Grudge Match: Giants-Cowboys keys

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
8:00
AM ET
Cowboys CBs Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins vs. Giants WRs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz: I really do believe that both of these teams' defensive backs will be under attack.

The Cowboys' receivers can cause just as much damage to the Giants as the Giants can against the Cowboys. The Cowboys have done a nice job of defending the run after two weeks where they were not as good. I believe that other than protecting Tony Romo in this game, how they play against the Giants' receivers will determine whether they win or lose.

The Cowboys cannot allow Nicks and Cruz to dominate this game. I said in my preview of this game that I wouldn’t worry about Mike Jenkins as much in this game after what I saw him do against Larry Fitzgerald last week. His confidence level and technique were both high, and his level of play reflected that.

The Cowboys can get in trouble if Newman doesn’t play aggressively enough against Nicks or Cruz. Newman has had his struggles driving on the ball from off coverage.

Both Nicks and Cruz are outstanding route runners and do a nice job of selling routes. Eli Manning has done a nice job in the games that I studied of getting the ball in spots where they can make plays. Nicks is a physical receiver, and Cruz is slippery.

Orlando Scandrick is also going to be called in to have to deal with these two receivers, as well. If the Cowboys are going to have success on defense, it will be the pass rush, but more importantly the coverage downfield, that makes the difference. The Giants will make their share of plays, but it's the number of big plays that the Cowboys must be worried about.

If Rob Ryan’s defense gets off the field more than Perry Fewell’s, it will because Newman and Jenkins play outstanding.

Cowboys LT Doug Free vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul: In the history of this series, the Giants have always had a defensive end that the Cowboys have had to deal with. When I was growing up going to games, it was George Martin. Later it was Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The Giants have once again hit on a second-year player that has those similar traits that the great ones before him have possessed.

Pierre-Paul is an explosive player that can be a nightmare for offensive tackles because of the way that he is able to get up the field before the tackle has the ability to adjust. Pierre-Paul is to the Giants what DeMarcus Ware is to the Cowboys' defense. They like to line him up at different positions. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will play Pierre-Paul as a nose in a three-man rush, trying to take advantage of the mismatches inside with the slower guards and centers. Fewell will stand him up like he does Tuck and rush him in a combination game with the line and linebackers, trying to attack the blocking scheme that way.

The one advantage that Free and right tackle Tyron Smith will have is that Pierre-Paul is not one of those overpowering types of players that tend to give them problems.

The Cowboys can take advantage of Pierre-Paul in the running game because he wants to get up the field quickly. Jason Garrett can attack running the ball inside of him. Look for the Cowboys to either block down on him or try to kick him outside and run the ball inside.

Free’s plan will be to try to get his hands on Pierre-Paul as quickly as possible before he has a chance to get going. If Free is able to stop or slow his rush, it will buy him a chance to get in position to finish the block because Pierre-Paul isn’t strong enough to counter that.

Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff vs. Giants C Kevin Boothe: I love this matchup for the Cowboys. The opportunity is there to get pressure in the face of Manning through the middle of the pocket.

The one area that Manning has always struggled with in his career is when you can get more pressure on him, the more likely he will make a poor throw off his back foot. Manning is not one of those quarterbacks that will stand in the pocket and make a tough throw. The cleaner the pocket, the more success he has.

In the Saints and San Francisco games, he made poor throws that were intercepted off pressure. The pick-six against the Packers was caused because he was late with the ball to the outside.

Boothe is a guard that is having to play center because of starter David Baas’ neck problems. I look for Ratliff to take advantage of Boothe attacking him up the field. When I watch Boothe play, I don’t see a guy that will fire his hands inside and control the rushers. Boothe likes to place his hands on the rusher and try to control him with his upper body. Ratliff has too much quickness and power for Boothe to handle. Boothe couldn’t move his feet quick enough to have to cut off Ratliff in the running game.

I expect both Ratliff and Sean Lissemore to be able to control the middle of the Giants' offense in the running game but also cause problems in the passing game with pressure inside. If Ratliff is able to do this, it will cause the Giants to have to use their guards to help, which opens up the likelihood of single blocks by the Giants' tackles against the Cowboys' pass rushers. That’s a matchup the Cowboys can also win.

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