By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: With the Philadelphia Eagles breathing down the Giants’ neck, this game is critically important to the Giants. Remarkably, with half the regular season over, both the Giants and Eagles have each only played one divisional game. That means both teams will play five NFC East games in the remaining eight weeks. Even more so than normal, division games will decide who wins the NFC East.
The Cowboys are a mess. And the Giants match up very well with them. But the coaching change in Dallas provides an unknown element that cannot be completely discounted. It’s quite possible the Cowboys continue to lay down like dogs, but it is also possible that the Dallas players finally realize that they are playing for their future financial livelihoods as NFL players and start putting out some serious effort.
Added to this mix is that the Giants have been hit with a rash of injuries all of the sudden. The Giants will be missing three of their four Pro Bowlers from last season: center Shaun O’Hara, tackle David Diehl, and wide receiver Steve Smith.
That said, the Giants remain the better team with the greater motivation to play well. Hopefully that will be demonstrated on the scoreboard at the end of the game.
Giants on Special Teams: The special teams unit continues to improve, but the Giants face the dangerous Dez Bryant again, who returned a punt for a 93-yard touchdown against the Giants just three weeks ago. Matt Dodge needs to get good hang time on his efforts, and the punt coverage unit needs to maintain their lanes, get down the field quickly, and make sure tackles.
Bryan McCann is the new kickoff returner who was signed off of the Practice Squad before the Cowboys’ game last week with the Packers. The Giants seem to give up one decent return a game to the opposition. They need to put a stop to that.
Will Blackmon did not get much of a chance to return kickoffs last week, but flashed as a punt returner. He did take some risky chances fielding errant punts however.
The Giants have come close to blocking a punt a couple of times this season.
Like I said last week, when teams are over-matched on paper, watch out for trick plays. The Giants need to be very careful of fake punts and field goals.
Giants on Defense: The Cowboys don’t match up well with the Giants’ defense. New York should be able to stop the Cowboys ground game and make the team one-dimensional again. That said, one letdown and HB Felix Jones can turn a defensive lapse into a 60-yard touchdown. Be vigilant Giants! Before the coaching change, the Cowboys didn’t run the ball enough, and when they did, they didn’t do it very well. Jason Garrett, Dallas’ offensive coordinator under Wade Phillips pledges to run the ball more, but that remains to be seen. The return of left guard Kyle Kosier does help the Cowboys somewhat.
Jon Kitna has not been terribly effective at quarterback. He clearly is a big downgrade from Tony Romo. But Kitna has flashed at times during his NFL career (including beating the Giants once) and the strength of the Cowboys remains their receivers – wide receivers Austin Miles, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant, and Sam Hurd along with tight ends Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. So if Kitna has one of his “on” games and receives time to throw the football, he could do some damage. That’s why it is important to make sure he does not get comfortable and into a rhythm. Stuff the run, make the Cowboys one dimensional, and pressure Kitna. I’d like to see the Giants’ safeties to start making more plays on the football and come up with some interceptions, and possibly scores. Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are due.
Like last week, watch out for the trick play. The Seahawks tried one and the play almost worked. I expect Jason Garrett to try something early.
Giants on Offense: The Giants match up well with Dallas on this side of the ball as well, but the injury situation on the offensive line and at wide receiver is a bit disconcerting.
On the line, Shawn Andrews will start again at left tackle. He played well last week in his first game at that position, but he now faces the All-Pro DeMarcus Ware who can make even good players look silly. And the left guard situation is a bit of mess. Veteran Kevin Boothe will likely start there, but he will likely be very rusty and not in football shape after only practicing the past two weeks since last December. The other option is rookie Mitch Petrus, who has a bright future, but may not be ready to pass protect at a high level in the NFL. Converted guard Rich Seubert faces one of the very best nose tackles in the league in Jay Ratliff. Both Ware (who sometimes flips) and Anthony Spencer have sometimes given RT Kareem McKenzie problems. How well will this improvised line deal with stunts and blitzes?
At wide receiver, Steve Smith is likely out. But also keep in mind, though he is not on the injury report, that Hakeem Nicks (ankle) is also hurting. “I’ve been dealing with it for a while so it’s nothing serious,” said Hicks on Thursday. “Just comes and goes, it’s something that comes and goes.” Plus, without Smith, the Cowboys can focus more on Nicks.
If Smith is out, Mario Manningham gets the start and this will be a great opportunity for him to really shine. He had a huge game against the Cowboys in Dallas last season so hopefully he can duplicate that effort. Second-year players H-Back Travis Beckum and WR Ramses Barden will also be called upon to make a greater impact. Barden will likely be used in the slot.
“I played the slot more than I’ve played outside, so I probably know that better,” said Barden. “The slot’s not easy. It’s challenging, but there’s always ways to win when you’re in the slot. It usually is (a smaller player), but there are teams that put bigger guys in the slot.”
The big advantage the Giants have in this game is Eli Manning. He’s playing at an extremely high level. It will be interesting to see if the Giants play it a bit more conservatively given the injury issues on the offensive line (not wanting to expose Manning to more hits) and receiver (inexperience sometimes leads to poor routes and turnovers). The argument for being aggressive is that if the Giants can get on top of the Cowboys quickly, they may take the fight out of Dallas. At the same time, turnovers are the great equalizer and can lead to inferior teams pulling off the upset. If Boothe plays, the Giants will have a lot of beef over on the left side to match their beef on the right side. We may see more of a power running game this weekend. That said, the injury situation on the offensive line also negatively affects the Giants’ ability to operate out of a two-TE offense. The Giants will dress only seven healthy offensive linemen, and one of those seven is journeyman Jamon Meredith who hasn’t proven to be much of a player in the NFL. Do the Giants use one of their few remaining OLs as a blocking tight end?
The Giants do not usually throw the ball short. They are a vertical, down-the-field passing game. The fact that Eli is completing 66 percent of his passes in this type of offense is really impressive. But I did like the fact that last week that Eli dumped the ball off a bit more than normal to Ahmad Bradshaw. I think this is a good way for (1) Eli to get into a rhythm early in a game, and (2) make protect the Giants from any potential breakdowns behind an ad hoc offensive front. Indeed, depending on how the tackles hold up, we may see more passes to Kevin Boss this week. But that ultimately depends on whether or not Boss is needed to help against Ware and Spencer.
If the Giants can give Eli time, he has proven over and over again that he can torch this Cowboys’ secondary. But if they don’t give him time (see the Giants-Cowboys game in Dallas in 2008), then the Giants could struggle offensively.
Prediction: I don’t like Diehl, O’Hara, and Smith being out at the same time. It makes me nervous. I also don’t like the unknown emotional impact of a new head coach. But the Giants are at home against a team that they match up well against, and an opponent that is missing its starting quarterback. This is a game the Giants need to win, and will probably win. What I don’t know is how close it will be. I think that ultimately depends on Dallas’ intensity and that is impossible to predict.