THE SCOUTING REPORT
WHAT: Dallas Cowboys (1-7) vs. Giants (6-2)
WHEN: Today, 4:15 p.m., New Meadowlands Stadium.
SERIES RECORD: The Cowboys lead the series 55-39-2, but the Giants have beaten them in their last three meetings, and five of their last six dating back to their 2007 playoff win en route to the Super Bowl.
LAST MEETING: Oct. 25, 2010. Just two games ago, the Giants held the Cowboys to just 41 rushing yards. Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns, and Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 126 yards before the defense took the fourth quarter off and allowed Dallas to come back to 41-35. Turnovers caused the Giants to come back from a 20-7 first-half deficit. They got away with committing five turnovers, and had the Giants not fielded two onside kicks at the end, they might have turned sure victory into an historic comeback loss.
INJURIES: Giants – T David Diehl (hip and hamstring), FB Madison Hedgecock (hamstring), KR Darius Reynaud (hamstring), WR Steve Smith (pectoral), and C Shaun O'Hara (foot) are out. T Will Beatty (foot) is questionable. RB Brandon Jacobs (illness), DE Osi Umenyiora (knee), and LB Gerris Wilkinson (hand) are probable.
Cowboys – DE Jason Hatcher (groin), DE Sean Lissemore (ankle), and QB Tony Romo (shoulder) are out. G Montrae Holland (groin), LB Bradie James (knee), CB Terence Newman (ribs), and LB Anthony Spencer (neck) are probable.
WHY THE GIANTS WILL WIN: Quite simply, the Cowboys are a mess. Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator whose play calls have resulted in the Cowboys scoring just 24 points over the last two games, is now the head coach, and Paul Pasqualoni now presides over a defense that at best is in disarray after allowing 121 points the last three games. In many ways, the Cowboys defense has quit, as indicated by the intense criticism cornerback Mike Jenkins has been receiving for making only half-hearted efforts at tackling. Jon Kitna is, at best, a journeyman quarterback who lacks consistency and mobility, and the backfield of Marion Barber and Felix Jones has had absolutely no impact this year. On the flip side, the Giants' offense comes off one of its greatest months in franchise history, rolling up an average of 36 points per game in wins over Houston, Detroit, Dallas, and Seattle. To say they are on a roll is an understatement. Eli Manning has thrown 12 of his season's 17 touchdown passes over that period, and a patchwork offensive line would have blocked Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, and DJ Ware to their second straight 200-yard combined effort last week in Seattle had it not been for Sage Rosenfels' kneel-downs at the end. The Giants are arguably the league's most dominant team right now given their balance of offense and defense. But to maintain that, the offense will have to get a good effort from Kevin Boothe, making his first appearance in a year, at left guard, and Mario Manningham as the "X" receiver for injured Steve Smith. Smith's injury will probably allow the Cowboys to double-cover nine-touchdown wonder Hakeem Nicks on the other side, but that should leave other opportunities open for Manningham, Kevin Boss, Ramses Barden, and Travis Beckum. Once again, look for a lot of three-safety secondary as the Giants no doubt will want to put the heat on Kitna early. They barely blitzed against Seattle, but with an inaccurate Kitna in there, they may be content to put Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster on islands against Miles Austin (45 catches, 657 yards, two TDs) and fast-rising weapon Dez Bryant (38-435-4) and bring the house. It worked in ending Tony Romo's season in the last meeting, it should work this time, too. If the Cowboys defense does choose this game to wake up, punter Matt Dodge has become consistent enough to get the ball downfield and out of bounds to neutralize the big-play return potential of Bryant, who has two punt returns for touchdowns.
WHY THE GIANTS WILL LOSE: Beware the supposedly beaten but talented team. The Cowboys don't have the record or the production to show for it, but they do have talent. Jason Witten (45-506-3) remains one of the league's most dangerous pass-catching tight ends, and there is much speed in the receiving corps in Austin, Bryant, and Roy Williams (23-333-5). If the Giants give Kitna time, he can hit any one of them for the big play. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware has eight sacks, but has yet to truly play to his potential. And Terence Newman is a solid cornerback. Manningham has played well, but he won't bring the same consistency or confidence from Manning that Steve Smith affords, especially on third down. The Giants still haven't cleared up their turnover issues, either, having given the ball up nine times in the last four games. They're especially vulnerable in the early going, as their season's takeaway/giveaway ratio in the first half is minus-4, as opposed to plus-1 in the second half. Slow beginnings like that tend to catch up to a team, especially against an underachiever like Dallas.
PREDICTION: This is the first game for the Cowboys under Wade Phillips' replacements, and it will be key to find out early if they play with a renewed vigor. Tom Coughlin didn't have to do major sell job on his team this week, considering the last meeting was just the first and only of the all-important NFC East games they've played. Don't expect any 31-point runs like the last game, but the Giants will win this one 34-21.