I hope you're reading, Jason Garrett. In less than 36 hours, your Dallas Cowboys will have their hands full with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. I'm sure you've been preparing for this one for at least a few months now.
The Giants were a monkey on your back last year. They beat you twice, coming back from a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes in the first affair and then crushing you to end your season in the second matchup. If either of those games go differently, you win the NFC East and your biggest rival isn't the reigning champ.
On top of all that, the defending Super Bowl winner has won all eight of these prime-time kickoff events since the NFL began playing them in 2004, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10 points per.
So again, you've probably been working pretty hard to find ways to beat a team that has defeated you five of the last six times you've met. But because I know, Jason, that it's easy for coaches to get lost in the micro, I'm going to sum things up a little more broadly for you. To beat the Giants, here's how you have to attack them.
Focus on Victor on Defense
Both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks killed Dallas last season, combining for 25 catches and 491 yards in the two matchups. But Cruz has actually emerged as the bigger threat and was unstoppable in the season finale last year.
Nicks is still being eased back from a broken foot, which means he's less than 100 percent. That's good, but unfortunately you're still going to have to cover him, too. Let Brandon Carr completely remove Nicks from the game on the outside. Carr isn't experienced with slot coverage anyway, and he'll have a significant advantage against the hobbled Nicks.
With that in mind, Rob Ryan can have rookie Morris Claiborne and slot-coverage specialist Orlando Scandrick worry about Cruz, who took 47 percent of his snaps out of the slot last year, per Pro Football Focus.
In last year's finale, Cruz and Nicks picked on Terence Newman. This year, it makes a lot of sense to play to the strengths of the secondary by using Carr to turn Nicks into a non-factor and using their newfound secondary depth to slow down Cruz.
Resist Temptation and Maintain a Balanced Attack on Offense
I know this isn't easy in typical NFC East shootouts, but the Cowboys have to take advantage of the fact that the Giants will be shorthanded in the front seven. New York is likely to compensate for not having Chris Canty by using three or even four ends on quite a few downs. Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are all healthy, and they're too good to be kept off the field.
But that can be exploited, because Umenyiora and Tuck are subpar run defenders. They'll still use a lot of Pierre-Paul at defensive tackle, and Linval Joseph is stout, but a heavy passing attack would play right into the Giants' hands.
Not only will there be more holes than normal for DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones with Canty hurt and Michael Boley less than 100 percent, but a steady and consistent push from the running game will force the Giants to be less aggressive with their pass rush.
Remember: Murray broke his ankle in the first quarter of the first game against the Giants last year. Add him and subtract Canty and part of Boley, and you have a recipe for a strong day on the ground.
And yes, I know that Dallas' interior offensive line leaves something to be desired, but they managed to run the ball quite well with Phil Costa at center and arguably weaker guards last season, and sticking to the run should at least relieve some pressure.
Tony Romo might not have his security blanket, Jason Witten, so he'll need as much help as Dallas can give him.
And one of the things that hurt Dallas the most in those two losses last year is that the G-men controlled the ball for an average of 34 minutes and 26 seconds per game, running 13.5 more plays per game than the Cowboys did. You can't give Eli Manning that many chances. Keeping it on the ground will help keep the ball out of Manning's hands.
Use a Lot of Miles and Cole in the Slot
It wouldn't surprise anyone if Jason Witten found a way to drag his lacerated spleen onto the field Wednesday night, but if Witten doesn't play, the Cowboys' best alternative might not involve simply sending John Phillips and/or James Hanna into the game.
The Giants have an athletic, deep group of linebackers that is capable to limiting backup tight ends like Phillips and Hanna, but the Cowboys can make things difficult for the G-men by using both of their talented slot receivers at the same time.
Split Kevin Ogletree out opposite Dez Bryant and line up Cole Beasley opposite Miles Austin in the slot. It'll force Romo to make quick reads, but it'll also spread out a thin Giants secondary.
With Prince Amukamara out, Terrell Thomas on injured reserve and Aaron Ross gone, Michael Coe will start for New York. Bryant proved in last year's finale that he alone can abuse Corey Webster, so that matchup should be fine with Dallas. But the G-men might not have the personnel to cover Austin, Beasley and Ogletree all at once.
Austin could do some damage against Antrel Rolle, and Beasley would have a distinct advantage against hobbled rookie Jayron Hosley. The only other healthy cover guy New York has is Justin Tryon.
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