Cowboys Vs Giants Q+A - State of Confusion?

The Cowboys start their divisional schedule this coming weekend with a visit from the rival New York Giants. New York comes in a state of confusion, not sure what the future holds for them as injuries and a new system have made 2014 an early roller coaster ride. We check in with Rick Laughland of to see what intel he can provide on this familiar foe.

Giants questions and answers

1 - A few short days ago, the Giants appeared to be a team on the come, part of the surprise start for the NFC East, which entering the season was thought to be a mediocre-at-best division. e 2014 Then, Sunday night happened and opened up a series of questions of exactly what kind of team the 2014 Giants are. Dallas Cowboys fans are no strangers to new systems and mounting injuries derailing plans for success. Is that, I ask Rick Laughland of, the nutshell overview of what is troubling the Giants right now?

The 2014 Giants are an enigma. After an 0-2 start, critics were shoveling dirt on them, but three straight wins against less than stellar squads breathed new life into an impatient fan base. While Eli Manning is still a top 10 quarterback, the inconsistent play of his offensive line, injuries to star Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings have proven to be deadly blows to Big Blue early on this season. Ben McAdoo's West Coast system endured some bumps in the road early on, but as soon as the pieces of the puzzle started meshing together, the injury bug hit. Big Blue has seen tremendous roster turnover since its 2011 championship season with just Antrel Rolle, Prince Amukamara, Mathius Kiwanuka and Manning representing the only healthy starters from that spectacular season. Despite being active players in free agency and snatching up one of the 2014 draft class' most talented wideouts in Odell Beckham Jr., there has been no level of consistent play from Tom Coughlin's squad. The Giants lack a true pass-rushing threat, as Jason Pierre-Paul is not playing even close to his 2011 version and while the revamped secondary has forced its fair share of mistakes, the Giants inability to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks has been quite evident so far in 2014. The Giants prospects for the future are bright, but the way things are headed it doesn't appear as though they'll be in the playoff conversation this season.

2 - What did Philadelphia do differently in attacking the Giants offensive line that other teams haven't this year? New York has had success against other 3-4 defenses in Arizona Houston and Washington, but there was absolutely no time for Eli to throw on Sunday night.

The Giants offensive line was downright awful on Sunday night and you have to credit the Eagles defensive front for mixing in pressures and stunts to confuse New York's pass blockers. Philadelphia came at the Giants in waves as Connor Barwin and Trent Cole proved to be too much for Justin Pugh, Will Beatty and company to handle. New York's protection has been suspect all season long and the only thing covering up their mistakes is the new-look West Coast Offense which has Manning making quick drops and releasing the ball at a much faster rate. The Giants line play both offensively and defensively was their strength in 2007 and 2011 and now it appears to be a weak link this upcoming season. With Cruz out of the lineup, the Giants are lacking a true home run threat and receiver that can demand a double team. Rueben Randle does not get great separation on his routes, and while Odell Beckham Jr. is an intriguing player he's still learning the nuances of exploiting NFL caliber defenses. Expect the Giants line issues to steadily improve as the group develops chemistry and improves communication but top tier pass-rushing units will likely have marked success against New York's front.

3 - It would be hard to imagine two teams further apart as far as their confidence levels based on this past week's results, but we all know the NFL is a week-to-week league and things can change in an instant. What is the pulse of the Giants team currently?

To be perfectly honest this team seemed a bit rattled that their leader in Cruz is lost for the year. Not only will No. 80 be out for 6-9 months with the gruesome injury, but the pain and agony that he endured shook-up a lot of his teammates. The Giants seem to keep searching for leaders to help guide the locker room and lift their spirits. Cruz was one of those guys, but he's now injured. Jon Beason and Rashad Jennings have exemplary leadership, but both have been hobbled by injuries this year. If there's one thing the Giants have shown during the Manning and Coughlin era it's that you can never count them out, but you can't necessarily count on them either. Coughlin and Manning never waver in their confidence, but the supporting cast around them is either injured or not living up to expectations. Big Blue needs a win in the worst way this week as they face a murderous schedule after their Week 8 Bye featuring: Indianapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and another meeting with Dallas. I think that anything can happen in the NFL, but if I'm a betting man I don't see this Giants team turning their fortunes around this season.

4 - If you could identify the top three things that have been working for the Giants thus far for 2014, what would they be?

I. The Giants rushing attack was spectacular to start the year as Jennings was the NFL's third leading rusher before going down with an MCL sprain. Andre Williams has been a pleasant surprise as a rookie, but he's shown he's clearly not ready to take the full-time workload. Peyton Hillis is another big-bodied back, but his role has been somewhat limited this season. If the Giants are able to get Jennings back on the field healthy, their ground game could be something to be reckoned with.

II. New York's secondary has been as good as advertised with Amukamara and Rolle playing some of their best football. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie has been limited with hip and leg ailments, but he's provided a boost in pass coverage. The Giants haven't had this talent level in the secondary since Coughlin took over as head coach, but with a tepid pass-rush the defense is still a middle of the pack unit.

III. Despite suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 1, Steve Weatherford has been stellar in helping the Giants win the field position battle and placekicker Josh Brown has been perfect on all seven field goal attempts this year. The Giants kicking units have been rock solid this year, but in a stacked NFC East, field goals aren't good enough to win games.

5 - On the flip side, what three things have been a thorn in the side of the team? Things they have been susceptible to over the first six games?

I. The Giants have been susceptible to turnovers in big spots against top flight defenses. The Cowboys retooled unit may have opportunities to force mistakes and Manning has a tendency to try and make the big play even if it isn't there.

II. The pass-rush has been virtually non-existent and the defensive line has struggled to create pressure in the opponents backfield. Johnathan Hankins, Pierre-Paul and Cullen Jenkins have been somewhat ineffective and until they start clicking and taking pressure off the secondary, things could start to turn ugly for Big Blue.

III. There's no disputing that Coughlin is a two-time Super Bowl winner, but his gameplans this season have been real head scratchers. We haven't seen much imagination or ingenuity from the offense and defensively a ball hawking secondary has made up for the fact that the unit as a whole has given up significant yardage in each game this year. If things don't turn around in a hurry 2014 could be Coughlin's final season in New York.

Cowboys questions and answers

1. Joseph Randle's arrest for shoplifting has caused quite a stir in the media and somewhat taken the attention away from the Cowboys 5-1 start. How is Garrett and company dealing with the distraction and has he lost some respect from teammates in the locker room?

Garrett and his staff have bred an environment of accountability. Whenever a player makes a mistake along these embarassing lines, the player normally apologies to the entire team and staff at a closed meeting. From most reports, Randle's apology was heartfelt and accepted widely among teammates. It was a dumb thing to do, and is most likely a function of an addiction he's had, despite claiming it's not a habit. Kleptomania afflicts a lot of people in this world and has nothing to do with financial difficulty.

The interesting dynamic here is that the distraction may have been the best thing for the Cowboys as a team. For one, the Class B misdemeanor is legally the equivalent of a traffic ticket. However the fact that just over 24 hours after the biggest win for the franchise in a few years, all of the congratulatory pomp and circumstance from the national media faded away. As the original team of BIll Parcells, I'm sure you are familiar with his saying "Don't Eat The Cheese". The Randle arrest eviscerated any scent of it... and it had to be right back to work to prove to the world that they are more than the team that employs a shoplifter.

2. With right tackle Doug Free expected to miss 3-4 weeks, how much of a hit is that to an offensive line that is playing at an elite level this season? What move(s) have the Cowboys made to make up for his absence and can the unit be as dominant as it has been so far this year without Free?

That my friend is the million-dollar question. Doug Free has taken a lot of beating over the years, and justifiably so. He had rough seasons in 2011 and 2012, where if he wasn't missing protections he was getting called for penalties. This was painful as he was being paid and being looked at as one of the team's top linemen. He bounced back and had a strong start to 2013 and was able to play reasonably well through the season. In 2014, he's been playing at a fair clip, but here's the rub.

If Doug Free is your best lineman, your team is in a world of trouble. If Doug Free is your fifth best lineman, you have a damn good offensive line; and that's the scenario Dallas is in. Theoretically, a top unit like this shouldn't suffer to much going from their 5th best guy to their 7th best guy. He'll be replaced by Jermey Parnell, who I have some doubts about. Parnell hasn't looked good in preseason games for the last few years running with lesser teammates than he'll have on Sunday. However, in spot duty as a sixth offensive lineman he still hasn't shown me much. I'd expect to see Dallas throw a lot of help in his direction Sunday afternoon.

3. Dez Bryant is among the league's best playmakers, but you hardly ever hear his name mentioned with the Top 5 WRs in the league? Do you think that he's an All-Pro pass-catcher and doesn't get some of the respect that he deserves?

Yes, but I'm hideously biased. In another offense, with less adept complimentary pieces, I think Dez Bryant is an offensive player of the year candidate. Compare Bryant's first four seasons to Calvin Johnson's first four seasons; Bryant wins out. Now, granted, Johnson didn't have Stafford throwing to him those first two years, but the point is still legitimate. I think people recognize his skill set, but as always... players are elevated based on team success. I'd imagine that if Dallas continues to play at this clip, he'll get more and more recognition for his outstanding abilities. I know one thing, I've rarely seen defenses put two men at the line of scrimmage to cover a wideout like I've seen several times against Dez Bryant. Coordinators know that he's All-Pro caliber, that's for sure.

4. The Cowboys seem to have shifted their offensive philosophy to focus on the running game and DeMarco Murray? What do you attribute this shift to? Did they finally recognize that their offensive line is a force to be reckoned with? Did they think that Romo needed a more balanced offensive especially coming off back surgery? All of the above?

All of the above. Dallas actually began the shift to a heavier dose of the run game towards the end of last season, but has taken it to a whole different level in 2014. As an example, CowboysHQ staff have tried to figure out if there's ever been a game where a team came back to win after being down by 21 points, and ended up with more rushing attempts than passes. That's what Dallas did against St. Louis, and they are truly running a 50/50 split for the year. Dallas' play at the guard spots has reached new heights and allows them to dominate in both ZBS and Power Man plays. LG Ron Leary has progressed beautifully and Zack Martin has been everything expected at RG. Combined with Pro Bowler Tyron Smith and future Pro Bowler Travis Frederick, it's tough to imagine them not having success in the run game.

5. Tony Romo has been ridiculed for his late game miscues and chastised by the media and opposing fans for not possessing that clutch factor? With 26 fourth quarter comebacks over his career, do you feel like some of that criticism is undeserved?

There's no question that Romo has had his share of games where he turned the ball over in crucial situations; but the fact that is the prevailing narrative on his career is simply lazy journalism. As you've stated, 26 fourth quarter comebacks is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it's a franchise record for a club that has some guy in their record books nicknamed Captain Comeback. Roger Staubach thinks Tony Romo is a clutch performer.

If the Cowboys had done a better job of putting a capable team around Romo, I think things would be different. I could bore you to death with stat after stat about the team play surrounding him compared to other QBs around the league... it's frightening how much he's left out to dry. However, Dallas rebuilt on the fly around Romo (only two other offensive players remain from when Jason Garrett took over as head coach) and he's been able to keep the team in playoff contention each year. As all of us know, though, reputations are built on postseason success and the Cowboys haven't had any. Until that changes, the narrative on Romo will likely stick, whether completely deserved or not.

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