Last year when the Giants season disintegrated after the 5-0 start under the weight of all the injuries and the horrible defensive coaching, there was still one glimmer of hope to that sorry season. The Cowboys made the playoffs. Actually, that wasn't the hopeful thing for the Giants - it was that the Cowboys made the playoffs and won a playoff game. Overall, things could not have worked better for the Giants under the circumstances. The Cowboys won that one playoff game but did not get a real sniff of a title or even a conference championship. The result was an ending for the Cowboys that was bitter because one playoff win does not equal a long and serious playoff run. But at the same time, the Cowboys developed a sense of false hope for their future, and most of all, it led to a contract renewal for Wade Phillips. You know my feelings about Wade - I've blogged about him in the past. Suffice it to say that aside from the fact that I think he is a weak coach, there is also some history and karma there that benefits the Giants. As you all know, his father Bum was the genius that drafted George Rogers as the first pick in the draft for the New Orleans Saints in 1983 and let Lawrence Taylor fall to the Giants. Archie Manning was Bum's QB on the Saints which adds another subtle ironic twist. I was rooting for the Cowboys to win that playoff game, just so Wade would stay on with the Cowboys. As the Cowboys get further and further away from the Parcells tenure as their coach, they will slowly decline in quality. Parcells had an influence on personnel decisions and drafting and he had a major influence in the commitment of the players and their attention to detail. Phillips is more of a coordinator than a HC and more than that, he's a player's coach who can't bring the hammer down on the players when it needs to be done.
Having said that, you certainly have to admit that the Cowboys have an enormous amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Miles Austin has really come into his own as one of the best WRs in the league. Roy Williams seems to have gotten himself in shape and is making some plays, Jason Witten is always solid and Dez Bryant, drafted this year, looks to me to have talent equal to any WR I have ever seen. Even Jerry Jones can draft skill position players - they are easy to see and their talent stands out. The hard part is the infrastructure - the OL. Flozell Adams is gone and a competent, though certainly not overly talented Doug Free replaced him at LT. Marc Columbo is the RT and he is above average, but aging with knee problems. Leonard Davis, their huge RG is powerful against the run and and Gurdoe at C is very good. My point is that flashy WRs, which the Cowboys have plenty of, sell tickets but the OL makes the offense go and the Cowboys OL is so-so. With RBs Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, a competent OL would be able to get them room to run for lots of yards, but the Cowboys are not running the ball well this year. That would seem to indicate that the Cowboys OL is not making space for them. Even though they have passed for lots of yards, Romo has been under pressure at times and has thrown a number of INTs. Some of those INTs have been bad decisions but some have been tipped balls at the line and have come when Romo was throwing under pressure, both of which indicate mediocre OL play.
The key for the Giants this Monday night is to take advantage of that OL and force the Cowboys into mistakes. Kyle Koiser, the LG is probably out for 2-3 weeks, although the Cowboys are saying he may play even this Monday night. That makes the left side of their OL vulnerable. Look for Tuck to line up inside over the replacement LG in passing downs and for Osi and Tuck to come hard from that side of the field. Using 3 safeties in running downs might not be so smart for the Giants this week, especially when Barber is in the game, because even if the Cowboys OL is not great, it is huge and the Giants may need the beef of that extra LB in the game to handle their OL.
On defense, the Cowboys seem to be vulnerable to big plays in the passing game, so I would try to get Eli and Nicks going early in this game. I expect the Cowboys to give help on Smith and Nicks with their safeties, so this is Manningham's week to shine. The big key for the Giants offense is to neutralize the Cowboys DL and let the WRs take advantage of the Cowboys DB-field. Easier said than done, because the Cowboys have a very talented front 7 and are good at putting pressure on the QB. Their best pass rusher is DeMarcus Ware and what makes him hard to block is that he lines up anywhere on the DL. Typically, he lines up on the weak side of the OL, where the TE is not there to help the OT. The key player this week for the Giants in their pass protection schemes might be Bear Pascoe. Giants should consider keeping him in the backfield to provide extra pass protection in passing downs and defending against Ware, whichever side he lines up on. Pascoe can even run out of the backfield and chip Ware to give the OL some help and release only when the pocket seems secure. Giants should use a lot of 6 man protection schemes and rely on their WRs to get open even if there was onle less receiver in pass routes.
The only team that has worse ST than the Giants is the Cowboys, so that may mitigate one weakness that the Giants have against most other teams. Even there, I think Dodge is settling in and will become a good and slightly more consistent punter the rest of the season, but the Giants have to be tight on KO and punt coverage because the Cowboys do have some speed back there.
The keys to the game are the Giants db-field holding their own against the Cowboys talented WRs and the Giants DL attacking the Cowboys OL, forcing Romo into some mistakes. It wil be a tough game because the Cowboys are playing for their season, on their home field, on the Monday night stage. I like the matchups however and I think the Giants have a chance. The Giants defense has excelled this year in games where they have had a mismatch in the DL against the opposing OL and that seems to be the case here. While the Cowboys OL is not as weak as was the Bears, it is still the weakest part of the offense, and the Giants should try to take advantage of that matchup.