After a post-Wembley bye-week, the Giants open the second half of their surprising 6-2 season with a vital game against the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys, who won the season opener between the two teams by a score of 45-35.
Here are five match-ups that will decide the outcome of Sunday afternoon’s battle:
Giants CB Sam Madison vs. Cowboys WR Terrell Owens
Madison’s improved play is a huge reason that New York has only allowed an average of 159.8 passing yards a game during the Giants’ six-game winning streak.
He didn’t play much in the team’s first game against the Cowboys due to injury, and the Giants were burned by Dallas for 336 yards through the air, 87 of which came from Owens (as well as two touchdowns).
Madison will get some help from safety Gibril Wilson against the veteran wideout, but the hope is to limit Owens’ deep play ability and keep him underneath coverage, where he’s weakest.
As footballscientist.com’s KC Joyner put it, “Owens tends to drop a lot of shallow crossing routes. They can give him those and cover him on the deep route.”
Cowboys CB Terrence Newman vs. Giants WR Plaxico Burress
It could be the same situation but with the uniforms reversed of the Madison-Owens matchup, and just as important.
Newman sat out the first game with a foot injury and watched as Burress tore up the Cowboys’ secondary for 144 yards and three touchdowns, including one through double coverage in the corner of the end zone.
Since joining the Giants, Burress has caught a TD pass in three of the five games he’s played against the Cowboys, so expect at least one score from him. But he’s been held to only 59.8 yards in New York’s games against Cowboys as they’ve been able to contain his deep routes.
If Newman drops into zone coverage and allows Ken Hamlin to cover Burress, it’s trouble for Dallas.
Giants DE Osi Umenyiora vs. Cowboys LT Flozell Adams
Do the math: the Giants defense lead the NFL with 30 sacks and Dallas offense is sixth with only 11 sacks allowed.
To prevent a repeat of Dallas’ 45-point performance the last time the teams met, New York clearly needs to get to quarterback Tony Romo, who loves throwing on the run and rushing when he’s in trouble.
Cowboys tackle Marc Columbo is becoming a liability in pass protection, and is going to receive help against Michael Strahan, allowing Umenyiora to go one-on-one with Adams. It’s a matchup sure to produce pressure on Romo.
Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. the Giants secondary
It was a nightmare that kept happening over and over again. The Giants appeared to have contained Romo in Week 1, bringing him to third down after third down. That’s when he’d find Witten over the middle for a first down. (Five of Witten’s six catches were for first downs. The other went for a touchdown.) The Giants must make sure to put a fast defender–either safety Gibril Wilson or even rookie cornerback Aaron Ross–on Witten, who can get downfield faster than most tight ends.
Giants LG Rich Seubert and LT David Diehl vs. Cowboys linebackers
Brandon Jacobs has averaged a robust 6.1 yards per carry when he runs to Seubert and Diehl’s side. And Eli Manning has only been sacked nine times.
But both will have to contend with DeMarcus Ware and the rest of the lightning-quick linebackers in Dallas’ 3-4 defense. If the left side can block for Jacobs (despite Dallas’ fourth-ranked rush defense) and protect Manning, who is still prone to crumble under pressure in the backfield, the rest should fall into place.