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Cover 3: Keys to a strong finish


Three Giants writers debate the keys to closing out the regular season strong:

As high as the Giants are right now, they know they haven't clinched anything -- yet.

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A win in either of the last two weeks would take care of that after the Giants improved to 10-4 with back-to-back wins over the Cowboys and Lions, two division leaders form the NFC. The road doesn't get any easier, though. Big Blue, which went 7-1 at home, finish the regular season away from MetLife Stadium with trips to NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Washington.

In this week's "Cover 3" on, we asked our staffers what is the biggest key for a strong finish on the road. Here is what they had to say:

By John Schmeelk

As the Giants continue to roll, now winners of eight of their last nine games, they are consistently controlling the line of scrimmage. With the weather likely to be a factor moving forward, it's essential that it continues. The Giants' run defense has been strong all season long. They are fifth best in the league, allowing only 90 yards per game on an excellent 3.6 yards per carry. They've only allowed four runs of 20 yards or more, tied for second fewest in the league. Damon Harrison anchors the defensive line, and his presence in the middle is where everything starts with the run defense. Johnathan Hankins is great beside him, and then Olivier Vernon sets the edge as well as any defensive lineman in the league.

That success continued against the Lions on Sunday, holding them to 56 yards and just 2.9 yards per carry. The Lions' longest run was 12 yards, Dwayne Washington's first run of the game. He gained only 19 yards on 13 carries for the rest of the way. Once you make other teams one-dimensional and put them in second- and third-and-long situations, it makes it a lot easier to bring pressure and get off the field. Last week, Ryan Mathews ran for 128 yards on 6.4 yards per carry for the Eagles, and Robert Kelly has revived the Redskins' running game since replacing Matt Jones. On the road, there is nothing more important than stopping other teams from running the football.

Offensively, the Giants still aren't running the ball efficiently enough, but the last two weeks they are getting the volume of carries up. For two straight weeks, the Giants have run the ball more times than they have passed it. That's also important to carry over to division games on the road. It is always harder to score against division opponents that know you so well, but running can make it a lot easier. Running the ball more than 30 times also keeps the ball out of the air less, which limits turnovers. In two potential bad weather games on the road that can be essential to winning. The Giants defense is playing at such a high level, if opponents are given short fields it can be very difficult to score. Stop the run and run the ball, two tried and true tradition of winning football. It certainly applies to the Giants as they try to close out the season.

By Dan Salomone

One of the first noticeable stamps Ben McAdoo put on his team back in the spring was the practice routine, which begins with a period called "The Duke." That's in reference to the nickname of the late, great Wellington Mara that is imprinted on every NFL football. The emphasis on protecting it was for games like these – in opposing stadiums, in the division, in December weather, in the Northeast, and in the thick of a playoff hunt.

With that said, the Giants already matched their greatest win total since 2010 in spite of a minus-four turnover differential. That's tied for 23rd in the NFL while their 24 giveaways are tied for the fifth-most. Somehow the Giants are 4-2 with a negative differential, including 2-0 in games where they were minus-three or worse. But the first chapter of "Football Strategy for Dummies" says that's not a great formula, especially when the stakes are as high as they will be from here on out. This doesn't apply to just the offense, either. The Giants forced two key turnovers in the red zone against the Lions and probably would be sitting at 9-5 instead of 10-4 if they hadn't.

By Lance Medow

A facet of a football team that is often overlooked is special teams and that unit deserves a lot of credit for the Giants' last two wins.  On multiple occasions, Ben McAdoo has referred to Brad Wing as a 'weapon' and that was on full display against both the Cowboys in Week 14 and Lions in Week 15.  Wing was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Dallas in which he punted nine times with five downed inside the 20-yard line, including three inside the 10-yard line.  The combination of Wing and the punt coverage team prevented the Cowboys from gaining an advantage in field position.  Dallas' average starting field position off a Giants punt was its own 17-yard line.

This trend continued the following week against the Lions as Wing punted seven times with two downed inside the five-yard line in the second half.  That was a key turnaround from the first half when the Lions' average starting field position off three punts was their own 32-yard line.  For the second straight week, Wing had a 43-yard gross average and a long punt of 57 yards and benefited from solid coverage down the field.  Dallas' Cole Beasley managed just three total yards on three punt returns while Detroit's Andre Roberts had 11 total yards on four returns.

In each of the Giants' final two games, special teams could play a big role given some of the challenges the Eagles and Redskins pose so New York will need to rely on Wing's leg as well as well-disciplined coverage.  The last time the Giants met the Eagles in Week 9, Philadelphia's Darren Sproles had a 66-yard punt return and would have scored had he not been pushed out of bounds by Keenan Robinson up the right sideline.  Their kick returner, Wendell Smallwood, who has since been placed on injured reserve, had two returns for 50 total yards.  This was also an issue in the first meeting with the Redskins in Week 3 as Washington punt returner Jamison Crowder had a 50-yard return and the Redskins also executed a fake punt with punter Tress Way connecting with Quinton Dunbar for a 31-yard gain on fourth and 12 from the Washington 48-yard line that ultimately set up a go-ahead field goal early in the fourth quarter.  When you play offenses that are more than capable of moving the football up and down the field, you can't give them gifts in field position.

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