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Giants vs. Dolphins: Plays that changed the game

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Which plays changed the game against the Dolphins?

Miami Dolphins v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, the New York Giants are celebrating a Victory Monday. And in an equally long time, we get a win to breakdown before turning the page to prepare for next week’s matchup.

The game between the Giants and Miami Dolphins was a back-and-forth affair through the first two and a half quarters of the game. But ultimately the Giants made one play (and I think we can all guess what it was) and were able to pull away with the win.

So, let’s take a look at the plays around which the game pivoted.

Golden Tate touchdown (NYG + 14)

Second quarter, first-and-10, NYG 49

How do you respond to a methodical 89-yard, 10-play drive which shredded your young secondary for a touchdown?

By scoring a touchdown of your own.

Granted, the Giants didn’t do it in methodical fashion, they did it with a 51-yard catch and run from Eli Manning to Golden Tate. The highlight of the play isn’t so much the catch and run as the fact that Tate was able to hang on to the ball in the first place.

This was a simple slant route run from the slot against the Dolphins’ Cover 3 defense. Because the Dolphins made contact with him beyond five yards down the field, the Giants would have picked up yards regardless of whether or not Tate made the catch. But despite running at full speed, he had the concentration to get a handle on the bobbling ball and avoid a bad tackle attempt by Miami’s free safety.

Personally, I would have preferred he run through the end of the play, not turn around to backpedal into the end zone with defenders right on him. But while he probably could have waited until after he scored to celebrate, that doesn’t take away from the impressive catch.

Biegel interception (MIA + 12)

Second quarter, 1:26, NYG 31

Overall, Eli Manning had a strong game against Miami. He attacked downfield and only rarely threw into coverage. But, in classic “Eli” fashion, there were still some sigh-inducing turnovers to mar the game. This first one was both the product of a bad decision by Eli and a really nice play design by the Dolphins.

Miami starts out showing 5-man pressure before the snap. But when the ball is snapped, all but two of those defenders drop into coverage. Meanwhile, the slot and boundary cornerbacks both blitz, creating mayhem in the Giants’ blocking scheme. The blitz was well-disguised and executed by ByMiami — players the Giants were intending to block are now clogging passing lanes while pressure is coming from unexpected angles.

One of those players dropping back into coverage was Vince Biegel, who had lined up as an outside linebacker over TE Kaden Smith, only to drop back into zone coverage.

But while this is a really nice play from the Dolphins, it’s also a bad decision by Manning to throw this ball. He had a clean pocket and the time to let the play develop a bit more, and potentially could have had Smith running down the seam. Instead, he sees Sterling Shepard flash open only to have Biegel step in front of the pass for the interception.

Fortunately for the Giants, Miami was unable to capitalize on the mistake and settled for a field goal — a decision the math says actually helped the Giants’ chance to win.

Jerome Baker interception (MIA + 21)

Third quarter, 10:21, Third-and-1, MIA 24

This was the biggest play of the game for the Dolphins. The Giants were beginning to find their groove and had a 14-10 lead following a nice touchdown drive.

Faced with a third-an d-1, the Giants opted to be aggressive. They brought fullback Elijhaa Penny onto the field to sell the idea that they were going to try and run for the first down. However, they were running play-action in an attempt to get the Dolphins’ defense to bite and pick up easy yardage through the air.

At first it looks as though Manning is going to try to get the ball to Penny on a quick out-route, which would get enough for the first down. However, the Dolphins were able to get quick penetration and had a rusher in Manning’s face. With pressure coming and a blitzer creating extra traffic, Manning pulls the ball down and reloads, seeing Sterling Shepard running with separation over the middle. What Eli DOESN’T see is Jerome Baker dropping back in coverage, and he makes the play on the ball.

Baker is then able to flip the field with a 34-yard return, setting Miami’s offense up with very good field position. Had they capitalized and scored a touchdown, this game might have turned out very differently for the Giants. But instead their drive stalled out after undrafted RB Patrick Laird let a pass slip through his hands, and the Dolphins were forced to settle for a field goal.

Sam Beal safety

Third quarter, 6:24, Miami 2

This play, and the ensuing drive which took advantage of the field position created, were the turning point in the game. Up until this point, the Dolphins were playing them close. They had proved able to move the ball through the air on the Giants’ defense and able to string drives together as long as they didn’t make any mistakes.

That’s important because the Dolphins are a team without the players to play with any kind of margin for error. As we saw all game, they simply don’t have the players on their roster to overcome mistakes — penalties, dropped passes, or pressures allowed essentially spelled the end for their drives.

But when the Giants were able to pick up a three-point lead and get the ball back with great field position, things snowballed for the depleted Dolphins. And it all started here.

Really, this was a simple play. The Dolphins went for the safe run to try and get some breathing room from their own goal line. However, Dalvin Tomlinson — who was a force this game — and B.J. Hill quickly got significant penetration. So instead of being able to try and push the ball a yard or two upfield, Patrick Laird was forced to try and bounce the run outside. It might have worked, but cornerback Sam Beal kept his eyes in the backfield and reacted quickly enough to make the tackle.

And it was a good thing he did, because if Beal hadn’t been able to react in time, or Laird had been able to run through the tackle, there wasn’t much in front of the running back.

The Giants have been waiting all season for someone on their defense to make a game-changing play, and it finally happened. This safety, and the touchdown that came a few plays later, effectively put the game out of reach for a Dolphins’ team that doesn’t yet have the players to make up a 10-point deficit.