By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, January 1, 2012: It’s been a rollercoaster season for the Giants and their fans. The Giants lost the opener to the Redskins, won their next three including a game in Philadelphia, lost at home to Seattle, won three more in a row including in New England, lost four in a row, beat the Cowboys in Dallas, lost to the Redskins again, and then beat their cross-town rivals. The Cardiac Giants have come from behind in the fourth quarter in five of their eight wins. The offense, and specifically the passing attack, has carried the team. The Giants remain dead last in the NFL in rushing the football (88 yards per game). The defense is one of the worst in team history and has allowed almost 400 points.
With all of that, it’s truly remarkable that the Giants find themselves in the fortunate position to be playing for the NFC East title, at home, in the last game of the regular season, against the arch rival Dallas Cowboys. With last week’s victories over the Jets, the Giants finally knocked the Eagles out of the playoff hunt and probably did so with the turds they share the stadium with. With a win on Sunday night, the Giants not only will keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs, but they will ensure a home playoff game for themselves – their first since 2008. That’s not too shabby given all of the injuries, new faces, anemic rushing game, and dreadful defense.
But the Giants have to still win one more game, and if the 2011 New York Giants have been anything to their fans, they have been incredibly frustrating. I said a couple of months ago this team has the feel of an 8-8 squad to me and I still stand by that assessment. They have won games they were expected to lose and lost games they were expected to win. And no one should be foolish enough to think the Giants have turned the corner simply because they beat a mediocre Jets team in a game where the Jets actually dominated many key statistical categories.
What I am saying is this: I don’t trust this team. They’ll make you jump for joy one moment and rip your heart out the next. The defense was better last week, but one game does not make a trend and the Giants were playing a poor offensive football team that still rushed the ball pretty well. The passing game – which has carried this team all year – has struggled the past two weeks. And now the equally inconsistent Dallas Cowboys, who in many ways mirror the Giants in their ability to inspire and annoy the hell out of their fans, come to town.
But winning a division title, at home, in the season-finale, against the Dallas Cowboys would make much of this season a success. The key words here are “at home.” The Giants have never been a really scary opponent in the Meadowlands, even under Bill Parcells. And certainly not under Ray Handley, Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel, and Tom Coughlin. Strangely, Coughlin’s Giants’ teams have been far tougher and more resilient on the road than at home. Disappointing late-season, home defeats to division rivals include the Cowboys and Eagles in 2006, Redskins in 2007, and Eagles in each of the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons.
Giants’ fans want to be loud. They want to cheer for the home team. But the home team has to give them something to cheer about. The Dallas Cowboys are coming to town. Do you want Jerry Jones and the team with the stars on their helmets to be celebrating a division title on your own field in what would be your last game of the season? No? Then PROTECT THIS HOUSE!
Giants on Offense: Eli plays great against Dallas in Dallas, but not so great against Dallas at home. And more alarming is that Eli and his receivers haven’t played their best football since the last Dallas game. In fact, they’ve been at their worst the last two weeks. Manning has to get back to the elite level he was playing at for much of the season and the receivers have to stop running the wrong routes and start catching the football. If these things don’t happen, it is highly unlikely that the rest of the team is going to be able to pick up the slack. The running game and defense couldn’t do it against the Redskins and they are far less likely to do it against the Cowboys.
Aside from Manning, the Giants need Hakeem Nicks to get out of his funk. They need Mario Manningham (knee issues) to play and to play well (no more mental mistakes). Unfortunately, TE Jake Ballard (knee) is banged up and may miss his second game in a row. Even if he gives it a try, how well can he play on a partially torn PCL? The Giants missed his pass receiving (which helps open things up for the receivers) and blocking (which is critical to the Giants’ ground game) against the Jets. Now would be an ideal time for Travis Beckum to consistently deliver, but that’s most likely wishful thinking.
New York needs to do a better job of pass blocking the Cowboys up front than they did in Dallas. On paper, it looked good as the Giants gave up zero sacks, but that was misleading. Eli did a superb job in that game of avoiding the rush and getting rid of the football quickly without throwing it up for grabs. David Diehl had all kinds of issues with DeMarcus Ware. And one wonders how David Baas, who didn’t play in that game, will deal with one of the better nose tackles in the NFL in Jay Ratliff. Kareem McKenzie also needs to hold up against Anthony Spencer and Ware (the Cowboys will move Ware around).
The Giants actually ran the ball decently against the Cowboys a few weeks ago, but the Dallas run defense is pretty stingy (7th in the NFL). On a chilly night, it’s always good to have a strong ground attack, but to do so Brandon Jacobs will have to run with the same intensity and focus he did in Dallas and the Giants need a better game out of Ahmad Bradshaw than they got in that game (Bradshaw only rushed for 12 yards on 8 carries).
The Dallas secondary is not good. And we know these Giants can put up a lot of points against it. But Eli has to get back on track, his receivers have to do their job and win some one-on-one match-ups, and the blockers up front need to give Eli time. Do those things – and protect the football – and the Giants will be OK. But if the passing game continues to struggle, the Giants are toast.
Giants on Defense: One game does not make a trend so until proven otherwise, color me not overly impressed by the defense’s performance against the quarterback-poor Jets. Moreover, the Giants had problems stopping the Jets’ running attack between the tackles. Linval Joseph, Chris Canty, and Rocky Bernard have to play better or Felix Jones will put up big numbers just like he did in the first game (16 carries for 106 yards and a 6.6 yards-per-carry average). Dallas has an explosive offense and the first thing you have to do against them is stop the run. There is no depth behind Jones, who has a tight hamstring but is supposedly near 100 percent. Jones is an explosive runner who can break a big play as a runner or receiver. The good news for the Giants is that the Cowboys will be without LG Montrae Holland, one of Dallas’ better run blockers.
Don’t fall for this crap about Tony Romo’s hand. He is going to play and play well. Regardless of whether you hate him or not, Romo has been playing outstanding football since the Cowboys’ fiasco against the Detroit Lions. In the last 11 games, he has thrown 22 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. And he has a very dangerous set of targets in tight ends Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett and wide receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Laurent Robinson. Against the Giants in Week 14, Romo was 21-of-31 for 321 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Numbers like that again will kill the Giants.
The Giants did a nice job on Witten in the last game. Hopefully that will continue as Witten is Romo’s security blanket. But Bryant, Austin, and Robinson all made huge plays against the Giants a few weeks ago. Austin gave CB Aaron Ross fits and it could have been much worse. Keep in mind that Austin beat Ross for what should have been the game-sealing touchdown late in the game but Romo overthrew the receiver. Austin continued to abuse Ross on Dallas’ last desperate drive to tie the game. We’d be calling for Ross’ head right now had JPP not blocked the attempted game-tying field goal.
Prince Amukamara needs to play better as well. Amukamara didn’t play much against the Jets, but I’m not sure the Giants can do that this week with all of the speedy targets the Cowboys have. Remember, it was Amukamara who was victimized on Robinson’s 74-yard catch that set up a touchdown. And Corey Webster and/or Antrel Rolle did screw up on the play where Dez Bryant was left wide open for a 50-yard touchdown.
The pass defense can obviously be helped by a strong pass rush. Last time, only Jason-Pierre Paul showed up. The best thing to come out of the Jets game was that Justin Tuck had his best game of the season. While not much of a factor against the run, he was regularly applying pressure on Sanchez. Tuck really struggled against Dallas RT Tyron Smith in the first game. Smith is an incredibly young (just turned 21) phenom who completely shut Tuck out of the stats column. The Giants need Tuck to keep it going and use some of his veteran savvy to make some plays. It also looks like the Giants might get Osi Umenyiora back this week. That should help the pass rush too if Umenyiora’s ankle isn’t too sore and Umenyiora isn’t too rusty.
The Jets’ game should have helped the defense’s confidence. And to their credit, they kept at it after the Jets scored on their opening drive. They seem to have some renewed energy and confidence in what they are doing now that Fewell has simplified some things. What took Fewell so long to make some changes is another matter, but it’s better late than never. The Giants need to play with great intensity, focus, toughness, and intelligence on Sunday night. Stuff the run. Get heat on Romo and hit him. Play aggressive coverage and don’t make mental mistakes that allow cheap big plays. Get some turnovers!
Giants on Special Teams: This is a big game for Steve Weatherford and the punt coverage unit against Dez Bryant. Remember, Dez Bryant returned a punt for a touchdown last year in the Meadowlands. Punt coverage against the Jets was spotty.
Lawrence Tynes has been doing a great job on kickoffs and hopefully that will continue for this game. Tynes was a big factor in Dallas in stymieing the Cowboys’ kickoff return game.
The Giants came darn close to blocking a number of punts against the Jets by having starting defensive linemen rush the punter. Keep an eye on that in this game.
I tell you, the Giants are getting close to breaking a kick return.