Through a mutual connection, Joe Judge has known Mike Tomlin since before his days in Pittsburgh. On Monday night, he will face him as a peer.
Judge is set to make his head coaching debut against the Steelers, a team that defines continuity in professional sports.
"I know Mike has those guys practicing and playing aggressive," Judge said. "That's just the way he is in person. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach for what he's done for me personally in my career, giving me the opportunity as a young coach to tag along at times and impart to me some of his experiences that have helped me develop my own career."
Here are three keys to victory for the Giants on Monday night:
Be the more physical team.
In his introductory press conference on Jan. 9, Judge said, "We're going to put a product on the field that the people of this city and region are going to be proud of because this team will represent this area. We will play fast. We will play downhill. We will play aggressive. We will punch you in the nose for 60 minutes. We will play every play like it has a history and a life of its own, with a relentless, competitive attitude."
It has been a long, strange journey since then. The coronavirus pandemic led to an unprecedented off-season and training camp, void of OTAs and preseason games. With so many unknowns, teams will rely on fundamentals early, and Judge knows the Steelers have been successful for so long because of their physical brand of football. The Giants need to match it -- and then exceed it -- in order to win the game.
Protect the football.
Tomlin, whose team is 23-21-1 in the month of September since he took over in 2007, said in his conference call with Giants beat reporters that the first four weeks of the season are mostly about not hurting yourself. In other words, it's about limiting turnovers and big plays. Both plagued the Giants last season while the Steelers thrived. Pittsburgh led the NFL with 38 takeaways, including a league-high 18 fumble recoveries. T.J. Watt forced eight fumbles, tied with Arizona's Chandler Jones for the NFL lead. Meanwhile, the Giants lost more fumbles (16) than any other team.
"I think you can see [Watt] certainly is attacking the ball when he gets back there," Giants quarterback Daniel Jones said. "He's working hard to get that ball out. A lot of the fundamental things as a quarterback, like keeping two hands on the ball and making quick decisions and getting the ball out. Those are things that we're certainly focused on."
To some extent, the lack of OTAs and preseason games has surrounded teams in a shroud of secrecy. While coaching background is a big indicator in the scouting process, there will undoubtedly be wrinkles.
"The beauty of it, and also the hard thing about it, once the game comes, we have to adjust," assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "Then they are going to adjust, and we have to adjust again. That's what we get paid to do and it's fun."
Tomlin and two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger have been together for years, but Matt Canada is entering his first season as the Steelers' quarterbacks coach. Canada, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award, an honor given to college football's top assistant coach, in 2016. His units set offensive school records at Indiana, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, and most recently, while he was the interim head coach at the University of Maryland.
"We'll see what Matt Canada's influence on the offense is," Judge said. "I'm sure he's doing breaks and multiples. We'll have to see as the game unfolds what it ends up being. I wouldn't be surprised to see new wrinkles. We're going to prepare for whatever comes our way and adjust within the game. But at the same time, what's made them good over time is their ability to do what they want to do."