Dec 152000
 

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 17, 2000: Dallas has always been a difficult place for the Giants to win, even when the Giants have been good. New York lost the season opener in 1986 during their first Super Bowl year when Herschel Walker’s late touchdown on a draw play stunned the G-Men. Then their was the week 15 game against the Cowboys in 1985 in Dallas – to the victor, the NFC East title. The Giants controlled the entire first half; up 14-7 and driving for a touchdown that would put them up 21-7, a Phil Simms’ pass was batted into the air by DE “Too Tall” Jones and intercepted on the rebound by DE Jim Jeffcoat, who returned the interception for a long touchdown. The Giants promptly lost their composure and fell behind 28-14. New York came back, cut the lead to 28-21, and just missed tying the game when Simms hit WR Bryon Williams for what looked to be the tying touchdown – but he couldn’t get both feet in bounds. The clock ran out and Dallas won the division. I don’t think I’ve ever been more upset after a game – not even after “The Fumble” or the Minnesota playoff debacle. The Giants were the better team and they deserved to win the division but didn’t.

Then there was that game in 1991 in Dallas where the Giants, defending Super Bowl champions, lost despite QB Jeff Hostetler completing an amazing 28-of-34 pass attempts. In 1995, the Giants badly outplayed the Cowboys with Rodney Hampton rushing over 170 yards. But some very questionable calls and failed scoring opportunities enabled Dallas to kick the winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock. Last year, Head Coach Jim Fassel and Co-Owner Wellington Mara demanded that the Giants play with passion or else; New York promptly went out to lay an egg and lost 26-18. The Giants have played in Dallas nine times since 1990 and lost eight of those games. The Giants have only won 11 games in Dallas since 1960. So don’t talk to me about any “easy” games. The memory of 1985 and other debacles in Dallas still haunt me.

Giants on Offense: I think the game plan is pretty obvious this week: run the ball and run it a lot. Dallas is beat up on defense and their linebackers are pretty light. To me, this game screams for a large dose of Ron Dayne running right up the gut. If Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton and Fassel try to run repeatedly outside with either Dayne or Tiki Barber, I’ll throw a fit. The Dallas linebackers – led by WLB Dexter Coakley – are very nimble and active. Running outside plays to their strength; running at them does not. What really helps is that defensive tackles Leon Lett and Chad Hennings, as well as All-World SS Darren Woodson are out – more indication of weakness up the middle. Power the damn ball up the gut behind Pro Bowl RG Ron Stone. Stone is matched up against DT Michael Myers. A key battle on the right side will be RT Luke Petitgout versus DE Alonzo Spellman (5 sacks) – a guy who at times can play very well. On the left side, the Giants will be missing LG Glenn Parker, one of their steadiest players and an emotional leader. How well his replacement, Jason Whittle, plays is critical. Lined up against him will be DT Brandon Noble. LT Lomas Brown will see both former first rounders – Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban. The latter flashes great potential and has 5.5 sacks in limited playing time this year. The offensive line needs to control the line and provide the backs with some room to operate. The blocking of the tight ends, particularly Howard Cross and Dan Campbell, will be particularly important. FB Greg Comella needs to get out quickly on the linebackers at the point of attack. He faces a very active and speedy bunch – but they are not very big. Engaging MLB Barron Worthom is very important (Dat Nguyen may also see significant playing time and he is very instinctive). Coakley has accrued 122 tackles and is very good in coverage – the Giants need to be careful with their screen passes with him on the field. SLB Darren Hambrick has 136 tackles.

But the Giants also need to keep Dallas from crowding the line of scrimmage and the Dallas secondary isn’t very strong. Both starting safeties are out. CB Phillippi Sparks is a solid player, but he has lost speed. I’d take some shots against him deep – especially with Ron Dixon. WR Amani Toomer will be matched-up against Ryan McNeil – a bigger player who matches up better with players like Amani than with smaller, quicker guys like Ike Hilliard. It will be interesting to see how the Giants game plan without Joe Jurevicius (knee) playing. Will we see more of Dixon or WR Thabiti Davis – or will the game plan use more of Comella, Pete Mitchell, or Dan Campbell?

The one thing that New York doesn’t want to do is give Dallas hope by turning the ball over. Let’s hope Kerry Collins can continue to build on his superior performance from last week.

Giants on Defense: First and foremost, stop Emmitt Smith. Easier said than done. Smith is still playing incredibly well at this late stage of his career and he still has the benefit of a fine offensive line making holes for him up front. The front seven of the Giants on defense had better come to play. If they lay an egg like they did against the Titans, the Giants are going to lose. The two major match-ups up front are DT Keith Hamilton versus Pro Bowl LG Larry Allen and DE Michael Strahan versus RT Erik Williams. Williams (neck) is ailing, but is expected to play. He always gives Strahan trouble. One of Cedric Jones’ few bright spots this year came with his crucial late sack in the first game this year against LT Flozell Adams. Adams is a huge player and Cedric needs to batten down the hatches and get ready for a running game directed squarely at him, WLB Jessie Armstead, and CB Jason Sehorn. DT Christian Peter and DT Corenlius Griffin will face off against RG Solomon Page. Ex-Giant Ben Fricke starts at center. We hear that he is “tough as a boot.” The Dallas line is good the Giants must play a very physical and aggressive game up front to keep Emmitt under control.

The solid line won’t help the pass rush either. Making matters worse will be the presence of youngster Anthony Wright at quarterback. He’s a very mobile guy and thus the Giants must be wary of their pass rush lanes again (thus hindering the rush). Facing Wright is a scarier proposition than most realize. Since this is his first start, there is no “book” on him; the Giants don’t know his strengths (other than his arm and mobility) or weaknesses (other than his inexperience). It is quite possible that he could pull another Jay Schroeder episode on the G-Men. Many fans are calling for the Giants to blitz the hell out of him. I’m not sure I agree. For one, Dallas is expecting it. “I’m sure John (Fox) is going to throw the kitchen sink at us with his blitz package,” Dallas Head Coach Dave Campo says. “We’re looking forward to seeing how Anthony reacts to those things.” Secondly, blitzing will open up some one-on-one opportunities for Wright down the field and possible cheap points. I think I’d be more apt to play things a bit more conservatively and mix up my coverages – try to confuse the young man. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t blitz, especially since I doubt the Giants’ down four will be able to get consistent pass pressure on Wright without sending an extra man. You don’t want to give him all day to throw. But I wouldn’t “send the kitchen sink.” One play that the Giants’ defense has been susceptible to this year is the quarterback draw – the Giants need to do a better job of defending this play.

Strong coverage of his targets will be key. Watch for short passes to FB Robert Thomas out of the backfield and the tight ends to build Wright’s confidence. The linebackers of Jessie Armstead, Mike Barrow, and Ryan Phillips need to be tough here. Third-down back Michael Wiley will probably be used more now that Chris Warren has been waived.

As for the receivers, don’t underestimate James McKnight, Jason Tucker, and Wane McGarity. McNnight and Tucker in particular can get deep (Tucker burned CB Jason Sehorn for a very long touchdown last year). CB Dave Thomas will be challenged vertically with this speed. FS Shaun Williams will be needed to help defend the run, but his first priority must be to help out Thomas in deep coverage. The Giants also need a strong game out of nickel back Emmanuel McDaniel.

Giants on Specials: Dallas has one of the best, if not the best, coached special teams units in the league. Punt returner Wane McGarity has returned two for scores. Kick returner Jason Tucker has the speed to break it as well. Coverage, as always, will be key to preventing Dallas from working with a short field. It would be nice if the Giants’ blockers could create some space for Tiki Barber to operate when he returns punts. Look for Dallas to try to block a punt too.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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