This week's pivotal matchup between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys will have a huge role in deciding whether Tony Romo and the 'Boys get back into the mix of things in the NFC East, or whether the Giants take a stranglehold on the division behind Eli Manning. As usual, we're turning to our boys at DallasCowboys101.com to get the scoop on what's going down in Dallas.
But we're doing it a bit different this week. We're just going to turn it over full throttle to Nicholas Sharp from DC101 who had a lot of fun with this. It's a longer read than normal, but it's in-depth and enlightening and a bit funny (our favorite line: "And then there's Doug Free. Ohhh Doug Free).
Suffice to say, things are not all roses and rainbows in Dallas. Let's turn it over to Nicholas.
Let's start on offense…
The offense has been a conundrum all season. First and foremost, the revamped offensive line has not produced like the front office had hoped. Tyron Smith has endured some growing pains switching over to LT, but has picked up his game the last few outings. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau are not the long-term answers at guard, and it is becoming apparent to Cowboys fans as to why their original teams decided not to re-sign them. Costa is the best we have at center, and is again out due to injury thanks to one of the most gruesome ankle dislocations/sprains that you'll ever see. And then there's Doug Free. Ohhh Doug Free. Every play that he doesn't commit a penalty is a success for Free. In the team's defense, no one could've possibly foreseen the rapid decline of Dallas' most tenured lineman.
Aside from the dysfunctional O-line, Romo has not had much help from the skill positions. Murray has run strong, but the holes have been mostly non-existent and he's again out with injury. As depressing as it is to muster the thought, the idea of Murray simply being injury prone is a tough fact to shake. Felix Jones, after showing a few flashes against Baltimore, struggled again against Carolina and is also injured. Get ready to see the likes of Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar in the backfield this week. Tanner has run hard in his limited opportunities, but is also a head-down type runner that lacks the vision of say a Demarco Murray.
Finally, we've got the pass-catchers. Jason Witten is back to Jason Witten status after a few tough weeks, his struggling undoubtedly as a result of the spleen injury from the preseason. In our opinion, Miles Austin has had a nice season so far. For some reason or another, the Cowboys always struggle to get the ball to their outside receivers. Miles has seen the majority of his success in the slot, so look for #19 to be in motion a lot as well. He has not suffered the drops that we saw last year and has consistently come to play every week. And then we have Mr. Polarizing himself, Dez Bryant. As amazing as he can look on one play, he can do the exact opposite the next play. For every 20 yard slant, there's a drop. For everyone touchdown, there's a wrong route. The only consistency with Dez is inconsistency. He has more than enough talent to live up to the #88 billing, but until he can do it on every play he'll be looked at with glaring eyes by Cowboys nation. Having Dez Bryant is like dating the hot cheerleader in high school; she's super hot and sexy on the surface, but she's got jell-o for brains and you can't help thinking how long this will last.
The original hope from Cowboys fans in regards to the hiring of Bill Callahan as Offensive Coordinator has faded. The play-calling has been ultra-conservative and fans are fed up with it. How many times can this team run on first down? Every time, apparently. Very few teams have a higher percentage of first down runs. That, combined with the lack of downfield attacking, make it tough to consistently score. The teams relies way too much on 15-play, 8 minute drives to score points and has not seen enough big plays. Will that change against the Giants? Probably not.
One final thing about the Panthers game. It's simply tough to win a road game in the NFL. Another important fact to remember is that the Panthers were coming off of their bye week. An extra week of preparation can go a long ways on the field. Many Cowboys fans were disappointed with the outcome. Disappointed?! We won the game. For a team that is 4-7 in their last 11 games their is no "disappointed" when you win games. Reserve style points for the college game. Getting the win is all that matters.
From what it sounds like, the Giants won't have the problems stopping Tanner and Dunbar the way they did Murray in Week 1 which is absolutely huge. If the Giants can take away the run game and make Romo's offense one-dimensional, the whole game changes.
The Cowboys burned us in Week 1 with short passes (we still have nightmares about that slant route to Kevin Ogletree), do you guys expect more of the same?
It's funny that you mention Ogletree. Since week 1 (8 catches, 114 yards), he's had all of 13 catches for 134 yards. Fans are chomping at the bit to see what training camp all-stars Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, and Andre Holmes have to offer. Romo hasn't shown recently that he can beat teams downfield, but he hasn't had much of an opportunity. His yards per attempt is at an all-time low, and teams have forced Romo to stay underneath. Oncoming pass rushers as well as two-deep safeties have been a recurring theme for #9, and he's been forced into check downs to the RB or Witten the majority of the time. My guess is that we see a heavy dose of the quick slant again this week, with some of the Dallas Cowboys trademarked draw plays sprinkled in as well. There are few better in the business at the slant draw then the 'Boys.
If the Giants commit to shutting down the short game, it'll be up to Garrett and his staff to make the adjustments deep. Garrett and Romo have preached that they take whatever the defense is giving them. It'll be a gift if the Giants decide to shutdown the short game, and we'll likely see big games from both Bryant and Austin if that's the case. There has been an increased chatter this week about throwing downfield and taking more chances. We will have to wait and see if that's how things play out.
So, Giants fans: do we play with fire and let Romo try and beat us downfield…or do we let them dink and dunk and try to keep them out of the end zone?
We've already talked about Murray's injury…let's the rest of them out of the way…
The loss of center Phil Costa is definitely detrimental to the continued advancement of the O-line. He had a nice veteran presence for a young player and was starting to block well also. The unit continues to suffer due to the lack of continuity, and that's not likely to change in the near future. Did you see that injury? Yikes!
I can't begin to explain what the loss of Lee means to this team. It's like the Bears losing Urlacher or the Ravens losing Ray Lewis (both in their prime). Sean Lee made this defense tick and has become one of the most productive inside LB's in the game. Dan Connor is serviceable, but it's a major step down. Connor lacks the instincts of Lee, and gets beat relatively consistently in the passing game. Watch for Marty B to have some more success against his old mates if Connor is the man guarding him. 2nd year player Bruce Carter will be relied upon heavily, and will have to step up in his newfound leadership role.
All reports say that Murray will not be available this week. But man, they could sure use him. At full strength, Murray is a true workhorse back that can carry this team. Too bad he's rarely at full strength. He's not going to play, and unless he's fully healthy he shouldn't. The Cowboys will need him at full strength in the second half if they hope to act upon the playoff aspirations.
Four weeks ago no Giants fan would believe any team could have a worse injury situation than ours. Our injury situation is a healthy Kenny Phillips away from being perfect; the Cowboys, ehhh not so much. How things swing so quickly in today's NFL.
The Cowboys spent a ton of money and draft picks revamping the secondary and we were impressed with what we saw in Week 1 and in snapshots from NFL Redzone. Are they still playing well?
The Dallas Cowboys secondary has been a nice bright spot this year. I can say with strong confidence that Bear Pascoe won't be hurdling any of them this time around. Brandon Carr has struggled the slightest bit the last few games, and is still yet to record an interception. Teams have seemed to look more to his side than Claiborne's in recent games. Morris Claiborne has had a few growing pains, but also looks more than worthy of the #6 pick in the draft. He got his first pick last week in the end zone against Cam Newton. He's going to need to record a few more this year for the Cowboys to stay competitive. Do we expect another repeat of week 1 when we shut down both Nicks and Cruz? No. But we don't expect either of them to have massive days either.
The safeties have been okay since Barry Church went down. Sensabaugh is a better-than-average safety back there and Danny McCray can lay the wood when given the chance. The biggest mystery within this unit is the disappearance of Mike Jenkins. Since playing major snaps against Tampa Bay, he's been limited since and played only 1 snap last week. Are they keeping him healthy for a trade? Maybe. One idea that we've seen this week is to move McCray to the nickel LB spot (usually manned by Lee) and put Jenkins up top at safety. In theory, sounds like a great idea. Who knows if we'll see it.
Carr and Claiborne are a formidable duo, which makes us wonder if Domenik Hixon and Martellus Bennett are in for big games.
And how about the front-seven….
The front seven has also played well. The defense is clearly the best unit on this team, a drastic change as opposed to most Cowboys teams this past decade or so. The loss of Lee cannot be overstated, but the "next man up" philosophy will be in full effect. I have a sneaky suspicion that we'll see less Dan Connor and more 4-man fronts going forward. Rob Ryan believes in getting his best 11 guys on the field, and right now the D-line is playing at a high level. Jason Hatcher is a force on the edge, but the main push has been coming from the middle. Josh Brent really turned heads playing in place of Ratliff, and now they simply can't keep him off the field. Last week, the Panthers interior line simply couldn't stop the push of both Ratliff and Brent. Ratliff has lost a little of that spark, but with Brent by his side he'll face less double and triple teams than has been the norm.
Of course, Demarcus Ware is still Demarcus Ware. While Sean Lee may have been the most important player on this defense, Ware is still the best. A new, and admittedly surprising, development has been the increased production of Anthony Spencer. "Almost" Anthony has stepped it up a notch this year and may force the Cowboys into actually giving him that big contract he so desires. Spencer has even shown some pass rushing skills, as evidenced by his essentially-game-ending sack on Cam Newton last week. Look for Spencer to start racking up the tackles along with Bruce Carter in Sean Lee's absence.
The Cowboys win if…
If they score more points than the Giants? I'm not sure there's truly a game plan or a set blue print for the Cowboys to beat the Giants. They better hope they're up by more than 7 points when the 4th quarter's coming to a close. We still don't have full confidence in this team to close out games.
Hah! We've been waiting for that response to the last question all year. Hats off to Nicholas for the great work.
It seems to us like the Cowboys are in a bit of a nether-region: plenty of reason to doubt, enough hope to stay alive. The Giants can go a long way to either righting the Cowboys listing shape or marooning them on a deserted island this week.
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