by Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 9, 2007: Yes, I am biased. I almost always have high hopes heading into a new season. So people can make a legitimate case not to put too much stock in my last-minute pre-regular season thoughts. We’ll soon find out if my optimism is well-founded or the product of homerism.
If you believed – like many did last year – that the Giants were a Super Bowl contender in the NFC, I do not understand why you should believe they will not be this season. Keep in mind, that at the midway point last year, the Giants were 6-2, with a 2-game lead in the NFC East, and had the second-best record in the NFC – this despite the fact that there was questionable coaching from the offensive and defensive coordinators (both of whom were fired) and questionable team chemistry. Then the Giants were slammed with a wave of key injuries to some of their most important players. Things snowballed out of control.
That was then, this is a new season. What has changed? The franchise’s career rushing leader is gone and most people feel that Brandon Jacobs will be a major downgrade. I am not one of them. In fact, while Brandon may not burn opposing defenses with as many nifty runs as Barber, I feel strongly that he will be more consistent and punishing than Barber was. Opposing defenders are going to hate playing against Jacobs. He is going to cause other teams to bring the safety up into the box and open things up in the middle of the field. The other major change is that the Petitgout-Diehl left side of the offensive line has been replaced by the Deihl-Seubert combination. It remains to be seen how the latter will do. I expect some growing pains, but I am optimistic. The biggest downgrade may actually be Lawrence Tynes replacing Jay Feely – that is a cause for concern.
The other changes are actually for the better. Who would you prefer? Mathias Kiwanuka/Kawika Mitchell or Carlos Emmons/LaVar Arrington? Steve Smith or Tim Carter? Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Amani Toomer, Sinorice Moss are back. Antonio Pierce and Jeremy Shockey are healthy. Added experience will only help Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, Chris Snee, Justin Tuck, and Barry Cofield. There are some interesting newcomers such as Steve Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, Aaron Ross, Jay Alford, Zak DeOssie, and Manny Wright. Steve Spagnuolo appears to be an improvement over Tim Lewis and Kevin Gilbride an improvement over John Hufnagel – but that remains to be seen. By all accounts thus far, team chemistry has improved a great deal with the roster transformation.
Other than the place-kicking situation, the secondary is my primary cause of concern. It is not clear if things will be much better than they were last year. Under Spagnuolo’s new scheme, we should see a lot more three-and-outs, but we will likely also see more big plays given up (both run and pass). Aaron Ross was added to the secondary, but he’s not ready yet. Will FS Gibril Wilson/SS James Butler combination be better than the SS Gibril Wilson/FS Will Demps combination? Will the Giants be exposed by their corners? Or will the corners thrive in the new defense? Depth on the offensive line is also a concern.
Nevertheless, taken in sum, the 2007 Giants are a STRONGER team on paper than the 2006 Giants that started the season 6-2. Even if you think Jacobs is a downgrade, Eli is set to dramatically improve his play. The receiving corps is stronger. The defensive line and linebackers are stronger. The coaching will likely be better.
So let’s get it on. Show the prognosticators that they are full of crap. Let’s kick some Cowboy ass!
Giants on Offense: The Cowboys under new coach Wade Phillips will still employ a 3-4 defense, but it is a more aggressive version of that defense than Bill Parcells used. I would expect the Cowboys – unless they are really, really concerned about their cornerback situation – to come after the Giants up front. Firstly, they want to stop Brandon Jacobs in his tracks before he gets rolling. Secondly, they want to get in Eli Manning’s face and rattle him. Because of this, the Giants will have the chance to make some big plays if they play smart, maintain their composure, and execute.
The defensive line of LDE Marcus Spears, NT Jason Ferguson, and RDE Chris Canty is solid, but not spectacular. They are good at defending the run. The inside linebackers linebackers are also solid run defenders with good size. It won’t be easy for Jacobs to generate yards against this bunch. Strongside LB Greg Ellis (heel/Achilles) is not likely to play. The Giants should run in the direction of rookie strongside linebacker Anthony Spencer. When the Giants pass, RT Kareem McKenzie needs to do a good job on picking up Spencer (or weakside linebacker Demarcus Ware if he is flip-flopped) coming from that side of the field. McKenzie sometimes has problems with the outside speed rush.
The biggest potential headache for the Giants is Ware. He is an outstanding pass rusher and disruptive presence. It’s a bad match-up for new LT David Diehl right out of the gate. But Ware will also be moved around in order to confuse the Giants and mentally breakdown protection schemes. If the Giants want to take some shots down the field, they will have to focus their protection on Ware, but doing so should open up some other things for the Cowboys in terms of blitzing. But if the Giants can handle Ware and are solid on their blitz pick-ups, Eli and his receivers can do some damage.
The big strategic question for this game is this: Do the Giants play it conservatively and pound the ball with Jacobs and use the short passing game, or do they take some shots down the field like they did down in Dallas last season when the team crushed the Cowboys? My guess is that the Giants employ the same type of offensive strategy that they did against the Ravens in the preseason – lots of quick set-up, short passes and a fair dose of the running game. Using play-action may cause the aggressive Cowboys safeties to make a mistake and get beat too. The one thing I would do is get Shockey deeper down the middle of the field. I like the match-up of Shockey against the Dallas safeties and linebackers.
It looks like Dallas may also be without the services of left corner Terence Newman. This should help Amani Toomer and also weaken the Cowboys’ nickel and dime defenses. It will be interesting to see who the third receiver on the Giants is – Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, Anthony Mix? A concern is how well Plaxico Burress (back) will hold up physically (not just his back, but in terms of stamina), and how much he will be in sync with Eli mentally. Burress and Manning have hardly worked together at all this offseason. The Giants need Burress to play well against right corner Anthony Henry.
What does the game boil down to offensively for the Giants? The offensive line needs to play a solid game. But the Giants’ core play-makers – Manning, Jacobs, Shockey, Burress, and Toomer – need to come through. And don’t turn the ball over!
Giants on Defense: I don’t think the Cowboys’ offense can drive the length of the field with 10+ play drives against the Giants. But what New York must be careful of is giving up the cheap, big play. “Be careful” is probably the wrong choice of words because the last thing the Giants and Spagnuolo want to do is be too cautious. Dallas has some very good players, but this isn’t an offensive team that should frighten them. Play smart. The Cowboys under Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett know the Giants have a new, aggressive, attacking defense. Like the Panthers did in the preseason, they will attempt to use New York’s aggressiveness against them by using misdirection and plays such as screens, draws, reverses, etc. The Giants must play aggressively, but they also must be disciplined. Don’t give up the cheap play!
As always, and you will hear this all year from me, the first key is to stop the run. While both Julius Jones and Marion Barber flash, neither one is the type of back who should scare the Giants all that much. Jones is more the elusive, home-run hitter and Barber is more the plugger. I actually think Barber is the better back. Regardless, the Giants should be able to penetrate against the big, but somewhat unathletic offensive line of the Cowboys and do a fair job against the run – IF the defenders maintain their gap responsibility. Watch out for the draw!
The tight ends worry me more than Terrell Owens. Jason Witten is very good and the coverage ability of the Giants’ safeties and linebackers is still questionable. Reserve TE Tony Fasano will also see a lot of playing time and he can hurt you in the receiving game. Keep in mind that the Cowboys will try to isolate one of these tight ends and/or the running backs on Mathias Kiwanuka in coverage. I know I would. I really believe if the Giants can control the tight ends, they will have no problem with the Dallas offense. But that’s a huge “if”.
All that said, Owens is certainly capable of breaking open a game. In terms of overall comfort level, it would probably be better if Sam Madison played. He won’t be intimidated by Owens. However, it would be better for the Giants to lose this game than to lose Madison for an extended period with another hamstring injury by coming back prematurely. The Giants need to be careful here. If he doesn’t go, Corey Webster will be under the spotlight big time. The key with Owens is to frustrate him. If the Giants can get after Tony Romo and prevent Owens from getting involved in the game, he will sulk and become an asset for the Giants. On the opposite side of the field, WR Terry Glenn (knee) will not play. Reserve Patrick Crayton is no slouch however and R.W. McQuarters will be tested deep.
Similar to the strategic question the Giants faced on offense, do the Giants play it aggressively, come after Romo, and take risks in the secondary with less bodies back there? Or do they rely on their down four to generate heat and play mostly back? Obviously, it will likely be a combination of the two types of defense, but which one will be the most prevalent in key situations? Again, I’d hate to give up the cheap score or scores to Dallas. I might play it a bit more conservatively in this game. Control Witten and Owens and you win this game.
Lastly, I firmly believe that Tony Romo is a far different passer when you keep him in the pocket than when you allow him to escape and improvise. In that regard, he reminds me of Jake Plummer. Keep him in the pocket. Don’t allow him to rollout and throw down the field. Make him uncomfortable. While is a fairly accurate quarterback and can will have streaks where is very accurate, he will screw up when pressured too.
Giants on Special Teams: I hope to God that the place kicking situation doesn’t kill the Giants this year. Dallas has a rookie kicker in Nick Folk, but for some reason these no-name Dallas kickers always seem to kill the Giants.
Also worrisome is that with Ryan Kuehl on IR, long-snapping for kicks and punts becomes an issue. This could lead to blocks. David Tyree (wrist) not playing is not good either.
It will be interesting to see how kick/punt coverage and kick/punt returns do under new (and inexperienced) Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn. Ahmad Bradshaw may have rookie jitters returning kickoffs.