Nov 082007
 
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by Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 11, 2007: I hate to sound like a pessimist, but I simply don’t think the Giants are as good as the Cowboys.  I think many Giants fans are feeling far too giddy about their team due to the six-game winning streak.  But as has been pointed out ad nausea the Giants played mostly dreadful teams during that winning streak, including arguably the League’s worst.

The optimists say the Giants’ defense is playing much, much better now than it did when it got blasted in the first two weeks of the season.  But do we really know that they are truly that much better?  The Redskins, Eagles, Jets, Falcons, 49ers, and Dolphins are terrible offensive teams this year.  No Redskins receiver has even scored a touchdown this year and aside from the offensive explosion against the Lions, the Eagles are a shadow of their former teams.  I don’t even really have to elaborate on the others.

Undoubtedly the Giants’ defense is better than it was in the first Giants-Cowboys game.  DE Osi Umenyiora was hurt early; DE Michael Strahan just returned from his holdout; the starting corners were Corey Webster and R.W. McQuarters; Mathias Kiwanuka was more inexperienced at linebacker; and everyone was more inexperienced with Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.  But I still wonder and worry about the back seven on defense, and in particular the lack of speed/athleticism at linebacker and the lack of ability at safety.  I’m just not sure the Giants are good enough yet defensively to adequately face what has become a very impressive Cowboys’ offense.

Secondly, and this is really going to piss people off, I’m not convinced Eli Manning is or will be a better quarterback than Tony Romo.  I was wrong about Romo.  I thought the League figured him out late last year and he was going to struggle this season.  Aside from the game against the Bills, he has played amazingly well for a guy who is in his first full year as a starter.  I think the Giants and Cowboys have similar offensive tools at every position except, objectively, I think you have to say that Romo has been more impressive than Manning.  I’m not trying to knock Manning – I think he is having a good year – but Romo is playing better.

Can the Giants win this game?  Sure.  The Giants are at home (though home field doesn’t mean all the much when traitorous fans sell their tickets to the thousands of Cowboy fans who descend on the Meadowlands each year).  And the teams are in all likelihood not all that far apart talent wise.  But I don’t think the Giants are quite there just yet.  I think the bad teams that they have played have masked their deficiencies.  I hope I am wrong.

Giants on Special Teams: You’ve heard me say it over and over again:  In close games, special teams are decisive.  And the Giants’ special teams are not an asset.  Not only is there the issue with Lawrence Tynes and the lack of productivity with the return game, but in the first meeting between these two teams, the Giants gave up two big kick returns.  The Cowboys have a better place kicker, the better return game, and better kickoff coverage.  Dallas wins the special teams match-up.  And it may in fact cost the Giants the game.  Until the Giants get serious about fixing their special teams, this is going to be a problem the rest of this year and beyond.

Giants on Offense: When the Giants had all of their offensive weapons against the Cowboys the past two years (the last  two games in Dallas), they have really moved the ball well and put a lot of points on the board.  But the offensive team has struggled with the Cowboys at home in the colder temperatures (in 2005 and 2006).  Why?  Injuries?  Manning doesn’t play well in the cold?  I wish I knew.  But if the Giants are going to win, the offense is going to have to play like it has in Dallas and not in New Jersey.

I hate to draw these types of comparisons, but I honestly think this game will be determined by which quarterback plays better.  The Giants gave up the barn for Eli Manning for him to be THE difference maker in a football game.  Why is Dallas playing so much better than it did last year?  It’s because Tony Romo and the offensive play calling of the Cowboys has been so much better.  Manning needs to out-shine Romo.  If not, the Giants lose.  Manning also needs help from his offensive coordinator.  Through eight games, Kevin Gilbride has proven to be a better coordinator than John Hufnagel.  But Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been exceptional in his first year.

Dallas will be tougher this time around because CB Terrance Newman and LB Shaun Ellis will play this time.  A big key is the play of LT David Diehl against pass-rushing linebacker Demarcus Ware (or whomever may be blocking Ware).  But the Giants should remain balanced, just like they were in Dallas earlier this year and in Dallas in 2006.  Run Brandon Jacobs, pass the ball to the playmakers – Burress, Shockey, and Toomer.  Big key in big games like this?  Don’t turn the ball over.

Giants on Defense: It was unbelievable at how wide open the Giants left TE Jason Witten in the last game (6 catches for 116 yards and one touchdown).  Going into that game, I wrote in my preview that I considered Witten to be the primary cog in that offense.  I wish the Giants’ got my memo.  Nothing has changed.  Shut down Witten and, in my opinion, you really make it tough for Dallas to consistently move the football.  But that is easier said than done.  I don’t like this match up for the Giants because I don’t like our safeties and I don’t think our linebackers are athletic enough.  I would almost be tempted to play someone like R.W. McQuarters on Witten, but if you do that, you invite the Cowboys to run the ball.  So if the Giants stay with their base defense, the linebackers and safeties are going to have to be far, far more physical with Witten and prevent him from getting a clean and/or easy release off the line.  But look for Jason Garrett to move Witten around to create mismatches.  Garrett will also do that with WR Terrell Owens.  I’m sure they’d love to get Owens on nickel corner Kevin Dockery.

Romo can lob the ball deep, but he really doesn’t have a rocket for an arm.  This really shows up on the deep out throws.  The strength of his game is getting rid of the ball accurately to his play-makers and allow them to do the damage after the catch.  He’s also a good improviser.  That’s why TACKLING will be crucial in this game.  The Giants have to tackle the likes of Romo, Owens, Witten, and HB Marion Barber.  There were too many yards given up after contact or the catch in the first game.  SS James Butler had a rough game, if you recall, but everyone didn’t tackle well.

The problem with defending Dallas this year is that you can’t just focus on defending the pass and the improving Romo.  The Cowboys are running the ball much better and much more physically this year.  Barber, in particular, has been very impressive with his tough, physical running style.  So has the Dallas offensive line – a line that absolutely mauled the Giants in the first meeting.  This is going to be an interesting match-up between the smaller, quicker Giants’ defensive line and the more lumbering, but bigger and more physical offensive line of Dallas.  In colder weather games where the running game becomes important, I tend to like the latter style.

Much has been made of the Giants’ four defensive end pass rush package.  Some fans were wondering why the Giants were not as aggressive defensively two weeks ago against Miami with their pass rush.  Why?  Because the Dolphins were running the ball.  It’s tough to put your ears back and get after the quarterback when the other team is running the ball, let alone get into your favorable pass rush packages.  Dallas will look to do the same.  By running the ball, not only will they take away what the Giants do best, but they will attempt to wear down the Giants’ smaller defenders.  The Giants have to play their best, most physical run defense of the season or it could get ugly again.  And when New York does manage to get the Cowboys in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long.  Watch for the damn draw play!!!

Prediction: I think Dallas wins this game 30-17.  It’s not the end of the world or season if the team does.  But if the Giants do fall, they had better get their act together quickly for a tough road trip against the surging Lions.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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