5 New York Giants Players to Watch vs. the Dallas Cowboys

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVNovember 21, 2014

5 New York Giants Players to Watch vs. the Dallas Cowboys

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Usually the week after a losing effort, the mood in the New York Giants locker room is grim.

    Not so much so this week, however, as they prepared for their rematch against the Dallas Cowboys, a team they lost to by 10 points in the first meeting when the game slipped away in the fourth quarter.

    “Yeah, we did some good things [against Dallas],” Giants quarterback Eli Manning told reporters. “They’re a good team. They have a good offense, they score a lot of points, [and] their defense is physical, plays fast and has not given up many points.

    “We’ve got to do a good job offensively playing smart. We’ve got to eliminate the turnovers. We feel we can move the ball and score some points on them.”

    The fact that the Giants played Dallas so tightly last time and that they are coming off another “almost win” against San Francisco likely has Manning believing that if they are able to eliminate the constant stream of mistakes, their luck can change.

    “I thought we played hard last week; we competed our tails off,” he said. “Offensively, we competed. We didn’t get down. I didn’t play well—we had turnovers and it looked grim at times—but we kept fighting and made some big-time plays, especially in the fourth quarter.

    “Guys were fighting, guys want to win and guys believe in this team. The message is getting across; it’s just obviously the execution has to get better,” he added.

    Of course, the Giants have been saying the same thing for weeks. While the execution does improve in one area, another area usually takes over as the catalyst for the breakdown.

    So why is there optimism that this might just be the week the Giants snap out of their five-game skid?

    "We still have something to play for," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul told reporters. “We made it hard for ourselves in this predicament we're in right now. We can dig ourselves out of it by winning all these. We have six games. Just win them. I think we can."

    Again, talk is cheap—to expect the Giants to say anything to the contrary about being able to win would be like expecting the skies to open up and start raining hundred-dollar bills.

    Assuming they are ready to stop playing sloppy, mistake-filled football, here is a look at five players whose performances can ensure the quest to run the table begins.  

QB Eli Manning

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    Quarterback Eli Manning is coming off one of his worst games this season, last week’s five-interception affair against San Francisco. While not all the picks are his fault, they still fall under his stat line.

    While it also didn’t help matters that Manning was under constant duress thanks to leaky pass blocking, he still made some daring throws that were ill-advised in retrospect, his intention being to try to make a play.

    Such was not the case, but the good news is Manning has put last week’s debacle out of his head.

    “You play long enough and you’re going to have tough games, you’re going to have bad games, you’re going to have games that are hard to get over. You’ve got to put it behind you,” Manning told reporters.

    “You’ve got to have a short memory, and you can’t let one game or let alone one play dictate how you’re going to perform the next. I think I’ve done a good job doing that over my career, and I’ve got to do it again this week.”

    While talk is cheap, Manning has generally been good about backing up his words. In 2013, he rebounded from a five-interception outing against Seattle, a shutout loss, to lead the Giants to a 23-20 overtime win against the Detroit Lions the following week.

    This season, after starting the year throwing four picks in his first two games, Manning cleaned up his act, throwing just one interception—a questionable one at that—in his next six games

    “When something goes wrong, you’ve got to turn the page and you’ve got to bounce back quickly,” Manning said. “You’ve got to be upbeat and be excited about this next opportunity that we have.”

    At least he practices what he preaches.

OL Geoff Schwartz

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    The Giants aren’t going to waste any time getting offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, one of their key free-agent acquisitions this offseason, back into the starting lineup.

    Schwartz, who was activated off the IR/Designated to Return list this week, has not played in a live game since August 22, when he suffered a dislocated toe against the New York Jets.

    Schwartz, who is in the first year of what Over the Cap reports as a four-year, $16.8 million contract, met with noted foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson of Charlotte, North Carolina, shortly after he was injured, who determined that the offensive lineman would not need surgery.

    Now that Schwartz is back, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports that Schwartz will step in at right tackle for Justin Pugh, who has been declared out of Sunday’s game with a quad injury. 

    Is Schwartz ready for a full workload so soon?

    “I think I can do it. Until I actually do it, I won’t really know, though,” he told reporters. “I feel pretty confident in my ability to do it. I’ve done it before when I haven’t practiced much and had to play in games. You find ways to get through it. I’m a veteran, so I can do it.”

    Schwartz does admit that his biggest adjustment, one that he was not able to simulate during his rehab, is game-day conditioning.   

    “You have to make sure you don’t get tired through four quarters,” he said. “There are ways you can play to be effective but also kind of pace yourself, if that makes sense. I’ve done it; it’s not a terribly big deal.”   

    The Giants hope Schwartz is right because quarterback Eli Manning’s’ well-being depends on Schwartz as well as the rest of his linemates doing their jobs.

OL Adam Snyder

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    Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports that a shakeup is coming along the offensive line, a shakeup that will include the benching of rookie left guard Weston Richburg  in favor of veteran Adam Snyder, a free agent signed by the Giants on September 3 after Geoff Schwartz was placed on the temporary injured reserve list.  

    Snyder, who has been inactive for seven of the Giants’ 10 games this season, has, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), taken 35 snaps for the Giants, most of them (28) coming at left guard in Week 9 when Richburg had to leave the game with a sprained ankle.

    Richburg, a natural center who will one day be the Giants' starter there, has been struggling at the left guard position, the spot he held once Schwartz, originally signed to play that spot, was placed on the temporary injured reserve list. 

    Per PFF, Richburg has an overall minus-13.3 grade and has particularly struggled in run blocking, where he has graded out at minus-7.9.

    Getting back to Snyder, last season as a member of the 49ers, he was active for all 16 regular-season games and the three postseason games, playing 10 at left guard and making four starts.

    Per PFF, Snyder finished with a 2.8 run-blocking grade as a left guard, allowing only four sacks, two quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries.

    It will be interesting to see if the Giants’ 21st-ranked running game improves because of this change.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The first time the Giants played the Cowboys this season, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s health issues were just starting to become a factor.

    In that game, Rodgers-Cromartie played in just 15 of the 63 snaps (23.8 percent), according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    The good news is that even though Rodgers-Cromartie couldn’t do much in that game, New York still did a decent job against Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who was held to nine catches (out of 12 targets) for 151 yards, 44 of those yards coming on one play when Bryant found himself in a one-on-one matchup against cornerback Chandler Fenner.

    The reason why the Giants kept Bryant under control is that they had Prince Amukamara, currently on season-ending injured reserve, guarding against Bryant on the majority of his pass targets.

    Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Amukamara allowed Bryant to catch seven out of 10 targets for 100 yards, 28 of those yards coming after the catch.

    With no Amukamara to help against Bryant this time around, the assignment likely will fall on Rodgers-Cromartie, who after coming off the Giants’ injury report last week was back on it this week with the same hamstring/back problem.

    Dallas typically moves Bryant around in order to get the best matchup. Given Rodgers-Cromartie’s health issues, there could be less reluctance on their part to let him go against the Giants’ No. 1 cornerback.

    That prospect likely has the Giants defensive coaches holding their breaths and hoping that Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t need to come off the field as much as he did in that first meeting.

    “[Rodgers-Cromartie] has really done a good job of practicing, and he has done a good job of trying to stay in the ball game and play as much as he can possibly play,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell told reporters. “I am encouraged by what we see out of [Rodgers-Cromartie].”

    Rodgers-Cromartie said he is looking forward to facing Bryant, the Cowboys’ receiving leader in catches (56), receiving yards (793) and the team leader in touchdowns scored (eight).  

    “He’s a tough cover. One of the big guys that’s good to the ball,” Rodgers-Cromartie told reporters. “[Quarterback] Tony Romo’s going to be elusive in the pocket, he’s going to make things happen. You just have to cover him for as long as you can. It’s definitely going to be a tough matchup.”

    It’s also going to be a matchup that the Giants must win if they are to have any chance at upsetting the Cowboys.

RB Rashad Jennings

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    Before he missed four games with a sprained MCL in his left knee, running back Rashad Jennings averaged 4.4 yards behind a Giants offensive line configuration that, from left to right, consisted of Will Beatty, Weston Richburg, J.D. Walton, John Jerry and Justin Pugh.

    Last week, in his first action back since the injury and behind most of the same line—Pugh had to leave the game early in the first quarter and was replaced by Charles Brown—Jennings averaged 3.3 yards per carry, his lowest average of the season.

    That’s the bad news.

    The good news is that despite the poor run blocking on the right side of the line, Jennings’ return did help stop a three-game downward spiral in terms of total rushing yards that ironically began against Dallas when the Giants ran for 104 yards before it dipped to 78 and then 54 yards in their next two games.

    Jennings, who told reporters this week, “I don’t develop rust because I am always moving; it was just a matter of fine tuning,” will have a chance to continue his “fine-tuning” against a newly configured offensive line that will have Adam Snyder at left guard in place of Richburg and Geoff Schwartz at right tackle for Pugh.

    The move to bench Richburg is of particular interest. In my breakdown of what the Giants’ game plan might look like on offense, I suggested that New York consider running to the left side of the formation, where, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Beatty has been the line’s best run-blocker and the only one of the five to have a positive grade (2.3).

    The problem with that suggestion is that Richburg, who lined up next to Beatty, has struggled with run blocking, his minus-7.9 run blocking grade being the second worst grade on the team, behind Jerry’s minus-11.5 grade.

    So what does this all have to do with Jennings?

    If Raanan’s report turns out to be true, it is a strong indication that the Giants could be planning to direct most of their running plays to the left side. This theory is supported by the fact that Jennings has averaged 5.1 yards per carry to the left side and 2.8 yards per carry when he runs to the right.

    If the Giants do run to the left, it will be interesting to see if they are able to get their first 100-yard rushing effort as a team since—you guessed it—their first game against Dallas this season. 

    Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted (subscription required).

    Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football and The SportsXchange. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.

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