Oh my! What a difference a week makes!
That loud, whooshing sound you heard late Sunday afternoon was any momentum the Dallas Cowboys had disappearing like the fizz in an over shaken soda. Yes, they still enjoy a one-game lead over the second place Giants going into this week’s game. And, yes the ‘Boys are 4-1 over the last 5 games while the Giants are 1-4 and haven’t won since week 9. But, after this weekend is there any question which team is coming into this Sunday night, nationally televised game with more confidence?
The Giants may have ended up on the short end of the score against the Packers, but they gave them the biggest challenge they’ve faced yet this season. If not for a surgical execution by Aaron Rodgers of the “two minute drill” and some questionable officiating, the Giants may have won outright or made it to OT and handed the Packers their first loss. They have a knack for this.
This situation is eerily similar to another 38-35 loss by the Giants. In 2007, Tom Coughlin was in the final year of his contract and among widespread player unrest hearing calls again for his firing. They headed into the regular season finale at home against the undefeated New England Patriots. Despite an up and down season, they gave the Pats all they could handle and nearly won. Something happened during that loss that convinced them they could play with anyone. We all know what happened next. They went on from there to defeat Tampa Bay in the wild card game, escaped Texas Stadium with a crushing 21-17 defeat of our 13-3 Cowboys, beat Green Bay in overtime in the NFC Championship game, and ultimately upset the Patriots in one of the more memorable Super Bowl games ever. Just when you think you can bury this team for dead, they rise up again like zombies.
We need the team that was embarrassed by the Saints just two weeks ago to show up Sunday night in Cowboys Stadium and not the one that probably should have beaten the Packers. No doubt they come into this game riding a four-game losing streak but the combined records of the teams that have beaten them over that stretch is 35-13 (.729). Our 4-1 record includes last second wins against teams that are a combined 18-30 (.375). Add to that the fact that this is a divisional game against a hated rival and a chance to tie for the division lead and there is no doubt the Giants will be flying high Sunday night.
It certainly doesn’t look good. As sure as most fans were that we would handle the Cardinals last week, there is widespread pessimism about our chances now against the Giants. But, there are some legitimate reasons for Cowboys fans to have hope and believe the team can pull out the much needed victory. Here are just a few:
HOME COOKING. It’s a home game and the Cowboys are 5-1 at home this season.
DIVISION GAME. The Cowboys hate the Giants as much as any team – if they aren’t up for this game then the season is already over.
TONY ROMO. Tony has looked awful at times this season but since fully recovering from his fractured ribs he has been very good. This will be the first time Tony has faced the Giants since his broken collarbone in the first meeting last year. That should be an extra incentive for him to engineer a win. His ability to elude the rush will help him against a quality pass rush but our offensive line MUST keep him upright and give him time to find open receivers. Too often Tony is running for his life and manages to throw the ball away for an incompletion or dumps the ball off for a short gain when deeper receivers were open if he had time. It avoids the sack on the stat sheet but it can be a drive killer.
JASON GARRETT. This may seem out of place here in that Garrett has been getting KILLED all week by fans. Yes, the red headed Princeton genius is still in his first full year as head coach and making rookie mistakes (like atrocious clock management) but he has more often than not shown the ability to have this team ready to play superior opponents. No one gave them any chance, for example, to stay in last year’s Thanksgiving Day game against the clearly better Saints. But 2 games into the Garrett era, they came within a horrible Roy Williams fumble of beating them. (Good news – Roy Williams is now frustrating Bears fans and is just a painful memory). Garrett preaches one day at a time and will make sure this team has put the frustrating and embarrassing loss to the Cardinals in their rear view mirror and is focused on the Giants.
DEMARCO MURRAY. Inexplicably, the team decided to run the ball just 18 times against the Cardinals and then split those carries between 2 running backs. As we saw, that just equals 2 subpar games from both players. Murray is a workhorse type running back. Most experts will tell you workhorses need a certain number of carries to get in a groove. If you look at his good games, he gets stopped a few times and then breaks off a long run – gets stopped, and then breaks off another decent gain. There were at least 2 occasions on Sunday where it was Felix’s “turn” and he got knocked down on the type of play we’ve seen Murray power through. Felix Jones is very capable but he is not the workhorse that Murray is. STOP the horrible “Running Back by Committee” before it destroys us! I don’t care what you paid Felix – give the Giants 23rd ranked rushing defense a big helping of DeMarco and stick with him!
DEZ BRYANT. Despite being inconsistent at some of the strangest or inopportune times, Dez is a playmaker and seems to rise to the occasion when we really need him. (See 3rd down and 11 last week with about 30 seconds left). He is a big, strong, talented receiver when he wants to be and he could have a field day against a depleted Giants secondary. Rookie Tyler Sash (who?) will replace Kenny Phillips this Sunday as the starting Safety. Dez needs to DOMINATE and do it for the entire game!
MILES AUSTIN. All signs are pointing to getting Miles Austin back this week. He’s been out so long it is hard to remember what a difference he can make but think back to the 49er game for a refresher about how he can stretch a defense and make plays. Think about the Giants 29th ranked secondary having to cover Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, and Jason Witten on the field at the same time. It is keeping them up at night this week guaranteed.
DEFENSE. Rob Ryan’s defense is shaky at times but they are still ranked 11th overall (9th Rushing/14th Passing) and have playmakers like DeMarcus Ware to pressure Eli. We need Ryan to dial up whatever exotic blitzes he has been saving and bring the heat. The Giants and Cowboys are relatively even on offense (Cowboys 7th, Giants 9th) but the Cowboys have the better defense statistically (Giants 29th overall) and they need to make a difference Sunday night. Contain Bradshaw and Jacobs, pressure Eli into a mistake or two, and avoid big plays and the Cowboys should emerge with a win. Easier said than done. But it CAN be done.