Sep 132003

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, September 15, 2003: This game is going to be far tougher than many fans realize. After hearing Bill Parcells yell in their ears all week, the Cowboy players will be extremely motivated. They also know how important this game is to their head coach and that will add to the adrenaline. We all know how much the Giants struggle on Monday night.

But the big worry for me is that I think the Dallas’ defense matches up very well against the Giants’ offense. New York is more of a finesse, passing team. The Giants’ offensive players are athletes who run very well, including on the offensive line. Likewise, this is the type of style Dallas employs on defense. They are not big, but they can run and cover. The Giants’ wide receivers are very good, but the Dallas secondary is likewise strong. The Giants have a dynamic tight end and pass receiving halfback, but the Cowboys have good cover linebackers. Throw in the fact that the Giants’ offensive line has some injury and inexperience concerns, and the Giants’ offense may not be particularly effective in this game.

Defensively, I would expect Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn not to blitz as much as he did in the first game against the Rams. While Kurt Warner is relatively immobile, QB Quincy Carter can hurt you with his feet. And Dallas can hit the big play on you down the field with their fleet set of wide receivers. Look for the Giants to focus more on confusing Carter with complicated coverage schemes that confuse him.

I think this game will go down to the wire, with the team making the bigger mistake late in the contest losing. This is also the kind of game where special teams can win it or lose it. Fans may point to the 37-7 win by the Giants over Dallas late last season, but that Dallas team was basically playing out the string for a coach who they knew was gone. Throw out that game, and look at all the other recent Giants-Cowboys contests – they have all been close and down to the wire.

Giants on Offense: “It’s a big misconception that they’re a young team,” WR Amani Toomer says of Dallas. “They have the same team they had last year – one corner (top draft choice Terence Newman) is different. Both of their safeties and (cornerback) Mario Edwards are the same. I think it’s a big scam that they’re rebuilding. They have a good defense, they have a pretty good offense, and they have a lot of playmakers. We’re not going to buy into it. They’re a good team and we’re going to be ready for them.”

Much depends on (1) if LT Luke Petitgout plays, (2) how long he plays, and (3) how effective he is when he plays. If Luke is OK, the Giants will be able to open things up and put a lot of pressure on the Dallas defense. If he doesn’t, then the Giants will need to keep more weapons (specifically, the tight ends and backs) in to block, as well as calling a more conservative game plan. Dallas RDE Ebenezer Ekuban has never really lived up to his draft status. However, he is talented enough to give Jeff Roehl problems if Roehl is forced to start and doesn’t play well. The bigger match-up concern is on the opposite end where RT Ian Allen, who struggled in pass protection last week, faces Dallas’ best end, Greg Ellis (7.5 sacks and 30 quarterback pressures in 2002). Interestingly, a number of Giants took practice snaps at right tackle this week – just in case Allen has a rough game again. Inside, LG Rich Seubert will face super-quick and super-hardworking DT La’Roi Glover. Glover is a disrupter who can get after the passer as well. RG David Diehl will line up over DT Michael Myers – a smaller, but quick tackle.

Pass protection for the Giants will be everything. Because the Dallas secondary and linebackers can cover, the receivers may need more time to get open. In addition, the offensive line needs to be on its game in the run blocking department as the best strategy may be to run the ball early and often. It’s tough to run wide on this Dallas defense, however, as the Cowboys run to the ball very well. Personally, I would pass more on 1st and 2nd down when the Cowboys are less likely to expect it, and then hit them with some draw plays when they are thinking pass on 3rd down.

Dallas has three good cover linebackers in SLB Al Singleton (formerly of the Super Bowl Champion Bucs), MLB Dat Nguyen, and All-World WLB Dexter Coakley. Coakley in particular is excellent in coverage and could present problems for Tiki Barber getting open on pass routes. He also is one of the few linebackers who may be able to cover Jeremy Shockey. But these three are not the biggest guys in the world and the Giants may be able to run at them some if the offensive line, tight ends, and fullback can get a hat on them.

The strength of the Dallas team is it’s secondary. RCB Mario Edwards is very familiar with Amani Toomer and has done a nice job on him in the past. WR Ike Hilliard will see top draft pick Terence Newman. The safeties, SS Darren Woodson and FS Roy Williams, play more like linebackers than defensive backs. Both hit like a load of bricks. Woodson is starting slowing down, but he still makes plays (10 tackles and 1 sack last week). Williams is a rising star who may be able to handle Shockey. The Cowboys like to use him in a role similar to that of Adam Archuleta of the Rams – he can be a factor on both run and pass blitzes. To me, this might be the game where Tim Carter has a big role to play. Dallas’ third corner is Pete Hunter. I would try to get a favorable match-up on him with Toomer, Hilliard, or Carter.

My prediction is that this will be a frustrating offensive game for Giants’ fans to watch. As I said, Dallas matches up well with the Giants’ skill players and the Giants have some issues on the offensive line.

Giants on Defense: I can hear the complaining now in The Corner Forum if Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn pulls in the reigns some in terms of blitzing this week. However, the Giants must be careful when rushing the passer in this game. The defensive linemen must maintain disciplined rush lanes or Quincy Carter will take advantage of the gaps in the front. Same story with blitzing linebackers and safeties if those blitzes create opens spaces to run to. Carter is a strange quarterback. Every now and then, he can make an incredible throw and looks like the real deal. But he will inter-space those good plays with streaks of inaccuracy and bad decisions. The Giants may look to blitz less and cover more, hoping for turnovers. They also don’t want to allow Carter the opportunity to make easier gains by scrambling for key first downs. I wouldn’t get too conservative on defense as you don’t want Carter to get comfortable back there. But mixing things up would seem to be the order of the day.

“Anytime you have a mobile quarterback, that can be scary,” says CB Will Allen. “If we don’t keep him in the pocket and he’s running around, then he’s buying the receivers time. And you can only cover a guy for so long. When you play a guy like that, you have to worry about staying in coverage a little longer.”

Dallas doesn’t have a real strong running or passing game. But they can score quickly if a defense is not careful. The Cowboy wide receiving corps of Joey Galloway (139 yards receiving last week), Antonio Bryant, and Terry Glenn is filled with big play potential. And the Giants (specifically Will Allen and Will Peterson) have had problems with Galloway and Bryant in the past. Make Dallas drive the field, but don’t give up the cheap touchdown.

Of course, the big defensive key will be shutting down the Dallas running game. Parcells will look to control the clock in order to keep the Giants’ offense off the field and make things easier for his inconsistent quarterback. The more the Giants can keep the Cowboys in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long, the better. The match-ups: DE Michael Strahan versus RT Ryan Young, DT Cornelius Griffin versus RG Andre Gurode, DT Keith Hamilton versus LG Larry Allen, and DE Kenny Holmes versus LT Flozell Adams. Holmes’ ability (and that of Osi Umenyiora) to defend the run against Adams or the Dallas tight ends (Dan Campbell and James Whalen) may be a big subplot in this game. It will be also interesting to see which reserve defensive linemen the Giants deactivate this week (probably Lance Legree or William Joseph) since there is a need to active another offensive linemen this week.

The Giants’ linebackers need to be wary of passes to the tight ends and backs, especially fullback Richie Anderson. They also need to get off their blocks quickly in order to shut down the running game. HB Troy Hambrick is more of a straight-line back who can power his way forward. Reserve Aveion Cason is very fast – he scored on a 63-yard run last week.

Stuff the run, don’t allow Carter to scramble, don’t allow an easy big play. Force some turnovers.

Giants on Special Teams: My gut tells me this game comes down to a field goal one way or the other. This is the kind of game field position can make a big difference so kickoff and punt coverage will be huge, as will the return game. Kick returner Reggie Swinton is extremely dangerous and has a history of taking kickoffs back for touchdowns. Swinton and Galloway also return punts.

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Eric Kennedy

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

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