Beware the cornered, desperate prey -- especially if he's cornered in a foreign country.
That's the problem facing the Giants on Sunday when they play the first game in what the NFL hopes will become an International Series of regular season contests overseas. They will face the Miami Dolphins in London's Wembley Stadium at 1 p.m. ET.
The Dolphins are 0-7. They are fresh from a 49-28 whipping by undefeated New England, in which Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes.
It was also a game in which the Dolphins lost their star running back, Ronnie Brown, for the remainder of the season after he suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in his knee.
Previously, starting quarterback Trent Green was ruled out for the season with one too many concussions, and in the Patriots' debacle, they also lost starting safety Renaldo Hill with a knee injury identical to Brown's.
"They've been hit by injuries but that is still a good team," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "They can score. They had 28 against the Patriots, 31 the week before against Cleveland. In this league, you have to focus on every opponent, in order. You can't afford to look ahead."
If there ever was a time to do that, this might be it. The 5-2 Giants, riding a five-game winning streak, figure to come home at 6-2, enjoy their bye, and then host the Dallas Cowboys (currently 6-1) on Nov. 11 in what seems to be setting up as the battle for NFC East supremacy.
"This is the game we must concentrate on," Coughlin insists. "I cannot emphasize that any more intently than I have. This is our next game and according to the way we play, the next game is the most important one of the season. I have told the team to pay attention to the old coach's saying -- run the race against yourself, raise your own bar and correct every single mistake."
On the surface, the Giants don't appear to have much to worry about. Their defense has already amassed 27 sacks (25 in the last five games) and they have held those last five opponents to 69 points (after surrendering 80 in the first two games). Defensive end Osi Umenyiora co-leads the NFL with eight sacks and after last week's spectacular performance was named Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.
He had every defensive player's dream come true -- a "quinella" that involved sacking San Francisco quarterback Trent Dilfer, causing a fumble, recovering that fumble and returning it 75 yards for a touchdown.
"One at a time," Osi says. "This game is crucial to our season."
-- DE Osi Umenyiora is actually going "home" when the Giants meet the Miami Dolphins in London. He lived in London for seven years before his family -- natives of Uganda -- packed up and moved to the United States. "I have a lot of good memories there," he said. "It's going to be fun to go back, even for a few days."
-- The NFL erected a 26-foot tall animatronic statue of Miami DE Jason Taylor and dubbed it "Big JT." Ironically, the Giants have a bigger JT. He's DE Justin Tuck, 6-6 and 274 (Taylor is 6-6 and 250), and the Giants' JT has seven sacks while Miami's JT has four.
-- Coach Tom Coughlin, a stickler for routine and detail, seems somewhat discombobulated at the overseas road game. "Am I in favor of it? I don't meddle with the NFL's business and international politics," he says. "I just want the team to establish its routine as fast as possible."
-- SS Michael Johnson, a seventh-round rookie draft pick, might start Sunday for the injured (ankle, hamstring) James Butler. He played the second half last week vs. S.F. and drew praise from Coughlin. Imagine, your first start in the NFL and it's not even in the country. "It's just another road trip," he smiled. "I'm excited about playing, whether I start or just on special teams."
-- WR Amani Toomer, the 12-year veteran starter, might have started a small but simmering fire when he was asked to compare the New England receivers (Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker) to the Giants' group. "I think we can do the same stuff," he said. "Our receivers can match up with their group."
-- SLB Mathias Kiwanuka shrugged off the building excitement for this game and added: "You want to talk about excitement? How about Boston College ranked second in the country?" He is, obviously, a B.C. graduate.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to see those guys who don't move. Maybe try to make them laugh or something." -- Giants MLB Antonio Pierce, on the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace in London, famous for maintaining a motionless posture until relieved.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
There might be at least one change in the starting lineup, and it could prove to be the precursor of a permanent move. Rookie strong safety Michael Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick from the University of Arizona, filled in for the incumbent starter, James Butler, during the second half last week vs. the 49ers.
Coughlin never gives away any of his upcoming game plan, but a few of the players on offense have indicated that passing the ball might be their first option since the Dolphins secondary is not only banged up (safety Renaldo Hill is out for the season) but wasn't playing well when healthy.
But the Miami defense is ranked 31st (next to last) in the NFL against the rush, and the Giants have been running the ball with ever-increasing success. They are 10th in the NFL in that category.
Defensively, they'll want to pinch QB Cleo Lemon in the pocket and show him some of the unique formations and alignments with which they have mounted 27 sacks so far this season, including six last week vs. S.F.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
-- Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora, who co-leads the NFL with eight sacks, vs. Dolphins LT Vernon Carey, a 6-5, 335-pound former No. 1 draft pick (2004) who has far greater bulk than speed. Umenyiora is said to be the fastest off-the-snap pass rusher in the league and has befuddled many more experienced left tackles this season. Additionally, Carey was asked to make the transition from RT to LT this season and is still struggling at times with the new position.
-- Giants QB Eli Manning and WR Plaxico Burress vs. Dolphins secondary, notably former Giants CB Will Allen. Burress has caught eight TD passes and has 35 grabs for 550 yards. Then, Manning will try to connect with TE Jeremy Shockey vs. Miami SS Jason Allen and LBs Joey Porter and Zach Thomas; if Shockey (28-332) draws double coverage, Burress and flanker Amani Toomer will be more likely to isolate on a single defender.
The only injury that might result in a change in the starting lineup is the hamstring and ankle problem encountered by SS James Butler, who is day-to-day and questionable. He could be replaced by rookie (seventh round) Michael Johnson.