Last week was bad, but we're on to Dallas. The Cowboys are starting their third quarterback this year, Matt Cassel; a guy who wasn't even on the roster in Week 1, and they likely remain without Dez Bryant for at least one more week. We have to trust that the defense will be able to hold them to minimal points in this game, and look at how the New York Giants offense can take advantage of certain favorable match-ups.
It's possible, and it won't be pretty, but this game could put the Giants atop the NFC East leader board if it all falls into place. They'll need a little help, and some good performances in-house to get it done, but there's a strong likelihood that come Monday, we'll be talking about this team as a contender once more. Here's hoping.
Stats At A Glance
|Points Per Game||Total Yards||Passing Yards||Rushing Yards|
|Giants' Offense||23.2 (13th)||352.5 (14th)||263.0 (10th)||89.5 (28th)|
|Cowboys' Defense||26.2 (22nd)||394.4 (12th)||254.2 (17th)||95.2 (10th)|
Eli Manning started last week's game against the Eagles by completing his first 10 passes, including a touchdown to Odell Beckham Jr. It all went downhill from there. Of his next 17 passes, he completed only three, with two more going to the other team for interceptions. It was a classic Bad Eli game with a first quarter disguise.
The main thing in question here is if Eli will rebound from that game. His worst performance last year came against the San Francisco 49ers; a horrible five-interception display that cost the Giants a win. The week after that, Manning completed 72 percent of his passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. That was against the Cowboys, and while they didn't win that game either, it wasn't for Manning's lack of trying.
It's important to remember that Manning won't have to out-duel Tony Romo like he did last year, or in the season opener. Instead, he's faced with matching Matt Cassel -- a much more agreeable task. I know other factors will come into it -- such as defensive scores, rushing output and special teams -- but it's possible that Manning won't need to put 35 points on the board to pull out a win.
What this team needs is Efficient Eli. It's pretty simple. They don't need Gunslinger Eli, or Super Bowl Hero Eli, or even Offensive Player of the Week Eli. Just efficiency. No turnovers, intentional grounding or left-handed throws. If Manning can play within his limits, the rest of the team can take care of the rest.
In order to let Manning play an ideal game, the offensive line needs to hold up. They had a rough outing against the Eagles, and the quarterback numbers reflect that as much as the sack and pressure totals do. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this group will be getting reinforcements just yet, as Will Beatty is just beginning to practice and can't be activated until Week 8.
In the meantime, the Giants will have to make do against a revamped Dallas defense that has a few more key players than last time they met. This line will have to deal with Greg Hardy coming off the edge, and Rolando McClain trying to stuff the run. The latter will likely be taken care of by an interior group that has excelled outside of the lone off night in Philadelphia, but Hardy will be a difficult test for rookie Ereck Flowers at left tackle.
I would imagine they will allocate help to the left side of the line -- double-teams, chip blocks, runs to the right -- but that's unlikely to happen on every single play. There will be times when Flowers will have to hold his own against a premier pass rusher. If Hardy gets the best of him, it'll be a long night, so game planning around the weaknesses in Flowers' game is crucial to his success on Sunday.
The Giants' receivers are well set up to take advantage of some sub-par cornerback play. We all know what Beckham can do, and if you've forgotten, don't worry because the broadcast will contain numerous replays of his famous catch against Cowboys' corner Brandon Carr. Sure, that was a good catch, but keep in mind that Carr was intentionally committing a pass-interference penalty right before that.
Beckham was unstoppable then, and decent in the first game this year, so he'll be fine. What's more interesting will be Rueben Randle's contribution to the game. It's safe to assume that Carr will have his hands full, so Randle should draw Morris Claiborne for most of this match-up. I give the edge to Randle in this one, because over the last 10 games or so, he's proven to be more than a capable No. 2 receiver in the Giants' offense.
Elsewhere, I have worries. How do the Giants attack the middle of the field? Without Victor Cruz in the slot, the Giants have gotten worse at two positions, because the scheme appears to push the natural replacement, Dwayne Harris, to the outside and puts Beckham in the middle. Harris is a slot guy, that's where he was intended to be, and playing him in the X or Y position makes absolutely no sense to me.
That said, Beckham in the slot is terrifying for both teams in this game because he has an equal shot of taking a 5-yard pass to the house, and having his ridiculous haircut wiped clean off his head by a hard-hitting linebacker. Sean Lee is not someone you want to cross in front of unnecessarily. Let's keep these attempts to a minimum, okay Ben McAdoo?
Normally, the answer here would be to instead attack with the tight ends. While that may be possible with Will Tye, I'd be reluctant to structure any aspect of my game plan around Larry Donnell; a player as talented as he is frustrating. After catching the game-winner against San Francisco, Donnell had some problematic plays in Philadelphia. Tye was a solid receiving option early last week, but his inexperience likely held him back as the game developed.
That leaves one other option; Shane Vereen. This is the Giants' X-Factor. There isn't a Cowboys player I could name that can cover Vereen successfully throughout all facets of his game. Cowboys match with a corner, then keep him in to block. If he draws a safety, then let's try a wheel route. Linebacker? No chance. Vereen is the best chance the Giants have of playing safe yet sustainable offense.
The offense let this team down last week. They contributed as many points to their own score as they did to their opponent's total. That can't happen. The defense did its job, holding the other team to just 21 points and forcing four turnovers. The offense needs to follow through on nights like that. They're lucky because you don't often get such a quick shot at redemption -- and they have one this week.
If they knock off the Cowboys, and the 5-0 Panthers take care of the Eagles, then the loss last week isn't as important anymore. Head-to-head records only count in a tiebreaker scenario. Pull one game clear of Philadelphia, and the Giants are in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. The game is on Sunday. Keep your fingers crossed for an Efficient Eli sighting.