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Saturday, December 5, 2009
Cowboys-Giants key matchups

By Tim MacMahon

We'll look at one key matchup from both sides of the ball:

New York Giants WR Steve Smith vs. Dallas Cowboys nickel back Orlando Scandrick: The competition to start at right cornerback ended when Scandrick struggled mightily in the September loss to the Giants.

Mike Jenkins has emerged as the Dallas secondary's best playmaker since then. Scandrick has not been as effective in the slot as he was during his surprising rookie season.

Although Scandrick doesn't play in the base defense, he'll still see plenty of Smith. The Giants' No. 1 receiver works out of the slot in three- and four-wide sets and does his best work on third downs. He leads all NFL receivers with 28 catches on third down. Those receptions have gone for 315 yards and three touchdowns, both of which rank second in the league on third downs.

Smith's most memorable play in his 10-catch, 134-yard performance against the Cowboys earlier this season came when he was working against Scandrick in the slot. He made such a magnificent double-move on his touchdown catch that Scandrick fell to the Cowboys Stadium turf.

If Scandrick doesn't fare better Sunday than he did that night, the Giants will consistently keep drives alive by going to Smith in the slot.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs. Giants safeties: Romo never found Kenny Phillips on a deep interception in the first Cowboys-Giants meeting. The Giants probably wish they could hide their safeties sunday.

Phillips, who picked Romo off twice in September, is on injured reserve with a knee injury. FS Michael Johnson is questionable for Sunday because of a groin injury.

If Johnson plays, the Cowboys will likely try to test his range. If he doesn't, C.C. Brown will start next to Aaron Rouse. Brown originally filled in for Phillips and was benched after being burned several times. He was replaced by Rouse, who was waived by the Green Bay Packers early in the season.

Aaron Ross, drafted in the first round as a cornerback, plays safety in the nickel and dime packages to give the Giants some coverage ability on the back end. But New York is still susceptible to the deep ball, especially on first and second downs.