Oct 042002

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 6, 2002: One can legitimately argue that the Giants have out-played each of their first four opponents and should be 4-0. Instead they are 2-2. The offense failed to score enough points in the first half against San Francisco and handed the game to the Cardinals. That’s frustrating as all hell. But what’s done is done. It’s a 12-game season from here on out and the Giants are only 1-game out of first place in the NFC East. This is a big game for the Giants this week – their first against a divisional opponent. Historically, the Giants have never played well in Dallas and Fassel has a 2-3 record there. The Cowboys are similar to the Giants in that they have a very good defense and an offense that struggles to put points on the scoreboard. In these types of games, special teams often prove to be the difference-maker.

Giants on Special Teams: This aspect of the game will be absolutely critical this weekend. Reggie Swinton is a very dangerous kick and punt returner. He has already returned a kickoff for a touchdown this year and averages an amazing 32.8 yards per return. Against the Rams, he had two big punt returns. The Giants’ kick-off and punt coverage units will have their work cut out for them. Both PK Matt Bryant and P Matt Allen need to get good height on their kicks.

Daryl Jones has struggled as both a punt and kick returner. He needs to make smarter decisions and he needs better help from his blockers. Tim Carter may steal some of his work this weekend. Carter has much more experience returning kicks than punts.

The Giants also need to be sound in their punt protection schemes as Dallas may be coming after Allen. The Giants also need to be wary of fakes on punts and field goals…the Dallas special teams coach usually has a trick or two up his sleeve.

Giants on Offense: The news surrounding the Giants’ offense this week was the announcement by Head Coach Jim Fassel that the team would cut back on the number of plays it practices so it can concentrate on practicing those plays it intends to use more frequently in the game. Duh! Sometimes I marvel at the stupidity. The good news out of this – if the Giants actually follow through on it – is that the Giants may finally develop a core of plays that they run well and can rely upon in crucial situations. This is more likely to give the team an offensive identity. But we shall see. “Whiz Kid” Payton usually likes to out-smart himself.

Don’t underestimate the Dallas defense. It was darn good last year and got a lot better in the offseason with additions such as DT La’Roi Glover and LB Kevin Hardy. Glover’s presence appears to have raised the play of his defensive line mates. Dallas has a very fast and athletic defense. They run and chase very well…the Giants would be ill-advised to run many slow-developing plays or anything that is especially vulnerable to out-maneuver by speed and quickness (such as sweeps Mr. Payton).

It will be interesting to see how the Giants decide to attack Dallas. Their linebackers are athletic enough to do well in coverage against TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber. In particular, LB Dexter Coakley is a linebacker who plays like a safety in coverage. Kevin Hardy can still play well moving forward and moving backward. Then there are the safeties Roy Williams and Darren Woodson. It won’t be easy to attack the undercoverage.

Dallas is lighter in the front seven so you would think that teams could run on them. But they are very quick and Dallas likes to blitz so much that often times there is no recognizable gap to run through. You can bet that the Cowboys will blitz the Giants a lot, not only to stymie the ground attack, but to try to rattle QB Kerry Collins. If the Giants are going to try to run the ball on Dallas, they are going to have to be very patient and expect some disappointing plays due to the blitzes.

I think they way I would attack Dallas early is with the intermediate- and deep-ball to the wide receivers. Woodson is not as strong against the pass as he used to be (he’s still an excellent run defender) and the other safety, Williams, is a rookie who plays better closer to the line of scrimmage than away from it. RCB Mario Edwards is an aggressive corner and is developing into a good player. WR Amani Toomer needs to make some plays against him in order for the Giants to win. LCB Duane Hawthorne has a strained hamstring, but is expected to play. He will see WR Ike Hilliard most of the time. WR Ron Dixon got open deep last week against the Cardinals and it will be interesting to see if that is the precursor to a larger impact from him or not. “They are a faster defense than we’ve seen and they’re going to try to get all 11 guys to the football,” WR Ike Hilliard says. “They will (blitz) their guys, whether it be the linebackers or the safeties. We have to keep our eyes open and, hopefully, look for the big play when we get a chance.”

What works against the blitz? Draws, screens, and slants. Get rid of the ball quickly.

Of course, the offensive battle will largely be determined up front. The Giants need to give Kerry Collins time to throw the ball against a front four that has demonstrated that it can rush the passer this year. LG Rich Seubert will have the hardest task against Glover. He’s going to need double-team help from OC Chris Bober and this in turn is going to open things up inside for Dallas when blitzing. Blitz pick-ups by the running backs will be huge in this game. The Giants need RG Jason Whittle to be able to handle DT Brandon Noble on his own for the most part. With Glover getting a lot of attention, weakside defensive end Greg Ellis has flourished with 5.5 sacks. LT Luke Petitgout matches up with him. Finally, RT Mike Rosenthal will face LDE Ebenezer Ekuban, who can also rush the passer.

When the Giants run, I will be very angry if most of their runs don’t go off tackle or between the tackles. If you run sideways on Dallas, you are playing right into their hands.

Most importantly, the Giants need a very good game from Collins. He has to not turn the ball over, move the chains, and get the team into the end zone. After all, that’s what his position is all about.

Giants on Defense: Dallas doesn’t have a very strong offense, but they do have the ability to make plays and score if you are not careful. It is obvious that Emmitt Smith is slowing down – he doesn’t have that extra gear anymore. However, he’s a tough old warrior who you have to respect. His back-up, Tony Hambrick, can run the ball and is actually the more explosive player now. The big danger for the Giants is that the big Dallas offensive line will punish a beat-up front four on defense by constantly wearing on them with the ground game. The only good news in this area is that Dallas is a bit beat-up themselves up front on the offensive line.

DE Michael Strahan is the only healthy starter up front. Who he will line-up against is a bit of a mystery. The Cowboys tried to move All-Pro Larry Allen to right tackle last week, but Allen suffered an ankle sprain during the game. He is expected to play this weekend, but Strahan seems to think the Cowboys will move Allen back inside due to the ankle injury. If they don’t, that’s a real interesting match-up – two All-Pros slugging it out in the trenches. If Allen is moved inside, Solomon Page will move back to right tackle. Matt Lehr is both the back-up right guard and center on Dallas and it looks like starting center Andre Gurode (sprained toe) will not play. So one would think that Lehr becomes the new center and Kelvin Garmon is moved into the line-up. In other words, the exact match-ups are hard to determine. We do know that the injured DE Kenny Holmes (elbow) will battle LT Flozell Adams, who outweighs him by about 100 pounds. Obviously, Dallas will look to run left at Holmes and the weakside linebacker (be it Dhani Jones or Brandon Short – the Giants flip-flop these two quite often). They will also test the inside against the injured duo of Keith Hamilton (groin) and Cornelius Griffen (knee).

All three linebackers need to play the run better than they did last week against Arizona. They also need to keep an eye on HB Michael Wiley who is a good receiver out of the backfield and TE Tony McGhee.

Quincy Carter is a frustrating quarterback to watch for Cowboy fans. At times, he simply looks awful and is very inaccurate. At other times, he can make superb plays with is arm or his feet. Carter doesn’t look to run as much as one with his mobility could. What the Giants need to do is stop the ground game and then fluster Carter with the pass rush.

WR Joey Galloway is a veteran speedster who makes plays down the field. Rookie WR Antonio Bryant is a more physical player who serves more as a possession receiver – but he also has a knack for getting deep. It will be up to Will Peterson and Will Allen to limit these two on their own. Most likely, SS Shaun Williams will be needed more up front in run defense – especially if the defensive line starts to feel the effects of their injuries. The play of CB Jason Sehorn will be very important this week as third receiver Darnay Scott is making plays for the Cowboys. Role players Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Swinton are inconsistent, but have great speed. Dallas may try some 4-WR sets in an attempt to match-up against Ralph Brown.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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