With road games against the 5-1 Patriots and 49ers following this week's home game against the 0-6 Dolphins, it's safe to say that the Giants need to win this game to get a cushion to prepare for the increasingly difficult schedule. Here's what Big Blue can do in order to avoid the Post-Bye Week Blues.
Earth and Fire reunite. Brandon Jacobs' sprained MCL seems to have fully healed, and he should be ready to go on Sunday. In a backup role this season, Jacobs has 116 yards on 38 carries for two touchdowns in four games. He's only averaging 3.1 YPC, but his mammoth strength and ability to push defenders will be greatly welcomed back. Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware don't possess that ability.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw continues to embrace his role as the starter. Through six games, Bradshaw has racked up 390 yards and five touchdowns. These numbers project out to 1,040 yards and 13 touchdowns through a 16-game season. Certainly not Foster/McFadden numbers, but Bradshaw is emerging as a potential elite running back in the NFL, and the Giants are surely glad they re-signed him. Most importantly, however, is that Bradshaw has only fumbled once this year after doing so seven times all of last year.
This week, the Giants need to establish the run early. The Dolphins' run defense hasn't been as bad as the pass defense, but the G-Men can and should still exploit it. Miami is allowing 118.5 rushing yards per game. If Bradshaw and Jacobs can keep the Fins on their toes, it will open up the passing game for Eli & Friends. That's where the Giants will likely deal the most hurt.
On a final note, don't expect Bradshaw and/or Jacobs to do a lot of scoring; the Dolphins have only allowed three rushing touchdowns on the year. That's tied for fifth best in the league.
The Dolphins have one of the most pitiful aerial attacks in the NFL. That being said, the bulk of the offensive threat comes from the running game, which boasts some pretty hefty names (Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush, Steve Slaton), but not so much hefty production.
Still, the Dolphins will look to their running game to have a shot against the Giants. New York is allowing an average of 127.7 yards on the ground per game, 27th in the league. The Giants' D-line doesn't seem like it has played to its full potential yet. Second year DT Linval Joseph is still settling into his role, and Sunday will be the first game of the season in which both Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck will be healthy.
The Giants need to make a statement and stuff the run. Dolphins' rookie Daniel Thomas has been kept in check for the past two weeks against the Broncos and Jets, but has shown his ability to have big games with a 95-yard performance against the Browns and a 107-yard game against the Texans. If they can keep the Dolphins' running game in check, Miami will be forced to put the game in the hands of Matt Moore. Which may put the ball in the hands of Giants' defenders.
Going into the season, many considered the Giants' defensive line one of their major strengths. The Giants have 21 sacks on the season, tied for the most in football with the Vikings and the Redskins. Jason Pierre-Paul has been a huge reason why. JPP has 7.5 sacks in six games this year. Almost more impressive is Osi Umenyiora's five sacks in just three games.
But on Sunday, all eyes will be on another player: Justin Tuck. The Giants' defensive captain is returning from nagging groin and neck injuries. It will be Tuck's first game since September 25 against the Eagles, and he will certainly be a welcome return to an already dominant defensive end unit. Also, it will be the first time that Tuck and Umenyiora have been on the field together in a regular season game since last season.
The Giants need to make a statement and attack Matt Moore furiously. The Fins have one of the worst quarterback situations in football. After losing starter Chad Henne for the season, Moore took over and veteran (and former Giant) Sage Rosenfels was signed to be the backup. But Rosenfels developed the same illness he had with the Giants and was placed on the Non-Football Illness list, ending his season. And then, of all people, J.P. Losman was signed to be Moore's backup. Losman hasn't thrown for a touchdown since December 14, 2008, and hasn't played a full season since 2006.
Moore has only one touchdown this season to go with three interceptions. He has also fumbled three times in three games. The Giants have forced nine fumbles this year, an average of 1.5 per game. Expect that number to go up now that Osi and Tuck are fully healthy. While we should expect Perry Fewell to blitz with them most of the time, don't be surprised to see one of the defensive tackles (Chris Canty/Linval Joseph) or safety Deon Grant to get involved too. The Giants are going to try to tee off on Moore. Probably successfully.
The Dolphins' only true receiving threat is this guy: Brandon Marshall. He has 483 yards (12th in the NFL), and is on pace for 1,288. However, Marshall has just one touchdown. Still, he can be a menace to opposing secondaries, as he is averaging 14.2 yards per reception. That's the most in his career in a season with at least 30 catches.
The Giants' secondary has struggled this year, allowing 245.8 yards in the air per game (18th in the league). But, with Miami's other underwhelming receivers (Davone Bess, Brian Hartline), you can bet that Moore will be looking for Marshall on most passing plays.
Corey Webster has been solid. His two interceptions on the season were key picks in the Week 6 battle against the Bills. Overall, Webster hasn't been burned too badly. But Aaron Ross, who has filled in for injured corner Terrell Thomas, is statistically one of the better corners in the league right now. Ross has three interceptions and eight passes defended. Most of these stats come because opposing quarterbacks know they can throw against him, and sometimes with good reason. Ross has been badly burned in a few games this season, including the inexplicable Doug Baldwin touchdown in Week 5 against the Seahawks. He was even benched briefly in Week 2 against the Rams.
Leave Ross to guys like Hartline and Bess. Corey Webster should shadow Brandon Marshall all day. During the Bills game, Webster shadowed dangerous wideout Stevie Johnson. He was held to just five catches for 39 yards. If Webster can hold Marshall to a stat line like that, the Giants should be golden.
After turning heads in the preseason by saying he is an elite quarterback, Eli Manning has done everything possible to put himself in that category. Entering Week 8, Manning has the fourth highest QB rating in the NFL, behind just Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. That's pretty good company. Add in the fact that he's thrown 11 touchdowns and only five interceptions with WR Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss gone, and you could say Manning is having his best season as a pro.
The Dolphins are allowing an average of 258.5 passing yards per game. Manning is averaging about 296. As mentioned earlier, the running game will receive a big boost with Brandon Jacobs' return, lightening the load of Ahmad Bradshaw. The running game should be used to keep the Dolphins on their toes. Expect to see Manning throwing a lot against a Miami defense that has only intercepted two passes all year. Two.
Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will see their usual roles, but Manning has been doing a great job getting the ball to the surprising young guys, too. TE Jake Ballard, who is in his second year as a pro after going undrafted out of Ohio State, is averaging 18.2 yards per catch. He's been the Giants' secret weapon of sorts. Eli should, and probably will, look to him in tight situations.
WR Victor Cruz was called out by OC Kevin Gilbride for his inconsistency. Sunday would be a great time to prove Gilbride wrong. While most of Manning's targets will be going for Nicks and Manningham, Cruz should find his way into the game too.
The 4-2 Giants have developed the nasty habit of playing to the level of their competition. That can be a good thing, like in the Week 6 victory over the Bills, or a horrible thing, like in the Week 5 loss to the Seahawks.
Tom Coughlin has had two weeks to get his team prepared for the winless Dolphins. If they blow this one, it's hard not to blame him. The Giants can't take this week off. The schedule only gets tougher as the season goes on, so the G-Men need this victory. Chris Snee is back. Brandon Jacobs is back. Justin Tuck is back. With the exception of rookie Prince Amukamara, all of the Giants' major players will be healthy. So injuries can't be used as an excuse.
To be fair, the Giants played a great game against the pitiful Rams, so they don't always play down to their opponent's level. But with games against the 49ers, Patriots, Jets, Packers and Saints looming in the second half of the season, the Giants need every "easy" victory they can get.
How do you think the Giants will fare on Sunday? Sound off in the comments.