Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 23, 2006: This is not a “must” game. The win against the Falcons last week and the loss by the Eagles gave the Giants a little wiggle room. But this is a critical game. The Giants are 2-0 in the NFC East. If they beat the Cowboys, not only will they be 3-0 in the NFC East with only three division games left to play, but they will have two road wins against their toughest NFC East rivals. That would be a huge advantage for the Giants.
Winning on the road in the NFC East is not easy. This won’t be a pretty game. There will be all kinds of mistakes. It doesn’t matter how good Eli looks or the defense plays or anything other than getting out of the game with a win. That’s all that matters. This is not a beauty contest – it is NFC East football. Winning ugly in this game is just fine – but win!
Personally, I think this game will come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. I think the Giants are the better team because they have a better quarterback and a better offensive line, but Eli and the offensive line have to prove that on the field.
Giants on Defense: Dallas has a lot of very dangerous weapons on offense. Much attention is focused on WR Terrell Owens for all the wrong reasons, but you can’t argue with the fact that the guy is a playmaker who is capable of taking over a game. However, he can also be a huge distraction for his own team. The Giants need to do a good job against him in order to send him off the deep end. He knows he’s on a national stage and will be just waiting to lash out if he doesn’t make plays. Frustrate him, keep the ball out of his hands. Get him to start yelling at his own quarterback and coaches. The man in the spotlight here will be Sam Madison. I think this is a decent match-up for the Giants. Sam likes to play tight, physical coverage and Owens had some problems with that style against Philadelphia.
The more troublesome match-up for the Giants may be WR Terry Glenn versus CB Corey Webster. Glenn is a deep threat who can change a game quickly, and QB Drew Bledsoe and Glenn have worked together for years. Webster has to be very careful not to give up any cheap plays deep. Dallas’ third receiver, Patrick Crayton, is no slouch either. While not burner, Crayton has very good hands.
If that were not bad enough, Dallas has one of the better tight ends in the NFL in Jason Witten. With all the attention the outside targets receive, Witten is often left alone with linebackers who have problems covering him. Dallas also has a rookie tight end who plays a ton, Anthony Fasano, since the two-tight end offense is the main package in the Dallas offense. Witten will often play in the down position, with Fasano playing H-Back. In fact, with the two outstanding pass rushers the Giants have, I would expect we’ll see a ton of the two-tight end offense.
Everyone who follows football knows the real key in terms of pass defense in this game is to get heat on Bledsoe. Make him uncomfortable in the pocket and he usually will make mistakes. However, keep in mind that despite everything that went wrong with Bledsoe and Dallas in the game in Philadelphia (the seven sacks, the interceptions), Bledsoe and the Cowboys were only a few yards away from tying that game and sending it into overtime. My point? For as much grief as he takes, Bledsoe can throw the football and put up big numbers. He is not a guy to take lightly because he can burn you. When he’s on, he is very accurate and the kind of streaky quarterback who can fire completion after completion. Bledsoe has a very good deep ball and he is a pretty tough guy. Still, you can rattle him and if he gets off to a bad start against the Giants, the boo-birds will be out in Dallas. He is not well liked there. It is absolutely essential that the Giants’ defense make him look bad early.
But before you address the pass, the obvious first step is to halt the Dallas ground attack. That will not be easy. Dallas is tied with the Giants for third in the NFL with rushing yards per game with 151.8. It’s a two-headed backfield with Julius Jones being the more elusive, explosive back and Marion Barber being the more straight-line, consistent runner. Both can do damage and whether the Giants win or lose on Monday night will largely depend on how well or poorly they defend against these two. The entire Giants’ defense – defensive line, linebackers, secondary – must be physical and aggressive against the run. It’s going to be a slugfest with the tougher team coming up on top.
Up front, I like the match-ups for New York. Osi Umenyiora’s quickness should give LT Flozell Adams problems, though Osi will have to hunker down against the run given Adams’ size and strength. Michael Strahan versus RT Marc Colombo should be a real mismatch – it’s time for Strahan to have a breakout game. Inside, LG Kyle Kosier, OC Andre Gurode, and RG Marco Rivera are nothing special. Look for Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and William Joseph to play well.
Lastly, in a game like this where Bill Parcells may think he is undermanned up front, expect the unexpected. The Giants have to be very, very careful for the trick play – such as an option pass, a flea flicker, etc. or Dallas going for it on 4th down.
Watch for the trick play. Stuff the run. Frustrate Owens. Keep Glenn in front of you. Make Bledsoe look bad. Do these things and the Giants will win.
Giants on Offense: Eli Manning’s first win as a pro came in a come-from-behind victory against Dallas his rookie season in the final game of the year. But last season, Manning and the Giants’ offense struggled against the Cowboys. Manning was dreadful in the 17-10 win in New York (and remember one of those touchdowns by the Giants was a defensive score). In Dallas last year, the Giants were held to 11 first downs and 13 points – and Manning did not play well in that game either aside from a couple of plays late to tie that game. If the Giants are going to win this game, Manning has to play well. Period. He has to not make killer mistakes while at the same time making smart decisions and accurate throws to keep drives alive and put points up on the board. He’s been better this year, but still inconsistent. The Giants can’t afford a lot of inconsistent play from him on Monday night.
Part of the problem for Manning last year was that right CB Anthony Henry did a good job on WR Plaxico Burress. Henry is big and physical and matches up well with Burress. So did left corner Terence Newman on WR Amani Toomer. Both receivers need to step it up and shine against quality competition in the national spotlight. Plax wants to be considered one of the game’s best – here is his opportunity to prove it. The nickel corner is experienced veteran Aaron Glenn.
In the passing game, the Giants may be better off trying to get the ball in the hands of the tight ends (Jeremy Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe) and Tiki Barber. Dallas’ outside linebackers, while athletic, are converted defensive ends. SS Roy Williams, a superb run defender, is not as strong in coverage and the free safety, Pat Watkins, is a rookie. The Giants also may want to take a couple of shots deep to Carter and try to expose Williams in that situation as Williams does have problems covering the deep pass.
All that said, my offensive focus would be to try to run the football. That won’t be easy. Dallas operates a 3-4 defense, and historically, the Giants have not played well against 3-4 defenses in recent years. Still, in a big game on national TV, where emotions will be running high, I think it is important to settle down Manning by running early. Dallas is first in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing only 67 yards per game. But this is the best running attack the Cowboys have faced by far all year. If the Cowboys stuff Barber, then the Giants will be in deep shit. It’s up to the offensive line to really prove they are one of the better and more physical offensive lines in the league by defeating the two-gap style of the Cowboys up front and getting hats on the four linebackers. It will also be critically important for Shockey, Shiancoe, and FB Jim Finn to block well.
Dallas’ nose tackle is former Jet, Jason Ferguson. OC Shaun O’Hara has played well this year and will need to do so against Ferguson for the Giants to run inside. If O’Hara doesn’t need a lot of help on the nose tackle, then both guards can get out more quickly on the inside linebackers (Brady James and Akin Ayodele). The outside defensive ends (Marcus Spears and Chris Canty) are your typical 3-4 defensive ends – big, strong, physical players. What makes things tough up front is that both outside linebackers are former defensive ends who can really cause problems with their athletic ability too. ROLB Demarcus Ware is an explosive player who can really rush the passer. LT Luke Petitgout or whomever picks him up will really have their hands full. LOLB Greg Ellis has been a thorn in the Giants side for years as a defensive end. He presents problems on the right side of the offensive line. Reserve LB Kevin Burnett comes into the game in passing situations as he is a more athletic player than either inside backer.
This is a very good defense. The Giants need to be able to run the football to win, but it remains to be seen if they can do so. Dallas is big, physical, and aggressive up front in the front seven. And Roy Williams is like another linebacker on the field. But the Giants have not faired well this year relying on Manning to pass early in ball games. That’s the dilemma. New York either has to get a very good game out of Manning and his receivers, or the offensive line needs to be able to control the line of scrimmage for Barber against a very good run defense that will be looking for Tiki. To me, this game is on Eli and the offensive line. The one thing New York must not do is turn the football over more than Dallas does.
Special Teams: Dallas has very, very good special teams units. In fact, when talking about Dallas, Coughlin usually mentions their special teams first. Chad Morton just doesn’t seem to be able to get untracked, but the Giants need a good game out of him and his blockers. They also need a good game out of Jay Feely, both in terms of his field goal efforts and kickoffs. Jeff Feagles isn’t having a great year – he needs to step it up. Field position in this game will be huge.
As I mentioned in the offensive section, the Giants must be very wary of a trick play such as a fake punt or field goal.