By Paul Dottino
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A full deck? Really? Well, not quite, but it’s close enough.
Giant coach Tom Coughlin goes into Sunday’s game with the Miami Dolphins (0-6) having as close to a complete set of starters as he has put on the field all season, thanks to the expected return of defensive end Justin Tuck (neck, groin), running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) and right guard Chris Snee (concussion).
The timing could not be better, with the Giants (4-2) coming off of their bye week and staring at a 10-game marathon to close the season. And by the way, the 2-4 Philadelphia Eagles are the only other losing team they will face during this stretch.
So the Miami game truly represents the final substandard opponent on the Giants’ schedule. It’s also a home game. Coughlin’s crew simply cannot, under any circumstances, allow this one to wind up in the loss column if they are going to challenge as a potential playoff team down the stretch.
Here are the Giants’ three key matchups to watch:
1. Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Dolphins SS Yeremiah Bell. Manning has been very careful with the ball this season (11 TDs and 5 INTs) and he needs to keep it that way against Miami, which has an NFL-low four takeaways (2 INTs, 2 FRs).
The Dolphins are apt to disguise their blitz packages, specifically when sending the safety. Bell may rush on a delay, come up the middle and has been seen stunting with defensive linemen. The point being that Manning must keep an eye on Bell and be aware of how the defender is going to be employed on each play in order to avoid a costly mistake.
2. Giants CB Corey Webster and LB Jaquain Williams vs. Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall and RB Reggie Bush. The Giants began matching up Webster with the opponents’ best receiver a few weeks ago and he’s lived up to the challenge.
Marshall is a big, strong target who can make spectacular big plays, but also leads the NFL with seven drops (five of which could have gone for TDs). Marshall’s been targeted 61 times this season, which means Miami is going to keep feeding him the ball, regardless of how many mistakes he makes because they are hoping he can bust a big play any time the ball comes his way.
Bush used to be in the big-play category when he was with the Saints but has been less stellar in his first season with Miami, which uses him more often in the backfield than it does as a receiver. As a result, defenses have been able to surround Bush and prevent him from getting into too much open space, where he’s the most dangerous. The speedy Williams likely will get the call to keep an eye on Bush, wherever he goes.
3. Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs vs. Dolphins LBs Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. The Giants finally showed a capable power running game while beating the Bills going into the bye week – Bradshaw produced their first 100-yard effort of the season.
Jacobs is expected to return after missing two games and RG Chris Snee is back after a one-game hiatus.
Can the Giants win this game without a power ground attack? Sure, but they will need to have this element going forward so there’s no better time to kick it into gear. Dansby and Burnett are solid, physical run stoppers, who don’t get much help and often are on their heels as opponents slice the Miami secondary.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Dolphins 13
PREDICTION RECORD VS THE SPREAD: 2-4
What’s your prediction for Giants-Dolphins? Let Dottino know in the comments below…