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Coordinator Corner: James Bettcher, Mike Shula, Thomas McGaughey discuss matchup vs. Dolphins

The three coordinators explain what can be learned from last week in preparation for Sunday’s game

NFL: DEC 09 Giants at Eagles

New York Giants coordinators James Bettcher (defense), Mike Shula (offense), and Thomas McGaughey (special teams) spoke to reporters on Thursday. Here are a few of the key items and players they addressed.

James Bettcher, defense

The immediate and most pressing concern for Bettcher has to be the Giants disappearing second-half defense last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. After going up 17-3 in the first half and holding the Eagles to just a field goal, the Giants defense gave up 20 unanswered points in the second half and overtime. The Giants had allowed just five first downs and 116 total yards of offense in the entire first half, but were unable to stay consistent throughout the game.

“Collectively, we’ve been a little bit better and a little bit better,” Bettcher said. “We have not played a complete game, there’s no question about that. That’s what we are striving for on defense. To play a first quarter to fourth quarter complete game, not something that’s in spurts. That’s what we’re pushing to have happen here down the stretch.”

In particular, Eagles running back Boston Scott exploded in the second half, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Bettcher said that the defense allowed for too many yards per carry, also resulting in more third down conversions.

“There was a couple on the interiors between the tackles where we gave up a little bit of push and those ones earlier in the game that were like a yard turned into four yards and two turned into five,” Bettcher said. “All of the sudden, it’s second and five instead of second a seven. We put them in a bunch of third downs and those first or second down runs could’ve put us in a little bit better situation on a few of those third downs we didn’t convert on defensively. Those were some important runs. Yeah, it’s a five-yard run but at the end of the day that really dictates the third down you’re playing later in that set of plays.”

If the Giants are going to contain anyone on the ground though, it should be the Dolphins, who are ranked last in the league in rushing yards with 67.3 per game.

Mike Shula, offense

For Shula, this entire season has been a learning experience for rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. So even with Jones sidelined for the second week in a row with an ankle injury, there is still something to be gained.

“I think everything that you do from the minute you step foot into the building, when you get to the NFL, just like when you went from high school to college, is a learning experience,” Shula said. “How to train, how to meet, how to go through walkthroughs, how to prepare on your own, how to deal with an injury, how to manage your time while you’re getting treatment and still get yourself back ready to go mentally as fast as you can. I think all of that is a learning process for anybody, especially a young guy.”

While Jones is learning how to be injured in the NFL (behind veteran Eli Manning who has never missed a game due to injury), other young players on the Giants offense are stepping up. Manning connected with wide receiver Darius Slayton for five receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the first half last week. The rookie out of Auburn now has three two-touchdown games this season. But he only had two touches in the second half.

“When a guy is hot like that, you want to try to continue to, just in general, get him the ball,” Shula said. “But you don’t want to force the ball. I think the biggest thing was we just couldn’t stay on the field. We were bad on third down. We needed to be better. Unfortunately, we had a chance at the end to get him the ball, and we didn’t come up with a play. They made a good play at the end. When you don’t have a lot of plays, it’s hard to do those kinds of things.”

Second-year running back Saquon Barkley, meanwhile, has found it difficult to match his first-year performance. He has gone seven games without rushing for 100 yards.

“Last year when we got rolling, it was you get on a roll and you stay on it,” Shula said. “That’s our goal to do that every year. I think that probably four or five weeks ago, we kind of struggled just with a few things, just with some moving parts. Saquon was just getting back from his injury. I think the last few weeks, though, we’ve been back heading in the direction where we want to go. We’re not quite there, but there are a lot of positive runs, a lot of efficient runs. You see our offensive line coming off the ball, you see them re-establishing the line of scrimmage, Saquon is hitting it up in there. But there is a lot more good now than basically what we saw four or five weeks ago.”

Thomas McGaughey, special teams

Before Monday night’s game against the Eagles last week, the Giants signed punter Riley Dixon to a three-year contract extension reportedly worth $8.7 million. Dixon has been one of the few positive developments to watch for the Giants throughout this season.

“That kid, I’m happy for him,” McGaughey said. “I really am. He deserved everything that he’s getting. He’s been working hard and he’s got a bright future. He has a few dinners ahead of him, too.”

Dixon, who is having the best season of his career, has been one of the NFL’s most consistent punters since joining the Giants back in April of 2018. He has punted 46 times this season and posted career-best averages in both gross (47) and net yardage (42.8), which is on pace to set a franchise record. He has also placed 20 punts inside the 20-yard line.

“He’s a lot more consistent in his ball striking,” McGaughey said. “It’s night and day from last year. Like I told you guys a couple weeks ago, he’s just growing. You can see him maturing and just doing the things that he needs to do to take his game to the next level.”

McGaughey has watched over past two years as Dixon has grown into his ability at a pace much faster than most specialists.

“He just worked at it, at his craft, this offseason and just studying himself and just watching other guys that are very similar to him and just trying to go through that process,” McGaughey said. “And it’s just the mundane stuff, the drills, catching and molding the ball, the steps, and then looking at tape and just grinding over the tape, and just over, and over, and over stuff that’s like watching paint dry to most of you guys. But, that’s the kind of stuff that specialists, those are the things that you have to do to take that next step that he’s done.”