Grudge match: Cowboys-Giants keys

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
12:20
PM ET

Cowboys OT Doug Free vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul: This was a matchup in Week 14 that I thought the Cowboys would be okay in, but boy, was I wrong. Free usually plays well against athletes more than power players. I was surprised how much snap that Pierre-Paul had in his upper body and the way he was able to control Free with his hands. Pierre-Paul was a raw rusher technique-wise, but this season he has developed moves and a game. There is more than just explosiveness to his game and Free now understands that.

Scout's Eye
What Free is going to have to do is get on Pierre-Paul quickly and not allow him to get up the field and in position to get around the corner. On the safety that Free gave up, he wasn’t nearly quick enough getting out of his stance. The problem is when you are on the road, hearing for the offensive linemen is strained. Free will have to look inside and watch Costa to see him snap the ball, taking his eyes off Pierre-Paul and then adjust back to the outside. I believe that the Cowboys are not going to put Free in many one-on-one situations unless they can help it but when you do that, tackles sometimes get messed up in the positioning of the extra blocker and it hurts how they pass set.

I am sure that we will see a tight end to his side to make him rush wider. In the games I studied, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell moved Pierre-Paul around to create matchup problems in the three-man line. The Cowboys cannot allow Pierre-Paul to be a factor in this game like he was in the Giants' victory the last time these two teams met.

Cowboys CBs vs. Giants WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks: As dangerous as Pierre-Paul is on the defensive side of the ball, the Giants have two weapons in Cruz and Nicks that can be just as much of a game changer. Cruz and Nicks can make any secondary look bad with their ability to make plays down the field. In my view, Nicks is to the Giants what Bryant is to the Cowboys, a big bodied receiver that can catch the ball all over the field. He is a force in the red zone and you have to deal with him in the open field when trying to get him on the ground. I know that he has had some bad drops this season, but against the Cowboys, I guarantee that will not happen. He has secure hands and is an outstanding route runner.

Victor Cruz is also a special player. Give the Giants scouting department a lot of credit for finding this player because he is fearless in the way he plays. He, like Nicks, can get deep on the vertical routes but he can also punish you with the way he runs routes on third down. Cruz likes to work the middle of the field and is always around the sticks. He lines up on the outside but where he does damage is from the slot.

Where he will challenge the Cowboys safeties is with his vertical speed. There is no doubt in my mind that the Giants will take some shots down the field on Newman and see if Elam or Sensabaugh can cover some ground from the middle of the field. In the last meeting, big plays were the difference in the game. Cruz and Nicks will make plays, but they can’t be the back-breaking ones.

Cowboys run defense vs. Giants RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs: When the media had a chance to visit with Rob Ryan on Friday, he was pressed on the question of what the Giants were able to do last time these two teams met when it came to their ability to run the ball. You could hear it in Ryan’s voice the concern that he had with the situation and not allowing it to happen again. Last week again, Ryan challenged his run defense to play better against the Eagles and LeSean McCoy and they did.

The one common thread that I have noticed when they have played good run defense is the ability to stay square across the line and not get turned or moved off their spot. When Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher are playing with their hands and getting off blocks, you can really tell the difference in the running game. Guys like Jay Ratliff and Sean Lissemore have also done a nice job of staying square and making plays at the line. Both these Giants backs are power players. Bradshaw is more physical than Jacobs but it always seems like Jacobs saves his best work for the Cowboys. T

here will be times where offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will go away from the run and put the ball totally in Manning’s hands which I don’t understand. A physical Giants rushing attack will hurt the Cowboys in that it will slow down the pass rush. If you remember last time when the Giants were able to run the ball, the Cowboys struggled to get bodies home. Ryan and this defense cannot allow the Giants to beat them up and create other opportunities to make life easier for Manning. If the Cowboys are to win this game, they will need to match how physical these Giants running backs are.

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