The New York Giants probably won’t be one of the participating teams in the upcoming Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t simulate a do-or-die playoff type of atmosphere this weekend when they host the Dallas Cowboys.
It will be a critical, season-defining NFC East showdown, which, if the Giants lose, will probably extinguish any hope they have of seeing the real postseason.
“It’s nice that we do have a challenge of this nature,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. “We call it an opportunity. Do the very, very best we can and hopefully keep our dreams alive.”
The mood in the Giants locker room this week has varied. While every player is focused, some are a little more laid back in terms of outward emotion while others are more charged up.
Defensive end Justin Tuck is among those saving his emotion for Sunday.
“I don’t believe in the whole extra pumped-ness,” he said. “Every opponent you play, you should be as amped that you can be because at the end of the day, it’s about the game."
Across the locker room, safety Antrel Rolle, who has always been one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, opined that this weekend’s game is a do-or-die situation for the Giants.
“Personally, I feel like this game is going to determine the outcome of the season,” he said. “I think this is a game where we can’t walk away with a loss.”
Brandon Jacobs, who in the past has made no secret of his disdain of the Cowboys, chose his words carefully, but it was hard to miss the fire in his eyes when he spoke about the looming matchup.
“If we’re 10-0 and we have the Cowboys, it’s a big game, no question,” he said. “Right now it’s a really meaningful game because of what we’re trying to do in regards to our season, so we have to be ready.”
Linebacker Jon Beason was perhaps the most succinct with his thoughts.
“Effort is non-negotiable, and it will be there on offense and defense,” he said.
If the Giants win, they will share a 5-6 record with the Cowboys. However, Dallas will have the tiebreaker for second place with a 3-1 record in the division to the Giants’ 2-2.
If nothing else, the game promises to be an entertaining one, so let's take a look at the preview.
The Giants and Cowboys will meet for the 103rd time in the regular season this week. Dallas, who topped the Giants in Week 1, 36-31, holds the series lead, 58-42-2.
The Cowboys last swept the season series with the Giants in 2007. New York is 23-26-1 at home against the Cowboys.
|The Competitive Edge: Cowboys at Giants|
Tony Romo might be more versatile in terms of his mobility, but he’s seen his passer rating dip in each of his last three games, from 102.9 to 72.9.
His Giants counterpart, Eli Manning, has been more consistent during that same time thanks to offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride infusing shorter, quicker throws into the game plan.
In his last four games, Manning hasn’t had a passer rating of less than 70.0. He finished last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers with a 92.4 passer rating, his highest of the season since Week 1 against Dallas.
The return of Andre Brown to the lineup has completed the Giants' transformation from a finesse style to a more punishing, downhill style that is also supported by Brandon Jacobs and fullback John Conner.
In just two games, Brown, who is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, has already taken over as the Giants' leading rusher, while Jacobs has been a load to handle in short-yardage situations and down by the goal line.
The Cowboys' primary running back has been DeMarco Murray, who has 548 yards on 111 carries and four touchdowns. Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar have also been given a few touches on occasion, but Murray is the Cowboys’ main man on the ground.
While Brandon Myers has begun to look a little more comfortable in the Giants offense of late, his production is nowhere near that of Jason Witten’s.
Myers has caught 26 of 40 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown, his blocking on the edge continuing to lack any bite.
Witten, the future Hall of Famer, has caught 47 of 71 passes for 532 yards and four touchdowns, as he continues to be one of Romo’s favorite targets.
He can also block as needed and does it well enough to be more than effective.
Dallas is hoping to have Miles Austin back from a hamstring injury, while the Giants are holding their breath about Hakeem Nicks’ groin problem that developed on Wednesday not becoming an issue.
The Cowboys’ deep threat is Dez Bryant, who’s almost certain to draw double coverage and receive some roughing up as he comes of the line. Bryant leads the Cowboys in receptions (52), receiving yards (749) and receiving touchdowns (eight).
Bryant, who is nowhere near the top 10 NFL receivers in deep pass receptions of 20 or more yards, typically does most of his damage underneath, where he uses his quickness and strength to elude would-be tacklers.
Victor Cruz continues to be a battler out there, but more and more teams are scheming to take him out of the equation and are having success more often than not.
Rueben Randle has proven that he’s not yet ready to run the routes that require sight adjustments, but he has been effective over the middle on the short-to-intermediate patterns.
He leads the Giants receivers with six touchdowns this season.
Both offensive lines have had to do some tweaking along the way due to injuries and performance, but the Cowboys have had a slightly harder time of it as far as pass protection goes.
Whereas the Giants’ offensive line has given up one sack every 14 dropbacks, Dallas’ total is at 16.8.
The Cowboys’ front four has 18 of the team’s 24.0 sacks this season, but it's also given up an average of 4.9 yards per carry to opponents’ rushing games and has surrendered 11 touchdowns.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is the unit’s—and team—leader with 7.0 sacks for minus-57 yards.
The Giants’ front four has been solid in consistently helping to shut down some of the league’s most prolific running backs.
Sure, the sack totals aren’t up there, but the Giants’ pass rush has led to 11 interceptions thanks in part to a consistent push by the defensive interior.
The Giants have upgraded their linebacker unit thanks to the additions of Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams, both of whom rarely leave the field.
The Cowboys will more than likely be without injured middle linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring), their leading tackler, this week. The status of strong-side linebacker Justin Durant, who is also nursing a hamstring, is up in the air as well.
New York could instead see old friend Kyle Bosworth, who was picked up by the Cowboys after the Giants waived him as part of the final training camp cuts.
Bosworth is listed on the Cowboys’ depth chart as the next man up at middle linebacker.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys’ 2012 first-round pick, has had a rough sophomore season as a pro.
At one point, he lost his starting job to Orlando Scandrick; more recently, he missed the last two games with a hamstring strain. Claiborne is expected to be back in the lineup for Dallas this weekend.
The Giants’ cornerback duo of Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride have been solid, though they really haven’t been tested deep too much as of yet.
When they have, they’ve showed that they can turn and run with some pretty good receivers.
However, McBride’s lingering groin issue is of concern, as is his 5’9” height against the Cowboys’ top two receivers, both of whom are listed at 6’2”.
The strength of the Giants’ defensive secondary has been the play of their safeties. Antrel Rolle has been moved all over the place and has answered the bell every time.
Will Hill has replaced Ryan Mundy as the starter and has been a big reason why the middle of the field is no longer wide-open for opponents to exploit.
Cowboys return specialist Dwayne Harris is a legitimate threat to break one wide-open every time he gets the ball in his hands.
As a kickoff returner, he's averaging 32.3 yards per return with a long of 90, ranking him seventh in the NFL in average return yards.
As a punt returner, he already has an 86-yard touchdown return and is averaging 15.1 yards per return, fifth best in the NFL.
Given the inconsistent play of the Giants' coverage teams, this is a matchup that could very well have a heavy influence on the outcome of the game if the coverage units, which lately have been good for one breakdown per game, continue that trend.
At the start of the season, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, discussing the team's prospects of making a Super Bowl run, famously stated that the front office was convinced the club had "the secret sauce to put this thing back together again” and win a championship.
Well, that sauce seems to have spoiled in a hurry, as before their bye week, the Saints defense, led by former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, dismantled the Cowboys, while Drew Brees did whatever he wanted in a 49-17 smackdown.
That loss, according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is one from which he recently admitted the team has yet to recover.
Speaking of not recovering, the Giants haven't forgotten their 36-31 opening-day loss to the Cowboys, a game that head coach Tom Coughlin thought his team gave away.
"Our expectations were extremely high and we had, quite frankly, just kind of wrapped it up and handed it to them," Coughlin said.
The Giants have been in a groove in which they’re trying to rise up the NFC East standings. The Cowboys, 3-2 in their last five games, have been replaced atop of the NFC East by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Each team has something to play for, but the Giants might just have the edge because they’ll be in front of their home crowds in what's sure to be a playoff-game-like atmosphere played in wintry-like conditions.
Giants Offense vs. Cowboys Defense
The early weather forecast is calling for cold, windy conditions for Sunday's 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff.
If that forecast holds up, it would appear to favor the Giants, whose running game has recorded two 100-yard performances in its last five games and which has been more productive than Dallas' over their last five.
|Giants vs. Dallas: Running Game Production Over Last 5 Games|
Before their bye week, the Cowboys allowed 242 rushing yards to the New Orleans Saints, who gashed them in-between the tackles as well as on the edges. With the Giants having morphed back into a power game, look for them to try to pound the Cowboys into submission with a number of downhill runs early on.
However, balance is always at the top of head coach Tom Coughlin's list, so look for the Giants to continue with their short passing game, a page borrowed from the West Coast offense's playbook.
By keeping things short, the ball can come out of quarterback Eli Manning's hands faster, thus avoiding the potential for sacks.
The Cowboys' front seven has dealt with some injuries—defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware and linebackers Justin Durant and Sean Lee are all listed on the team's injury report this week.
Ware and Hatcher are the most likely to play on Sunday, but it remains to be seen if they'll be anywhere near as disruptive as they usually are when healthy.
The Giants might want to think about double-teaming Hatcher, who has been the Cowboys’ best defensive lineman and who leads the team with 7.0 sacks.
Giants Defense vs. Cowboys Offense
When the Giants defense takes the field against the Cowboys, it will have a significantly different look than it did in the first meeting.
Linebackers Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams and safety Will Hill are players who were not part of that opening-day lineup that struggled to cover the middle of the field and allowed tight end Jason Witten to gain 70 yards and two touchdowns.
That Giants trio is part of the reason why opposing tight ends no longer have yards and yards of real estate to run. They have the athletic ability to cover wide territories and the physicality to thump anyone who crosses the middle of the field.
One of the Cowboys’ weapons sure to receive a lot of attention is receiver Dez Bryant. Historically, the Giants have addressed the opposing team’s deep threat by putting a safety over the top.
This week, don’t be surprised to see them not only deploy that strategy but to also mix in a little more press coverage to disrupt the timing between Bryant and Romo.
Miles Austin is also on track to return for Dallas after missing the last three games with a hamstring injury.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told the Giants media, via a Wednesday conference call, that Austin, “looks like his old self; that we just have to see how he does as the week goes on.”
If Austin plays, expect for him to draw the single coverage.
The last element to the puzzle for the Giants defense is to pressure quarterback Romo early and often.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Romo is 56 of 115 (48.7 percent) when under pressure and has thrown three of his six interceptions.
Because Romo is mobile, the defensive ends will need to play a solid contain game and let the defensive tackles push the pocket in hopes of getting Romo to commit a mistake.
What They’re Saying
"We have an opportunity to do something after being 0-6 and close some major cushion in our division with them being in front of us. That’s the team we’ve got to go through."
—Giants Running Back Brandon Jacobs on the importance of this weekend's game to the Giants
"We have given up a lot of yards and I think as much as anything else, like with most teams who have those kinds of numbers, it has a lot to do with big plays."
—Dallas head coach Jason Garrett on why, despite having a good defense, they have still give up a lot of yards to opponents
"The biggest thing is that we have to capitalize off turnovers and our offense has to be able to control the ball. When you put them in situations where they can’t dictate, they’re not that good of a team. Their defense is not playing that well right now; hopefully our offense can expose them in that area and we can continue to make turnovers because obviously when we do that, we win."
—Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas on the key to beating Dallas
"I think you have to account for the guys up front and their ability to rush the passer and then just their subtleties in their scheme that can make a difference to certain quarterbacks and certain teams."
—Dallas quarterback Tony Romo on if there's one guy in particular on the Giants defense that they need to keep an eye on
|Giants – Cowboys Injury Report (as of Wednesday, 11/20/13)|
|FB John Conner||Hip Flexor||LB Justin Durant||Hamstring|
|CB Trumaine McBride||Hip Flexor||LB Sean Lee||Hamstring|
|RB Brandon Jacobs||Knee||CB Morris Claiborne||Hamstring|
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul||Shoulder||DT Jason Hatcher||Neck|
|CB Terrell Thomas||Knee||LB DeVonte Holloman||Neck|
|CB Corey Webster||Groin/Ankle||DE DeMarcus Ware||Thigh|
|WR Hakeem Nicks||Groin||WR Miles Austin||Hamstring|
|WR Dez Bryant||Back|
|DT Nick Hayden||Ribs|
|DE George Selvie||Shoulder|
|S J.J. Wilcox||Knee|
|Source: New York Giants|
Giants Injury Analysis
The biggest concern on the Giants' Wednesday injury report is the status of receiver Hakeem Nicks (groin), a player who was not initially on the pre-practice injury report distributed to the media, yet who was spotted on a stationary bike in the rehab area during practice.
Nicks, who last week let his frustration boil over to where he was spotted on the sideline being consoled by teammates Brandon Jacobs and Andre Brown, has had a season to forget, as he’s now gone 12 games without a receiving touchdown.
The good news is that his injury isn't believed to be serious enough to threaten his availability for Sunday's game, per Art Stapleton of the Bergen Record:
The bad news is that Nicks, who has had trouble separating from defenders this season, does have a groin problem that bears watching the rest of the week. If it gets worse, that could mean that Rueben Randle would get the start.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted.)
With a win against Dallas, the Giants can become only the second team in NFL history to lose its first six games and win its next five games. The 2009 Tennessee Titans, who finished 8-8 that season, were the first club to accomplish that feat.
QB Eli Manning has won six of his last nine games against Dallas. He also has 36 touchdown passes against the Cowboys, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the most vs. an opponent in his career.
RB Andre Brown has nine rushing touchdowns in his last 11 games. Brown had a seven-game streak in which he scored at least one touchdown snapped last week.
RB Brandon Jacobs has posted seven of his franchise-leading 60 rushing touchdowns in games played vs. the Cowboys. The seven rushing touchdowns is his highest total against an opponent.
The Giants had three receivers—Victor Cruz (five catches, 118 yards, three TDs), Hakeem Nicks (five catches, 114 yards) and Rueben Randle (five catches for 101 yards)—post 100 or more receiving yards in Week 1 vs. Dallas.
Randle has six receiving touchdowns in his last six games.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul has 5.0 sacks, a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble in his last five games vs. Dallas.
DT Linval Joseph has 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his last three games against the Cowboys.
QB Tony Romo has 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions in his last four starts against the Giants.
RB DeMarco Murray has 265 scrimmage yards (132.5 per game) in his last two meetings against the Giants. In the season opener, he ran for 131 yards. Dallas is 11-0 when Murray has 18 or more rushing attempts. In those 11 wins, Murray has 1,253 rushing yards (113.9 per game).
TE Jason Witten has 26 receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games against New York.
WR Terrance Williams has caught a touchdown reception in five of his last six games.
DE DeMarcus Ware has 12.5 sacks in his last 13 games (including playoffs) against the Giants.
However, of their three loses since, they have managed to keep it close, the largest margin of defeat being seven points.
On the Giants side, since 1990, New York is 8-4 when its opponents are coming off a bye, and it is not.
Stats and trends aside, at the end of the day, it comes to whichever side wins its individual matchups.
The Giants know what’s at stake, and unlike those times in the past where they would simply talk about doing what needed to be done to ensure a victory, this week they appear to be backing up their words with actions.
It’s going to be a close, high-scoring game—games between these two teams usually are—but in the end, the Giants defense should prove to be too much for the Cowboys to overcome.