MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Ryan Tannehill takes the snap, drops back and looks to his right for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who runs an “out” route. Just as the Dolphins quarterback releases the ball, Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie breaks toward Landry, steps in front of him, intercepts the pass and races in for the winning touchdown.
No, the play hasn’t happened, but it is as real to Rodgers-Cromartie as if it had. Such are his powers of visualization heading into a vitally important game against the Dolphins on Monday night at Sun Life Stadium.
“I do this all the time,” Rodgers-Cromartie said of his pregame preparation, which includes a heavy dose of putting himself in a situation he expects. “I think about just going out there and, when the opportunity presents itself, making a play. I have to make that play.”
As far as Rodgers-Cromartie is concerned, he is the one who has the power to make a difference — the difference — in whether the Giants win or lose. He’d like his teammates to feel the same way as the Giants (5-7) attempt to keep pace in an underwhelming NFC East. Washington (6-7) and the Eagles (6-7) put the pressure back on the Giants by winning on Sunday.
“There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t feel that if the opportunity presents itself, I should have a chance to get it,” said Rodgers-Cromartie, who is tied for the team lead with three interceptions and probably has been the defense’s most consistent player. “I visualize that if that ball is thrown in my area, I’m going to be the one to step in front of it and go get it.”
There hasn’t been much of that lately on a defense that has been at the heart of the team’s problems. The Giants continually have failed to hold leads, especially in the fourth quarter, with last week’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets the latest example. The Giants led 20-10 but gave up 13 unanswered points, including the deciding field goal on the Jets’ first drive in OT.
The Giants have the NFL’s second-worst defense statistically, and because the offense has been spotty of late, the problems on ‘D’ have been magnified even more. The Giants give up big yardage, a whopping 423.2 yards per game, and the pass defense has been particularly gruesome. The Giants are dead last (314.5 yards), the only team allowing more than 300 a game in the air.
Earlier in the season, the Giants were able to mask those pitiful numbers by forcing timely turnovers — 16 in the first seven games. But that number dropped to eight in the last five, including one in the last two. It doesn’t help that their pass rush has been one of the worst. They rank 31st with 16 sacks, and after the release of Damontre Moore, who had three, the numbers don’t figure to get better.
“The common denominator is we need to make one more play,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “Lookit, that’s an easy answer. We’re always digging and always changing, quite frankly — trying something different. Every week we try to get a bead on what a team would do against us at the end of the game and what we think are the best approaches to defend it. And I think we’ve been right most of the time, but when push comes to shove at the end, somewhere along the way, somebody needs to make a play.”
Rodgers-Cromartie is ready to step up and do his part.
“We came off as a defense getting a lot of turnovers early on, but it’s been quiet the last few weeks,” he said. “It starts with everybody looking at themselves and saying, ‘I’ve got to be the guy to go make that play.’ ”
Will it happen against the Dolphins?
“Well, they’re a good offense, and they get the ball out quick,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to really jump someone when there are a lot of quick throws.”
“But when Tannehill makes a mistake,” he said, “we have to be ready for it.”
The game might depend on it. The Giants’ season, too.