Oct 172014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 19, 2014

After a dismal performance versus Philadelphia, the suddenly silent Giants travel to Dallas to take on the surprising 5-1 Cowboys.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the defensive line and linebackers contain DeMarco Murray?
Versus the Philadelphia Eagles last week, running back LeSean McCoy made a mockery of the Giants defensive front, crossing the century mark for the first time this season. On Sunday, the Giants will face a running back that has gone over 100 yards in ever game this season. Running behind arguably the best offensive line in football, Murray is putting together the best season of his young career, displaying tremendous vision and explosiveness getting to and through the holes. If New York can’t contain Murray, something no team has been able to do this year, it may be a long day in Dallas.

Second Down
Can Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite play? Can he be effective?
The biggest question surrounding Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t exactly if he’s going to play, but if he’s going to be effective playing. The Giants gave the former first-round pick a massive contract in the offseason to go toe-to-toe with receivers like Dez Bryant during the regular season. But if Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t entirely healthy, he may be as much of a liability as an asset. DRC practiced for the first time all week on Friday, and coach Tom Coughlin and Co. should have gotten a nice look on what exactly he could do on the field. If he can’t go, or is a go at half speed, it may be New York’ s best bet to have Prince Amukamara shadow Bryant.

Third Down
How will Justin Pugh respond?
Last week, Justin Pugh made Connor Barwin look like the second coming of Lawrence Taylor. Then again, nearly everyone that lined up across from Pugh Sunday night looked the same. The second-year pro played the worst game of his football career, per his own admittance, and will surely look to put that game behind him. On Wednesday, Pugh admitted that he has been wearing an elbow brace for the last three weeks, two of which it was covered up with a sleeve. When asked if it will require offseason surgery Pugh said he didn’t know and that the injury was “just something I’m dealing with.” If Pugh isn’t 100 percent, it explains his sudden drop off in production last week. If it’s an injury that’s going to linger, the Giants offensive line could be in trouble.

Fourth Down
Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready?
Just a few short weeks ago, Odell Beckham Jr. was the biggest question mark on the Giants offense. Was the rookie injury prone, a bust, a star, average? After catching four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown in his season debut, everything seemed to be aligning for the Giants. Rueben Randle and Beckham could man the outside, Victor Cruz in the slot. Cruz’s season-ending  injury threw that idea in the trash and now Beckham needs to step up as “The Guy” not “Another guy.” Can the rookie handle it?

BREAKING DOWN DALLAS:

OFFENSEby Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Cowboys are loaded on offense. The offensive line has three first-round draft picks playing like first-round draft picks. DeMarco Murray is the most dangerous running back in football. Dez Bryant is a top 5 NFL wideout. The ageless Jason Witten has a long history of killing the Giants at tight end. Quarterback Tony Romo is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and still looks like Houdini at times back there when you think he is about to be sacked.

Weakness?
Really, the Cowboys don’t have any glaring weaknesses on offense. If pressed, one can say Murray has been injury-prone and Romo is a long history of choking in big spots. The other receivers outside of Bryant are not world-beaters, but the running game, Bryant, and Witten draw so much attention that guys like Terrance Williams have five touchdowns in 18 catches. Right tackle Doug Free will miss the game, but there shouldn’t be a big drop off between him and back-up Jermey Parnell.

DEFENSE by Connor Hughes
Strength?
The Cowboys defense has been much, much better than expected in 2014, and a lot of that has to do with it’s success stopping the pass. The Dallas secondary has graded out with a positive 17.8 rating from ProFootballFocus and its two cornerbacks are a big reason why. Neither Orlando Scandrick or Sterling Moore have allowed a touchdown this year as the Cowboys have allowed the 12th fewest passing yards per game this season. It’s not great, but compared with how terrible things were a year ago, it’s an improvement.

Weakness? 
Without Sean Lee, the Cowboys have struggled stopping the run this year, allowing an average of 115 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Giants offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage and open up running lanes for Peyton Hillis and Andre Williams. The biggest thing the Giants offense can do is keep Tony Romo and Dez Bryant off the field with New York’s secondary – potentially – without Rodgers-Cromartie. Running the ball and controlling the time of possession is the No. 1 way to do that.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Justin Pugh
When Justin Pugh admitted Wednesday he had been “dealing” with an elbow issue, it instantly threw up red flags for me, personally. Sure, everyone in the league is dealing with injuries at this point, but coming off a four-sack let up performance. Pugh may be dealing with it more than he’d like to admit. While the Cowboys haven’t exactly been the best at getting after an opponent’s quarterback – they enter Sunday’s game with just six team sacks – I’ll have my eye on how Pugh handles whomever comes his way.

Eric Kennedy –
Jon Beason
Run defense is about all 11 defenders on the field, but Jon Beason is the man in the middle and it’s his job to get his teammates lined up properly and make plays on Murray. Still struggling with his toe injury, Beason has not played well in the three games he has played this season. Against this particular opponent, the Giants need a monster game out of him both as a run defender and in pass coverage.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – “(The Cowboys) have outstanding team speed, as you know. Their offense has done an outstanding job of controlling the ball, controlling the clock. They’re number one in the league in rushing. They’re scoring 27 and a half points a game, 56 percent on third down. Defense, they’ve played very well. They have outstanding team speed, they run to the ball very well. They do have a nice rotation going. They’re giving up 21 points a game, which is outstanding. Their special teams feature Dan Bailey, who kicked a 56-yard field goal last week. They do an outstanding job with Chris Jones as the punter. The return game with Dwayne Harris is very good and they do have outstanding speed on their coverage teams.”

Jason Garrett – “DeMarco (Murray) is a really good football player and he has been since we drafted him four years ago. I just think we have gotten better and better on the offensive line. We have allocated resources to that position. We have three first-round picks up there. The other guys, Doug Free and Ron Leary, are all playing well together. Our tight ends are blocking, receivers are blocking, fullback is blocking and DeMarco is an awfully good football player, so we made a real commitment to be better in this area and allocated resources to do it. I think we are just seeing the fruits of all that at the start of the season. Obviously, DeMarco is a big part of it.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – This is one of the more interesting games of the season, more because no teams can come into the game off more different performances. The Dallas Cowboys are fresh off a shocking victory over the Seattle Seahawks on the road, while the Giants are coming off an embarrassing defeat to the Eagles. The Giants could come in dead and demoralized after losing captain Victor Cruz, or hungry and motivated to put last week’s dismantling far behind them. The Cowboys could come in emotionally drained from defeating Seattle, or red-hot knowing they beat the best of the best where they were unbeatable. In my mind, the Victor Cruz loss is going to take it’s toll on the Giants. While he drops may have plagued New York, he was still a game breaker and reliable. He was the most sure thing the Giants had. Now, with Rashad Jennings out, Manning walks to the line with questions across the offensive line, again, a running back that hasn’t proven he can pass protect, a rookie wide receiver, another receiver who hasn’t proven he can be a No. 1 target, a receiver that was building Tiki Huts last year and a tight end who’s caught one pass the last two games. I don’t think that Dallas is all that great and their injuries across the offensive line are cause for concern. But on Sunday, I feel they’ll be the better team, especially if Rodgers-Cromartie can’t go.
Dallas 27 – Giants 13

Eric Kennedy – Screw the prediction. When you put on the “ny”, you are expected to perform and proudly represent the 90-year old flagship franchise. The Giants are rebuilding…and they are hurting…and everyone expects them to lose this game. But as we saw last week, attitude, emotion, and a sense of urgency still can make a difference. Play smart, play physical. Play for your teammates. Bring the pain. Everything else will fall into place.

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Connor Hughes/BBI

Connor Hughes has been working in both the broadcasting and journalism fields for the last seven years. His work has been heard on WMCX, WBZC and Lenape District Television, while read on the pages of The Star-Ledger and The Burlington County Times. Connor can be reached via email ([email protected]) or on twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes)

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