New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 13, 2015
If you want to know why the Giants have failed to make the playoffs the last three seasons, look no farther than their struggles to defeat their two most bitter division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. In the last three years, the Giants are 2-4 against the Eagles and 1-5 against the Cowboys. Indeed, the Giants are a Dez Bryant finger tip away from being 0-6 against the Cowboys in the last three seasons. Beat the Eagles and Cowboys and 9-7 in 2012, 7-9 in 2013, and 6-10 in 2014 turn into 11-5, 10-6, and 10-6 and three division championships for the New York Giants.
To be blunt, while the games have all been very competitive, the Cowboys have owned the Giants in the last three seasons. The Giants have started off poorly in some games and had to play catch-up. But the biggest problem has been the Giants have not made the plays on offense and defense in the 4th quarter to win the games.
Most pundits do not give the Giants much of chance in this game. And there are good reasons to support that belief. The Giants may have a lot of talent on offense but they will be missing Victor Cruz and have big question marks at both offensive tackle positions. Most anticipate the no-name New York defensive line will be mauled by arguably the best offensive line in football. Jon Beason is hurting once again. And a combination of very inexperienced and veteran castoffs will try to man the middle of the secondary against one of the NFL’s most dangerous quarterbacks.
But this is Giants-Cowboys. The odds are the game will be closer than most believe. And the team that makes the fewest mistakes and makes the most plays in the 4th quarter is likely to win the contest.
THE INJURY REPORT: (Late note – Victor Cruz and Jon Beason will not play.)
- WR Victor Cruz (calf – will not play)
- OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
- DE Cullen Jenkins (hamstring – probable)
- DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (foot – probable)
- LB Jon Beason (knee – will not play)
- LB Jonathan Casillas (neck – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
On paper, the defense of the Dallas Cowboys looks underwhelming. The secondary is weak and missing their best defensive back, Orlando Scandrick, who is gone for the season. The Cowboys will also be missing two of their most important front-seven players due to suspensions (DE Greg Hardy and LB Rolando McClain). In fact, there are no real headliners on the defensive line.
But the Cowboys should not be underestimated on defense. They are extremely well-coached under Rod Marinelli’s more conservative bend-but-don’t-break 4-3 defense. The Cowboys force a lot of turnovers (2nd in the NFL with 31 in 2014). The Dallas linebackers such as the very talented but injury-prone Sean Lee get most of the media attention, but its their defensive line that causes more problems than one might expect.
“(The Cowboys) rely on the stunt game rather than pressure,” said Tom Coughlin. “They’re not a high-percentage pressure (blitzing) team. But they’re going to move that front all over the place, they’re not big. They’re penetrators, and they’re powerful. And then seeing (Tyrone) Crawford, he’ll knock the living daylights out of you. Ereck Flowers has this (Jeremy) Mincey guy. I hope he prepares himself, because he’s a powerful man for not a big man.”
Coach Coughlin hit the nail on the head. The physically underwhelming (6’4”, 285lbs) Crawford has given teams – especially the Giants – fits in the middle of the offensive line. It’s probably one of the reasons why the Giants have beefed up the middle of their offensive line with Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz. Mincey is not a top pass rusher, but he was the most consistent one for Dallas last season. And the Cowboys hope the undersized but athletic second-year end DeMarcus Lawrence gives Marshall Newhouse problems. Dallas has a number of young and athletic reserves, including rookie DE Randy Gregory, and they want to attack the Giants offensive line in waves.
But the Dallas defensive line is not big. In fact, outside of Mincey, it’s downright small. And because of that, they have to play twists and stunts up front to compensate. If the Giants offensive line can handle these defensive line games, then the Giants should be able to maul these guys. But that’s a big if. The Giants have not handled opposing defensive line movement well in recent years. There have been too many mental (not just physical) breakdowns.
The question for Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo is what is the best way to attack the Cowboys? Marinelli expects to give up yardage, but he’s counting on the Giants to make the mistake (turnover, penalty, inability to convert on 3rd down) to stall a drive. Do the Giants use the typical West Coast philosophy and mix up what has been an inconsistent running game with dink-and-dunk passes (especially to Shane Vereen) to attempt to matriculate the ball down the field on long drives? That puts the onus on the Giants being able to run the ball, plus not making the mistake. But it has to be a very attractive option too given the size disparity between the two lines. Or do the Giants put heavy pressure on their offensive tackles, take those 5- and 7-step drops, and throw deep to Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle? Obviously, there will be some mixture of both approaches, but it will be interesting to see where the emphasis is placed.
The Giants need a big game from Eli. He usually plays well against Dallas, especially in Dallas. The Giants may need some 4th quarter heroics from him. After leading the NFL with eight 4th quarter comebacks in 2011, Manning had three in 2012, two in 2013, and only one in 2014. That’s not all on him, but New York needs more from their $100 million man. They also need Odell to be Odell. Like in all sports, winners need their stars to make the big play in big moments. Beckham has the ability to single-handily take over this game if he doesn’t get too hyped.
Regardless of the tactical and strategic approach, probably the biggest key in this game for the Giants is to avoid turnovers. Too many Giants-Dallas games in recent years have been decided by killer turnovers that have resulted in defensive scores.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Except for when the Giants were playing against second- and third-team back-ups in the preseason finale, the starting Giants’ defense did not play well in the preseason. They could not stop the run. They could not rush the passer. They could not cover. They didn’t force turnovers. They have a completely new defensive scheme that they are still learning. The leader of the defense is a gimpy linebacker who seems to be held together with duct tape. The safety situation is a combination of youthful inexperience and veteran castoffs. And the team’s only defensive star sits at home after blowing off his finger. Not a pretty picture for a unit that now must face one of the NFL’s very best rushing and passing attacks.
The hope here is that the defensive wrinkles Steve Spagnuolo kept quiet during the preseason will cause the Cowboys mental rather than physical issues. Perhaps the offensive line is confused by different formations, techniques (where the defenders line up), and blitzes. However, it’s hard to imagine that the experienced Tony Romo will be confused by shifts in a secondary manned by a couple of green safeties however.
There are two clear apparent mismatches that work against the Giants: (1) Dallas’ excellent offensive line versus New York’s no-name and underwhelming defensive line, and (2) the Dallas passing game against the middle of New York’s secondary.
Dallas has three of the NFL’s best offensive linemen at left tackle, center, and right guard. It’s one of the reasons why Dallas was second in the NFL in rushing the football in 2014. DeMarco Murray may be in Philadelphia now, but the Cowboys can muscle and maul even good defensive lines. Their Achilles’ heel? Last season the Washington Redskins demonstrated that the young Cowboys line can still be confused with movement and blitzes. That’s hopefully where Steve Spagnuolo’s schemes come in. I would expect the Giants to blitz a lot, especially with Devon Kennard, J.T. Thomas, and Landon Collins. If Tony Romo has all day to throw throughout the contest, the Giants won’t win this game. But when when you live by the blitz, you often die by the blitz. The pressure will not only be on the blitzers to get to Romo and bring down the elusive quarterback, but to cover on the back end of the defense, especially against Dez Bryant. The good news for the Giants is that Prince Amukamara has done a good job on Bryant. They need more of the same from him as well as an outstanding game from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
More than the receivers outside, it’s the insider receivers who worry me. Tight end Jason Witten has been a Giant-killer over the years. And the reserve tight ends have also given the Giants problems in recent games. Throw in slot receiver Cole Beasley against Trevin Wade or Trumaine McBride or whomever is covering him and these look like problem areas. If I’m Dallas, I attack the middle of the defense over and over again. The key guy here for New York could be nickel linebacker Jonathan Casillas.
Much of this is moot however if the Giants can’t stop the run. You could hear that concern from Spagnuolo this week. “The bullets in the pass rush. Well, we’ve got enough there,” said Spagnuolo. “We’ve got to get them in those situations. I think that’s really important. Then we’ll let them go, see what happens.”
Can Johnathan Hankins, Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley, Robert Ayers, Cullen Jenkins, Kerry Wynn, George Selvie, Damontre Moore, and Owamgabe Odighizuwa hold up at the point-of-attack and allow the linebackers and defensive backs to run to the ball carrier? The game is still usually decided in the trenches.
One final note. Just like I mentioned on the offensive side, on the defensive side turnovers are often the great equalizer. If the Giants can force some turnovers and win the turnover battle, they have a great shot to win this game.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Dallas is really, really good on special teams. Their place kicker is the best in the game and virtually perfect, including from long distance. Most of his kickoffs result in touchbacks and are not returned. The punter is very solid. And the Cowboys are very fast and aggressive on their coverage units. We’re going to find out very quickly if the $17 million the Giants spent to rip Dwayne Harris away from the Cowboys was money well spent. It will also be our first look at punter Brad Wing. How well he works as a holder with kicker Josh Brown on extra point and field goal attempts could be an issue.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on Dallas’ offense: “What they’ve done is they’ve taken the pressure off (of Tony Romo). The quarterback had a great year. They’re going to run, they’re going to run, they’re going to run, and hopefully we can do something about the run. The offensive line hasn’t changed.”
THE FINAL WORD:
Both teams are pretty equal at quarterback and receiver. Dallas has better tight ends but the Giants probably have better running backs. The Giants’ top two corners on defense are much better than Dallas’ corners and there isn’t all that much difference on the defensive side of the ball. The bigger issue on defense is New York is a year behind the learning curve with their new scheme (too bad they waited a year on Spagnuolo).
Where are these two teams different? The offensive line. New York may be catching up with the recent additions of Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz but they are not there yet. But this unit could make quite a statement and win the game for their team if they somehow managed to out-perform their much touted Dallas counterparts. The odds are, however, that Ereck Flowers will look like a struggling rookie. And there is a big concern about how Marshall Newhouse will do at right tackle.
This is a good time for the Giants to catch Dallas. They had a lot of nagging injuries in camp that prevented them from practicing and playing together. Two of their best players are suspended. Dallas played like crap in their opener last year. The Giants have a good chance here to pull off the upset. Win the turnover battle and they’ll do it.