Cowboys-Giants: Battle in the Meadowlands

Nick GiarrussoContributor IOctober 29, 2008

The last time the Cowboys and Giants met, a trip to the NFC Championship Game was on the line. Now, 294 days later, they meet again. What has changed in the past 10 months?

Well, for the Giants, Michael Strahan retired, Osi Umenyiora suffered a season-ending injury, and Jeremy Shockey has been traded.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, have undergone a 10-month span with more twists and turns than a Seinfeld episode. It started with HBO’s Hard Knocks and Super Bowl expectations coming from every direction, and it hasn’t stopped.

Tony Romo’s pinkie, the Pacman Jones saga, T.O.’s mindset, the Roy E. Williams trade, coaching controversy, mounting injuries, and poor play have all contributed to the circus-like atmosphere slowly engulfing "America’s Team."

This weekend, the stakes are once again high, as the Cowboys look to salvage a season on the brink, and the Giants look to move one step closer to the NFC East crown.


The Walking Wounded

Dallas enters the game with injury concerns up and down their entire roster. For starters, Tony Romo will miss his third straight game due to his much-publicized broken pinkie. Rookie Felix Jones is still suffering from a hamstring pull and will be inactive.

Also missing the game for Dallas are starting guard Kyle Kosier (foot), cornerbacks Terrence Newman (abdomen) and Adam Jones (suspension), and linebacker Anthony Spencer (hamstring). As if that wasn’t enough, safety Roy Williams, wide receiver Sam Hurd, and punter Matt McBriar have all been placed on IR and are out for the season.

The injuries continued piling up last week versus Tampa Bay, as two more Cowboys saw their names added to the injury report. This time, tight end Jason Witten (ribs) and corner Anthony Henry (quadricep) were the victims. Both will attempt to play Sunday and should be considered game-time decisions.

When asked about the Cowboys’ injury situation, Giant defensive end Justin Tuck said, “We don't want to have excuses like 'Romo is not playing, we didn't have this guy, we didn't have that guy.’” Despite Tuck’s desires, these injuries are a blunt reality for the Cowboys as they limp into the Meadowlands this weekend.


How Long of a Rope Does Brad Johnson Really Have?

Brad Johnson will be starting his third consecutive game at quarterback for Dallas—in place of the injured Tony Romo. The Cowboys are 1-1 with Johnson under center and have not looked good in the process.

Johnson was awful in his first start, throwing three interceptions against a subpar St. Louis secondary. Last week, he was even worse, throwing for a measly 122 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per completion. As drive after drive stalled, the Texas Stadium faithful showered Johnson with their discontent.

To say that the Cowboy passing game has been handcuffed without Romo would be stating the obvious, and this quandary has Dallas exploring their options. Following the win against Tampa Bay, speculation began about whether it was time to bench Johnson in place of third-string journeyman Brooks Bollinger.

This was amplified when Bollinger took snaps with the first-team offense during Wednesday’s practice. When asked about Bollinger’s availability Sunday, Coach Phillips said, “We think we can go with Brad, and we’ll see what happens. We’re not going into the game saying if this guy doesn’t do anything we’re going to pull him.”

Two things appear certain: Johnson is will start the game, and Bollinger will finish it if Johnson’s struggles continue.


Another Classic Trench War

The Giants' defensive line is the heartbeat of their team and a main reason why they come in 6-1, alone in first place in the NFC East. It was also the main reason why the Giants knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs last year.

That will have to change Sunday, especially with a 40-year-old statue at quarterback. Despite losing Strahan and Umenyiora, the Giants amazingly haven’t missed a beat, leading the league in sacks while owning the NFL’s third-ranked defense.

Once again, the key to victory will take place in the trenches, as the Dallas offensive line will attempt to slow down one of the most feared front fours in the business. Game-within-a-game matchups deserving your attention are Justin Tuck vs. Marc Columbo, Mathias Kiwanuka vs. Flozell Adams, and how often Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins collapse the pocket against the enormous interior of the Dallas O-line, led by Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis.

Just like in last year’s Divisional round, this game will most likely be determined right here—in the trenches.


The Plaxico Burress Saga

What else can a wide receiver ask for? A Super Bowl winning team...check! A franchise quarterback throwing you the ball...check! A new contact extension making you one of the highest-paid players at your position...check!

Apparently all of this is not enough for Plaxico Burress. As the Giants prepare for this week’s showdown with Dallas, Burress’ selfish attitude remains a hot-button issue in New York. Since his Week One outburst, when he caught 10 balls for 133 yards, opposing defenses have managed to limit Burress’ production.

In the five games since, he’s averaged less than four catches and 45 yards receiving per game. He served a team-imposed suspension in Week Five for breaking team rules and has not necessarily been pro-Giants these days when speaking to the media. These are the antics that made him expendable in Pittsburgh.

The Giants already purged their team of one malcontent, shipping Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans. Is Burress next? With the Giants straight-edge operation clearly clashing with their star receiver’s poor attitude, something needs to happen to get this relationship back on track—cherry-picking a few touchdowns against a banged up Dallas secondary should do the trick.


Sunday afternoon these two fierce rivals renew acquaintances for the 93rd time. The Giants hold possession of one thing the Cowboys are looking for—a Super Bowl title. And the Cowboys hold possession of the one thing that eluded the Giants a year ago—the NFC East title.

With Romo and a slew of other Cowboys expected to return following their Week 10 bye, a win Sunday would officially get Dallas’ season back on track. For the Giants, nothing would be sweeter than to send the once-sexy-Super-Bowl-pick Cowboys back to Dallas with another loss and three full games back in the NFC East.


PREDICTION: New York 27, Dallas 16