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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Giants Monday Night Football Mailbag

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Jonathan Bales

Check out my in-depth Cowboys-Giants preview.

Q:  Is Hakeem Nicks going to play?  Do you think he is the Giants’ top offensive weapon?

Mark Fox, Flint, MI

Nicks made the trip to Dallas, so it looks as though he will probably suit up.  Normally, I would say he is New York’s most explosive offensive weapon, but hamstring injuries can be quite limiting.  I have no idea how healthy he truly is or how significantly the Giants have implemented him in the game plan.  Dallas should initially defend him as though he is fully healthy.

Q:  What will be the key to stopping the Giants on offense tonight?

Thomas Renshaw via Twitter

Halting the running game.  I wrote in my pre-game Manifesto that the Cowboys should focus on Ahmad Bradshaw, not Brandon Jacobs (in the running game).  The Cowboys don’t want to allow New York to move the football down the field in large chunks, and the easiest way for them to do that is the playaction pass.  If the running game is not working, however, there’s really no reason for the Cowboys defenders to respect Giants’ play-fakes.

I also think the Dallas defense needs to play much more aggressively.  They often seem to leave plays on the field in return for not yielding any of their own.  This team is 1-4 though.  What is there to lose?

Q:  Why don’t the Cowboys’ defensive backs make more plays in the secondary?  They always play so far off and make it impossible to get interceptions.

Clay Angstadt via Twitter

The reason is related to my final point in the previous question.  The Cowboys’ cornerbacks and safeties play so far off because it is part of Coach Phillips’ scheme.  He wants to be rather aggressive in the front seven with the secondary back deep to make sure the front seven’s inability to get to the passer doesn’t result in a huge play.  It results in the opposition needing to consistently move the ball down the field to score.

But, as Vince Grey pointed out in a recent article, it also results in a lack of takeaways.  If the front seven don’t force a turnover, it’s very difficult for a secondary who is often playing with “off-technique” to force one.

Q:  How are the Cowboys going to stop all of the Giants’ pass-rushers?  I don’t think Romo will have much time to throw.

Fred Marstellar via Facebook

The first way to neutralize pass-rushers like Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul is to run right at them.  They are pass-rushers first and run-defenders second (or not at all).  I think the Cowboys can find a lot of success tonight on “3rd and medium” runs (even up to 3rd and 6 or 7).

Next, the Cowboys could benefit from running a couple of designed rollouts.  Jason Garrett isn’t fond of calling them, but you might see one or two tonight.

Another way to combat a defense with such a tremendous pass rush is to throw some screens.  The Cowboys may have overdone it on screens last week, but this week they could be very useful.

Finally, Dallas might find some success in implementing max protection a few plays.  Here is what I wrote earlier in the week:

Last week, the Cowboys threw the ball 10 yards or more downfield just THREE times all game.  They threw an incredible 18 passes behind the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys’ offensive line hasn’t been awful in pass protection this year except against the Titans.  Romo makes it look better than it is, but there’s certainly been enough time for the ‘Boys to take some shots down the field.

This week, the Cowboys’ pass protection duties don’t get any easier.  They’ll have to deal with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Chris Canty all night long.  If three-receiver sets aren’t working, Dallas needs to implement one or two-man routes to create big plays.  Either way, the ball has to get down the field.

Q:  Do you think Wade Phillips could get fired if the Cowboys lose this game?

Alan Florek, Cherokee, IA

No.  I don’t really see any way Phillips gets fired during the season, barring losses in just about every game from now.

Q:  Who are “X-Factors” on offense and defense for Dallas against the Giants this week?  How about for New York?

Taylor Draper, Tucson, AZ

On offense, I think Marc Colombo is the X-Factor.  Everyone knows about Leonard Davis’ struggles this season, but Colombo has been worse.  He could really struggle tonight against the Giants’ pass rush.  If he can hold his own, however, it would go a long way in allowing the Cowboys to get Dez Bryant on the field in some three-receiver sets.

On defense, it’s Orlando Scandrick.  He played incredibly against the Vikings last week after struggling to begin the season.  He’ll be covering Steve Smith much of the game, and he if can do to Smith what he did to Percy Harvin last week, it will be huge for Dallas.

The X-Factor for the Giants (on offense) is Ahmad Bradshaw.  He’s the sort of back with which the Cowboys have traditionally struggled–shifty and a great receiver out of the backfield.  I personally think they should place Gerald Sensabaugh, not a linebacker, on Bradshaw.

The Giants’ defensive X-Factor is Osi Umenyiora.  He’s a fantastic pass-rusher but he’s been benched in the past because he simply doesn’t defend the run.  If the Cowboys can find success on the ground by running right at Umenyiora (or Jason Pierre-Paul), it will draw a safety into the box and really aid Romo and the Dallas passing game.

Q:  Do you think Jason Garrett will actually stick with the run tonight?  The Cowboys are a much better offense when they keep balance on offense.

Miriam Teran via Twitter

I think (and hope) Garrett will stick with whatever is working.  I do think there’s a great chance the Cowboys can pound the ball on the ground tonight, but there’s no reason to continue to run late into the game if it isn’t working.  There is certainly a correlation between running the football and winning, but that’s usually because winning teams run the ball late in the game.

Rushing efficiency, not rushing attempts, is more indicative of a team’s true success.  The Cowboys don’t need to maintain offensive balance to win football games.  They need to maintain efficiency in the running game to set up big plays in the passing game.  This offense needs quick, easy scores.  Those will usually come on passes, and the Cowboys’ rushing game is only important insofar as it aids the air attack.

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6 Responses to Cowboys vs. Giants Monday Night Football Mailbag

  1. Pingback: | Dallas Cowboys Times

  2. starred4life says:

    Once again, nice read.
    I think the X-factor will be the officials.
    I noticed three games Sunday in which teams that came away with W’s that should have been L’s because of officials failing to accurately judge whether a touchdown occurred or not (when it seemed obvious to anyone with HD TV).
    That’s ridiculous. The onus shouldn’t be on the coaches to challenge to get accurate officiating. The upstairs guys should be able to review a play when something goes wrong (not just in the final two minutes). If a coach throws the flag and is wrong, he loses a time out. Lovie Smith could have gotten a TD if he’d challenged. Childress could have gotten one taken away. And the Steelers, of course were gift wrapped a win.
    I’ve heard Cowboys fans complain for years about a lack of officiating parity, but I’m a believer lately.

    Good luck boys, don’t leave it to the officials. Drop the hammer so hard the margin of victory leaves nothing to chance.

  3. Exactly…want to eliminate the the possibility of a fluke play or poor call deciding the game? Then dominate.

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    As pitiful as the situation is, there is a bright side.

    Part of the reason Dallas drafted Dez Bryant is because all of the quality lineman worthy of helping Dallas in the near future were gone by their pick. Dez fell to 24 and they scooped him up. I’ve been critical of this move but it seems as if Dez was a quality pick at that spot regardless of whether Dallas didn’t need another receiver (much better and quality special team returner and receiver).

    But now, it’s clear that Dallas will probably win around 4-6 games this year netting them a probable top 6-10 pick next year. They CLEARLY need solutions along ALL the interior line positions and at RT for the future.

    The Boys are 1-5 w/ their starting QB out, their backup QB is accurate and smart but much less mobile and the O line is riddled with need (including Gurode). No other team will take a trade for Gurode or Davis so they’re probably outright cuts. Holland is serviceable at backup G but not center (and even he’s hurt now).

    Yep, at 1-5, things are looking up for next season.

  5. john coleman says:

    Tyrone- I totally agree with that comment. I think Dez was the best move at the time. I do qustion why we didn’t go heavy on the oline in the 2nd thru 4th though.

  6. Good insights Tyrone. I liked the Dez pick at the time, but I love the Dez pick now.

    John–It sure would have been nice if we went heavy on O-Line in the 2nd through 4th of a different draft..like ’08 or ’09. The time to solve problems is before they completely surface.

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