Oct 302008
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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 2, 2008: Many of the people who read this site know I’m a bit of a World War II history buff.  As the big game with the wounded, disappointing media circus that is the Dallas Cowboys approaches, the infamous quote from Adolf Hitler on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 has been ringing in my ear:

“We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

And in this quote there is opportunity, but also a great warning.  For many Germans drastically underestimated their opponent not only in the initial fight, but also their staying power and ability to recover from heavy blows when all looked lost.

With a win on Sunday, the Giants would be an impressive 7-1 at the halfway point of the season.  On the other hand, Dallas, once considered New York’s chief rivals for division supremacy and favored by many to win the Super Bowl this season, would be 5-4 with two division and four conference losses.  Heading into their bye, there would be all kinds of speculation about the safety of Wade Phillips’ job and a chance for real implosion in team unity.  In other words, the Giants really, really could hurt Dallas here.

But… Dallas may be wounded with the absence of Tony Romo, Felix Jones, and Terrence Newman, but they are still a very talented and dangerous team.  More than that, NFC East division games are ALWAYS wars, and the better team doesn’t always come out on top.  Factor in the fact that these two teams really hate each other and Dallas will be looking not only for revenge, but to help save their season, then anyone who thinks this game will be a push-over is – in my opinion – nuts.

And… looking long term, Dallas is not dead and remains a very dangerous obstacle for the Giants down the road.  The upcoming bye week will allow Dallas to regroup and get healthy, as will their annual post-Thanksgiving break.  In a way, it’s too bad that this quasi-meltdown on their part didn’t occur later in the year.  For now, they still have time to regroup and get on a hot streak, just like the Giants did last season.  Don’t count out Dallas, both in the short- or long-term.

Giants on Offense: The good news for the Giants is that they’ve seen a lot of the 3-4 defense in recent weeks.  This is a style of defense that has given the Giants some problems, but the recent of experience of facing this style should help New York against Dallas.

The Giants did not run the ball well last week against the Steelers’ 3-4 defense.  It is imperative that the Giants’ offensive line and running backs do a better job this week.  The Cowboys do a respectable job of stopping the run, keeping teams just under four yards per carry, 11th in the NFL.  The down three of RDE Chris Canty, NT Jay Ratcliff, and LDE Marcus Spears has never really lived up to expectations, but these three are solid players.  And they are adequately backed up by Tank Johnson, Jason Hatcher, and Stephen Bowen.

The two guys who have given the Giants problems in the past are LB/DE Greg Ellis and LB/DE DeMarcus Ware.  Both of these guys can rush the passer, especially Ware who has nine quarterback sacks.  Ware will likely beat LT David Diehl for a sack and some pressures, but the real challenge it keep the damage to a minimum.  And the more Diehl needs help, the more the Giants’ offensive options will be limited.

Dallas has issues in the secondary.  Before injuries and the suspension of CB Pacman Jones, the secondary was not living up to expectations.  But the suspension, combined with injuries to CB Terrance Newman (who will not play) and CB Anthony Henry (who will probably play) have deepened the crisis.  That said, the youngsters in the Dallas secondary played fairly well last week against a playoff-caliber opponent.  Rookies Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick are talented and fast.  If Henry returns (and he is a guy who has played well against Plaxico Burress at times in the past), Dallas may be in better shape here than some think.  However, the Giants may be able to confuse the rookies with different packages.  The Cowboys may have problems with a 4-WR package of Burress, Toomer, Smith, and Hixon.

One guy who had a bit of a coming out party last week for the Giants was Kevin Boss.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  Dallas has had some issues covering Giants’ tight ends in the past.  And Boss has the physical talent to do damage against linebackers and safeties.  I wouldn’t be shocked (pun intended) to see Boss have a good game.

This game is going to be a physical war.  Like last week, quarterback play will be crucial.  The Giants must get a strong game out of Manning.  He must out-play his Dallas counterpart.  Like I said last week, the team that makes the fewer mistakes (turnovers, negative yardage plays, penalties, etc.) will likely win.  Protect the football.  Be physical and do a better job of running the ball.  Take advantage of the Dallas secondary.  And – obviously – finish drives far better.  Don’t settle for field goals.  Get touchdowns.

Giants on Defense: The fact that Tony Romo is not playing really helps the Giants.  But Marion Barber is still a horse, and the Dallas offensive line, when on its game, is still quite capable of mauling the smaller, more athletic Giants’ front.  If I’m the Cowboys, I employ the exact same strategy I did last year in the first half of the playoff game where Barber and the Cowboys ran the ball down the Giants’ throat.  The Giants had better be ready for this.  It’s going to get physical and nasty.  If the Giants can stop the run, they will be in great shape.  If they can’t, this is a game the Giants can very easily lose.

What has hurt Dallas this year – perhaps more than anything – is the offensive line has not played as well as it did last year.  They are missing their former offensive line coach, who is now the head coach of the Dolphins.  And LT Flozell Adams is having a down year and OC Andre Gurode is struggling.  But they are still HUGE.  And they can still dominate the line of scrimmage if playing at the top of their game.  A big question will be what OL will show up?  The Giants have to expect that they will see Dallas at their best.  Mathias Kiwanuka and Bryan Kehl will be tested in run defense on the weakside.  And the Steelers were able to run at the strongside with some success last week.  All of the New York defenders need to hunker down and play tough at the point-of-attack.  Gang tackling against the powerful Barber is a must.

Assuming QB Brad Johnson plays the entire game (this has been some talk that the more mobile, stronger-armed Brooks Bollinger might play), Dallas’ downfield passing attack is more limited by Johnson’s diminishing arm strength.  But he is still a smart and savvy veteran.  His best friend will be the ailing TE Jason Witten (ribs).  Witten has given the Giants fits in the past, as much as WR Terrell Owens.  Since Witten will be playing with a very sore midsection, the Giants must not take prisoners here.  Hit Witten.  Even when he doesn’t have the ball.  Punish him.  Get him out of the game.  But he should be a focal point in pass coverage because he is the kind of intermediary target Johnson will look for.

Terrell Owens has not had the kind of season expected of him for a variety of reasons.  But he is still quite capable of taking over a game.  The Giants had problems with the big play last week.  WR Nate Washington scored one long touchdown and had another called back due to a penalty.  The Giants’ secondary must play better against Owens.  The added danger is that with another week under his belt to get accustomed to the Dallas system, the talented WR Roy Williams might make a much bigger impact this week.  The Owens-Williams-Witten threat should provide a healthy scare to any secondary.  WR Patrick Crayton is an up and down player.  And WR Miles Austin can hurt you deep.

Aside from stopping the run, the real key will be the pass rush.  The Giants absolutely must pressure Johnson and prevent him from getting the ball to these dangerous weapons.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams were a big reason for the Giants win last week in Pittsburgh.  Hopefully that continues against the Cowboys.

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Eric Kennedy

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

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