Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, January 13, 2008: I’ve gone back and forth on this game all week, alternating between quiet confidence and being scared shitless. My scared shitless stage went into overdrive during my commute this morning.
“Christ, the Giants have played three tough games in a row and have to be emotionally spent. Dallas has had two weeks to prepare. Owens is going to play and I doubt that fucker even has a high ankle sprain. The Cowboys are the better team – they proved it by sweeping us and outplaying the Giants in all three facets of the game. The Giants can’t pressure Romo. With the injuries in the secondary, how the hell are the Giants going to cover Owens, Witten, Crayton, Glenn, Hurd, Fasano? The Cowboys can run the ball too and the Giants are going to get mauled by that big offensive line. Spags hasn’t figured out Jason Garrett. We need more good players. The officials are going to screw us…”
In the back of my head, I could hear BBI poster “Randy in CT” saying “Stop being a fucking pussy!”
As I got off my train and started walking down the Metro escalator in Washington, DC this morning, a 50+ year old gentleman I’ve seen many days on my commute was wearing one of those showy Giants leather jackets. My confidence began to rise. As BBI poster “ttb from Roanoke, VA” once said to me, “It’s all about the ‘ny’!”
So I’ve come to this conclusion. Fuck it! This game is about the RIGHT to play in the NFC Championship Game. If you can’t get fired up for this game and be confident in your team, then go stick your head in the freaking sand. False bravado? Perhaps. Patrick Crayton, that little bitch, thinks it is. But Dallas is the team on the spot here, not the Giants. The Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game in 11 years. Wade Phillips and Tony Romo have never won a playoff game. Instead of getting his knob waxed in Cabo last weekend, Romo should have been preparing for not fumbling away another playoff game. Phillips has Jerry Jones’ ugly specter hanging over him, just looking for an excuse to dump him and hire Garrett.
Without a doubt, the Cowboys are the glamour team of the NFL. The NFL and the media desperately wants them to advance to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots. It would be a marketing dream. We’d all be exposed to wonderful images of Romo with his backwards baseball cap and shit-eating grin. And we’d get to hear Owens tell everyone to bring the popcorn. The Giants? They are boring and led by evil Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. The Cowboys have 12 Pro Bowlers; the Giants one. The Giants are merely a road bump on Dallas’ path to greatness.
If I’ve learned one thing about football it is that these David versus Goliath match-ups are what makes the game great. The Giants are the underdogs. They are supposed to lose. Everyone is against them, even the networks and the officials. How could you not love the desperate nature of this situation?
But coming close doesn’t count. We don’t want to be sitting here on Sunday night saying, “Well, I’m proud of the Giants. They gave it their best shot.” Fuck that. Get it done. Find a way to win. Knock those bastards out. If the game is close, win it in the 4th quarter or overtime. How sweet would that be?
Giants on Defense: Too many casual fans are focusing too much attention on the offenses. Playoff games are won on defense. And Steve Spagnuolo and his players have yet to figure out how to slow down the Dallas Cowboys. Anyone counting on Terrell Owens not playing or not playing well is fooling themselves. The Giants don’t buy it for good reason. And you know what? I want him to play. No excuses. Beat them with their best weapons on the field. Earn the right to advance.
The problem for the Giants is this: even if the Giants were completely healthy, they still may not have the necessary components to address all of Dallas’ weapons. The strength of the Giants’ defense is their defensive line. However, in the first two games, Dallas’ offensive line has controlled the line of scrimmage. If that doesn’t change on Sunday, the Giants are not going to win. The Giants simply don’t have enough quality players yet in their back seven on defense to stick with the wide receivers and tight ends if Romo has a nice little pocket to set up in. The Giants (Spagnuolo) is going to have to come up with some pass rush and coverage schemes that confuse the Cowboys (Romo and Garrett). And everyone on defense is going to have to play at the top of their game. No more mental breakdowns for cheap scores.
Dallas has two ways to attack the Giants and will probably do both: (1) use the power game to run the football up the middle and to the weakside against the smaller Giants’ defensive line, and (2) employ multiple wide receiver sets to attack an injury-depleted secondary. To me, the guys really on the spot are Osi Umenyiora (he has to do a better job against Flozell Adams) and the defensive tackles (who have not played well against the big interior Dallas trio), not only in terms of their pass rush, but their ability to defend the run. The Giants also need big games from the linebackers and safeties in coverage against Witten and Fasano. If you recall, in the first game, Witten killed the Giants. The Giants controlled him in the second game, but then Owens took over the game. Everyone is thinking Owens right now, but don’t forget Witten again.
If the Giants can keep the Dallas ground game under wraps (a big if), the main focus becomes confusing Romo. Romo has a quick release and is a good improviser. When he knows the blitz is coming and reads the coverage, he is very good at making defenses pay. The key is to make him think he has the defense figured out when he really doesn’t. That’s when he will get stupid with the football.
Obviously, the Giants need something special from their two young corners (Aaron Ross and Corey Webster) and the old veteran (R.W. McQuarters). Ironically, it was Ross who the Cowboys wanted to draft. Terry Glenn has practiced fully. Owens is going to play. Sam Hurd and Patrick Crayton can hurt you.
Giants on Offense: The Dallas defense is fully healthy. They have a talented front seven that can stop the run and get after the passer. Their obvious strategy will be to stop Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and force the Giants’ passing game to beat them. This is a game where the Giants will miss Jeremy Shockey as Shockey has owned SS Roy Williams in the past. Hopefully, Kevin Boss can make a play or two. The Giants may also want to try to get Bradshaw more involved in the passing game, but Manning is going to have to be much more accurate with his short throws to Bradshaw than he was last week.
Can Eli put together three strong games in a row against top-flight competition? If he does, he will be breaking new ground. He will need help from Plaxico Burress, who has been far too quiet down the stretch. He will also need another quality game from Amani Toomer and continued development from Steve Smith. The Dallas secondary is decent, but you can make some big plays on them. Eli has no fear about attacking them deep and has had success doing so in Dallas.
As for the running game, the onus is really on the offensive line and the coaching staff. The line has to play more like it did in the first game and not the second game. The Cowboys run a 3-4 defense. All three down linemen are big guys who take up space. The outside linebackers (DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis) are converted defensive linemen who can rush the passer. Both tackles will be under heavy pressure (and keep in mind that Kareem McKenzie is playing with an ankle injury). Both backs need to play at their best. No turnovers. Hit the hole hard and do something special with the ball in your hands. Be a playmaker. The coaching staff has to call intelligent running plays that are well suited to attacking the defense. I wouldn’t run wide too much on this group.
Giants on Special Teams: I said it last week and I’ll say it again, the Giants are getting hot here at just the right time. The Giants may win the game because of their specials.
Prediction: Giants 26 – Cowboys 23 in overtime.