EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants are expecting the unexpected from the Miami Dolphins when the teams square off tomorrow in MetLife Stadium.
The 3-10 Dolphins are purportedly playing this season with an eye on next year. Since Sept. 1, they have accumulated future draft choices by trading starter tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, linebacker Kiki Alonso and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. They made 15 roster transactions last week. When Miami started 0-7, speculation was rampant that not only would it conclude the season without a victory, but would do so happily, because it would guarantee the franchise the first overall choice in the NFL Draft.
But first-year head coach Brian Flores had other ideas. He constantly challenges his players. The Dolphins use odd formations, trick plays and unexpected personnel groupings. In the past seven games, they've used onside kicks, fake field goals and punts, reverses and double passes. In part because foes often don't know what's coming, Miami won three of five games before losing to the Jets last on a 44-yard field goal as time expired.
"Hats off to them," Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "They're searching for whatever they can do on a week to week basis just to compete, to try to find a way to win. I have a lot of respect for that."
Eli Manning, who will make his second consecutive start, and the Giants' offense have a good idea what they'll see. Flores spent 15 years with the Patriots organization and is true to his New England roots. Deploying the NFL's youngest defense, he is a frequent and creative blitzer. He has numerous versatile players who line up in different spots, which often creates difficulty in identifying who will be coming after the quarterback prior to the snap.
Offensively, the Dolphins average league-low rushing totals of 67.3 yards a game and 3.3 yards a carry. Their leading active rusher is 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, with 186 yards. Bettcher said that will not prompt him to divert from the traditional emphasis on first stopping the run.
"You can't allow them to start chunking you off in the run game and getting you down on your toes, and then all of a sudden, they're throwing the ball behind you," Bettcher said. "You still have to play."
The Dolphins force their opponents to do that by often using trickery. They'll line up players in unusual places. They'll run flea-flickers, end-arounds anything else they can think of to move the ball.
"These guys, they're very creative with what they're trying to do in the run game," Bettcher said. "They're in a wildcat, then they're pulling tackles, whamming, trapping interior linemen with tight ends behind the line. You still have to go play those downs, those run downs, whenever those 20-25 runs are going to show up in the game. You still have to go defend them and knock them out."
The Dolphins have used the wildcat – a direct snap to a running back – eight times in the last seven games with an average of 7.0 yards a carry.
"There's some creative stuff," Bettcher said. "Some people are pretty basic with the run scheme that they use when they do that stuff. These guys are running some real option stuff and doing a good job of it."
That includes Fitzpatrick, who is tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.
"I've gone against him multiple times," Bettcher said. "He is tough, he's fearless, he will throw the ball anywhere at any time. You have to defend the full field. As we all know, he's going to extend some plays. He does a good job. It might look like early in the down he drops his eyes, but he sees the field as he's moving and tries to deliver it down the field."
The Dolphins' special teams are also creative. On Dec. 1 vs. Philadelphia, Miami used a play it called "Mountaineer Shock," in honor of center Dan Kilgore's alma mater, Appalachian State. They bunched five players on the left side and four on the right. Kilgore snapped to punter Matt Haack, who stepped to his left and flipped a pass into the end zone that was caught by kicker Jason Sanders.
A two-time AFC Special Teams Player of the Week this season – an award he didn't win after kicking a franchise-record seven field goals last week – Sanders recovered his own surprise onside kick vs. Buffalo on Nov. 17.
"It's one of those deals where they keep you on your toes," Giants special teams coach Thomas McGaughey said. "They do a good job of that, that's for sure.
"You give your players a set of rules and they just have to follow the rules. That's kind of how you handle it, because you don't know what you're going to get. You have to expect the unexpected. You just have to follow the rules. We give them a set of rules, and the rules match up with basically everything that they could possibly do."
Given what's happened this season, the Dolphins might still come up with something they haven't previously shown.
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