Lose and go home, win and move on. Welcome to the Giants’ 2013 season.
The good news is that the Giants are on a roll. It’s been an improbable run, aided and abetted by facing four successive bad quarterbacks.
That largesse ends this Sunday. It’s time to find out just how good this Giants team actually is.
The Cowboys have a solid quarterback and legit offensive weapons, but big-time problems on defense. Losing their defensive leader Sean Lee is a devastating blow. Dallas is coming off a bye and before that, a 49-17 pasting in New Orleans.
With two weeks of preparation, Dallas will have licked their wounds, but their confidence level has taken a hit. This looks like a match-up of two teams going in opposite directions. However, things in this league can change on a dime.
Giants on Offense
Looking back on Week 1, it’s hard to believe that Eli Manning threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions, and the Giants also lost three fumbles.
It was a comedy of errors, and yet Manning was primed for one of his patented fourth-quarter game-winning drives when the final turnover occurred.
Nine games later, Manning has devolved into a ball-control quarterback. He has a running game and a quasi-west coast offense that is getting the ball out of his hand quicker. His offensive line remains suspect, and could be this game’s make-or-break match-up.
The Cowboys’ front seven, once a strength, has been decimated by not only the loss of Lee, but the injuries that have slowed DeMarcus Ware.
Dallas’ best pit player is now Jason Hatcher, who has always benefited from solo blocking. Look for the Giants to target Hatcher with double-teams early and often.
Take note that the Saints ran for 245 yards on this defense. Running the ball has to be the Giants’ Priority #1.
Though the Giants couldn’t run the ball opening night, the return of Andre Brown has made a big difference. Time of possession has increased, and the defense is fresher.
The only negative is that the big play has gone the way of the dinosaur. Though the offense is getting into the red zone, Manning’s limitations there and some odd play-calling last week have forced the team to settle for too many field goals.
Dallas will do everything in its power to take Victor Cruz out of the game. Cruz caught three touchdown passes that first game, and he remains the offense’s best weapon.
Look for Dallas to put Brandon Carr on a limited Hakeem Nicks and let the rest of the secondary deal with Cruz. The wild card is Rueben Randle, who needs to make more than the occasional play. Randle could be the key to this game.
Giants on Defense
The arrival of Jon Beason in the middle has made all the difference to this Giants defense, but let’s also not discount the return of Will Hill to the deep patrol. Hill is now the starter alongside Antrel Rolle, and has freed up Rolle to become more of a playmaker.
Beason brought an attitude that his defensive mates needed. He’s not only a leader, he’s mentored Jacquian Williams into becoming a full-time weapon. Even Keith Rivers seems more comfortable out there.
All of this improvement may be just a natural evolution of players either getting healthy or more comfortable with the defense, but there’s little doubt that the linebacker unit is light years better than the group that opened the season.
The defensive line has played the run well all year but the pass rush remains uninspired. The defense has to find a way to make Tony Romo uncomfortable in the pocket.
Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, especially when he’s playing the Giants. Blitzing him rarely works, which means the down linemen need to get in his face.
The weather conditions may have an impact on this game. It should be cold and windy, which would benefit the Giants. Dallas is much more of a passing team. If the defense can control DeMarco Murray on the ground then the conditions could limit Romo.
Look for the Giants to throw a lot of attention Dez Bryant’s way. Bryant is a big play waiting to happen.
We suspect Will Hill will shade Bryant’s way on every passing down. Prince Amukamara should match up with the returning Miles Austin, which could make Terrell Thomas a key player, especially on third downs.
Thomas will match up against the Dallas slot receivers and will have to come up big. Also, Jacquian Williams will have his hands full with Jason Witten. Williams is playing better but Witten remains a Giant-killer from way back and is Romo’s favorite target.
Giants on Specials
After last week’s plus performance, the Giants special teams seem to be on the upswing. Relieved of much of their defensive duties, Spencer Paysinger, Ryan Mundy, and Mark Herzlich have committed to defining their special teams roles. With more focus on specials, the entire unit looks sharper.
It will have to be better as they face yet another big-time returner in the dangerous Dwayne Harris. Harris averages 15 yards a punt return and 32 yards on kickoffs. Keeping the ball out of his hands would be a very good idea.
Steve Weatherford’s punting leg returned to prominence last week but all of his punts were dead middle. A little direction outside the numbers would be advisable. We suspect that the weather will have a bigger role in taking Harris out of the game. It may affect Weatherford’s stats, but bouncing and directional punts may help win this game.
Logic dictates that if the Giants avoid committing six turnovers, they should win this game. But every game is different and nobody knows which way it will go.
We do know that we like the defense’s “Beason Attitude,” we like the ball control offense, and we know that the Cowboys will really miss Sean Lee.
The Giants are as healthy as they’ve been all year. The revenge factor, plus a team and fan base that will be sky high, should help the Giants on their road to this crucial victory.