Taking On The Cornered Cowboys

The 1-4 Cowboys might not admit it, but they're playing for their season. That, alone, adds extra spice to Monday night's game, where the Giants will try to put some distance between them with their first division win.

THE SCOUTING REPORT

WHAT: Giants (4-2) vs. Dallas Cowboys (1-4)

WHEN:  Monday night, 8:20 p.m. at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Tx.

SERIES RECORD: The teams have met 96 times since 1960, with the Cowboys leading 55-38-2. The Giants beat the Cowboys twice last season.

LAST MEETING IN DALLAS: Sept. 20, 2009. In Week 2 of the regular season, the Giants went down and spoiled the opening of the Cowboys' new, mammoth stadium 33-31 as part of their 5-0 start. The Giants fell behind four times, only to climb back into it on Eli Manning touchdown throws to Mario Manningham and Steve Smith, both of which were set up by Kenny Phillips interceptions. Rookie cornerback Bruce Johnson brought them back again on a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Lawrence Tynes finally won it in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter with his fourth field goal of the evening. The game was also known for LT Flozell Adams' trip on Justin Tuck that caused the defensive end to battle the rest of the season through an injured shoulder, lessening his effectiveness.

INJURIES: Giants – T Will Beatty (knee), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (neck), FB Madison Hedgecock (hamstring) are out.  WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) is questionable. LB Keith Bulluck (toe), DB Brian Jackson (neck), DE Justin Tuck (ankle), PK Lawrence Tynes (ankle), DE Osi Umenyiora (knee), and RB DJ Ware (groin) are probable.

Cowboys – G Kyle Kosier (ankle) is out. LB Bradie James (knee), C Andre Gurode (knee), WR Dez Bryant (ankle), and CB Mike Jenkins (personal issue) are probable.

WHY THE GIANTS WILL WIN: The Cowboys are struggling mightily at 1-4, and 0-1 in the division, not because they can't move the ball, but because they're not using their heads. Their 49 penalties is second-only to Detroit's 59, and a lot of those are procedure calls on missed snap counts and simply mindless calls for excessive celebration and such. One such celebration cost them a victory over Tennessee. They have yet to score 30 points in a single game. The Giants come off a three-game winning streak and won't be intimidated by their large surroundings, having beaten Dallas already down there. The defense, which has played well for three games, should be even better with Keith Bulluck participating in several packages against the run, and cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster should be able to take care of tall receivers Roy Williams and Miles Austin. That leaves Jason Witten, who will get substantial coverage from the three-safety package of Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, and Kenny Phillips, while improving middle linebacker Jonathan Goff also provides coverage. Quarterback Tony Romo could be in for his first lost fumble of the year if T Doug Free can't handle the rejuvenated pass rush of Osi Umenyiora, the NFL's second-leading sacker with eight. Justin Tuck and Barry Cofield will also be pressuring the mobile Romo, but they'll have be effective because Romo can buy himself time to find Austin (33 catches, 486 yards, two TDs), Williams (23-270-1) and promising rookie Dez Bryant (18-211-1). The Giants have held the last three opponents to 64 yards or fewer on the ground. Eli Manning can only hope Hakeem Nicks won't be too slowed by his sore ankle, as Nicks (36-417-6) is the big playmaker in the passing game. But if he's hampered, look for possession guy Steve Smith to have a big game against either Mike Jenkins or Terence Newman.

WHY THE GIANTS WILL LOSE: Although they're not admitting it, the Cowboys are basically playing for their season. If they take a fifth loss and go 0-2 in the division, the playoffs will be just about out of reach barring a huge run. So they'll come out aggressively against just an aggressive defense. That may be the Giants' downfall, too, since the backfield of Felix Jones and Marion Barber can be explosive at times. The 23rd ranking is misleading because Jones is averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per carry. They open things up for the passing game, which is also strengthened by tight end Jason Witten's abilities. So the Giants will have to have sound gap control if they expect to shut down Jones' slashing style and Barber's power moves. Terrell Thomas missed a couple of tackles last week against Detroit, so he'll have to make sure to get the powerful Austin to the ground. The main receivers – Austin, Williams, Bryant, and Witten, all go 6-foot-2 or better, and all have bulk, making this the most physical corps the Giants have faced. The cornerbacks' positioning has been good so far, but it's a question of whether they can match up strength-wise. When the Giants have the ball, they'll have to keep close eye on DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys' outstanding pass-rushing linebacker who has seven of their 12 sacks. They don't blitz a lot, preferring instead to cover. And their 10th-rated run defense is more than capable of stopping up Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, both of whom have been very productive the last couple of games. Jacobs comes off a two-touchdown game, and Bradshaw raced for a season-high 133 yards against the Lions, his second 100-yard effort in three games.

PREDICTION: Forget the records. These guys always play tough, physical games where anything can happen. At least Tuck won't have to worry about Adams, as the dirty tackle has gone on to Pittsburgh. Still, I have a bad feeling about this one. Dallas 31-17.


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