During the Cowboys' season-opener back in September, quarterback Tony Romo scorched the Giants secondary, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 345 yards while throwing for four touchdowns, including a pair to Terrell Owens. Romo completed five passes of 25-plus yards in the September 9 contest and was sacked just once.
But the Giants, winners of six straight games, appear to have gotten their act together since then, so Romo may not find this Sunday's game in New York to be quite so easy to dominate.
If the Giants want to slow Romo down a bit, they would be wise to give Dallas a defensive look that would encourage the Cowboys to run more on first down. Romo has been at his best going to the air on first down plays, completing 71.9 percent of his passes for 1,092 yards this season. That completion rate is second only to Tom Brady's 72.8 percent on first down among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 100 passes this year.
Just as worrisome is that Dallas' star quarterback has thrown nine of his 19 touchdown passes on first down. That's just one touchdown behind the league-leading pace by Brady and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer.
As the Giants defense watches film this week, they'll notice that Romo has been highly effective completing passes across the entire width of the field. His only subpar spot is to the left sideline where he still has a respectable 54.7 percent completion rate. But he's hitting the rest of the width of the field in the 63- to 67-percent range. During the first matchup, Romo hit tight end Jason Witten and Terrell Ownens in the middle of the field. His other two touchdown passes, to Owens and wide receiver Sam Hurd, were thrown to the right side of the Dallas offense.
So which of the New York defenders will Romo most likely target this weekend with his pass attempts? It should be linebacker Antonio Pierce whenever the Cowboys quarterback sees a favorable matchup. Pierce has allowed 24 catches by the receivers he's defended during 35 pass attempts for a team-worst 68.6 percent burned rate. And even though he's successfully defended six passes, he's currently in a tie for the most touchdown catches allowed on the team along with rookie cornerback Aaron Ross. Both players have allowed three scores through the air.
Giants cornerback Sam Madison tackles Dolphins receiver Marty Booker.
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Ross should be another high priority for Romo as he's allowed 20 catches out of 31 attempts for a 64.5 percent burned-rate. That's the highest completion rate against any of the Giants starters in the secondary, but to his credit, Ross isn't giving up much yardage, allowing an average of just 9.9 yards per catch.
While veteran cornerback Sam Madison is 33-years old, he's still holding his own out there. Quarterbacks have been testing him this year, trying to get the ball to the receivers he's been defending 56 times, more than any other member of the Giants secondary. But Madison is allowing just 50 percent of those passes to be completed for an average gain of 13.5 yards. That completion rate against him puts the veteran in a tie for eighth-best in the league amongst cornerbacks who have been targeted at least 35 times this season. He's defended seven passes and hasn't been burned for a touchdown yet this season.
Keep an eye on not just who catches the ball for Dallas this week, but who was defending on the play to see if Romo goes after the New York secondary's weakest links to date this season.
Plenty of opportunities for Chicago
The Chicago Bears are tied for the NFL lead in the number of offensive possessions this season. Ironically, they join San Francisco's anemic offensive attack as one of the two teams who have had 100 chances so far to put points on the board.
It's just a shame they've been squandering them at a horrible rate.
Chicago's managed just 12 touchdown drives, putting them in a tie for 25th-worst in the league along with Denver and Kansas City.
The only teams with worse results are the 49ers with 10 touchdowns, the Bills, Ravens, and Falcons with nine and the Rams with a league-worst seven. And while Baltimore, Atlanta and St. Louis have all had the ball at least 90 times, Buffalo's offense should get some slack since they've only had the ball 81 times so far this year.
But get this. With 12 touchdowns and 13 field goals made during the first half of their season, the Bears have scored on 25 percent of their offensive chances. And that's just three percent better than the percent of drives they've killed with turnovers.
Tied with the Rams for a league-worst 16 team interceptions, the Bears have also lost six fumbles during those 100 offensive possessions.
This week they head to Oakland, where the Raiders are battling their own demons.
Oakland's quarterbacks have thrown three more interceptions than touchdowns so far this season, fueling the fervor for rookie JaMarcus Russell's debut. And you know things are bad when two of the categories that you lead the league in are punting average and the number of touchbacks on kickoffs -- while you're amongst the league's worst in rushing yards allowed, stopping opponents in 3rd-and-short situations, offensive penalties and red zone drives.
The winner of this game will be the team who runs out of ways to gift-wrap the victory for the opponent.
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