By Michael Lalor, Contributing Writer
New York Giants (5-7, T-1st NFC East) at Miami Dolphins (5-7, 4th AFC East), Monday Night Football.
The Giants – still amazingly alive in the murky NFC East – travel down to south Florida and take on the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Kickoff will be at 8:30 pm Eastern. Talented, versatile, and veteran play-by-play man Mike Tirico has the call of course, supported by the equally talented and entertaining Jon Gruden. Lisa Salters reports from the sidelines.
Giants update. The Division has been there for the taking all year along, and the Giants have not been able to seize the opportunity – yet. But, they’ll have another one on Monday night. The Giants biggest challenge has been finishing, and closing out, games. The Giants have lost their last 3 games by a total of 10 points, and have lost 5 games where they held leads with less than 2 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter: Week 1 at Dallas, Week 2 vs. Atlanta, Week 8 at New Orleans, Week 10 vs. New England, and Week 12 vs. NYJ.
All week, talk shows and fans have debated HC Tom Coughlin’s choice to go for it on 4th down-and-2 from the NYJ 4-yard line with 8:50 remaining in the 4th quarter last week, holding a 20-10 lead. My perspective — the call was the right call. Coach Coughlin had the feel of the game, as he nearly always does. The Giants had possessed the ball for 23 plays and over 12 minutes spanning the end of the 3rd and start of the 4th quarter, and had the chance – and momentum – to put the game out of reach.
The decision obviously reflects on the future Hall of Fame Coach’s lack of faith in the Giants defense, which, although it played well early and generated a pass rush (including 3 sacks) on Ryan Fitzpatrick, repeatedly fails to get off the field on 3rd down — allowing a 45% conversion rate, 31st in the NFL. The 4th down play execution was poor, and it appeared that WR Rueben Randle did not commit to, and follow through with, the slant route…allowing Jet DB Rontez Miles to step up and make the game-turning INT. The Giants also lack the ability to run the ball late in the football game – the “four-minute” offense for which the Giants have been known, especially in late season, cold weather games – and this also weighs into Coach Coughlin’s thought process.
• WR Odell Beckham, Jr. continues his superb play; against the Jets, he caught 6 balls for 149 yards and a 72-yard TD from QB Eli Manning. On the season, the sophomore wideout has 78 catches for 1,154 yards and 10 TDs
• Beckham, Jr. extended his streak of consecutive 100-yard games to five last week against the NYJ. That is the longest streak by a Giant in the regular season since WR Homer Jones – the man who introduced the touchdown “spike” to the NFL – in 1967-1968
• KR/WR Dwayne Harris returned an 80-yard punt return for a TD against the NYJ in the 2nd quarter of last week’s game; he is the first Giants player in 60 years to record kickoff and punt return touchdowns in the same season
• The Giants only have 3 runs over 20+ yards through 12 games, ranking last, 32nd in the NFL
• The Giants’ pass defense is last, 32nd in the NFL, allowing 314.5 yards/game
• The Giants’ are next-to-last, 31st in the NFL, with only 15 sacks through 12 games. DE Damontre
Moore (3.0 sacks) was released by the Giants on Friday afternoon, after repeated episodes of immaturity and indiscipline over the last 3 years; Moore was a 3rd round pick (Texas A&M) in ’13.
Giant injury front: The Giants again re-shuffled the line against the Jets, continuing a disturbing trend since the Week 10 loss against the Patriots. LT Ereck Flowers (ankle) went out against the Jets, and is doubtful for the game at Miami. T Marshall Newhouse (back) missed the game vs. the Jets and is questionable against the Dolphins. The Giants will go with Justin Pugh at Left Tackle. On defense, LB Devon Kennard (hamstring), FS Brandon Meriweather (knee), and DE Robert Ayers (shoulder) are all questionable. QB Eli Manning (ankle), who took some shots against the Jets, is probable.
Miami update. The Dolphins are 4-4 under interim Coach – and former New York Giant TE (1999-2002) – Dan Campbell. The Dolphins beat the Baltimore Ravens in Miami last week, 15-13. RB Lamar Miller has re-emerged under Campbell’s leadership, and rushed 20 times for 113 yards last week. The Dolphin defense, led by NT Ndamukong Suh and S Reshad Jones, played well against the run, executed a goal-line stand, and effectively harassed Raven QB Matt Schaub with 3 sacks and 10 additional hits; DE Derrick Shelby intercepted a Schaub pass and returned it for a 22-yard TD. Dolphin DE Olivier Vernon has 6.5 sacks on the season; he has 4.5 over the last three games; he had 2.5 vs. the Ravens last week.
QB Ryan Tannehill is 268-for-4366 on the season for 3,079 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs. Tannehill only threw for 86 yards against Baltimore, and has completed just 55.5% of his passes over the last 4 games. He has been sacked 34 times this year through 12 games, which ranks in the bottom third of the NFL, 24th overall. Dan Campbell is committed to running the ball more and winning with the Dolphin defense. This led to the recent firing of Bill Lazor as Offensive Coordinator, and the promotion of Zac Taylor to the position; Taylor was the QB coach prior to assuming duties as the OC. Campbell’s approach to the game has improved the team, but it seems to have stunted the development of the Miami passing attack, which does possess weapons in WR Jarvis Landry (79 catches, 823 yards, 4 TDs; Landry was Odell Beckham, Jr.’s teammate at LSU) and ‘15 1st round pick, WR Devante Parker (11 catches, 192 yards, 2 TDs). Miami’s offense has struggled to sustain drives this season, converting on 3rd down at an anemic 28% rate.
Here’s the NFC East with four weeks to go, with each team’s remaining schedule:
Washington Redskins (5-7); (1 home / 3 away): at Chicago, vs. Buffalo, at Philadelphia, at Dallas
Philadelphia Eagles (5-7); (3 home / 1 away): vs. Buffalo, vs. Arizona, vs. Washington, at N.Y. Giants
New York Giants (5-7); (2 home / 2 away): at Miami, vs. Carolina, at Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia
Dallas Cowboys (4-8); (2 home / 2 away): at Green Bay, vs. N.Y. Jets, at Buffalo, vs. Washington
…The Giants have the hardest schedule, with upcoming games against undefeated Carolina at home, and 8-5 Minnesota, who is battling for an NFC Wild Card, on the road at Minnesota; the combined record of the Giants’ remaining opponents: 30-19.
…Washington is 0-5 on the road, traveling to Chicago to play the Bears this week, with additional games to come at Philadelphia, and in Dallas for the season finale.
…Philadelphia, after their win at New England, has the least amount of travel remaining, with 3 home games and a road trip just 90 miles up north to the Meadowlands.
…Dallas has a difficult trip to Green Bay, a tough home game against the Jets, and a late December trip to Buffalo.
What to expect, and a prediction: The key matchups to watch in Miami are LT Justin Pugh vs. Dolphin DE Olivier Vernon, and C Weston Richburg vs. NT Ndamukong Suh. If the Giants O-line can continue to hold up – and they battled effectively against the Jets – QB Eli Manning will be able to work the ball to WR Odell Beckham, Jr., WR Rueben Randle, RB Shane Vereen, and TE Will Tye. If Manning and OC Ben McAdoo can find the way to get the ball to Vereen in space, it will help neutralize the Dolphin pass rush and keep it more ‘honest’. The Giant defense, behind DE Jason Pierre-Paul, will generate some pressure on QB Ryan Tannehill and find a way to finish the game…the Division, whether it’s a down year or not, is still there for them. Giants, 27-16.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. Please visit SpadoraOnSports.com.