Approach to the Game – Miami Dolphins at New York Giants, October 5, 2003: The Dolphins are a good, solid football team because they can run the football and they play good defense. In fact, they are more like the old Giants than the current Giants are. But this team doesn’t scare me and it shouldn’t scare the Giants. If New York is able to control Ricky Williams and put some points on the board early, this is the type of game that I think the Giants can win handily.

Giants on Defense: If the Giants are really going to take charge of this game and finally bury an opponent, the defense needs to play well – and particularly against the run. What the Dolphins will try to do is control the clock, keep the Giants’ offense off the field, and wear down the defense. In order to prevent that, the Giants must play very stout up front against the run. Listen to some of the Giants’ commentary about HB Ricky Williams:

  • Jim Fassel: “He’s a big, heavy, meaty running back. He’s a hard guy to bring down, because you’ve got to get a square hit on him. Yet he’s elusive. He’s not just a power runner inside. I think he can run it inside and be a power runner, but he can make you miss and step to the outside…He is a patient runner. If he goes up into the hole and doesn’t see a clear lane, he will hesitate just a little bit ’til something does, or he’ll bounce it on outside. The problem is that with a back like that, you are not going to hold him down by one-on-one tackling all day long. He is powerful, he will run over people and he will bounce off people. So now you get everybody hustling to the ball, but if you over-hustle and you plug it, he will just bounce it outside on you and that is where I think he is really top drawer. What we have to have is people going to the ball, but you’ve got to keep the containment on the perimeter so that if he bounces it, you have the support coming up.”
  • MLB Mike Barrow: “He’s going to get the ball. Like Michael Jordan when he was in his prime – you knew he was going to get the ball. But you have to try to stop him. To stop him we’re going to try to blitz him and stop him in the backfield, or go with the eight-man box. On offense, they don’t try to trick you too much. They line up and play good smash-mouth football and dare you to stop them.”
  • DE Michael Strahan: “He gets stronger as the game goes on. He’s faster than you think and probably more powerful than you think. He does everything well. He’s catching the ball out of the back field so he’s one of those running backs that is the total package. One of those guys that you can’t take a play off on. If you do, he’s going to beat you.”

That’s the key to the entire game defensively. Keep Williams under wraps. Not just when the Dolphins run straight ahead with power, but also on draw plays and on passes out of the backfield. Because Williams is a bigger back, it is imperative that the Giants gang tackle…don’t assume he is down until you hear the whistle blow. Gang tackling has another advantage in that Williams will fumble the football. Get some hats on him and knock the ball out of there. Above all else, play solid run defense for the entire game. Don’t let up because that is when he will burn you.

To me, this is the type of game where SLB Brandon Short can have a real impact. It’s why he is on the roster. Short has been pretty much invisible the first three weeks as the Giants have faced three teams in a row that put extra wide receivers on the field and forced the Giants into their nickel and dime packages. Unlike those other games, Short will see a lot of playing time and this is the type of opponent he should do well against. I look for him to have a big day.

That said, all of the linebackers need to be very aggressive and physical in playing the run. In particular, Dhani Jones needs to wrap up aggressively and make sure tackles. However, the linebackers must be VERY wary of play action passes to TE Randy McMichael, one of the most dangerous tight ends in all of football. McMichael will be looking to steal the media limelight from Jeremy Shockey since he and his Dolphin teammates consider McMichael the better player. The backers also must look for pass to Ricky Williams and FB Ron Konrad out of the backfield. In fact, the Dolphins may initiate their ball control attack with these kind of short passes first, then hit the Giants with the run. If the linebackers are TOO aggressive, then the defense will get burned.

To help out the linebackers, the defensive linemen must win their individual battles up front. This is a decent offensive line, but nothing special. LT Mark Dixon, who has not played this year, experienced another setback in practice this week and will not play. That means rookie Wade Smith will start on the left side against DE Kenny Holmes. This is an opponent who Kenny could cause problems for. At the same time, Holmes had better batten down the hatches because most likely the Dolphins will throw a steady diet of Ricky Williams in his direction. When Holmes comes out of the game, rookie DE Osi Umenyiora needs to play the run far better than he has the first three games of the regular season. The opposition has picked up good yardage at the expense of Umenyiora in recent weeks. In fact, if the Giants choose to deactivate one of their eight defensive linemen this week, I would pick Umenyiora over Keith Washington – given the style of the opponent they face.

The platoon of DE Michael Strahan and DE Keith Washington will battle RT Todd Wade, a very solid and dependable right tackle. Miami probably won’t be as afraid as other teams in challenging Strahan.

Inside, OC Tim Ruddy (knee) will be replaced by Sean McKinney. The platoon of Keith Hamilton and William Joseph will face LG Jamie Nails – a huge player (6-6, 335lbs) who lacks athleticism. DT Cornelius Griffin and Lance Legree will battle solid RG Todd Perry. These are all match-ups New York can win if they play physical, disciplined football with the proper leverage and technique.

Miami’s quarterback Jay Fiedler doesn’t really impress me as a pure passer. But he can hurt you with his feet both by scrambling for key yardage as well as buying time in the pocket. And we all know how many problems the Giants have had recently with mobile quarterbacks. It’s time to put an end to that crap. Stuff the run, keep Fiedler in the pocket, and make the Dolphins beat you with Fiedler’s arm.

The best wide receiver on the Dolphins is Chris Chambers…a physical player who plays much bigger than his listed size. He can get deep and out-jump people for the football. Will Allen will likely cover him on most plays since Chambers normally lines up at the flanker spot. Allen has the speed to stay with Chambers, but may have to play a more physical game this week. The other wide receiver is Derrius Thompson, who the Giants are familiar with as he played with the Redskins last season. James McKnight is the third receiver – he has good moments, then bad.

Giants on Offense: The Dolphins have a good defense with some very good players. Remarkably, they have not allowed a touchdown in the red zone once this year. But in my opinion, this is a defense the Giants can beat and put some points up against.

The Dolphins have two undersized defensive ends who can rush the passer: weakside end Jason Taylor and strongside end Adewale Ogunleye. Inside, they are far more stout against the run as they have two big tackles (Tim Bowens and Larry Chester). But the Giants like to run wide and they like to run misdirection and I think the Giants’ running attack suits this opponent well. I look for the Giants to run those outside plays where the tight end blocks down on the end and the tackle and guard pull around the tight end to clobber the pursuing linebackers and defensive backs. That means Jeremy Shockey and Vishante Shiancoe may have critical roles in this game as point-of-attack blockers on the ends. If Shiancoe isn’t in the game, then Jim Finn will be on the spot. Personally, I think the Giants can run at Taylor and WLB Morlon Greenwood all day.

When the Giants put the ball up in the air, I would attack the linebackers in coverage with passes to the backs (Tiki Barber, Jim Finn) and the tight ends (Shockey, Shiancoe). MLB Zach Thomas is a warrior, but is not very athletic. SLB Junior Seau is slowing down and doesn’t play very disciplined football. You can pass on Greenwood.

Miami has a good secondary, but the Giants have a very good wide receiving corps and I would challenge this group as well. Patrick Surtain is their best corner and he will face Ike Hilliard. Amani Toomer will line-up against Sam Madison on most plays. Terrell Buckley is the nickel back. He has a history of making plays on the ball, but he also has a history of getting beat by being too aggressive.

I honestly think the Giants can come out either passing or running against the Dolphins and most likely will mix it up. The key is to play smart football, limit the penalties, and not turn the football over. The Giants have the players to score in the red zone. My prediction? The Giants put 30 points up on the Dolphins this week.

Giants on Special Teams: Olindo Mare is the place kicker the Giants should never have let get away. Other than that, the Dolphins’ special teams are mediocre. This is an area the Giants dominate this week. Look for David Tyree to block a kick and for Brian Mitchell to finally make a big return.