Q: Last year after you lost to the Redskins in the 15th game, you told the players it was an exciting time of year, they still controlled their own destiny and they should take advantage of it. After losing in Washington Monday night, you’re in first place with four games remaining. Is it largely the same this situation?
Coughlin: “Yes, it is. Destiny is a matter of choice. We talked about that (Thursday) morning, but we also talked about the positive energy that has to be generated at this time of year about the opportunities that we have. We’re 7-5. We lead the division by one game. We do have control of our own fate in our own hands and that’s the way you want it. You don’t want to be dependent on anyone else, and so that’s where we are and trying to stay positive. The problem with a Monday night game is if you look at a normal cycle, it takes the players a couple of days to get back to where they’re focused. It goes ahead and not back and when you don’t see the players until Wednesday, even though I really didn’t dwell on a lot from the other night, I did talk about three particular areas. One, consistency; two was the penalties, which came out of nowhere; and three was the finish idea, which we’ve always had but, quite frankly, in our last two losses we haven’t finished. We talked briefly about that, but I tried to put it in a positive way.” Q: You mentioned on your conference call many of the good things the team did Monday night. When you’re coaching this week, are you accentuating what you did well or are you focusing on what you have to correct?
Coughlin: “We take the opponent and we focus on what it’s going to take to defeat the opponent. What we’re trying to do is to create the idea where finishing the thing is so important. It’s been a difficult time for me because one of the things I did say to the team right after the game was, ‘What happened in the second half?’ One hundred yards in the second half is not going to get it done.” Q: When you said you have to win the four games, that seems to be a real challenge to the players, both in terms of what they have to do to make the playoffs and the importance of improving their play. Have you challenged the players to go out and do that?
Coughlin: “I challenge the players to win every game, every week. What I was really doing, and I’ve done it consistently now, particularly since we came back from the bye, is it’s now a four-game schedule. We need to win all the games in our four-game schedule. But really, just as importantly, we have to play consistently at a championship level. We had the Green Bay experience (a 38-10 victory), which was a great experience when we had great passion and our energy level was very, very high and we played like we expected to win. I wouldn’t say that about the other night. So we have to get back to that. We have to play that way to establish yourself finishing the season that way, and if you’re playing your best football, then you have high expectations and they’re legit. But if you’re not playing especially well, then that’s another issue.” Q: Your current turnover differential is plus-14, which is the best of your career. That is something that is always very important to you. Do you feel like you really haven’t taken advantage of that as well as you should have in terms of scoring points off of turnovers?
Coughlin: "I don’t relate that directly to that. When you have all the amassed yards that you had in the first half (273 in Washington) and you have only 13 points, you just kind of ask, ‘Where are the points?’” Q: Plus-14 is something you’ve probably strived for.
Coughlin: “But you have to remember last year. There were people that were plus-28. San Francisco and who was the other team that was almost plus-30 (Green Bay was plus-24)? Hopefully, it does turn out to be that way. But it also means that (the opponent) has to earn it. When you’re not turning the ball over, the opponent gets no benefit. And that’s, quite frankly, what we’re trying to do is to create takeaways, where you have a team that’s averaging 11 drives a game and all of sudden it’s eight. It’s only eight he can do with, because we’ve got three of his. And if we get all 11, we’ve always figured if we get 11, then we’ll have the points that will show it. Two weeks ago we did. Last week we didn’t. But you had a pretty solid, solid football game in which the one turnover we did get in the game was deep in our territory. It didn’t provide us with the field position you’re talking about there.” Q: Do you feel fortunate you were able to replace Sean Locklear with David Diehl , who has 145 career starts?
Coughlin: “It was David Diehl’s job. He was the starting right tackle. He’s had injuries this year that he’s never had before. Locklear stepped in and played and it’s unfortunate that Sean is hurt and gone for the season. I feel badly for him. He’s earned the right to be here and to help us at this point in the year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. So now David Diehl coming off his most recent injury has got to help us take this thing to a better level, play our final four games at a much higher quality. We’re starting to run it a little bit. Let’s keep that going.” Q: Keith Rivers got extensive time the other night. Is he finally healthy?
Coughlin: “You’re always going to try to match up according to the people that you play and what their strengths are and so on and so forth. Rivers is healthy and he continues to help us on special teams and also contributed obviously with the fumble recovery (in Washington). Chase (Blackburn) knocked it out and he got the ball.” Q: With Rivers in the lineup, can you take advantage of Mathias Kiwanuka’s versatility by moving him upfront?
Coughlin: “Yes. He’s in the rotation. He’s been up there. He’s been there since we came back from the bye week.” Q: Drew Brees leads the league in touchdown passes and also leads the league in interceptions. Is this a “bonanza” game, where you need to get a lot of sacks?
Coughlin: “The game we just showed the team (Thursday) morning was the (New Orleans vs.) San Francisco game with five sacks and two interceptions for touchdowns (by the 49ers). That certainly let them stand in good stead. We need to have pressure on the quarterback. We need to get to the quarterback here. That’s our game, let’s face it. That’s what these guys have done best over the course of their careers. Now this team will run the ball. They ran the ball very effectively against us a year ago and they have done that and they are multi-talented at the running back spot, as they are at receiver and as they are at tight end and as they are at offensive line. They have a really good offensive machine. Look at them in the green zone: 70 percent touchdowns, first in the league. They’re 44 percent on third down. They do an awful lot of good things.” Q: They seem as deep as any team you’ve ever played.
Coughlin: “Very deep.” Q: Their defense is ranked last in the league but seems to have improved recently.
Coughlin: “Absolutely. Atlanta had 273 yards the other day. Atlanta did run the ball, but they certainly didn’t amass a lot of yards. You’re talking about a 23-13 game where New Orleans has got a chance to score a touchdown or a field goal before the half and the clock runs out on them.” Q: How big a weapon is their punter, Thomas Morstead?
Coughlin: "He’s a good punter now, no question. But he also has the benefit of playing nine games indoors (eight at home and one in Atlanta). You watch Atlanta go back and forth. They both play in that operation.” Q: Are Darren Sproles and Travaris Cadet very dangerous return specialists?
Coughlin: “Yes, they are. They put Cadet in there and he runs a 75-yarder right away. This (running back Chris) Ivory kid, he’s 5-9, 222 pounds and he runs a 4.48. He tears them up. He’s the third or fourth one that gets to play. He doesn’t get to play much. Pierre Thomas gets it overall and (Mark) Ingram slams it up in there and this guy is their outside guy. But he’s very good.”