Is it panic time yet for New York Giants fans? It’s week 7 of the New York Giants 2015 season and their record is the epitome of average at 3-3. But with the NFC East still very much within their reach, the Giants need to win every game they should win in order to remain competitive. That trend must start this Sunday as the New York Giants host the rival Dallas Cowboys in a pivotal matchup that you can see on FOX at 4:30.
For the first time in a long time, the two starters in a Giants-Cowboys game will not be Eli Manning and Tony Romo. While Manning, in the midst of a fine season in which he has 1,606 yards, an 11-4 TD-INT rate, and a 94.0 QBR, will start his 173rd consecutive game on Sunday, the Cowboys will turn to veteran Matt Cassel for his first Cowboys start. Cassel has bounced around since his days as Tom Brady’s injury replacement in 2008, playing for the Chiefs, Vikings, and Bills since then with varying degrees of success. It is safe to say that Cassel will not be the best quarterback the Giants have faced this season thus far, but the Giants will have to respect his talent. Still, Eli’s Giants have a big quarterback edge this time around.
The first signs of the Giants’ rushing attack coming alive came, ironically, during the Monday Night Debacle versus the Eagles as Rashad Jennings had over 60 rushing yards on limited carries. Behind him, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen have struggled, but are still worthwhile options for the Giants. For Dallas, it’s all about Joseph Randle. Randle has been up and down this season, but has a respectable 3.9 AVG and 4 touchdowns in addition to being a receiving threat out of the backfield. Veteran Darren McFadden is the power back and ex-Seahawk Christine Michael is the sneaky 3rd-Down Back. Neither of these teams are a rush-first team, but whoever gets the big gain first could end up winning this game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Is it possible to write about the Giants and Cowboys wideouts without mentioning their decimating injuries? For the Giants, Victor Cruz hasn’t played all season and Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle have been limited at times by their hamstrings. Meanwhile, Dez Bryant’s foot will keep him out of action versus his rival Giants. In his stead, Terrance Williams has been boom-or-bust, failing to get open (14 catches) but being a deep threat when he is (15.9 AVG). Cole Beasley is a small, shifty slot receiver, and rookie Devin Street has been limited thus far. Due to this, tight ends Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar have taken on large roles, and dump-offs to the running backs have become the Cowboys’ bread and butter. The Giants will have to throw to Beckham Jr. and Randle often, as sub options Dwayne Harris, Geremy Davis, and Myles White offer little, and tight end Larry Donnell has been inconsistent. Despite this, Beckham Jr. and Randle are better than anything the Cowboys have to offer, thus giving them the edge in a weak position for both clubs.
I think you already know that the Cowboys have one of football’s best offensive lines and that the Giants have one of football’s worst. It’s not hard to admire the Cowboys’ collection of young, talented blockers like left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and right guard Zack Martin. Rookie La’el Collins will start versus the Giants at left guard, and right tackle Doug Free is a steady run blocker. Over to the Giants’ side, the interior isn’t as bad as you would think. Guards Justin Pugh and Geoff Schwartz have been quite good this season, and center Weston Richburg has come into his own. But left tackle Ereck Flowers still needs work and right tackle Marshall Newhouse has been a mess. When can Will Beatty come back? Not soon enough to save the Giants’ hopes here.
Similarly to their offensive line, the Cowboys house an impressive collection of defensive linemen. Greg Hardy may be the NFL’s biggest jerk off the field for more reasons than one, but on the football field he sure can pressure the quarterback; he has 2 sacks in 2 games thus far and has his sights set on Eli Manning next. Across from him, Jeremy Mincey and DeMarcus Lawrence stop the run and young Randy Gregory provides secondary pass rush. Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford are steadfast defensive tackles in their own right as well. Meanwhile in East Rutherford, the Giants have an identity crisis at defensive end. Kerry Wynn stops the run but fails to apply pressure, Cullen Jenkins has 2 sacks but is growing old fast, DaMontre Moore has insane potential but cannot be trusted, and Owa Odighizuwa and George Selvie do not have a sack yet. While the Giants will get Robert Ayers Jr. back from his hamstring injury, it is still not enough to save them. It should be noted that defensive tackles Jonathan Hankins, Jay Bromley, and Jenkins stop the run like it’s nobody’s business, one positive among the Giants’ weakened pass rush. Still, it’s hard to see a situation in which the Giants D-Line outhits the Cowboys’.
Linebackers have historically been the strength of both the Giants and the Cowboys, and that narrative remains the same in 2015. The Giants have a fine collection of linebackers if everyone can just stay healthy. Captain Jon Beason and defensive MVP Devon Kennard will return this weekend, joining speedy J.T. Thomas III and nickel linebacker Uani ‘Unga, Big Blue’s leading tackler. But once again, the Cowboys just one-up the Giants here. Rolando McClain is a ferocious tackler at middle linebacker, Sean Lee still resembles his old self on the weak side, and Anthony Hitchens has 32 tackles himself and can play SAM or MIKE. It should be noted that each of these Cowboys’ linebackers have at least one sack; they will blitz Manning heavily. While the Giants’ linebackers are improving, the Cowboys have the superior squad at this point in time.
What if I told you that the Giants’ secondary, the worst pass defense in the league in terms of pure yardage, has 8 interceptions and has only allowed an average of 21.5 points per game? You’d probably be shocked. But the Giants’ secondary isn’t as bad as some perceive it to be. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a true shutdown corner, and safeties Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather have been a surprisingly steady tandem. The loss of Prince Amukamara hurts the Giants’ secondary, meaning the G-Men will have to count on unreliable Jayron Hosely, Trumaine McBride, and Trevin Wade versus the Cowboys. Luckily, Dez Bryant is injured, thus sparing the Giants at least somewhat. Oddly, the Cowboys as a team only have 2 interceptions on the season, an indicator of their weak secondary. An average points per game of 26.2 isn’t helping either. The loss of number 1 corner Orlando Scandrick has crippled the Cowboys, as guys like veteran Brandon Carr, disappointing Morris Claiborne, and rookie Byron Jones just don’t get the job done. Safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are busy men, but they are capable at their position. The Giants’ injured secondary has some flaws, but is better than the Cowboys’ porous unit.
Both of these teams have outstanding special teams units. Neither Giants kicker Josh Brown nor Cowboys counterpart Dan Bailey have missed a field goal yet this season, punters Brad Wing and Chris Jones have net averages over 40.0, and snappers Zak DeOssie and L.P. Ladoucer have been their teams’ snappers for the last 10 years. The coverage units are solid as well. Ex-Cowboy Dwayne Harris could use a big return versus his old team; the Cowboys’ primary return man is Cole Beasley. These two rivals are just about dead even in regards to their stellar special teams.
While Giants-Cowboys games are notoriously difficult to predict, this game is one that the Giants need to have and they know it. Playing at home versus a depleted Dallas squad is a very winnable game for the G-Men, and one I think they’ll get.
Prediction: 27-20 Giants (Record picking Giants games this season: 5-1)