When the Dolphins pass the football
And now there’s DeVante Parker. He had that “Welcome-to-the-NFL” moment last week against Baltimore, and it was a 38-yard touchdown. So now his confidence is higher than it has been at any time this season. Will the Dolphins recognize that and ride that momentum? Or are they going to continue to feed Jarvis Landry bubble screens and continue running shallow cross and quick out routes by the tight end for maybe 5 yards? (This passing game’s scheme is frustrating.) Anyway, despite being relatively healthy in the secondary, the Giants come into this game as the NFL’s worst pass defense. Part of their problem is they haven’t done a very good job of pressuring quarterbacks. The Giants are last in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The loss of Jason Pierre Paul for the majority of the season and his inability to regain his old form since returning from the fireworks accident that nearly cost him his career is obviously part of that. The Miami offensive line allowed only one sack last week against Baltimore. That was the fewest sacks it has allowed in any game this season.
When the Dolphins run the football
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The game plan was to run the football last week, and the Dolphins did exactly that in a game in which they knew the Baltimore offense wasn’t going to score a lot of points. There is no such certainty about the Giants offense similarly cooperating this week. So the true test of the Miami running game, and particularly rookie play-caller Zac Taylor, is whether he will stick to his plan and run the football even when the other team just scored? Even when the other team might be leading? Even in the second half? The Dolphins have a blossoming running combination in Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi, and the line has been better at run blocking than pass blocking this year. This just in: The line also likes to run block more than pass blocking. So do that enough to keep them happy. The Giants, meanwhile, are better against the run than the pass. But that doesn’t mean they’re good against the run. They’re 19th in that category.
When the Giants pass the football
The Giants have a plan for getting Odell Beckham Jr. the football as they always do, and Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell said the Dolphins have a plan for dealing with Beckham. So who’s plan is better? The Dolphins have previously decided to let their best cornerback, Brent Grimes, shadow the other team’s outstanding receiver, and it has been mostly a failure this season. But that failure came against much bigger, much more physical players. Beckham is not that kind of receiver, so he becomes a better matchup for Grimes, believe it or not. Regardless of what the Dolphins do, they are likely to switch and give Beckham multiple strategies to handle. The rest of the Giants passing game beyond Beckham has been a disappointment. Ruben Randle’s output is down (71 catches in 13 starts last season, 42 catches in 12 starts this season), and his yards-per-catch average is at a career low 12.7 yards. The Giants tight end is basically a nonfactor, and the offensive line is makeshift because of injuries. Despite this, quarterback Eli Manning has had a mostly solid season. The Dolphins should be able to apply pressure to Manning, particularly if left tackle Ereck Flowers cannot play. Defensive end Olivier Vernon has been playing well and that must continue for Miami to have success.
ADVANTAGE: New York.
When the Giants run the football
Tiki Barber isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Brandon Jacobs. The Giants would like to be a balanced offense, with the threat of running the football in physical fashion being an option. It’s not. Leading rusher Rashad Jennings is a journeyman averaging 3.7 yards per rush. He’s gained 451 yards this season. Did I mention he’s the leading rusher? The offensive line has not been able to author any sort of consistency in pushing the line of scrimmage. The play-action game hasn’t been the threat it has been in the past. It is fair to say the Giants now pass to set up the run, instead of the other way around. The result is a rushing attack that is 29th in the NFL. Coach Tom Coughlin, who wants a tough, physical offense, must hate this. The Dolphins run defense is on the upswing. It rose two spots in the run defense ranking after limiting Baltimore to 96 rushing yards last week. Unfortunately for Miami, it rose from dead last in the NFL against the run to 30th in the NFL against the run. Are you getting the idea this is not promising to be an epic battle for the ages? The Dolphins nonetheless are healthier up front.
The Giants are good at covering punts and kicks and are perhaps better returning punts and kickoffs. New York kicker Josh Brown hasn’t missed an attempt in six games. Running back Rashad Jennings has three blocked punts since 2009, so if he’s on the field, they’re probably coming. The Dolphins’ Andrew Franks has kicked a grand total of seven field goals this season. He hasn’t even tried a field goal since Nov. 15 and has gone five games in which he wasn’t called on to kick a field goal at all. Franks has missed two of his 10 attempts this season. The Dolphins have been searching for returners in recent weeks. Sometimes its Damien Williams, sometimes Jarvis Landry. Even Brent Grimes has returned punts recently.
ADVANTAGE: New York.
This shouldn’t be close. Tom Coughlin has coached in college, coached in Super Bowls, coached championship teams. And he’s won everywhere. Dan Campbell is coaching his ninth game. And yet Coughlin this season has made more boneheaded game-management decisions (two) than Campbell (one). Coughlin is living through his annual rumor mill about his job status. Campbell is headed toward a job interview with the Dolphins after the season. These guys have more in common than it seems. Experience goes to Coughlin.
ADVANTAGE: New York.