The New York Giants have a shot at revenge against the injury-ravaged Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. If they can atone for that Week 1 loss to Dallas, they'll have created a huge gap between themselves and a key division rival as midseason arrives.
Here's a suggested game plan for how the G-men should attack the 'Boys.
Chip Away on Offense
It's hard to believe how much the Giants' offense has changed since that first meeting of the season.
Against Dallas in Week 1, the Giants just didn't seem prepared to start the year. The offensive line couldn't open up holes for the running game and struggled in pass protection. They were plagued by the same problems that had affected them for much of 2011, which the Cowboys took advantage of.
In that game, Eli Manning was sacked three times on 35 dropbacks. Since then, he's been sacked three times on 236 dropbacks. With Will Beatty moving into the left tackle spot and playing well and Sean Locklear holding things down on the right side, the new-and-improved line and a rejuvenated Ahmad Bradshaw have averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which is up an entire yard from 2011 (when they were ranked dead last in the league on the ground).
Bradshaw broke free for a nice 33-yard gain in the opener, but apart from that carry he only had 45 yards on 16 attempts. Since then, he's averaged 4.8 yards per carry. David Wilson wasn't yet a factor and entered Tom Coughlin's doghouse early in that game, but he's since emerged in fragments, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on the 13 handoffs he's taken.
Throw in Andre Brown's 4.8 yards per carry on 45 attempts and the Giants suddenly have at least a mini three-headed monster in the backfield.
Also in that opener, the Cowboys had stud inside linebacker Sean Lee, who was playing at an All-Pro level before suffering a season-ending injury last week in Carolina. Without Lee in the Dallas front seven and with Beatty now dominating (Pro Football Focus rates him as the second most productive offensive player on the team), you pretty much have to throw out everything that happened when the Giants had the ball on Sept. 5.
Manning won't likely have to face a lot of pressure Sunday, but Anthony Spencer was dialing it up well last week and DeMarcus Ware is always a threat. So although Manning is superb when the heat is on, the Giants would be smart to devote a lot of their attention to exploiting that shorthanded linebacking corps.
Note that Lee was also the Cowboys' top-rated cover man, according to PFF. So I'm suggesting that the Giants spend a lot of time on the ground, but also work Martellus Bennett heavily into the offensive game plan against his former team.
And while they've only completed four passes per game to running backs this season, they should try to get Bradshaw and Co. in the flats more often. Dan Connor simply doesn't have the skill set that Lee does when it comes to ranging out to pick up backs in coverage.
I know this seems conservative, but it should be extremely efficient and could give the Giants a chance to lull Dallas' defense to sleep before attacking deep with Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks. I just don't think gunslinging for the get-go is the most efficient approach here, especially considering how inaccurate Manning was both last week against Washington and in the previous meeting between these teams.
And if anything, the Cowboys' secondary is one area that has slightly improved since then.
Support the Secondary as Often as Possible on Defense
Tony Romo was lights out in that first game, and although the Cowboys' offense has lacked consistency and the ability to make big plays this season, the Giants haven't improved enough on defense, giving Romo the ability to beat them again Sunday.
Prince Amukamara is playing at a very high level but Corey Webster has been downright terrible and the secondary is still missing Kenny Phillips and Will Hill. That means that if the Cowboys' receiving trio of Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree come to play, it'll be extremely difficult for the G-men to slow them down.
That's a big "if", but the Giants can't afford to take any chances with this secondary. They'll need Antrel Rolle and Jayron Hosley a lot in coverage against Austin, and they'd be smart to keep the red-hot Amukamara on the always-dangerous Bryant while moving Webster to the other side to cover Ogletree whenever he's in the game.
And considering that, according to PFF, the Cowboys were in three-receiver sets 41 percent of the time last week, that'll probably have to happen fairly often Sunday.
What the Dallas offense does lack is healthy running backs. DeMarco Murray isn't likely to suit up this time after making a game-changing play in the first meeting with New York, while Felix Jones is less than 100 percent and coming off a poor performance against Washington.
Who should cover Dez Bryant?
Defensively, the Giants have to force Jones or Phillip Tanner to beat them. This D doesn't have the luxury to be able to send extra rushers, stick to single coverage and stop the run. They just don't have the talent.
And when you consider that Romo's been solid against blitzes this season, the focus Sunday should be on providing reinforcements for the secondary while hoping that they can get enough pressure with the four-man rush.
Let Michael Boley or Chase Blackburn deal with Jason Witten and hope that the rest of the front seven can get just enough pressure while limiting Jones and Tanner. That way, the secondary can ensure that the Cowboys' passing game doesn't again come alive to bite them in the ass.