The Giants’ coaching staff didn’t want to call last week’s game with the Jets a “must win,” but if they fail to acknowledge that Monday night’s tilt isn’t essentially do-or-die, then they’re telling tales as big as a whale – or dolphin.
One thing for sure is that Big Blue needs to end this three-game skid, because even if they’re actually in a three-way tie for the NFC East lead, their remaining three games after the Miami contest features some daunting opponents (Panthers, Vikings, and Eagles).
Monday night (8:30 p.m. kickoff, ESPN) is likely their last chance to be thought of as a favorite, as the Dolphins are also 5-7, but are in last place in the AFC East. Miami’s season is all but over, meaning they’re now in spoiler mode.
The Giants (5-7) haven’t fared well against the AFC East, losing to the Patriots and Jets this season. Their only win came at Buffalo. A split in the interconference AFC/NFC East schedule means they’ve knocked off Miami and are still technically in first place. A 1-3 mark against this division, and their playoff hopes are likely dashed.
Big Blue is certainly aware of head coach Tom Coughlin’s coaching mortality, meaning there’s even more reasons for the team to come out and play hard and secure a win.
Metro takes a look at the key storylines to watch, as the Giants fight for their playoff lives:
What to watch for:
1. Grounded or pounded?
It’s a slogan of bravado that was made famous by another coach who used to run the other New York squad, but it’s more of a question when it pertains to the Giants. Big Blue has the league’s 29th-ranked rushing attack, with just 88.1 yards per game. But there may be hope for them on Monday, as the Dolphins are equally inept in stopping the run (134.8 rushing yards allowed per game, 30th in the league).
Coughlin believes there’s a chance the run game can get back on track.
“Just keep working at it, keep running the ball. All we can do is keep working at it, and working at it, and not lose patience with it. We need to understand why it’s there in the first place, [and] why it’s important for our team for the way in which we’d like to play,” Coughlin said. “Patience. I would hope there’s enough there when the game starts and we would be able to build on the runs. I can be patient if we’re making some yards. Yes, I’ll be more patient.”
2. Can someone – anyone -- complement Odell Beckham Jr.?
Beckham, as electric as he is, can’t do it alone. Surely, he sometimes makes it look so easy that the illusion is there. But the second-year wideout shouldn’t be Eli Manning’s only true option.
Coughlin is hoping that one of the other wideouts pick up the slack, as the Dolphins will do everything within their power to neutralize Beckham. The coach said he specifically has someone in mind, and hopes he’ll take advantage of whatever opportunities that come his way.
“Well, I mean I would take full advantage of the ones that I do have before I would talk about opportunities,” Coughlin said in a perturbed tone when asked if Rueben Randle can be that guy, after being informed that the veteran has griped about a lack of targets. “From day one, there’s been opportunities here for everybody to fit in and be a part of [the offense]. We do need to have better [ball distribution], there’s no doubt about that. Hopefully we can accomplish that going forward. But I feel it’s been that way -- I don’t think you can argue with that. We’ve had big games out of [Dwayne] Harris. We’ve been expecting that Hakeem [Nicks] would come along. Myles White, when given a chance, came through for us the other day, despite the penalty that took the ball from the four-yard line back to midfield. They all need to accept the challenge.”
3. This one’s for Tom?
The seat is indeed getting hotter for Coughlin, and the team is definitely aware of his tenuous status. But to a man, they’re not acting as if their coach is a dead man walking, or if the outcome of this tilt is directly tied to his fate.
Quarterback Eli Manning said his preparation won’t change, despite the howls for the termination of the only NFL head coach he’s ever known.
“I’ve got to worry about this team just like he does. We’re about getting this team playing better, [and] winning games. Everything else will take care of itself if we do our job better. Coach has put us in good positions,” said Manning. “I think it [team’s demeanor and faith] seems to be the same. I don’t notice a difference. I feel like we still have a confidence in ourselves … I think we’ll be fine. The only way to fix those feelings is to play better football and get a win and it’ll solve some issues.”