NFL Preview - Miami (0-6) at N.Y. Giants (4-2)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - At first glance, the Miami Dolphins may represent nothing more than a mere tune-up for the New York Giants as they prepare for a treacherous portion of their 2011 schedule. Don't expect the current NFC East leaders to be looking past their embattled and still-winless opponent when it heads to MetLife Stadium for Sunday's interconference clash, however.
The Giants haven't been severely tested in building the 4-2 record they took into this past week's bye, with those four victories coming against teams that are a combined 7-17 at the moment and a 27-24 triumph over Buffalo prior to the break New York's lone verdict over a foe presently above the .500 mark.
The slate will become substantially more challenging once the calendar hits November, however. Three of the Giants' next four contests are on the road against current division front-runners (New England, San Francisco, New Orleans), and a home date with defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay on Dec. 4 concludes Big Blue's daunting five-game stretch.
A frazzled Miami team that's lost nine consecutive tilts dating back to last season and is down to a second-string quarterback would seem to be easy pickings for New York, though the playoff hopefuls say they're not taking Sunday's game for granted.
"Any given Sunday, anything can happen," Giants cornerback Corey Webster remarked. "[The Dolphins] haven't put it together yet, but that doesn't say that they are not going to be prepared and come out here and work hard to put their best foot forward."
There also precedent for the Giants not to view Miami lightly. New York was a similarly heavy favorite at home against a struggling Seattle squad just three weeks back, but was inundated with turnovers and breakdowns in a startling 36-25 loss to the Seahawks. The Dolphins brought an 0-7 record and an underdog label into their most recent meeting with the Giants, which took place in London in 2007, and played the eventual world champions tough in a 13-10 defeat.
Additionally, Matt Moore -- who'll be making his third consecutive start for Miami in place of injured quarterback Chad Henne this week -- had perhaps the crowning achievement of his otherwise undistinguished five-year career in a matchup with the Giants two years ago. The then-Carolina signal-caller completed 15-of-20 attempts and matched a personal best with three touchdown passes in leading the Panthers to a 41-9 road rout of New York in December of 2009.
Moore was intercepted three times and hit on just 14-of-33 throws in a Carolina loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium in the 2010 season opener, however.
Miami's last win also took place at the Meadowlands in upset fashion, an ugly 10-6 decision over the rival New York Jets on December 12 of last season. It's been all downhill for the Dolphins since, with most of the talk surrounding the once highly-successful franchise focused on potential replacements for perceived lame-duck head coach Tony Sparano and the team's odds of landing heralded Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in next April's draft.
The lowest point for Miami may have come this past Sunday, when Sparano's charges became the first to squander a 15-point lead with less than three minutes left in regulation in an improbable 18-15 setback to the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos.
The Giants, who expect to get back several key contributors that had missed time with injuries such as defensive end Justin Tuck, running back Brandon Jacobs and guard Chris Snee, have won the week following a bye in each of the last three seasons and have averaged 39.7 points per game in those bouts.
The Dolphins and Giants have opposed one another six times in the past, with New York prevailing in four of those games. As previously noted, the Giants recorded a 13-10 win at London's Wembley Stadium four years ago in the last encounter between the clubs, while Miami came out on top by a 23-10 score in 2003 during its last outing as the visitor in this series. The road team has won four of the five tests in the set, not including the London game, and the Dolphins are 2-1 all-time at the Giants.
New York head coach Tom Coughlin is 3-0 in his career against Miami, with the first two victories dating back to his tenure in Jacksonville from 1995-2002. One of those wins was a 62-7 Jaguars' rout of the Dolphins in the 1999 AFC Divisional Playoffs, which marked the final appearance for legendary Miami quarterback Dan Marino. Sparano, a native of West Haven, CT, will be facing both Coughlin and the Giants for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Miami's plan is to support Moore (568 passing yards, 1 TD, 3 INT), who's coming off a pretty solid effort against the Broncos that followed a very shaky performance in a Week 6 loss to the Jets in this stadium, with a productive running game. The Dolphins have two capable backs in physical rookie Daniel Thomas (302 rushing yards, 7 receptions, 1 TD) and versatile veteran Reggie Bush (232 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 1 TD), with the tandem averaging a respectable 114.2 yards per game between them on the year. Thomas has been battling a nagging hamstring injury as of late, though, and managed a pedestrian 53 yards on 19 carries in last weekend's defeat. Moore made good on 22-of-33 pass attempts for 197 yards and had no interceptions versus Denver, while connecting with tight end Anthony Fasano (10 receptions, 1 TD) on a fourth-quarter touchdown strike, but the Dolphins managed just 267 total yards and the offense often sputtered inside the red zone, settling for Dan Carpenter field goals on two of three trips within the Broncos' 20-yard line. Inefficiency has plagued Miami all throughout the season, with the team scoring touchdowns on only 33 percent of its red-zone possessions (30th overall) and ranking dead last in third-down conversions (23.7 percent). A lack of big plays has been another problem, with top receivers Brandon Marshall (34 receptions, 483 yards, 1 TD) and Davone Bess (24 receptions) having been utilized mainly as possession types.
The Dolphins may have some opportunities for sizeable gains against a Giants defense that was burned for two long touchdowns, an 80-yard run and a 60-yard pass, against Buffalo in Week 6. The unit has come up with a few difference- making moments, however, as New York is tied for the league lead with 21 sacks and has forced 10 turnovers -- including seven interceptions -- over its last four tests. The pass rush should be even more formidable now that Tuck (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks), who's amassed double-digit sack totals in three of the past four seasons, appears finally over groin and neck injuries that have limited him to just two games thus far. The All-Pro end rejoins a high-caliber line that contains two other feared disrupters in Osi Umenyiora (10 tackles, 5 sacks) and second-year standout Jason Pierre-Paul (30 tackles, 7.5 sacks), while cornerback Corey Webster (22 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PD) is the club's top cover man who picked off the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick twice two weeks ago and will likely be asked to shadow the talented Marshall. The Giants have been susceptible to good running attacks, ranking 27th in the league in rushing defense (127.7 ypg) and permitting over 150 yards per game on the ground over their last four outings.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
New York's rise to the top of the NFC East pack has been made possible by excellent play under center from Eli Manning (1778 passing yards, 11 TD, 5 INT), as the renowned quarterback has put together the best beginning to a season in his often up-and-down eight-year career. The former No. 1 overall pick's 9.07 yards per attempt trails only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady for tops in the league and he's drastically cut down on turnovers following a difficult 25-interception campaign in 2010. Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks (32 receptions, 508 yards, 3 TD) and Mario Manningham (18 receptions) are the most accomplished members of a pass-catching corps that's displayed surprising depth, with slot man Victor Cruz (21 receptions, 398 yards, 3 TD) and big- bodied tight end Jake Ballard (15 receptions, 2 TD) each making unexpected notable contributions to the ranks. The Giants' running game has been less consistent, though primary back Ahmad Bradshaw (390 rushing yards, 19 receptions, 6 total TD) is coming off a 104-yard, three-touchdown output against the Bills and the club rushed for a season-best 122 yards that afternoon. Jacobs (116 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 3 total TD) should be back from a two-game absence to help lessen Bradshaw's load, but the 264-pound bruiser was averaging just 3.1 yards per carry prior to his knee injury.
A Miami defense that yielded the sixth-fewest yards in the NFL last season has been a major disappointment in 2011, with the group entering this week's play ranked 30th overall in pass efficiency defense and having induced a mere four turnovers in six games. The Dolphins had also been encountering difficulty rushing the passer prior to breaking out with a seven-sack barrage against the Broncos last Sunday, with 2010 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Cameron Wake (15 tackles, 5 sacks) heading up the onslaught with two takedowns of Tebow. Denver mustered just 125 net passing yards on the Dolphins with the ex-University of Florida star running the show, but the secondary did allow two late touchdown passes to Tebow and failed to record an interception for a third straight game. Miami has produced a league-low two picks on the year and also gave up a season-high 183 rushing yards to the Broncos, although that high figure was in part due to Tebow's strong scrambling ability. Strong safety Yeremiah Bell (52 tackles, 1 sack) had seven tackles and a sack last week and leads the team in stops.
KEYS TO THE GAME
If Manning plays well, the Giants will win. The New York quarterback has registered a passer rating of 94 or better in each of Big Blue's four victories this season and wasn't sharp in the team's two losses, finishing with a mediocre 70.8 rating in a Week 1 defeat at Washington and having a hand in four Giants turnovers (three interceptions, one lost fumble) during Seattle's upset at MetLife Stadium earlier this month.
In addition to coming up with five takeaways in that Week 5 meeting, the Seahawks were able to rush for 145 yards on the Giants. The Dolphins will be attempting to follow Seattle's blueprint on Sunday, but will need strong showings out of Thomas and Bush as well as defense that's been woeful at creating turnovers this season to be more opportunistic in order to accomplish the task.
Red-zone performance. This is one area in which New York appears to hold a clear advantage, as the G-Men's 68.4 touchdown rate inside the opponent's 20- yard line is second-best in the NFL. Miami, on the other hand, has been one of the worst teams in the league inside the red zone and will be hard-pressed to win this week if the offense can't make the most of its scoring chances.
To their credit, the Dolphins haven't quit on Sparano, but it's going to take more than just hard work for Miami to knock off a rested and more skilled Giants team in its own building. New York would greatly aid its opponent's cause with a sloppy display resembling the one it put forth in its shocking home loss to the Seahawks a few weeks back, but that result should make it more likely that the current NFC East leaders stick to the task at hand. Behind another solid effort from Manning and a defense that won't have much trouble handling the Dolphins' limited arsenal of weapons, the Giants earn a relatively stress-free victory that will be harder to obtain in the coming weeks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 27, Dolphins 13
10/27 08:14:19 ET