Coming out of their Week 11 bye nearing full strength, the Dallas Cowboys face a red hot New York Giants team in the Meadowlands. At 4-6, the Giants amazingly sit just one game back of Dallas in the NFC East. If they win, they'd jump to within one game of the division lead.
The stakes are nearly just as high for Dallas. Although they're 3-0 within the NFC East, the Cowboys could put themselves in a really poor spot with a loss. Not only would they have the same record as the Giants, but they'd also fall to a game back of the Philadelphia Eagles. A win, on the other hand, would vault Dallas back into first place.
You never really know what you're going to get when these teams meet. They know each other so well that there really aren't too many surprises, but predicting which team will come out victorious is always challenging. Vegas has the Giants as small favorites, which is basically like saying the teams are evenly matched since the Giants are at home.
In any event, the Cowboys will again need clutch play from a few critical players. Here are the top five matchups to watch for Dallas.
CB Orlando Scandrick vs. WR Victor Cruz
We're 10 games into the Cowboys' 2013 season, and Scandrick is still playing outstanding football. He's allowed only 0.73 yards per route that he's been in coverage, which ranks him as the fourth-best cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Here's how Scandrick stacks up with his teammates in Dallas.
Most think Scandrick struggled in the Cowboys' Week 1 matchup with the Giants because wide receiver Victor Cruz had a big day, but that's not the case. Cruz excelled when he was matched up with other defenders (most notable safety Will Allen). Scandrick allowed only 26 yards on three completions.
Still, Scandrick will see plenty of Cruz on Sunday, so it's certainly a matchup to monitor.
DE George Selvie vs. RT Justin Pugh
Giants rookie Justin Pugh has struggled on the right side in his first year.
Facing pass-rushers who are typically a bit worse than those who line up on the right side of the defense, Pugh's numbers are particularly bad. With the Giants figuring to commit lots of attention to defensive end DeMarcus Ware, Selvie should see lots of one-on-ones with Pugh. That's a matchup I'd expect Selvie to win.
LT Tyron Smith vs. DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul has only two sacks on the year, but that doesn't mean he's not getting to the passer. PFF has tracked him as totaling 23 pressures, which means his most likely sack total at this point is six. That's hardly an eye-popping number, but JPP isn't playing nearly as poorly as his sack total indicates.
We actually see the same thing across the Giants defense; even though it has only 14 sacks, which ranks last in the NFL, it has some players who are getting to the quarterback. Defensive end Justin Tuck has probably been the Giants' top pass-rusher to date, but Pierre-Paul's elite skill set makes him the most likely candidate to cause major damage to the Cowboys' pass protection efforts.
Meanwhile, take a look at Smith's pass protection this year.
Smith's three worst games in pass protection have been the last three contests. He's faced some quality pass-rushers during that time, and pressures are relatively volatile from week to week, but it's still an interesting trend nonetheless.
My guess is that it's just noise, but another poor game from Smith this week could signify something more.
Interior Line vs. DT Cullen Jenkins
The Cowboys have an interesting dilemma on their hands because, in addition to JPP and Tuck outside, they also need to deal with Jenkins up the middle. And while quarterback Tony Romo has traditionally been able to elude outside pass-rushers, he hasn't been so nimble when there's pressure right in his face.
Jenkins has pressured the quarterback on 5.8 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, which isn't too far from Pierre-Paul's 6.8 percent pressure rate.
WR Dez Bryant vs. CB Prince Amukamara
Earlier this week, I wrote an article detailing how the Cowboys can get Bryant more involved on offense. He's already a focal point, but when he's taken out of games, the Cowboys offense is stagnant. The 'Boys absolutely must find a way to get him going even when he's doubled.
And you know the Giants are going to double Bryant, as they did so often in Week 1. They'll also use Amukamara on him, although that shouldn't be a deterrent to throwing to Bryant. Although Amukamara has played well this year, so have fellow cornerbacks Trumaine McBride and Terrell Thomas.
Even with Amukamara on him and a safety over the top, the Cowboys need to get creative to get Bryant the ball. That includes motioning him into the slot, running him on crossing routes from bunch formations and going back-shoulder to neutralize the safety.
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