Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 11, 2011: I’ll give the Giants credit. I didn’t give them a chance in hell to beat the Packers last week and they almost did it. In a weird way, last week’s loss almost feels like a win to me. Why? Because even in defeat I was proud of the team because of the way they fought. We all want the Giants to win, but we’ll sometimes cut them some slack when they lose against a better opponent if they make us proud in the process. Show us some fight. Give us a fun game to watch, not that crap they performed in New Orleans. The Giants-Packers game was a damn good game.
For the Giants, there are no more Saints and Packers on the regular-season schedule. The Cowboys, Redskins, and Jets are all very beatable. It’s time to end the four game slide and go on a run. The Giants are very, very fortunate to be in control of their own destiny at 6-6. But they do control their own destiny. Everything that has transpired in this crazy season no longer matters. Forget about it. All that matters is these last four games. The Giants can still win the division and earn a home-playoff game.
There are two “games of the year” for the Giants. The first is on Sunday night against the Cowboys. The second is the regular-season finale against the same team. But the final three games may not mean anything unless the Giants beat the Cowboys on Sunday night. For all intents and purposes, this is a playoff game for the Giants. There is no tomorrow. All hands should be on deck.
“Our playoffs start now,” says guard Chris Snee. “That’s how you have to look at it. We know what’s at stake. Everyone is aware of what’s going on and the circumstance we put ourselves in by not being able to win some of these games. But heads are up. We’re not down by any means. We know that we’re still in it. If we take care of our own business, hopefully we’ll be playing in January.”
The Cowboys are very similar to the Giants in that both teams have been terribly inconsistent. Dallas came damn close to losing to the Redskins and Dolphins before being defeated by the Cardinals last week. So they have hardly been impressive in recent weeks. But they do have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and are quite capable of beating even a top team. Sound familiar? I think the most important keys for this weekend’s game is what Cowboys team will show up and what Giants team will show up? Will it be the Cowboys team that beat the 49ers or got crushed by the Eagles? Will it be the Giants team that lost to the Eagles in the Meadowlands or beat the Patriots? This could be a closely fought game or one of the two teams could pretty much own the other team depending on the focus, intensity, execution, and yes, coaching of both teams.
Get pumped Giants’ fans. This is a playoff game against a bitter division rival in a stadium where the Giants play very well. It’s games like this that make football the best sport in the world.
“This is exciting,” says quarterback Eli Manning. “When you’re getting into December and you’re playing for playoffs and division leads and different things, this is what it’s all about. This is a fun time. I think it’s important that the guys look at it like that. It’s not something to get nervous about or get anxious. It’s something to look forward to, be excited, have great energy, great enthusiasm amongst the team.”
Giants on Defense: Perry Fewell, his assistant coaches, and his players have to find a way to stop the bleeding. The Giants’ defense has given up 80 points (not counting the turnover TD in the Packers game) and over 900 yards in the last two games. Now granted this was against the two best offenses in football, but the Dallas Cowboys are quite capable of putting up big rushing and passing numbers of their own.
The Giants’ defense is 29th in the NFL in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. God, I hate bad defense! A particular sore spot is the dreadful 4th quarter defense. Perry Fewell’s unit seems to regularly collapse late in games. Sometimes the Giants’ offense can bail them out, sometimes they can’t. Can this defense make a play late in the game to seal a win?
Dallas is 7th in the NFL in total offense (7th in passing and 14th in rushing). But don’t let the rushing stats fool you either. Rookie running back DeMarco Murray has had a couple of monster games rushing the football since taking over the starting job. He’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry. When Dallas throws the football, Tony Romo has a wealth of talented pass receiving targets in TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, WR Laurent Robinson, and WR Miles Austin, who returns this week after missing time with a hamstring injury. The Cowboys will also throw to their backs (both Murray and Felix Jones) and reserves such as TE Martellus Bennett. Robinson and Bennett have been bothered by injuries this week.
In order to slow down the Cowboys, the defensive line has to take over this game. If they don’t, the Giants will be in deep trouble. First and foremost, like last week, the Giants need to shut down the running game. Make the Cowboys one dimensional. Do not let Murray or Felix Jones get going. Linval Joseph and Chris Canty are coming off a strong game against the run and hopefully that continues on Sunday night. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Dave Tollefson need to control the edges as well.
When Dallas puts the ball up, the key is getting to Romo. But it’s best to keep Romo in the pocket. He tends to make his best plays when improvising outside of the tackles. He’s elusive back there and the defensive players need to break down and make sure tackles. So the Giants need to get after Romo, but they need a disciplined approach to doing so, particularly the ends. Romo doesn’t like getting hit. No quarterback does, but if you smack him around, he will get flustered and start making mistakes.
One should not minimize the contributions of Robinson (7 touchdowns) and Pro Bowler Austin (4 touchdowns), but the two guys who can really take over a game for the Cowboys in the receiving department are Witten (5 touchdowns) and Bryant (7 touchdowns). Witten is Romo’s security blanket. In dire situations, Romo seems to always look for Witten and Witten seems to almost always come through. On 3rd-and-long, the Giants have to cover Witten. Bryant is the enigmatic head case who is their most explosive player. You have to keep him under control, but it’s Witten who keeps those drives alive.
One of my worries this week defensively is if Kenny Phillips plays or not (he’s officially doubtful for the game). Tyler Sash is as green as you get. Deon Grant is too slow. The Giants need Phillips’ athleticism and experience in there to deal with all of these weapons. There is no tomorrow Giants’ medical staff…let Phillips play.
So…stop the run…cover Witten in critical situations…play with great intensity and passion…and for once, make plays in the fourth quarter to put the game away! Finish!
Giants on Offense: To me, the key to this game offensively is the Giants’ offensive line. The strength of the Dallas defense is their front seven. It’s a 3-4 defense with a very good nose tackle in Jay Ratliff and two outside linebackers who can rush the passer. ROLB DeMarcus Ware will battle his old friend David Diehl. Surprisingly, Diehl has done a decent job on Ware in previous games, but Ware is the kind of rusher who can give Diehl problems. Kareem McKenzie has had problems with outside speed this year and the Cowboys have played Ware over McKenzie at times. And regardless, LOLB Anthony Spencer can get after the quarterback too. This will be a much more difficult challenge for the revamped offensive line of Diehl, Petrus, Boothe, Snee, and McKenzie than last week’s contest.
The weakness of the Dallas defense is their secondary. It has been for years. If the Giants give Eli time, Eli and his receivers should eat this group up. Can the offensive line, tight ends, and backs give Eli the time? If they can, the Giants will move the football and score. Dallas will have problems matching up with Nicks, Cruz, Manningham, and Ballard. Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan says the Cowboys can confuse Eli. We’ll see.
With Bradshaw back and Jacobs seeming a bit re-energized, I don’t look for Coughlin and Gilbride to abandon the run. “I think balance is the key,” said Coughlin this week. “Believe me, I really do. I don’t think you’re going to win being one-sided. I don’t think anybody here does. You have to take the pressure off the quarterback some way. It can’t be an every-down situation. But we’ve been able to have some success throwing the ball and it’s obviously first and foremost due to the quarterback and the protection. So we take full advantage of whatever the weapons that we have are. It certainly has turned in that direction, but I still do philosophically believe in balance.”
However, if history is any guide, the Giants like to go after this Dallas secondary. Look for some deep shots early.
Keys on offense…protect Manning…don’t turn the football over.
Giants on Special Teams: Dez Bryant is extremely dangerous on punt returns and he’s hurt the Giants before (93 yard return for a touchdown last season).
I hope the Giants can find a way to get Da’Rel Scott back on kickoff returns again.