For reasons unknown it has taken the Dallas Cowboys four seasons to figure out that more DeMarco Murray and less Tony Romo equals a winning formula. The Cowboys have ridden six straight 100+ yard rushing games from the phenomenal Murray to their 5-1 start.
Murray is averaging a throwback 26.5 carries per game this season. That is up from only 14.6 carries per game his first three seasons. Romo, meanwhile, is averaging 31.8 passes per game. He threw 35.6 times per game in 2013 and an absurd 40.5 times per game in 2012.
How good has Murray been? He's been this good, totaling more rushing yards (785) than most teams.
The result is that the Cowboys lead the league in rushing at 160.3 yards per game, are fourth overall at 398.7 yards per game, fourth in the league in score (27.5 points per game) and third in time of possession (33:51). Romo is completing 68.6 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 100.5, both his best marks since 2010. The offensive efficiency has helped them protect a defense considered a weakness entering the season.
So, what do the New York Giants do to slow Murray, Romo and the Cowboys offense on Sunday? Obviously, slowing the Dallas running game needs to be a priority. The aim should be to force the Cowboys away from the formula that has worked for them as they have won five straight games.
Unfortunately for the Giants, they are coming off their worst game in two seasons in terms of run defense. The Philadelphia Eagles ran for 202 yards Sunday in a 27-0 rout, with LeSean McCoy gashing the Giants for 149 yards on 22 carries (6.8 yards per carry).
What happened against the Eagles? Undisciplined defense, mostly.
"I think we played the run pretty well up until that game last weekend," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "I'm confident that we can get back on track and do a better job of leverage and contain, turning the ball back inside and all of the things you saw that we did not do."
Let's look back at the Eagles game at some of those things Coughlin said the Giants did not do, and that they will obviously have to do against Murray. Let's illustrate three plays from Philadelphia's first two drives.
[DISCLAIMER: As I always say when I do these things, I am not a scout or a trained film analyst. My observations are purely what my eyes tell me.]
This is a 12-yard run by McCoy on Philly's first possession, the initial indication that things were about to go horribly wrong.
You see linebackers Jon Beason (left) and Jacquian Williams highlighted, and the Giants look like they have this play defended well. Watch what happens, though.
Beason still appears to be in position, but rather than pursue diagonally across the 35-yard line to meet McCoy in the hole, Williams runs under the play and gets himself caught up in traffic. The next image shows how that hurt the Giants.
Beason misses the tackle. This, to be honest, was simply a case of Beason at this point in his career not being fast enough to close the hole even though he had the play diagnosed and was in perfect position the whole way. Williams, because of his poor angle, ends up in chase mode and McCoy gets 8-10 more yards than he should have had.
This is the very next play, an 18-yard run by McCoy, and again we are picking on Williams.
At the start of this play, Williams (highlighted) diagnoses the play correctly and begins to move into the hole before the ball is even snapped. Unfortunately, he negates his great read by what he does next.
Instead of filling what appears to be his gap, and the spot McCoy ultimately takes advantage of, Williams creates a hole by crashing hard to the inside. The result?
McCoy ends up with a hole the size of Yellowstone Park to exploit.
On this play it is hard to know if the call was for the Giants to slant their defensive line to their left, but watch what happens to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and the linebacker, who I believe was Jameel McClain. The play, incidentally, was on Philly's second possession of the game.
You see Pierre-Paul lined up in his normal right defensive end spot.
At the snap, Pierre-Paul doesn't think about containing the back side of the run at all. With McCoy moving right, JPP crashes hard to his left. McClain, behind him, also crashes to his left as he comes down to the line of scrimmage. See what happens next.
As soon as McCoy takes the handoff he cuts back to the left -- the spot JPP vacated and McClain can't get to because of how hard he crashed down to the middle. There is a big enough hole here that even yours truly, a 54-year-old guy with a bum wheel, could have gotten at least five yards. McCoy got 18.
More Than Murray
The Dallas offense, of course, is more than just Murray. Let's look at what else the Giants have to deal with.
The Cowboys offensive line features first-round picks Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Dallas' stockpiling of talent here is paying huge dividends, paving the way for Murray and protecting Romo. Football Outsiders ranks the Dallas line as sixth-best in run blocking, but only 19th in pass protection. Pro Football focus also ranks Dallas No. 6 overall.
Romo, of course, has outstanding receivers to throw to in Dez Bryant (36 catches) and tight end Jason Witten (21 catches). Dallas also likes to throw to Murray (21 catches). Terrance Williams complements Bryant with 18 receptions, five for touchdowns.
How the Giants cover the Dallas receivers remains to be seen. Jayron Hosley takes over in the slot after season-ending injuries to Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would likely have shadowed Bryant, but DRC is dealing with leg injuries and it sounds increasingly unlikely that he will play. That would put veteran corner Zack Bowman in the starting lineup.
The Giants have also struggled at the safety spot opposite Antrel Rolle. Stevie Brown was benched after allowing several big plays during the first three weeks. Quintin Demps took over. After playing reasonably well for two weeks, the veteran Demps had a poor game against the Eagles.
Coughlin also expressed concern over Romo's ability to move around and extend plays, even after off season back surgery.
The Giants task defensively on Sunday is obviously not an easy one.