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New York Giants 36 – Miami Dolphins 20
That time of year where players and fans alike start to mail it in has arrived. We are fast approaching mid-December and despite the fact the NFC East is at its weakest in decades, the Giants are on the outside looking in. Winless in their last 9 games, NYG hosted the equally-bad Miami Dolphins in a game that could have major NFL Draft implications. Also adding some flavor to this otherwise stale game was Eli Manning potentially making his final start in front of the home crowd, or what was left of it anyway. He entered the game with a 116-117 career record and while the wins and losses aren’t a make or break on his legacy, the taste in everyone’s mouth would be a bit sweeter if he could get that ratio back to .500.
The Dolphins were led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 37-year old who has been aging like wine since his career began in 2005. While nobody mistakes him for Dan Marino, Fitzpatrick has made a habit in recent years of pulling off upset wins with his sneaky, slippery ways. He led the first MIA drive in to NYG territory but the December winds of North Jersey pushed kicker Jason Sanders’ attempt wide right.
The Giants’ opening drive ended in a Nate Solder allowed-sack before MIA took the ball back and marched right down the field into the red zone. Instead of trying to get the initial points on the board with a 27-yard field goal, Head Coach Brian Flores kept Sanders on the sideline this time to give the MIA offense an opportunity to convert a 4th-and-1 from the NYG 10-yard line. It was stuffed by safety Julian Love and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson for a 3-yard loss.
NYG did cross midfield for the first time but that is where the drive stalled and they had to punt it right back to MIA. They drove down the field yet again and the third time proved to be a charm. Thanks to several missed tackles by both the second and third levels of the defense, MIA found themselves in the red zone and Fitzpatrick hit DeVante Parker up the seam between Corey Ballentine and Antoine Bethea for the game’s first score.
NYG was about to go 3-and-out following an incomplete deep ball to Darius Slayton, but thanks to a pass interference by rookie Nate Brooks, NYG had the ball with a fresh set of downs at midfield. On the very next play Manning hit Golden Tate, who fought through another pass interference, tipped and bobbled the ball, and came down with it before bursting into the end zone to tie the game back up.
After a quick stop by the NYG defense, Manning got the ball back but he threw an interception to MIA linebacker Vince Biegel on a zone blitz that he simply did not recognize. MIA was able to put up three more points via a 24-yard field goal and take a 10-7 lead. A second interception from Manning kept the score there heading into halftime. The Giants were losing by 3 at home to a team that many have said is purposely tanking the 2019 season.
Halftime created a completely opposite result from what we saw just 6 nights prior in Philadelphia. They came out on fire and scored on a touchdown pass from Manning to Slayton. The momentum was back on NYG’s side after they forced a MIA 3-and-out, but Manning threw another horrific interception. There are times where a quarterback gets unlucky when an interception is added to his box score. We have seen several of those in Eli’s career where a receiver tips a ball or someone ran a wrong route. But all three of these were low-level, rookie-caliber mistakes. MIA ended up turning this one into 3 points to bring the game back within 1 point.
After forcing a stop, MIA got the ball back on their own 3-yard line. They opted to try and run outside with an undrafted, on-the-slower side running back with an untouched defender in front of him. It resulted in cornerback Sam Beal recording a tackle for loss in the end zone, netting NYG 2 more points with the ball coming back to them. It was the first safety of the season for NYG and ended up being the turning point of the game.
The Giants scored on their next two possessions via Saquon Barkley touchdowns. Barkley had a career high 28 touches. Pat Shurmur nearly faltered, by not giving him the ball enough as they tried to bleed out the clock with a lead against a bad team. But he quickly reverted to feeding him the rock behind an offensive line that was dominating the point-of-attack. The Giants scored one final touchdown on the legs of Buck Allen and MIA added one of their own on a charity score from Fitzpatrick to Parker.
Eli Manning was pulled and received a standing ovation and “Eli” cheer. If only more than a third of the stadium was full. Oh well.
Manning got his record back to .500 and NYG took the W for the first time since Week 4.
Giants win 36-20.
-Eli Manning: 20/28 – 283 yards – 2 TD / 3 INT – 87.9 RAT. The two touchdowns really saved Manning’s supposed last start at MetLife Stadium. His three interceptions were all on him and he had a multiple misses on short passes. However, as we have grown to know well with Manning, he came up big in multiple spots and didn’t let poor plays carry over into the next series. One slight positive out of this game that the common fan won’t notice was Manning’s ability to change blocking schemes and plays at the line to set up Barkley. That’s one thing a rookie like Jones just doesn’t do yet and a veteran like Manning can do as easily as put his helmet on. It was nice to see Manning get a win and play well enough to contribute to that win in what we think will be his final start at home.
-Saquon Barkley: 24 att / 112 yards / 2 TD – 4 rec / 31 yards. Just over a year ago was the last time Barkley got 24 carries (12/8/18 – a Giants win). His 28 touches were the second highest of his 2-year career (29 touches on 11/18/18 – also a Giants win). Barkley looked like the elite, rare-level talent who we saw all of last year and were excited about going into 2019. He made lateral cuts that sent defenders straight to the ground without contact, his short area burst created separation from defenders at all levels, and he got into the end zone twice. Barkley was also running hard because he actually had some room to work with up front and it was such a breath of fresh air to see him produce. Don’t worry NYG fans, this is still one of the top talents in the league. Now the front office better take note what happens when they have an advantage rather than a deficit up front.
-Sterling Shepard: 9 rec / 111 yards. Shepard had a bad drop and was flagged for offensive pass interference, but beyond that he was dominant over the green MIA corners. He was getting open underneath time after time and was a major weapon on 3rd down. He also had 2 key blocks that went unnoticed.
-Darius Slayton had 2 catches including a 5-yard touchdown and Golden Tate had one catch that went for a 51-yard score. They weren’t targeted a ton (7 combined) but the weather somewhat inhibited the downfield attack and Manning was clicking underneath with Shepard. Cody Latimer added a catch for 21 yards.
-Kaden Smith had 3 catches for 38 yards on 3 targets. He made an impressive catch up the seam and showed some toughness after the catch. As a blocker, he graded out well but did allow a TFL.
-If only the Giants could play against the Dolphins defensive line each week. The right side of the line was dominant. Second-year undrafted free agent Nick Gates, who has seen more time at OT this season, played exceptionally well at RG. He was the top graded lineman on the team and had the second-highest grade of any OL performance from the team all year. Mike Remmers also kept things quiet next to him and NYG made an effort to run behind these two when tough yards were needed. I really hope to see more of Gates against WAS and PHI where his level of competition will be much higher.
-Nate Solder allowed a sack early and 1 pressure in the second half but otherwise played solidly. He was fooled by some twists and stunts and his balance wasn’t there to recover. Will Hernandez had the lowest grade on the OL, grading out just above average. He allowed a TFL and was flagged for a hold. He, too, looked lost on a couple run blitzes where he just didn’t see things coming fast enough.
-Jon Halapio didn’t make much of a difference. He got some decent movement off the ball which helped open up the running game.
-Rookie Oshane Ximines out-snapped Lorenzo Carter. It wasn’t by much (34 to 32) but it is something to keep an eye on. Carter has been a disappointment this season and Ximines has flashed. He continued to do so in this one, recording a half-sack along with 2 pressures. Carter recorded 1 tackle and 1 pressure.
-Markus Golden added to his team lead in sacks with a half-sack of his own but also added 3 pressures, all in the second half. He had 3 tackles on the day and was stout against the run.
-Similar to what I opened the offensive line discussion with, if only the Giants could play against the Dolphins every week. The trio of Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dexter Lawrence owned the line of scrimmage. Tomlinson remained red hot with 3 tackles and a sack, along with a couple penetrations that caused the Dolphins running game into the waiting hands of other defenders. Williams had 3 tackles / 2 pressures / 1 forced fumble that was recovered by NYG.
-B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh both got involved in the action despite limited playing time. They both made a play behind the line of scrimmage, with McIntosh’s play being a sack.
-Alec Ogletree appears to have at least somewhat checked out. I remember saying this last year after this loss to the Titans. His hustle and urgency just wasn’t there and it was partially the reason why he missed 4 tackles and was flagged for a hold. He just looked sloppy and stiff. He did add a pressure and a pass break up in the second half but I see a guy who lacks both emotion and leadership from a position where they are needed. He shouldn’t be back in 2020.
-David Mayo added 6 tackles / 1 TFL. He has half the talent of Ogletree but I can’t say their production and impact combined are that far off. He plays hard and even though he was eaten up in coverage a few times. I always want a roster spot for a guy like Mayo.
-Deone Bucannon continues his tryout for NYG and the future. He made a really physical and athletic tackle near the sideline and got involved in some disruption behind the line of scrimmage. He finished with 6 tackles and was effective in coverage.
-The youth movement at corner is officially under way after the release of Janoris Jenkins, who had too much pride to simply apologize for what he said to someone on social media. Imagine if someone had used a racial slur on him and justified it by stating it was a “culture thing.”
-Sam Beal had his finest game and moment as a Giant and it was important for him, as he has been either injured or ineffective for nearly 2 seasons, and that can put a guy in danger when it comes to his roster spot. He finished with a team-high 11 tackles, the one big play being a safety. Beal isn’t an overly big guy, but he played really physical on several occasions. I think his footwork and reactions are a little behind the curve still but he was a key contributor to the NYG win.
-Deandre Baker’s play continues to move in the right direction. If he ends on this high note, we can feel good about his rookie season overall. He did allow a late touchdown on a 50/50 ball, but his technique and urgency have been notably better.
-Corey Ballentine has been getting a good amount of action at nickel. I don’t see the fit because his hips and feet just don’t change quickly and efficiently. He is a better straight line athlete, which can be used better outside. He allowed a touchdown on a seam route but he did break up a pass and finish with 3 tackles.
-Julian Love’s role with this team will be interesting to watch in the offseason. He finished with yet another strong game. He had 5 tackles / 2 TFL / 1 pressure / 1 pass break up. He is playing the versatile role of Jabrill Peppers with a lot of action in the box and excelling. Can he be moved back into the role of Antoine Bethea? On paper that is ideal, but I’m not sure he can produce from that spot. All of that aside, his play has been stellar.
-Antoine Bethea had 5 tackles and a pass break up but also missed 2 tackles and was late in zone coverage. I can respect the leadership he provides but I am keeping safety in my top-3 needs for this team moving forward.
-K Aldrick Rosas went 4/5 on extra points with no FG attempts.
-P Riley Dixon: 5 Punts / 41.8 avg / 41.8 net. Solid game on a windy day. Dixon ranks 6th in the NFL in average net per punt.
-RB Saquon Barkley, OG Nick Gates, CB Sam Beal
-LB Alec Ogletree, EDGE Lorenzo Carter, OG Will Hernandez
3 THOUGHTS ON MIA
- Back in September, everyone and their mother were completely positive that MIA was tanking the 2019 season so they could end up with the top pick of the 2020 Draft and select Tua Tagovailoa. Fast forward via real life and here we are. They are playing their butts off, no longer picking in the top 2 (most likely), and both Tua and Chase Young may not even be in the draft class. I have never believed that tanking is a thing and I still don’t. They cleared a lot of cap room, they began a new culture, and they used 2019 to find some key contributors for their future.
- Where does this team go now? First, I would love to know what their plans for Josh Rosen are. Part of me thinks Ryan Fitzpatrick simply beat him out and the other part of me says they are using 2019 as a rookie year for Rosen to let him sit and observe rather than run for his life behind a bottom-tier offensive line for the second year in a row. MIA has the resources to improve both the OL and DL this offseason and that is exactly where it needs to begin.
- Give me a guy like Brian Flores all day. He gets the most out of his players via leadership and intensity. He is a guy who can scare the kids but also work with the veterans. He knows the game exceptionally well (and we all know that is not a given for NFL head coaches). I think MIA is in really good hands.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- Even though the Giants won, the offensive-strategy bothered me as the Giants did not consistently attack newly-acquired, undrafted free agent Nate Brooks, who was playing in his first game. We have seen other teams throw at Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine and Deandre Baker over and over this year. Whenever NYG did target the receiver that Brooks was covering, it was near 100% successful. Darius Slayton beat him multiple times off the ball but they didn’t even look that way.
- Lets not go crazy with Nick Gates just yet. I know we are starving for good news, particularly along the offensive line, but the MIA defensive line is the worst in football. I have a couple friends who grade defensive line play around the league in a detailed manner and they have Miami ranked 32nd, with the 31st-ranked team not being close. Gates did what he had to do and he deserves the “stud” label this week but we need to see him against better competition.
- If Daniel Jones had a significant shoulder injury I would say he needs to be on the shelf the rest of the year. But a high-ankle sprain? He should play these next 2 weeks if he is even somewhat able. Jones has a ways to go and every week he misses is a lost opportunity for him. This is the time you want him to make the mistakes and learn from them. NYG will head into 2020 looking to win right away; thus Jones needs to get as much experience as possible. No question.