The Dallas Cowboys are hoping to recapture their Week 1 success against the New York Giants in Week 8. To do that, America's Team will need the following three players to step up and excel in this contest.
RB Phillip Tanner
Starting running back DeMarco Murray has already been ruled out against the G-Men and backup Felix Jones is officially listed as questionable.
While the Dallas coaching staff is still hopeful Jones can suit up and contribute, expect to see plenty of No. 3 running back Phillip Tanner in this contest.
Tanner has seen a fair amount of carries over the Cowboys' last two games against the Ravens and Panthers, respectively. Over the past two games, the former middle Tennessee State rusher has carried the ball 22 times for 61 yards.
That number isn't exactly a great yards-per-carry average, but you have to go to bat with the players you have. Head coach Jason Garrett and company can't give up on the run because of Murray and Jones' injury; they must have faith in Tanner.
The nice thing about the No. 3 back is that he has seen work in recent weeks. There's also not a whole lot of tape floating around on him for the Giants' coaching staff to watch. Tanner has shown some promise when given opportunities in the preseason and beyond. He'll need to turn that promise into yards and touchdowns for his team in a pivotal contest this week.
LB Dan Connor
Sean Lee is no longer suiting up and running out of that tunnel for Dallas this season. Connor simply can't be expected to perform on the same level as Lee, but he needs to perform somewhat close to it.
The former Carolina Panthers player has been a huge help for his new team since coming over in the offseason, with just 14 tackles and no turnovers to his name in 2012. Still, with the injury bug hitting the Cowboys in some of the most crucial positions, Connor needs to have a solid game against New York.
Dallas' best unit this season has been its defense and this week it's facing one of the top offenses in the NFL today. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have a hard enough time creating schemes to shut down Eli Manning's crew. That task will be near-impossible with a liability in the middle of the defense.
Connor was acquired to provide depth at Lee's position and to take over if something were to happen to him health-wise. Unfortunately, for Dallas, the latter scenario has played out, and Connor needs to prove to his team and the opposition that there are no new holes in the Cowboys D-line to exploit.
CB Brandon Carr
It's a tough week to be Carr, with his most likely assignments against New York being Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz. The Cowboys' secondary has not allowed many big-name targets for their earlier foes to burn them, partly thanks to Carr's efforts.
Dallas' biggest (and highest priced) free-agent pickup has been as advertised so far, but Carr will need to play as he did Week 1 to better ensure a Cowboys win.
Nicks was held to just four catches for 38 yards that game. Cruz had six receptions for 58 yards, and neither receiver recorded a touchdown in the first meeting between the two teams in 2012.
The Dallas Morning News' own Rainer Sabin expects that Cruz will see some success against the Cowboys cornerback in this matchup and while that may happen, Carr must at least contain him. One could argue that's exactly what happened in the Week 1 game.
Six catches and almost 60 yards certainly cannot be described as shutting Cruz down, but the receiver didn't dominate either.
Carr needs to keep Cruz somewhere around the numbers he put up earlier this year, but the better scenario would be if the corner took Cruz out of the game altogether. There's no denying that the salsa-dancing receiver is talented, but the same can be said for his matchup opponent.
The Cowboys need to keep Manning's receiving weapons in check. If the quarterback has one of his top options amounting to a non-factor in this contest, he'll be forced to rely on lesser talents to beat Dallas' secondary.