By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: Jerry Jones is playing with fire. The proud papa of a brand new $1.2 billion stadium, he can’t wait to show it and his team to the country. It’s no accident that the first team to visit the stadium is the New York Giants. The Giants are the reigning NFC East Division Champions. Two years ago, the Giants caused one of the most painful losses in Cowboys’ history by eliminating the heavily-favored, #1-seeded Cowboys in the playoffs. And Jones, always with an eye on the marketing side of the business, knows that the Giants equal high ratings. In his world view, this game represents the christening of the new stadium. The stadium and his beloved Dallas Cowboys, America’s Team, are to be the main story line. The Giants and their big city elitist fans from New York and New Jersey are the victims.
Ahem…Jerry…the Giants are not going to cooperate.
These are not the Giants of the 1970’s or 1990’s. The Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning Giant have never been afraid of hostile environments. This group of players has never been intimidated playing in Dallas. 100,000 screaming fans? Big deal! Much, much more was on the line in January 2007. These Giants don’t scare. You’re playing with fire Jerry.
Giants on Offense: I see a lot of threads in “The Corner Forum” about how the Giants should pass more or run more or do this or that. As long as Tom Coughlin is coaching this team, the Giants will always be what they have been under him: balanced. They will run, they will pass. Unless they fall way behind in a game, they are not going to get terribly lopsided one way or the other.
The real question is how and when the Giants run or pass. Dallas struggled against the run last week against Tampa Bay. You know that is something the Cowboys have been working on all week. The past two seasons, Dallas has had a very solid run defense so last week may have been aberration. Do the Giants test their run defense early and often? Or do the Giants cross up the Cowboys, like they did a bit with the Redskins, and throw the football?
I’d be tempted to throw early. I think the Giants are going to need a lot of points if they are going to win on Sunday night. A quick score also helps to settle down what will be a very loud stadium. I’m not sold on their linebackers and safeties in coverage. You can do some damage against Dallas by throwing over the middle. Passes to the backs and Kevin Boss underneath or even a deep post shot to Manningham or Hixon early might be what the doctor ordered. We may even see a bit of the no-huddle (not hurry-up) in this game early.
But the rub is it will indeed be loud. The receivers, backs, tight ends, and offensive line will have trouble hearing Eli. The Giants will likely have to go on a silent snap count and that will only aid the dangerous outside pass rushers. Eli has to do a better job of getting the play off before the play clock expires. A 5-yard penalty could kill a drive, and it will only get the crowd even more worked up.
Eli has to play well for the Giants to win. The good news is that he usually does play well in Dallas. The reason the offense stumbled badly in Dallas last year was the offensive line played its worst game of the year. The line needs to rebound strongly and give Eli time. The tackles in particular will be on the spot. In the Dallas 3-4 defense, ROLB DeMarcus Ware is the playmaker. Most of the time, he will face LT David Diehl, who has played well at times against Ware, and other times has struggled. But the Cowboys will also move Ware around and RT Kareem McKenzie has had his issues with Ware in the past as well. Even if they don’t, LOLB Anthony Spencer is a former first round who can rush the passer. The Cowboys dumped Greg Ellis so Spencer could start. If Diehl or McKenzie need help, that takes out one less option for Manning and makes the Giants easier to defend.
The other quality defender Dallas has is NT Jay Ratliff. OC Shaun O’Hara will be on the spot with him. If he needs help, again, that makes things easier for Dallas’ defense.
So my game plan would be to pass early and attack the middle of the field in doing so. I might be tempted to use some no-huddle and try to get up quickly early. If successful, and the Cowboys start to back off a bit, I would then hit them hard with Jacobs and Bradshaw. I would also take a shot or two deep down the field off of play action.
Much depends on the play of the offensive line.
Giants on Defense: The Cowboys are not the Redskins. The Redskins have an anemic passing attack. Tony Romo is 4-1 against the New York Giants as a starter. Minus Terrell Owens, I have been impressed with his ability to accurately deliver the ball in short- to-intermediate ranges. The Cowboys have All-World Jason Witten at tight end, a guy who gives the Giants fits. But they also have a second tight end who is very dangerous in Martellus Bennett. The Cowboys will use a lot of two-tight end formations and throw out of these formations. So Giants’ fans not only have to worry about the linebackers’ ability to cover Witten, but also Bennett.
To me, this is a game where there will be a lot of pressure on the Giants’ linebackers to perform. The undercoverage on the tight ends and backs will be huge. Romo will throw to halfbacks Marion Barber and Felix Jones. Witten, Bennett, Barber, Jones…that’s a lot of talent. If I’m Dallas, I try to isolate Jones on a Giants’ linebacker down the field. Making matters worse is that Barber and Jones are very dangerous runners. Barber is Dallas’ version of Brandon Jacobs and Jones is their version of Bradshaw. Playaction for the Cowboys could prove deadly for the Giants as well.
Dallas has talked a great deal about running the ball more this year. I didn’t see it in the preseason. But obviously, you have to stop the run and make the Cowboys one dimensional. If Barber and Jones get going, the Giants are going to have a very hard time winning this game. The Dallas offensive line is huge and powerful. The smaller but more athletic Giants’ defensive line needs to play with great passion, hustle, technique, leverage, and discipline. The linebackers and defensive backs also must be physical and aggressive against the run, without making themselves vulnerable to play fakes. Barber will run over you; Jones will run away from you. Gang tackle!
Tony Romo is overrated by some, underrated by others. He is certainly dangerous. While he will force the ball at times and make bad turnovers, especially fumbles, he is very elusive, accurate, and an excellent improviser. Just when you think you have him, he scrambles away from you and hits the big play, often in a very unorthodox fashion. Obviously, the more heat you get on him the better. But I wouldn’t blitz a ton. Make him work the ball down the field. Don’t give up the cheap score.
Terrell Owens is gone. But like the Giants, Dallas may have put together a group of largely unsung targets who can hurt teams with greater speed. Roy Williams is an enigma and receives much of the attention. Patrick Crayton has a big mouth, but often comes up small. The guys who could cause problems are the reserves Miles Austin and Sam Hurd.
Stop the run first and foremost. But realize that the Giants’ linebackers and safeties are going to be under tremendous stress from Witten, Bennett, and the backs. That’s what worries me more than anything. You’ve got to figure that Dallas is just looking for match-up problems with Felix Jones and Bennett.
Giants on Special Teams: Kickoff return coverage will be under pressure from Felix Jones and Miles Austin. Lawrence Tynes needs to get good height on his kickoffs in order to allow his coverage men an opportunity to make a play inside the 30-yard line.
Patrick Crayton and Terrence Newman are the punt returners.
With Danny Ware (elbow) not playing and the Giants probably not wanting to risk Ahmad Bradshaw while Ware is out, it will be interesting to see who returns kickoffs. Domenik Hixon?