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.