Last year the Giants went into Arlington with the hopes of ruining the opening night festivities of the Cowboys debut in their brand new stadium. Three hours later, Lawrence Tynes sealed Dallas's fate with a game winning field goal, and the Giants were able to escape Texas with a 33-31 win. Unlike a potential loss in Monday nights game, that week two loss to the Giants did not signify the end of the Cowboys season. Both teams were expected to make the playoffs, and were considered two of the NFC's elite teams.
Monday night, the Cowboys are playing for their season. a loss would drop them to 1-5, while vaulting the Giants to 5-2, an almost insurmountable gap to overcome. Even though they are 1-4, analysts will say they are not your typical 1-4 team. The Cowboys are currently top 5 in yards gained and allowed per game. Digging a little deeper into the numbers, it is clear they are not as good as their stats indicate. They are currently 8th in yards per passing attempt, but are in the bottom half of the league in yards per rush attempt, and yards per pass and rush attempt given up on defense. A long with those mediocre numbers, they also have the 2nd worst turnover differential in the NFL at -5, and are 3rd in the NFL in offensive penalties. Those are the numbers of a 1-4 team.
In the Giants first divisional battle of the season, there are a few key match-ups that could dictate the turnout of this game, and the first player under the microscope is David Diehl.
Diehl vs. Ware
In 2007, the Giants converted their 2003 5th round guard into their starting left tackle. The Giants recently rewarded his solid play with a new six year/31 million dollar contract, but now it would be tough to blame them for having buyers remorse. Diehl has been a liability the past few years, and his game has continued to regress during the first six weeks of the 2010 season. One player who has seemed to have always gotten the best of Diehl is Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. Since 2007, Ware has seven sacks in seven games against the Giants, with a majority of those coming at Eli's blind side. With 100,000 screaming fans aiming to disrupt the Giants offensive rhythm, it will be important for the Giants to mix up the timing of the snap, and make sure Ware can't get a quick first step to the quarterback.
Steve Smith vs. Cowboys nickle corner
Heading into the 2009 season, the Giants had re-vamped their wide reciever core. Amani Toomer was no longer effective, and Burress had sadly shot himself in the leg in November and would be cut months later. The number one question in training camp was who would Eli throw to? He lost his two biggest targets in Shockey and Burress over the past two seasons, and everyone seemed to think Eli would regress without any reliable receivers. Well, everyone except Giants general manager Jerry Reese. This is what he said in August of 2009:
"We think he (Manningham) can play any of the spots. We like Mario, we like Steve Smith, we like (Domenik) Hixon. We like our tight end. I think people are panicked a little bit about receiver. I don't think we're panicked about it. We're not panicking about our receivers."
Steve Smith ended up being a pro bowl receiver that season, and the added attention he now receives has benefited Hakeem Nicks early on this season. Last year, Steve Smith had at least 110 receiving yards in both games against Dallas. The Cowboys have one of the best cornerback duos on the NFL with the University of South Florida product Malcom Jenkins and Terrance Newman, but it is their nickle corners that will have the responsibility of containing Smith Monday night. Even though Smith is still the starter, and is considered the Y receiver in the Giants two wide-receiver sets, he moves into the slots when Manningham enters the game. The Cowboys may put a stronger emphasis on stopping Hakeem Nicks tomorrow night, which could leave room over the middle for Smith to operate.
Cowboys offensive line vs. Giants defensive line
Even though the Cowboys have one of the worst offensive lines, they have only given up seven sacks on the season, tied for 3rd in the NFL. At times, Perry has been content on relying heavily on his front four to pressure the QB, and leaving seven players in coverage. Against Dallas, it may be imperative to once again rely on Osi and Tuck to generate a pass rush. With Austin, Williams, Bryant and Witten, Dallas has many weapons to defend, and when a a bad offensive line is able to give up few sacks, it must mean the quarterback is getting rid of the ball quickly. Four of Romo's seven interceptions this season have come on passes thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. If the Giants concede the short throw and rely on their defensive line to collapse the pocket, their patience could be rewarded with a few interceptions Monday night.
Overall, this should be a back and forth contest. Both offenses are playing well right now, and good red zone defense could decide the outcome of this game.
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