Matchups to Watch:
Bryant is far and away the key passing weapon for the Cowboys, with over 20 more targets than the second-most targeted Jason Witten. Rodgers-Cromartie is struggling with injuries and isn’t a lock to even play at all this Sunday, though practicing Friday is a step in the right direction. This would be a difficult game for Rodgers-Cromartie even if he was close to 100%, much less the hobbled state he is in right now. Whether it be he or Amukamara, it’ll be a very tough battle shutting down the dynamic Bryant, especially if the Giants pass rush can’t reach home versus Romo.
Jason Witten vs. Giants Linebackers
As mentioned above Bryant is the key target on the Cowboys offense, but Jason Witten has often been a thorn in the side of the Giants and this is yet another game where Witten can get the best of New York’s defense. According to Football Outsiders, the Giants are the 29th ranked team in defending opposing tight ends.
By the Numbers:
DeMarco Murray has been everything for the Cowboys. A lot has been said about the Murray’s start already and for good reason. Not only is he the league’s leading rusher by over 200 yards and the league’s leader in rushing touchdowns, he is also second in receptions on the Cowboys roster behind Dez Bryant. A big part of Murray’s production is the Cowboys’ persistence in using him. Murray is on pace to carry the ball 424 times and be targeted in the passing game 66 times this season. As the season goes on, the Cowboys are going to risk running Murray into the ground if this continues and if Dallas is wise will start working the likes of Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle in more. For this Sunday though, expect Murray to once again be at the center of the Cowboys offense and be the one player the Giants need to stop.
Keys to the Game:
The Giants must get big performances from their rookies.
Rashad Jennings and Victor Cruz have both played major parts in the Giants’ three game winning streak, but the Giants will have to go into Sunday with neither veteran and in the case of Cruz will be without his services for the rest of the season.
The Giants have talented players who can fill the void, but neither have much NFL experience. In Andre Williams the Giants have a wrecking ball of a pure runner who in theory should be able to be successful on Sunday, given Dallas’ biggest weakness is still their run defense. The loss of Cruz can certainly be mitigated to an extent by a strong running game, but the explosive plays Cruz is capable of creating will still be missed if first round pick Odell Beckham cannot provide a spark. It’ll be a team effort across the board from the skill positions, from Larry Donnell needing to get back in his groove to Rueben Randle needing to show he’s worthy of the targets he has been getting, but Beckham is the weapon most capable of game-changing plays and showed in his debut that he is ready to make an impact. It must also be said that this is a big game for rookie guard Weston Richburg and the rest of the Giants interior offensive line as well, given the pass-rushing prowess that has been on display by Dallas defensive tackle Henry Melton.
DeMarco Murray must be held in check.
This is an obvious key but far from a straightforward task. Murray has been a superstar for the Cowboys thus far this season and the catalyst for the team’s success on offense. The Cowboys no doubt have several ways to hurt a defense, whether it be the pocket unpredictability of Tony Romo, the dynamism of Dez Bryant at receiver, reliability of tight end Jason Witten or even the emerging Terrance Williams. At the heart of the team’s 5-1 start though is a running back on pace for history. The Cowboys really have not been put in a situation yet this season where they cannot run the ball. If the Giants can limit the success of Murray, it’ll mean Tony Romo will have to take more chances and more opportunities for the Giants to put the Dallas signal caller under pressure. The problem for the Giants here is that the Cowboys run up the middle a lot less than the average NFL team, which is where the Giants’ strength in run defense is with the likes of Jonathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins. A difference maker for the Giants here could be getting Murray to cough up the ball – he’s already fumbled 4 times this season.
The Giants defensive line needs their best performance of the season.
A criticism of the Giants’ pass rush is that the defensive line isn’t finishing enough with their pressure. Tony Romo has a penchant for reckless play, but the Giants have to get him uncomfortable early by setting the tone and hitting Romo on his drop backs consistently to get that reckless play to surface. Romo has already made a few defensive lines look foolish with his pocket magic, including Seattle’s fearsome group, so this will not be an easy task.
X-Factor: WR Rueben Randle
As strange as it sounds, Rueben Randle in a way has already been the Giants’ #1 receiver even before the injury to Victor Cruz. Six games into the season it is Rueben Randle who has been leading the Giants in targets. The problem is Randle’s performances haven’t been very efficient. He’s averaging a sad 8.8 yards-per-reception and is catching only 57% of the balls his way – an especially sad number for so little YPR. Known as a downfield receiver his first two seasons in the league, he has been doing most of his work on offense this season either in the red zone or in shorter routes and comebacks. The Giants could stand to use Randle more as a downfield target, but no matter what the Giants ask him to do Randle needs to step up to warrant the amount of targets he is receiving and is likely to continue to receive.
Prediction: 24 Giants 20 Cowboys
On the Giants Beat Podcast preview show for this game, I stuck my neck out for the Giants, predicting a 24-20 victory. This is no doubt an optimistic prediction, as Dallas is one of the league’s hottest teams at the moment and the Giants are coming off a loss that has many questioning just how good the team really is. However, division games often do not go according to the script and this is a game New York is capable of winning. I expect this game will be the finest of Andre Williams’ young career, I expect Manning to play efficiently and I have a hunch that Tony Romo’s maverick playing style will lead to a little more headaches for Dallas than have come so far. I’m not counting on the Giants stopping DeMarco Murray, but I’m thinking this team can win the turnover battle and get some good contributions from the 2014 draft class to squeak this out.