The NFC East division title will be on the line when the Cowboys and New York Giants face off Sunday. In their first meeting, the Giants prevailed 37-34 after staging a memorable comeback in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys will try to exact revenge Sunday in this winner-take-all showdown. Here is a look at the keys to victory for the Cowboys:
The Cowboys had 47 opportunities to sack Eli Manning last month. And they couldn’t do it. Manning emerged from the Giants’ 37-34 victory over Dallas unscathed. He repeatedly dodged oncoming pass rushers, moving in and out of the pocket as he delivered the ball. By the end of the night, he splintered the defense, throwing for 400 yards. "We’ve got to change some things up, get some more pressure on him if he’s going to pass that much," said Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
It was perhaps the defining performance of Jason Pierre-Paul’s career. Against the Cowboys last month, he hammered the Cowboys like a wrecking ball and left his imprint on the game. He collected a team-high eight tackles, forced a fumble, blocked a field goal and recorded two sacks – one of which resulted in a safety. The Cowboys know that in order to keep quarterback Tony Romo upright they must first ward off Pierre-Paul.
Get on the same page
After Eli Manning had shredded the Cowboys last month, Dallas’ secondary was reeling. The defensive backs said that communication breakdowns contributed to the problems they experienced as the Giants receivers took advantage of the Cowboys’ blown assignments. In New York, where the crowd will be loud and determined to distract Dallas, the Cowboys’ defenders can’t afford to repeat the mistakes they made last month. They must be on the same page.
Establish running game
The temperature is expected to dip into the 30s. Quarterback Tony Romo is nursing a bruised right hand. And the Giants defense has proven to be vulnerable against the run. For all of the reasons listed above, it would behoove the Cowboys to establish their ground attack at the outset of the game and take the pressure off Romo, especially if the quarterback is not in optimal condition. Felix Jones, who has been bothered by tightness in his hamstring, should feel rested after carrying the ball only four times against the Eagles on Christmas Eve. This would be an ideal time for Jones to make his mark as a Cowboy.
The NFC East division title will be on the line when the Cowboys and New York Giants face off Sunday. In their first meeting, the Giants prevailed 37-34 after staging a memorable comeback in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys will try to exact revenge Sunday in this winner-take-all showdown. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Less than a month ago, when the Cowboys played the Giants, the complexion of Dallas’ ground attack changed in an instant when DeMarco Murray fractured his right ankle. Ever since then, veterans Felix Jones and Sammy Morris have carried the load. Jones, in particular, is expected to play a pivotal role Sunday after he rushed for 106 yards against New York in December. The Giants’ run defense has proven to be vulnerable, allowing 126.1 yards per game – the 11th-highest average in the league
When the Cowboys pass
The last time Tony Romo face the Giants he authored one of his best performances of the season. That night, he threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns while posting a 141.3 quarterback rating. But Romo bruised his right hand Christmas Eve and his effectiveness could be affected by the injury. The Cowboys hope that isn’t the case because the Giants secondary has been exposed repeatedly while contributing to a pass defense that is allowing 255.4 yards per game — the sixth-highest average in the NFL.
When the Giants run
Although the Giants’ offense is driven by Eli Manning, New York’s ground attack remains a key component. Last week, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware – a fearsome threesome – worked over the Jets as they gained 116 yards. Behind an offensive line that has re-congealed after a series of injuries left it in tatters, the Giants have collected more than 100 rushing yards in three of their last four games, including the 37-34 victory over the Cowboys last December. Dallas, which has allowed only 98.6 rushing yards per game, could cede a higher total Sunday if it focuses on stopping Manning.
When the Giants pass
The Cowboys never stopped Eli Manning last month. For four quarters, Manning carved up the Cowboys with surgical precision. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns and repeatedly connected with receivers running in open space. By the time Manning finished off the Cowboys, Dallas’ secondary was dazed and confused while the defensive line was frustrated after it squandered 47 opportunities to sack the Giants quarterback. Manning, who has thrown for 4,587 yards this season, will be targeted by the Cowboys on Sunday. But that doesn’t mean they will stop him. They didn’t the first time.
The biggest play of the Cowboys’ 37-34 defeat to the Giants came in the final seconds when Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey’s 47-yard field-goal attempt that would have tied the score. For Bailey, it was a devastating outcome. But this season he has made 88.9 percent of his 36 tries. His counterpart on Sunday, Lawrence Tynes, hasn’t been nearly as successful. Tynes has converted just 81.8 percent of his 22 attempts. But while Tynes has been outperformed by Bailey, the Giants’ Steve Weatherford has posted a better net punting average than Dallas’ McBriar.
Neither team will be deprived of motivation in this game. After all, the team that prevails Sunday wins the NFC East berth while the loser goes home for a long winter. The Giants, however, will be buoyed by the support of their home crowd and the confidence they gained from beating the Cowboys in their first meeting. The Cowboys, meanwhile, approach this showdown with bruised egos after losing three of their last four games.
Courtesy: Rainer Sabin | The Dallas Morning News
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After the Giants offense posted 35 points on the Cowboys in Week 14, including 15 in the final 3:20 of the fourth quarter, a change was made to the way Rob Ryan communicated the calls to his defense in two-minute drill situations.
Rather than give the call to middle linebacker Sean Lee via the radio in his helmet, Ryan began to signal out the calls to the line, the linebackers and the secondary from the sideline. In the rest of the game, however, Lee is still responsible to disseminating the calls.
For a defense that could use fewer complications rather than more, it doesn’t help that Lee hasn’t been able to practice this week due to an illness. Lee has been a part of morning walkthrough, but the team has sent him home for most of the last two days. In the meantime, the Cowboys are left to forge ahead without their best inside linebacker, the nerve center of the defense.
"Really what you try to do is just keep working on it," Jason Garrett said. "There are a lot of time that teams all throughout the league have to deal with players not being able to practice, and you have to keep going forward. Sean’s a big part of our defense, we’re hopeful he’s going to be able to play in this game, and then in regards to his individual reps and our reps as a unit, you just hope he can catch up as the week goes on.
"He’ll do a good job of that, preparing, and hopefully that communication won’t be an issue for us."
One of the team’s most devoted players in film study, Lee is surely getting work done from home, though he’s missed out on meetings.
If he’s well, he’ll play, even with no practice during the week, so the first order of business for Lee is to get over the sickness, which has been a process this week.
"He had a fuller day yesterday," Garrett said. "Just came in for a checkup today."
Perhaps this speaks to just how fortunate Cowboys and Giants fans should feel that they have a chance to extend their season on Sunday, or perhaps it’s a testament to the fact neither team is really deserving of the title NFC East champs.
For the first time since being formed as the NFL Capitol Division in 1967, a record as poor as 9-7 will win the title. Renamed the NFC East in the merger of 1970, a record of 10-6 has won the division seven times.
Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, a record of 9-7 or worse has been good enough to win any division only 20 times. It has happened more frequently in recent years, since the parity of the salary cap era has made for fewer outliers in the win-loss chase.
Last year, Seattle became the first team to ever win its division with a losing record, finishing 7-9 and beating St. Louis in Week 17 to get into the playoffs. The Seahawks then upset New Orleans in a home playoff game.
In the last decade, seven teams have won their respective divisions at 9-7 or worse.
Arizona, which won the NFC West at 9-7 in 2008, was the only one of those teams to advance to the Super Bowl.
New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning is not entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys on much of a roll.
In a 23-10 loss to Washington at MetLife Stadium, he was intercepted three times. In last week’s win against the Jets, he completed only 9 of 27 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“It can improve,” Manning said of his recent play, “and I’ll need to play better this week.”
Seeing a Ryan-led defense for the second straight week might help. Whole Rob Ryan’s Cowboys defense was unable to sack Manning on Dec. 11, Rex Ryan’ Jets defense was able to drop him twice.
“There definitely are some similarities,” said Manning, who threw for 400 yards in his first game vs. Dallas “They’re both trying to get pressure on the quarterback. That’s the goal, try to confuse and show a lot of different looks.”
But the Cowboys’ secondary does not possess a Darrelle Revis. In fact, Manning was able to beat every Cowboys cornerback in the first meeting for big completions.
“Most of the time you’re going off your reads,” Manning said. “Sometimes there are certain matchups you like better than others and that can be a factor, but you’re trying to make your reads and go to the right place.”
FOLLOWUP – Dallas Cowboys exec Stephen Jones: his father’s sideline visit didn’t undercut Jason Garrett’s authority
The sideline visit owner Jerry Jones paid to head coach Jason Garrett in the first quarter of the Cowboys Christmas Eve loss to Philadelphia continues to spark discussion.
Stephen Jones, the team’s chief operating officer, went on 103.3 F.M. Thursday and said his father did not undercut Garrett’s authority with that move.
"Absolutely not,” Stephen Jones said. "What happens is we were in a situation that Tony (Romo) got hurt. Jerry was dying to find out what was wrong with Tony, whether it was something significant, something is he going to be go back in the game or be out for the rest of the season. He was wanting to get down there to find that out and just as he was heading down, we obviously came to the conclusion that the Giants were going to win the game and we had talked as an organization what our plan would be if the Giants won.
"When we got the information that Tony was going to be alright but probably not a good idea to go back into the game under the circumstances he wanted to just let Jason know that the Giants had won and that was the extent of it. When you’re down there on that sideline a lot of coaches will tell you that you don’t necessarily know who has won other games. You’re totally focused on what is going on in other games.
"That was the extent of it,” he continued. "In my mind, it in no way takes away from Jason. He makes all the decisions in terms of who plays and what plays are called, any duties that a typical head coach would have.”
As many ups and downs as the Dallas Cowboys have had this season, the goal of an NFC East championship — and a playoff berth — remains in reach. That means the possibility of reaching the Super Bowl is still in play, and that’s all you can ask for.
Recent playoff history has proven that if you’re in, then you have a shot to win it all. Are the Cowboys good enough to make a serious run? With the way that Tony Romo is currently playing, there is that possibility.
But first there’s a little thing about beating the New York Giants –a team that has similar and — at some positions — better talent than the Cowboys.
Expect a healthy dose of JPP, Tuck from Giants
When I break down these games, I always try to look at the areas where the Cowboys can get an edge but also where they might run into trouble. To me, both teams are going to have matchup problems.
The area that could give the Cowboys the biggest problem is Doug Free against Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul. If Free was playing at a level like he was in 2010, I’d say this matchup had a great chance of being a wash. Pierre-Paul has gone from a raw rookie pass rusher to a dominant force on the outside and off the edge.
Tony Romo’s hand is banged up, DeMarco Murray is done for the year, the defense is struggling and the offensive line seems like it will be over-matched in the season finale on New Year’s Day. But other than that, the Cowboys feel like they’re in a good position to win in New York and make a playoff run, according to Stephen Jones.
The team’s executive vice president talked Thursday about the win or go home situation the Cowboys are facing on Sunday and used last season’s Super Bowl champs to explain why there’s hope for a postseason run over at Valley Ranch.
"We feel like we can be one of those teams that get hot in the playoffs," Jones said on 103.3 (KESN-FM) in Dallas. "At this time last year, Green Bay was squeaking in and they ended up winning the championship and went onto have a great year this year. We have a lot of confidence in this team. We feel confident going up to New York and feel that we can beat the Giants and then make a successful playoff run."
Those certainly seem like lofty expectations for a team that has lost three of their last four. But like his father, Jerry Jones, has mentioned several times in the last few weeks, having Romo playing at a high level, gives the franchise hope.
"We certainly don’t back away from expectations," he said. "When you look at the Super Bowl trophies that our franchise has been able to get over the years, we certainly hold that as the gold standard. As long as we’re in it, our goal is to go win a championship and win a Super Bowl.
"We still think that’s the bar of what we want to have, what’s going to get us satisfied in terms of being successful, the only thing is to win a championship. We feel very strongly that we can still get that done this year."