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Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 16, 2005: The six most critical regular-season games of the year for the Giants are the six games against NFC East competition. I firmly believe that if the Giants are going to win the NFC East, they must go at least 4-2 in the division. That makes this weekend’s game against Dallas absolutely critical. A loss here would reduce the Giants’ margin of error to one game with five left to play.

The Cowboys are a bit of an enigma. After four games, they were a somewhat inconsistent and unimpressive 2-2. Then last week they absolutely destroyed everyones’ NFC-favorite, the Eagles. Many, if not most, are saying the Cowboys are on the rise and should run roughshod over the Giants on Sunday. I am not buying it. I think the Cowboys played well, but it looked to me that the Eagles had a bad case of the pre-bye week blues. They simply did not look very focused or intense to me, while the Cowboys did. The Giants will be ready on Sunday – there is too much at stake.

Giants on Defense: We are going to find out real quick if the Giants 31st-ranked defense is as bad as it is ranked. The Cowboys have some quality offensive weapons, but this is an offense that the Giants’ defense can tighten up on. The Giants can and should play more aggressively against Dallas.

Once again, the key is to stop the run and make the opponent one-dimensional. We really don’t know what type of run defense the Giants have. The Cardinals and Rams rarely ran against New York. The Giants did a good job against the Saints but got creamed against the Chargers. HB Julius Jones made the Giants look foolish in the 2004 season-finale, but he is hampered with an ankle injury. If he can’t go, look for rookie HB Tyson Thompson to see the bulk of the carries, with HB Anthony Thomas (who gave the Giants problems last year as a Bear) also in the equation. Thompson is a big, north-south running back who has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys. But he could be vulnerable in blitz pick-ups.

To prevent the ground game from getting started, the Giants much play physical and stout up front, maintain gap control, and make sure tackles. There are key match-ups up-and-down the line of scrimmage. DE Osi Umenyiora versus the mammoth LT Flozell Adams, DT William Joseph versus LG Larry Allen, DT Kendrick Clancy versus Green Bay-import RT Marco Rivera, and DE Michael Strahan against the huge, but inexperienced, Rob Pettiti. The Cowboys have some issues at center where Parcells seems somewhat unhappy with both Al Johnson and Andre Gurode. The Cowboys are likely to test use their smash-mouth left-side to test Umenyiora and Joseph. But if Jones does not play or is limited, the Giants may catch a break as Thompson is not as shifty in bouncing things outside. Not to sound cliché, but this is going to be an old-fashioned mano-a-mano slugfest. The team that plays the more physical game with better leverage and greater intelligence is going to win.

Bill Parcells knows QB Drew Bledsoe’s limitations – he’s an immobile quarterback who will fall apart when pressured. So the Cowboys have focused a great deal on pass protection and having Bledsoe get rid of the ball quickly with 3- and 5-step drops. The more heat the Giants can get on Bledsoe, the better. But the Giants don’t want to get too blitz-happy (live by the blitz, die by the…). It will be interesting to see what strategy Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis employs. Thus far this year, the Giants’ corners have been playing softer coverage. Some of this is due to the obvious consideration that CB Curtis Deloatch and CB Corey Webster are both inexperienced and the Giants don’t want to give up the big, cheap touchdown. But playing soft against a team that uses a lot of 3- and 5-step drops is not ideal. You usually want to disrupt the timing of these plays by jamming the receivers at the line, make the quarterback hesitate, and allow your pass rush to finish the deal. Can the Giants risk having Deloatch and Webster play tight-and-aggressive coverage against experienced veterans such as WR Keyshawn Johnson and WR Terry Glenn?

What factors into this discussion as well is the effectiveness of the Giants’ blitzes. I see a lot of comments after football games that the Giants didn’t blitz or didn’t blitz enough. Too often, fans confuse unsuccessful blitzing with not blitzing. The Eagles, for example, blitzed the Cowboys a ton. But the Eagles did not get to Bledsoe. If the Giants blitz a lot and are unsuccessful in doing so, the defense will be in trouble. So along with the question on how tight do the corners play the Dallas receivers is the equally important question of how much and how aggressively do the Giants blitz? Regardless, when the Giants do blitz, it is all about match-ups again…the blitzers have to win their individual match-ups and get to the quarterback.

I actually like the Giants’ match-ups in the secondary. I think Deloatch matches up well physically with Keyshawn Johnson (the big, physical wideout) and Will Allen matches up well with Terry Glenn (the speedster). The wild card here is when the Cowboys go to three wideouts. Second-year man WR Patrick Crayton may be the best receiver on the Cowboys now. He can get deep and catch over the middle. There are going to be times in this game where Corey Webster is going to be forced to cover either him or Glenn. This will be a big game for Webster.

The man that makes the Dallas offense go is TE Jason Witten. And having LB Carlos Emmons (knee) limited or not playing does not help matters. The other linebackers will have their hands full in covering him and most likely SS Gibril Wilson will be called upon to cover him quite often.

My strategy? Focus on stopping the run. Mix up your coverages and pass rush schemes. Keep the Cowboys guessing. Don’t take too many chances, but take a few on defense. Watch out for the trick plays – Parcells will use them, especially in games where he feels his team might be undermanned. Most importantly, if the Giants are going to win on Sunday, they will have to want it more by playing with great intensity, toughness, and intelligence. Win the individual match-ups!

Giants on Offense: QB Eli Manning has not won a road game yet as a New York Giant. It’s time for that to end right now. The Giants have been so good on offense because they the foursome every team craves – the franchise quarterback who makes great throws while limiting mistakes; the Pro Bowl running back; the Pro Bowl tight end; and the big, go-to wide receiver. The engine that makes all of this fine machinery go, of course, has been a relatively solid offensive line.

The Cowboys alternate between the 3-4 and 4-3 defense. And last week, they even played some nickel on first down (though that probably had more to do with the fact that the Eagles are a somewhat self-imposed one-dimensional team). Dallas has an excellent nose tackle combo in La’Roi Glover (the quicker pass rusher) and Jason Ferguson (the more physical run defender). This will be an extremely important game for OC Shaun O’Hara who will have to deal with both the quickness and power, respectively. The right end is Greg Ellis (2.5 sacks), who has given the Giants problems in the past. The left end is Kenyon Coleman. The guy to watch and be wary of is DE/ROLB DeMarcus Ware (3 sacks). He is the “LT” of the Cowboy defense and along with the O’Hara-Glover Ferguson match-up, the Luke Petitgout-Ware battle is the most critical one up front. Ware may be too quick and fast for Petitgout. If the Giants have to help out Luke, the offense will suffer.

Not to sound overly simple, but offensively, this game comes down to the Giants’ offensive line giving Manning and his receivers time in the passing game and creating running room for Tiki Barber. The Cowboys did not have to worry about the running game last week, but they will have to do so this Sunday. The Giants may catch a break if ILB Dat Nguyen (neck) does not play. Nguyen has been a thorn in the Giants’ side in recent years.

When the Giants put the ball in the air, I like the match-ups here. SS Roy Williams is a superb run defender but he can have problems in reverse in playing pass defense. Look for TE Jeremy Shockey to make some plays here. Right corner Anthony Henry is a bit of a corner/safety ‘tweener. He has good size and plays a physical game, but so does WR Plaxico Burress. And Burress can run by Henry. This is a tough match-up for Burress, but if he can get open with regularity against Henry, the Giants will be golden. On the other side of the formation, WR Amani Toomer will line-up against CB Terence Newman, a good athlete who lacks some size. Newman hasn’t really lived up to his lofty draft status as of yet.

The Giants have to do a good job of blocking Dallas’ blitz in order to do well. Not only will the Cowboys send the linebackers, but they will send the defensive backs – especially Roy Williams (2.5 sacks).

Of course, the man on the spot is Eli Manning. Truly great quarterbacks play great in big games. Well folks, this is a big game. Probably the biggest that Manning has played in as a New York Giant in his young career. We are going to find out a lot about Eli’s make-up on Sunday.

Giants on Special Teams: Division games are usually close and often come down to special teams play. After a fast start, the Giants’ special teams have not excelled in recent weeks. The team needs to get Willie Ponder and Chad Morton going again on kickoff and punt returns, respectively.

It may also be the first game where the placekicking efforts of Jay Feely really come into play.

The Giants need to do a better job of covering kickoffs.

Want a real game-breaker? Let’s block a punt!

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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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