By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 14, 2008: I’m going to take a different approach in this week’s preview, sharing more of my personal views/feelings on the Giants as we enter the stretch run of the regular season. If you’re still reading my weekly preview column, it’s either because you appreciate my thoughts before each game, or because you don’t, and you want to laugh at my idiotic rants for a good chuckle. Either way, I’m here to entertain!
Largely satisfied to the extreme by the outcome of the 2007 NFL season, as a fan, I entered the 2008 season with no high expectations. I even told my wife back in early September, “I’m still so thrilled about last season that I’m not going to get worked up either way this year.” I think part of this was a conscious or subconscious fear that the Giants would struggle in 2008 and I did not want that to take away from what they accomplished in 2007. Just like the 1987 season did not ruin 1986 for me or the 1991 season did not ruin 1990 for me.
But at 11-2, with three regular season games to play, my angst and nervousness is beginning to build again. That’s a good thing. Long-time readers should have figured out by now that when I’m worried, it means that I think the Giants are playing meaningful football with a chance to really accomplish something. And I’m starting to get nervous as hell. With the division title wrapped up and only a bye and home-field advantage left to play for before the playoffs start, the Giants have a chance to make another Super Bowl appearance. If they earn the bye, they will have to defeat three very good football teams in the post-season to accomplish their ultimate goal. They will be one of 12 teams in the tournament, four of those will be eliminated before the Giants take a snap in the playoffs. They have a 1-in-8 shot. Those are not great odds, but all you ask for is the opportunity. It’s time to get serious. The playoffs are almost here.
Now here is where other people will vehemently disagree with me. I don’t think the final three regular-season games are all that important. In fact, it would not devastate me at all if the Giants lose them all. Yes, I do think momentum is important. But what I think is more important – THIS year, with THIS Giants’ team – is to be as healthy and well-rested as possible. Momentum to me means confidence. Confidence is not an issue for this Giants’ team that already knows it can win an NFL title. My gut tells me that even if the Giants don’t win another game, the Vikings are going to lose again anyway and the Giants will earn that bye. I don’t think it will come to that because I don’t think the Giants are going to lose all three games, but it would not be the end of the world if they did. All that matters is winning those three playoff games.
Really, what the Giants have left to play for in the regular season is this: ensuring home-field advantage in the NFC Championship Game. The Giants will play the divisional round at home. That’s already set. If they win the NFC Championship, the Super Bowl is obviously played in a neutral site. The only threat to the Giants in terms of stealing home-field advantage in the NFC Championship is the winner of the NFC South. But you know what? I’m not convinced the NFC South winner will win their playoff game in the divisional round. And – this is where many will really disagree with me – I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better for the Giants to play that game in Carolina or Tampa Bay. I’d prefer to play it at the Meadowlands. But Eli (and Gilbride) in the Meadowlands wind still makes me nervous. I’d prefer a more suitable passing day for the well-rounded Giants’ offense.
Where am I going with all of this? As much as I despise the Cowboys and would like nothing more than to help knock them out of playoff contention – and also prevent seeing them again in the playoffs – it will not be the end of the world if the Giants lose this game to Dallas. Dallas NEEDS this game. They are desperate. The Giants – despite what some think – are not. And while Dallas is beat up, so are the Giants. The loss of Burress is equivalent to a season-ending injury. Brandon Jacobs has an issue with a PCL in his left knee. Aaron Ross has a bum ankle. The Giants’ three best defensive linemen – Tuck, Robbins, and Kiwanuka – are beat up and tired. These are all KEY performers on this team. I wouldn’t play Jacobs. I’d consider not playing Robbins (two broken hands and a bad shoulder) or at least spelling him more. I’d spell both ends more. If Jacobs, Tuck, Robbins, Kiwanuka, and Ross are not near 100 percent by the time of the divisional game, the Giants will be at a disadvantage. Without Burress, they need to be as close to full strength as possible.
What I think will be more interesting about this game is how Dallas performs. Against questionable competition, they had impressively rebounded from the 35-14 Romo-less destruction the Giants visited upon them in early November. They actually were poised last week to make it four games in a row by defeating a very good Steelers team in Pittsburgh until they imploded in the 4th quarter. To add injury to insult, they came out of that game very banged up. How will they respond? Will they show the heart of a winner and push the Giants to the limit? Or will they fold at the first sign of adversity? If it is the former, don’t be shocked or too disappointed if the Giants lose this game. If that happens, just take consolation in the fact that a Dallas victory may ensure that Wade Phillips sticks around another season.
A final plea – which I’m sure will be ignored by many. Don’t panic if the Giants lose this game. If you truly want home-field for the Giants, then the game against the Panthers the following week is much, much more important. The most important thing for the Giants is to get out of these last three games as healthy as possible, while at the same time fine tuning a passing attack that needs adjust to life without Plaxico.
Giants on Offense: Dallas’ defense has played much, much better since the return of left corner Terrence Newman. Indeed, it has been the Dallas defense that has carried the team during the last four games (3-1 record, almost 4-0). However, the Cowboys did come out of the Steelers’ game banged up. Both safeties are ailing. The Cowboys do have the flexibility to move Anthony Henry to safety and Mike Jenkins should return this week at corner. Nevertheless, with the Cowboys likely to crowd the line of scrimmage against the run, the Giants need to seriously test a Dallas secondary that is not as strong as Philadelphia’s in an environment where wind will not be an issue. And historically, Eli has performed well in Dallas.
Giants on Defense: The most disconcerting thing to me last week was the play of the defense. Unlike many, I don’t place as much emphasis on sacks as I do quarterback pressure. Why are sacks down? Because the caliber of the competition has increased (both offensive lines and quarterbacks), teams are throwing the ball quickly against the Giants, and the defensive line is banged up and worn down. It’s the latter that concerns me the most. I think what the Giants need is to get Tuck, Kiwanuka, and Robbins as healthy and rested as possible this late in the year. The bye week will really help. But if someone has an injury issue, I hope the Giants take that into strong consideration.
After the owner questioned his manhood, I fully expect HB Marion Barber to play this week and play well. The Giants must stop the run first and foremost. Barber is a tough, punishing runner so the Giants must get as many hats on him as possible. The other two key guys to account for, obviously, are TE Jason Witten and WR Terrell Owens. Both have been a thorn in the Giants’ side for years. Most importantly, the Giants must get off the field. Last week, the Giants’ defense allowed an unforgiveable 66 percent conversion rate on third down. You can’t win football games when you do that.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ kickoff return game has tanked with Sinorice Moss returning kickoffs. The Giants need to keep Patrick Crayton under control on punt returns and Isaiah Stanback on kickoff returns. Stanback has only returned 10 kickoffs, but one of those was a 58-yarder.
Prediction: Cowboys 31 – Giants 17. I just get the feeling the Giants are going to see the Cowboys again in the playoffs. Panic on BBI sets in. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.