The Dallas Cowboys Week 12 matchup against the New York Giants is the most important game of the season to this point. After starting 0-6, New York has strung together four victories and is only a game behind Dallas.
The Cowboys are coming off a much needed bye week after getting embarrassed by New Orleans during the previous game. So far this year, they’re on pace for another mediocre 8-8 record.
The game this weekend has major implications on the NFC East race.
With a victory, Dallas would win its fourth straight divisional game and control its playoff destiny; however, a Cowboys loss would result in the Giants being tied for the division lead while gaining more momentum than any other team.
With such an important battle taking place, certain individual matchups will be crucial in determining the better team.
CB Morris Claiborne vs. WR Victor Cruz
Cornerback Morris Claiborne returned to practice Wednesday and is scheduled to play this week. Although he’s not having a good season so far, his presence has been missed the past few weeks.
With Claiborne back, he will most likely take over the No. 2 corner spot and draw the responsibility of covering Victor Cruz. The elusive receiver is having another solid year for the Giants, with 58 receptions for 824 yards and four touchdowns.
In his career, Cruz has done quite well against the Cowboys. Week 1 was no different. Cruz totaled five grabs for 118 yards and three scores in the losing effort.
What was evident in the teams’ first matchup in 2013 was that both could pass at will. Combined, Tony Romo and Eli Manning put 713 yards through the air.
Claiborne’s job won’t be an easy one; however, it will be important to containing the Giants’ offensive attack. I don’t expect the former LSU Tiger to shut down Cruz, but if he can prevent the big play, Dallas will be in good shape.
LB Bruce Carter vs. RB Andre Brown
With linebacker Sean Lee out for at least another week or so, Bruce Carter takes over as the defensive leader. Although Ernie Sims will start in the middle, Carter will be the one calling the plays and making adjustments in Lee’s absence.
The Giants’ running game has been revitalized, thanks to the return of Andre Brown. The running back broke his leg in the final preseason game and just returned two weeks ago. He’s had quite an impact though, giving New York balance on offense to go with their dangerous passing attack.
In his two starts, Brown is averaging 24 carries with just more than 90 rushing yards. He’s currently providing what David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs were unable to.
Similar to last season, Carter needs to step up significantly with Lee missing time. He’s currently third in the team in total tackles this year, with 60 through 10 games. In order for Dallas’ defense to improve, it will need Carter to be more dominant.
This matchup is critical because if the Cowboys can shut down the run, the Giants will be one dimensional and much easier to defend. On the other hand, if Brown can be productive, the Cowboys will be in trouble.
Dallas needs its safeties to defend against the long ball and not be forced to pinch up to help against the run. The play of Carter and the linebacking corps will determine that.
WR Dez Bryant vs. CB Corey Webster
The final matchup to focus on will be that of Dez Bryant and cornerback Corey Webster.
In the opening game of the season, the Giants did a phenomenal job of not letting the Cowboys’ best player beat them. They held Bryant to only four catches and a measly 22 yards.
The problem for the Giants was that they had to use multiple players to stop Bryant, leaving just about everyone else open. Miles Austin, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray combined for 26 receptions, 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Bryant wasn’t effective getting the ball, but he was able to occupy enough defenders to open up the field for his teammates. This is why Webster’s task of containing Bryant by himself would be huge.
If Webster gets beat a few times early, the Giants will put a safety over the top of Bryant’s side on a regular basis. This should open things up for Romo to deliver the ball over the middle of the field as he pleases.
Even if he faces multiple defenders, I see Bryant coming out and having a big statistical game. He’s simply too good of a player to continue putting up the ordinary numbers he has the past couple weeks.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.