Oct 082004

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 10, 2004: If the Giants are going to seriously contend with the Eagles for the NFC East title, this game against the Cowboys is absolutely critical. The Eagles are 2-0 in division games while the Giants are 1-1. Falling to 1-2 with only three more division games left would be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Dallas made the playoffs last season due to a top-ranked defense. They added two old farts to the offense in QB Vinny Testeverde and HB Eddie George. Meanwhile the secondary has taken some knocks due to injuries at safety and cornerback. The Cowboys are not a super-talented team. They have very good receivers at wide receiver and tight end, but I’d take the Giants’ roster over theirs. They win because they are well-coached. Like Coughlin, Parcells’ teams play hard all the time and generally don’t beat themselves. However, despite what some fans think, Parcells in not God. He hasn’t had a lot of success – especially in the playoffs – since he left the Giants in 1991. This is a very winnable game for the Giants. But New York needs a strong effort from all three phases of the game. Dallas is coming off a bye week so they have had two weeks to prepare for the Giants. The Cowboys will be ready.

Giants on Offense: The Dallas defense is very sound. Up front, the best players are DT La’Roi Glover, who will line-up over LG Jason Whittle, and DE Greg Ellis (3 sacks), who will line-up over LT Luke Petitgout. Whittle will have his hands full with Glover, especially if his hand is still wrapped in that big cast. The other battles will be DE Marcellus Wiley versus RT David Diehl and DT Leonardo Carson against RG Chris Snee.

The Dallas linebackers – Al Singleton, Dat Nguyen, and Dexter Coakley – are all on the small side, but they are good athletes who can disrupt running plays with their quickness and cover. HB Tiki Barber will have to work hard against these guys to get open and the outside runs that the Giants like to use might not work very well against Dallas’ linebacker speed. A big key to watch in this game is the ability of the Giants’ blockers, especially the guards, OC Shaun O’Hara, and lead blocker (be it TE Visanthe Shiancoe or FB Jim Finn) to successfully engage the linebackers and sustain their blocks.

The Cowboys have had some injury problems in the secondary. SS Darren Woodson hasn’t played yet this year. His replacement – Tony Dixon – is a good run defender and blitzer who sometimes struggles in coverage. Rookie Jacques Reeves starts at right corner as the Cowboys lost Pete Hunter a couple of weeks ago. However, FS Roy Williams is one of the very best defenders in the game and a real difference-maker. Second-year left corner Terence Newman is also an excellent player. If Newman stays at his left corner spot and covers Ike Hilliard, the Giants absolutely MUST get a first-class game out of Amani Toomer against Reeves. If Amani truly thinks he is one of the best receivers in the game, he has to prove it. Since depth at corner is now an issue for Dallas, getting Tim Carter on the field and creating match-up problems against the Cowboy nickel package would be smart.

The Cowboys are another heavy blitzing team. They will bring not only their linebackers, but their defensive backs (especially their safeties – Dixon has 3 sacks). The way the Giants will attack this defense will be interesting. Coughlin could decide to play it close to the vest and run at the smaller linebackers. I wouldn’t think outside runs would be terrible productive however as the Dallas linebackers and safeties can chase very well. Coughlin could also decide to go after the weaker spots in the Dallas secondary early. However, the Dallas linebackers are better suited than most team to cover TE Jeremy Shockey and HB Tiki Barber. If the Giants do a lot of damage in the passing game, I would expect it to be to the wide receivers.

What the Giants absolutely must not do is beat themselves. QB Kurt Warner and Barber need to protect the football. Don’t give Dallas any cheap scoring opportunities. I would use screens to help defeat the blitz and run the ball between the tackles with Barber. And I would take shots down the field to the wide receivers. Jeremy Shockey needs to make some plays against the linebackers. If he is one of the best in the game, he has to play like it.

Giants on Defense: The strength of the Dallas offense is their set of wide receivers (Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson, and Antonio Bryant) and their pass receiving tight end (Jason Witten). Coverage on these four will largely determine the game. The Giants need Carlos Emmons to pound on Witten and keep him from being a big factor in the passing game. Will Peterson will line-up over Johnson and I think this is a favorable match-up for the Giants. Will Allen will face Glenn and Allen has the speed to stay with him. I think a lot of action will center around Terry Cousin and Frank Walker. These two need to play well.

Dallas has a pretty solid offensive line. I don’t expect DE Keith Washington to get much done against LT Flozell Adams in the pass rush department. Washington will be challenged in run defense by the huge Adams. LG Larry Allen is nearing the end of a brilliant career. He is not as quick as he once was, but he is still a very strong player. DT Fred Robbins has been strangely quiet since his big day against the Redskins and he needs to pick it up. RG Andre Gurode hasn’t developed as hoped, but he is an aggressive player. With DT Norman Hand (elbow) banged up, we may see more of DT William Joseph this week. This is Joseph’s time to make a statement. The Giants do need a big game out of DE Michael Strahan, who will face the weak-link in the Dallas line, RT Torrin Tucker. It also hurts Dallas that TE Dan Cambpell is out for the year and won’t be able to help Tucker.

The Dallas rushing attack has struggled and it is absolutely critical that the Giants don’t allow the Cowboys to get their ground game going this weekend. Eddie George is nearing the end of the line, but he is still capable of having an excellent game as he did last year in the playoffs. Richie Anderson and a HB/FB hybrid and a Parcells’ favorite. He is used as a receiver, runner, blocker, and sometimes even a passer.

I wouldn’t want Vinny Testeverde starting on my team as I’ve seen the guy have too many mental meltdowns. However, when he plays well, he is can be very good. He is comfortable in this Dallas offense, is an experienced veteran, gets rid of the ball when pressured, has a strong arm, and has excellent receivers to throw to. It will be interesting to see how the Giants approach him. Do they blitz and risk one-on-one coverage with those quality receivers? Or do they employ the game-plan from last week and focus more on coverage than rushing the passer? Obviously, Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis will mix it up, but I wonder how heavily weighted in one direction or the other the game plan will be.

The Giants’ defense can’t obsess about it, but there will come a time in this game when Parcells will call something aggressive, be it going for it on 4th down or calling some sort of trick play. If the Giants can defeat this play, it will be an enormous psychological lift for the Giants and likewise disheartening for the Cowboys.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants need to be wary of the trick play here too.

Of biggest concern this week is the injury status of punt returner Mark Jones (shoulder). If he can’t play, the Giants may have Curtis Deloatch, Amani Toomer, or Tiki Barber return punts. Obviously that is not a terribly comfortable situation.

Also, the Giants field goal situation is shaky as Steve Christie has missed half his field goal attempts.

Dallas kickoff return man ReShard Lee has a 62-yard return this year; the Giants obviously need to keep him under wraps as well as punt returner Dedric Ward. Ward is sometimes guilty of putting the ball on the ground.

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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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