The Giants, strange as this may sound, get a break Sunday when they play the Miami Dolphins. What that means is Ricky Williams, lots and lots of Ricky Williams, and if the offense can get a quick early lead, then Ricky Williams is not going to be as lethal as he is when the Dolphins want to control the ball and protect a lead.
"You can't relax for a second," says strong safety Shaun Williams, who has taken his share of blame for the team's abysmal defensive showing through its three games.
Despite a 2-1 record, the Giants are 32nd (last) in the NFL in defense, having surrendered 1,214 yards of net offense, or just over 400 per game. "Ricky seems like he never gets tired, and he just pounds and pounds and you know he is going to break a few."
But the Giants, according to Miami head coach Dave Wannstedt, have an offense that is to be feared. "I don't think we will meet another team all season with as many individual offensive stars," he said. "These are guys who can break up a game, and there are so many of them." He itemized -- wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard, tight end Jeremy Shockey, running back Tiki Barber and quarterback Kerry Collins.
So the Giants' mission is two-fold -- they want to present enough offense to build a lead and take the edge of Williams' explosive, relentless running; and they would like to buckle up their defense and begin to show improvement.
"Look, it's only three games," says defensive end Michael Strahan. "If we were winless, I'd be worried. But the things we're doing on defense, the mistakes, can be easily fixed. We're 2-1 and thank you, but that's all I need to know at the moment."
Head coach Jim Fassel is slightly less abrupt but no less confident.
"Obviously, longer possessions will slow him (Williams) down some," he says, "but I am not intentionally going to slow our offense to get longer possessions. If we have a chance to go deep to the end zone, we'll do it and worry about Ricky later.
"What people have to realize about him is that he is a patient runner. He doesn't just pick a lane and barrel into it. He is patient to the point of hesitating, waiting for his blocking to take over, and if it doesn't happen then he can bounce outside and has the speed to do that well.
"But I am confident that our defense will settle down, and that our numbers will be much more acceptable. Johnnie [defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn] and I met several times in the last few days and went over everything. I know what we're going to do and what we have to fix.
Offensively, sure, I'd like to move the ball methodically to use some of the clock, but games dictate what you can and cannot do, not game plans."
SERIES HISTORY: 5th meeting. Giants lead, 3-1. This is one of the most infrequently played confrontations in the NFL. The Giants and Dolphins have met only four times previously, the last in 1996, the first in 1972. The Giants lost the first one and have won the three subsequent meetings. The significance of the first game was that the Giants became one of the victims as the Don Shula-led Dolphins moved to their perfect season (14-0, winding up 17-0 and Super Bowl champions).
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Miami RB Ricky Williams has 93 carries for 347 yards while the Dolphins have thrown 79 passes (all by Jay Fiedler). "Sure, we'd like more balance in our offense," says Wannstedt, "but situations dictate what you do, and against Buffalo, when Ricky had all those carries [42 of them] it was necessary. He got stronger in the second half, and no, I didn't think that it was all right because had our bye coming up. If we had a game the next Thursday night he still would have carried 42 times. We needed him to do that to win."
The Dolphins are averaging 146.3 yards per game on the ground, while the Giants are allowing just 90.3 ground yards per game.
--Giants' quarterback Jason Garrett will have a family reunion with his brother, Judd, who is the Dolphins' quarterbacks coach.
--Despite their defensive troubles, the Giants have 13 sacks and the Dolphins just 10, and before that 1,214 total yards allowed figure becomes even further inflated, it is well to note that the Dolphins have allowed 1,186 total net yards, or just 28 less.
--Fassel feels that wideout Ike Hilliard, the team's receptions leader with 17, "is one of only three guys I've coached who have that natural instinct of knowing where to be and what to do in any situation in a football game." He named the other two as RB Larry Centers and TE Shannon Sharpe. He coached Centers when he was offensive coordinator in Arizona, and coached Sharpe in a similar position in Denver.
--Former Giants' defensive end Frank Ferrara, a fan and clubhouse favorite who didn't make the final cut, was subsequently picked up by NFC East Division rival Philadelphia, but was released by the Eagles this week.
--Former Giants' kicker Owen Pochman has landed safely in San Francisco and had four field goals in as many tries two weeks ago.
--Ricky Williams, on his fellow Heisman Trophy winner, Giants' Ron Dayne: "Part of Dayne's problem is how well Tiki Barber is playing. He is a great, great back. I played against him twice in college and I knew he'd be more than just a third-down back, which is how he started his NFL career."
Dayne, who has been on the Did Not Dress list each of the team's first three weeks: "I know wherever I go, I'll play," he says. "Yes, it is possible I was drafted by the wrong team." There are reports that the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, among other teams, have inquired about Dayne's availability.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- The total number of carries by a Giants' running back other than Tiki Barber. He has 67 carries for 313 yards and no touchdowns; return specialist Brian Mitchell has one carry for one yard -- and one touchdown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our first quarter of the season ends with this game, and our stated goal is to be 3-1 in each of the four quarters that make up the season. If we do that, it will also be a home victory, and you should win your games at home, at least most of them." -- Giants' head coach Jim Fassel.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The only player on the Giants' roster who is in danger of not making it to the kickoff is DT Keith Hamilton (pulled hamstring), but Fassel finds some comfort in Hamilton's assessment of his injury. "He told me he'll play," he said. "Nobody knows his body as well as Keith. If he says he's going to play, then he'll play."
Otherwise, all the starters are assumed to be ready to go, including left offensive tackle Luke Petitgout (back spasms). The right side of the line still remains problematical, with former center Chris Bober having moved over to replace Ian Allen, whose horrid game in the season opener caused him to be benched.
--TE Jeremy Shockey, who has 10 catches for 109 yards after three games, has yet to break out and have a big game as he did several times en route to his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year season in 2002. "I'm going to be psyched to play against the Dolphins," he said. "I spent my college years [at the University of Miami] watching them."
--DT Keith Hamilton (hamstring) is listed as questionable but insists he'll play.
He has also declined a plea agreement stemming from his May 22 incident on a N.J. highway when he was found to be in possession of marijuana and cocaine, meaning that the case will be shifted to a trial basis. Chances are it won't come up, however, until after the season is over.
--DE Michael Strahan, who has only one sack in three games and just 10 total tackles, insists his broken small toe (right foot) has not interfered with his performance.
He draws gigantic Miami left tackle Todd Wade Sunday (6-8, 315).
--MLB Mike Barrow downplays the defense's rough early start. "We are 2-1 even though we have played only to 75 percent of our defensive abilities," he says. "Just imagine how it's going to be with our offense playing so well when we get to 95 percent."
GAME PLAN: The best way to minimize the danger of RB Ricky Williams is to keep the ball and eat the clock, but head coach Jim Fassel insists that won't be the only plan. "If we get a chance to go deep and into the end zone, then of course we'll take it," he says. "But we'd like to establish a methodical offense that moves the sticks [gets first downs] and still gives us points."
Offensively, the Giants are going to try to pass early and then use RB Tiki Barber as a receiver out of the backfield, attempting to isolate him on weakside linebacker Junior Seau (6-3, 250, and in his 14th year) and strong safety Sammy Knight.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants' ORT Chris Bober, who has been in the position for only the last two games (he had been the regular center last year and in the opening game this year), will have to find a way to curtail the exceptionally quick Adewale Ogunleye, the 6-4, 260-pound LDE, a native-born Nigerian from Staten Island, N.Y., and Indiana University.
If the Giants somehow slow down RB Ricky Williams, they will then force Miami QB Jay Fiedler and wideouts Derrius Thompson and Chris Chambers to go against the middle of the defense, middle linebacker Mike Barrow and the two corners, Will Peterson and Will Allen.
INJURY IMPACT: The only Giant in doubt is RDT Keith Hamilton (sprained hamstring), but while he is listed as questionable, he insists he'll play.