This guy is a very smart player, he’s a very tough player. He really brings a lot of dimensions to the game which you have to account for. That being said, Kellen’s done a really good job with this offense and adjusting with Andy (Dalton) at quarterback. I think the thing that stands out with Andy is he’s extremely smart. Andy’s a very smart quarterback, he puts them in the right place, he knows where to go with the ball, he does a really good job getting the ball out of his hand quickly, which really helps the protection up front and negates the pass rush. He’s been throwing the ball very accurate. Kellen’s putting him in good schemes in terms of using the weapons they have on the outside, but really staying balanced with the run game between Zeke and (Tony) Pollard. They’re really finding nice ways to use those guys. They have weapons all over the field on offense, and you have to make sure you account for them. You have to not just know what they’re lined up in, but who’s where. We have to go ahead and play with good run defense, and you have to stop the shots down the field as well. That’s definitely how they make a lot of plays.
Q: On the defensive side of the ball, you mentioned the takeaways they’ve had in the last few games. What trends do you see in terms of what’s working for them getting these consistent takeaways?
A: They’re playing fast. They’re playing fast in the pass rush coming around the edge, they’re affecting the quarterback. You see the other day with (Jalen) Hurts with the pursuit when they caused a fumble in the fourth quarter, they folded on back. They’re hustling to the ball, they’re attacking the ball. They’re really doing a nice job with how they’re playing up front. On the backend, the DBs do a great job of reading the quarterback’s eyes. This is a deal where if you get locked on a receiver and your eyes stay stagnant down the field, they’re going to find it and they’re going to break on that ball. They do a good job, the defensive backs, of attacking that ball, putting their face on it, really biting the ball, and they do a good job of attacking technique. Ball security is definitely a priority for our team this week.
Q: I’m not mentioning the “P” word, but what does it mean to you and your guys to be playing a meaningful game in January?
A: Look, you can go through and kind of give the whole ‘every game is meaningful,’ this and that, but I’m going to be honest with you, I think in anything that you do that you have a great passion for, you want it to be important to other people as well. You want to invest enough in yourself, and you ask the team to invest in themselves, you want it to be important across the board. Every game is important to us. You get 16 opportunities a year that you’re guaranteed to go out there on Sunday and perform. We have to take advantage of every single one of them. But for us in this one right here, obviously, a division game, rivalry game. We want to make sure we continue to play and improve as a team. This is the last regular season opportunity for us to go out there and improve as a team. We didn’t set out to say, ‘hey man, we’re going to get better as a team in 14 games.’ We said in all 16 games, we want to see a raised level of play and coaching across the board.
Q: In the last two games Daniel (Jones) started, we’ve kind of seen a quarterback who’s reluctant to run. Do the gloves have to come off this week? Do you have to use him at what he’s best at?
A: Look, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win the game. That being said, we’re always going to consider our players’ health as the priority. We’re going to work to not put our players in any situation where we put them at greater risk of injury. That comes to how we protect him, how we call plays, and how we execute on the field.
Q: Just based on when Logan’s (Ryan) extension happened, I don’t think we even asked you about it. I’m curious why that was a priority and how involved were you in that process?
A: Without going through all of the inner workings on the back scene, I think obviously this was going to be a free agency type of deal. We just had the opportunity to get this done before it went to free agency. Logan’s been a good player for us. He’s been a leader in this organization. I think the biggest thing is he’s been a productive player. You can talk about all the intangibles off the field, they’re all very important. At the end of the day, it’s a production business and he’s been a productive player for us. The ability to be able to retain him in our program and not only continue to add depth in our defensive backfield, which has become a strength for us throughout this season with a lot of young guys coming up and developing. Look, it was a priority to keep Logan here and really keep that unit strong.
Q: I’m not asking you to repeat any of your comments because I’m aware of all of them, I’ve heard all of them, but have you felt the need recently to defend [Quarterback] Daniel [Jones], specifically the other day when you weren’t asked about your quarterback, but you went on to talk about the many ways he’s improving and has improved?
A: No, I don’t feel a need to defend him at all. I think ultimately in this business what we do on the field is what’s going on and what really matters. We can all say a lot of things and I took an opportunity to point out some things that I saw of him on the tape and his progression throughout the season. But in terms of defending Daniel – now look, he’s a big boy, we all know what we signed up for here and there’s going to be criticism on the outside, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re in New York, it’s not supposed to be an easy job to coach or play here. We have to understand the climate we’re in. It’s a tough city, it’s supposed to be a tough city and you need tough skin to play here.
Q: So that was more to sort of educate us on just what you’re seeing in your quarterback?
Q: Where do you think you’ve made the biggest strides? It seems like a lifetime ago when you played the Cowboys last. Where have you improved the most? Where has this team matured the most, do you think?
A: I tell you what, if you watch that first game tape – and I’ve obviously watched it a couple of times throughout this week and leading up to this – these are two very different teams on the field. You can turn around and say there are a lot of the same players out there, similar schemes. You look at the execution from both teams, both teams are completely different in a lot of ways. I think, without jumping onto us, real quick and just talking about their defense, they’re playing faster, they’re definitely playing more confident out there, they’re definitely more productive and disruptive in what they’re doing. In terms of us as a team, I’ve seen a raised level of play across the board. I see more confidence starting with our quarterback in terms of how he’s controlled the line of scrimmage, operating in the system and really helping guys around him. I see the signal-callers on defense with [Linebacker] Blake [Martinez] and [Defensive Back] Logan [Ryan] and some of those guys doing a really good job of working with multiples and controlling it on the field. Early in the season when you’re four games in, five games in in a new system without a preseason, these are things that really take some time to develop that chemistry within a game setting. I’ve seen that really mature throughout the season. I’ve seen our defensive backfield be able to handle more multiples, disguise different variations of man coverage, have a greater understanding for who we’re playing and how we have to play. I’ve seen our skill group develop some versatility in terms of how we can attack, and I’ve seen our offensive line improve with great strides. So, there’s a lot of things that I can talk about throughout the season I’ve seen, but to me it’s about when I watched that tape the other day, just looking at ourselves, you can see instantly and the players can as well, we’re a much improved team on all levels, in all positions and how we’re operating as one unit. That’s encouraging. With that said, they’re a much better team, too, so we have to go out there and have our best game on Sunday.
Q: Last time you played the Cowboys was the highest-scoring game you guys have played the last time you played the Cowboys. both teams had a lot of points. They have scored 30, 41, 37 their last three games. If this has to become that kind of game, can you guys keep up with that point-wise?
A: We’ll do whatever it takes to win the game. Look, we want to play defense to keep those kinds of points off the board, and offensively we’re trying to score every possession. We want to make sure we can finish drives better.
Q: Even if you don’t go forward after this week, this team has not done a great job in the division the last several years. If you win this game, you go 4-2 in the division. Is that something you had a check on when you came in, we need to clean up our neighborhood here in the division?
A: There’s a lot of marks since I came in here that we circled and said, ‘We’ve got to hit these,’ a lot of things that I haven’t advertised, a lot of things internally everyone’s aware of. But playing in the National Football League, it really does all start with your division, it’s really the most important thing. You play these guys twice a year, you have to know your division, you have to improve within your division. A lot of people build their teams based on who they play twice a year in the division. Those games don’t trump every other game, but they’re obviously very important games because they almost count as more than one game because of how you’re measured against the other teams in your division.
Q: [Wide Receiver] Dante Pettis, it took him a while to make his debut with you guys. He played quite a bit at receiver the other day. I’m just curious what you saw from him there and if you can envision him helping in the return game going forward. He obviously has a rich history in that area.
A: We’re working him in the return game in practice every day. We also have [RB] Dion [Lewis] back on kick returns and [Defensive Back Jabrill Peppers] and [WR] Golden [Tate], when he’s healthy he’s out there as well sometimes for us, so we’re working a number of players in practice. Dante obviously has a history of it through college and somewhat in the league, so we’re going to work him all the time. We always want to improve our depth at those positions. It’s tough to find punt returners, it really is. It’s one of those positions you kind of take for granted and when you don’t have one, everyone notices every week, that’s just something that’s a fact. In terms of him as a receiver, I’ve seen him really improve within our scheme and system. I thought he did a nice job in the game the other day, really showed the ability to get open and caught the ball for us. Had a couple that didn’t come his way, was still able to get open and shed some tight coverage. I’ve seen improvement with him. Obviously, he’s had kind of a short term in our system. He lost a little bit of time and development with us being on the Covid list for a period of time, so he’s made the most of his opportunities and now he’s on the field working. We’ll see where it goes this week in terms of the game plan, but I’ve seen improvement from him, and I’m encouraged going forward with him.
Q: Just wondering if we could get some injury updates on some of the guys like [Linebacker] Kyler Fackrell, Golden Tate, [Tight End] Evan Engram, a few of those guys.
A: Yeah, so Evan will be out there today, Fackrell will be out there today moving around. Everyone will do something a little bit with the trainers. Today’s kind of the hybrid day of individuals, some competition, a little bit of a walkthrough at the end, so some of the guys will get a little more in the walkthrough at the end than early on in the individuals and the competition. We’re going to keep Golden strictly with the trainers today, we’ll see where he goes going forward. Again, I know he’s going to do everything he can to be out there. We’re optimistic, we know he’s working hard with the trainers, we’ll see where he’s at physically. I want to be fair to him and make sure he gets the opportunity to get out there and show us if he can get out there on the field, stay on the field and be productive for us. Look, this guy’s done a good job for us, he’s been really fun to coach, so obviously we want all of our guys out there healthy.