Establish the run on offense. Stop the run on defense. Make timely plays on both sides of the ball.
It's the formula the New York Giants have used to win four Super Bowls since 1986, including two since coach Tom Coughlin took over in 2004.
The inability to do that this year is also the reason the Giants (3-4) are facing the prospect of missing the playoffs for the third straight season as they head into a bye weekend.
Instead of jelling, the Giants have regressed in recent losses to the Eagles (5-1) and Cowboys (6-1). They were chewed up on the ground by Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (149 yards) and Dallas' DeMarco Murray (128), and they got little from their own running game with Rashad Jennings out with a knee injury and the O-line not opening holes.
Add in physical and mental errors and the Giants simply don't look like a playoff team. They have won three games against sub-.500 teams and failed to beat the good opponents they have played.
The Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots in February 2012 seems a distant memory, and one not soon to be relived with dynamic receiver Victor Cruz now out for the season with a knee injury.
While it may not be a hopeful scenario, though, the Giants have had a lot of positives.
— There was a three-game winning streak after a 0-2 start that seemed to indicate the team was coming around before slipping the last two weeks.
— Eli Manning is taking care of ball in the new West Coast offense, throwing 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
— First-round draft pick Odell Beckham is finally healthy (hamstring) and showing signs of being a rising star, catching three TDs in as many games.
— Jennings was averaging 4.4 yards rushing before spraining his knee.
— Tight end Larry Donnell has shocked everyone with four touchdown receptions.
Defensively, Prince Amukamara has emerged as an excellent cover cornerback. End Jason Pierre-Paul is close to being a dominant two-way player again. Tackle Johnathan Hankins is opening eyes in his second season, and linebacker Jacquian Williams has become an every-down player and the team's leading tackler.
That's a lot of pluses, but they mean nothing if opposing teams take away the Giants' staples on both sides of the run game. When the Giants ran the ball this season, they beat Houston, Washington and Atlanta. When they didn't, they lost to the Cowboys, Eagles, Cardinals (5-1) and Lions (5-2) — teams that have five losses combined.
"We just have to come back and everybody's got to be determined," Manning said. "Everybody's got to have one focus and be determined to get better, to play at a higher level, to win these games. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be tough, but that's what we want. We want it to be tough. We want to make it possible. We'll be better for it if we can get through this next stretch and win some of these games."
The upcoming stretch is not an easy one by, well, any stretch of the imagination. Indianapolis (5-2), Seattle (3-3), San Francisco (4-3) and Dallas are on tap after the bye.
The key, though, will be playing like the Giants of old. The run game, averaging 113.6 yards but only 3.7 yards per carry, has to re-emerge. The defense can't let opponents run on first and second down to put themselves in third-and-short situations.
"It has to be fixed and it starts with me," offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said. "I have to do a better job in getting our guys to understand the concepts. We should be (doing so) at this point of the year. We are not going backward. We are moving forward. That is what we are doing. That is where I came from. That is where I am going back to."
There will be changes on the line with high-priced free agent guard Geoff Schwartz close to returning from a preseason foot injury. However, everyone in the group has to improve.
It's the same on defense.
Opposing offenses are averaging 122 yards rushing, 4.4 yards per carry and 384.4 yards in total offense.
Defensive line coach Robert Nunn said Nick Foles of the Eagles and Tony Romo of the Cowboys could do what they wanted on third down because his line didn't stop the run the past two weeks.
"When you can't stop Murray and McCoy, your numbers are going to be limited in how many true pass-rushing situations you are in," Nunn said. "That is the No. 1 thing we have to do is play the run better. Those opportunities will show up. We have guys that can rush the passer. I hope (opposing teams) don't think we can rush the passer and let us get in those situations. We have to create more opportunities."
If the Giants can do that on both sides of the ball, they will have a chance of getting back to the postseason. If they don't, there will be questions about the futures of Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese once the season ends.
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