Dallas Cowboys: Michael Boley

Tyron Smith tries not to think about penalties

September, 28, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- When Tyron Smith was drafted as a first-round pick in 2011, it was of the hope he would eventually move to left tackle.

After a successful rookie season at right tackle, Smith moved to the left side for 2012.

After three games, Smith leads the NFL with five false start penalties, six overall. The only penalty that some will forgive is the personal foul call in Week 1 against the New York Giants because it prevented a touchdown. He was flagged for a horse collar on linebacker Michael Boley during an interception return. Smith was fined $15,750 for the play.

Smith, like right tackle Doug Free, who has six penalties this season, must improve his play. While he hasn't given up a sack, according to Stats LLC., it appears he's struggled at times.

"It bothers me to have a penalty but the thing is to not think about it and move on from it," Smith said. "If you think about it, it's going to bother you and mess up your game."

Smith is an athletic offensive lineman who uses his power to keep defenders away. But it seems he's struggling at protecting quarterback Tony Romo's blindside. At times, Smith pushes defenders away from the pocket, forcing Romo to step into harm's way in the middle.

Monday night, Smith takes on the Chicago Bears who lead the NFL with 14 sacks overall -- nine of which come from the front four.

"All their up front guys are high-motor guys, real high-effort guys," Smith said. "They know what they're doing up front and they don't give up."

The big problems for Smith, which must be solved, are the penalties, especially pre-snap. Smith and Free talked about communication being a factor toward getting better. A new center, Ryan Cook, is still making adjustments with his cadence, but other times Smith said the tackles are trying to get off the ball quickly as another reason for the false starts.

"Just me and Doug being the tackles, as outside guys we're always trying to be quicker than everybody else," Smith said. "So that is what's messing it up a little bit. We're a little bit quicker than everybody else is."

Guess who the clutch QB was Wednesday

September, 6, 2012
So a Twitter follower named Rob Brown, who operates a well-done blog called Cowboys vs. Redskins, offers this for our consideration with regard to Wednesday night's Dallas Cowboys victory over the New York Giants:
@RobBrown3: I think it's worth noting Romo was 6-6, 107-yrds & a touchdown in the 4th qrtr (one 16 yard pass was negated by a penalty)
Thanks, Rob. It is worth noting, and here's why: Because if Tony Romo had been 5-for-6, and if the one miss had been a third-down overthrow that might have been his fault or might have been the receiver's fault but we'll never know for sure because he's not going to blame the receiver, and if that had resulted in Eli Manning getting the ball back with time enough to tie the game, and if Manning had done that, and if the Cowboys had ended up losing ... well, you know we'd be talking about Romo blowing it in the fourth quarter again, now wouldn't we?

Romo was sensational on Wednesday night, completing 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He made a bad decision in the second quarter that led to an interception by Michael Boley, but other than that one throw he was nearly flawless. He was the better quarterback in this game, better than the two-time Super Bowl MVP who beat him twice when it counted most late last season, and deserves credit for staying cool and using his feet to escape the pass rush, extend plays and find his receivers down the field in critical spots. It was not an easy night for Romo, as it never is against the Giants, but he kept his head about him and put up the sterling numbers anyway.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo dishes on beating the Giants, his rapport with Kevin Ogletree, the offensive line play and more.

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"We're judged by winning and losing, so the best thing is going out on the road and getting a win," Romo said. "And not only a win, but one against your division rival and obviously the world champs. We came out grinding and we won."

Romo gets more than his share of blame when things go wrong, but he's a better player and a more clutch performer than his reputation would have you believe. Wednesday night he was the picture of a clutch, winning quarterback and a team leader. Not that Manning was terrible in this game, but the better quarterback on the field, for this night at least, was wearing a star on his helmet. And that's a very good feeling for that quarterback, his team and their fans to savor after the way last season ended.

Cowboys rack up penalties in opener

September, 6, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Dallas Cowboys were penalized 13 times for 86 yards in their season-opening victory against the New York Giants.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett comments on team's mental toughness, the penalties, overcoming adversity, Tony Romo's leadership and more.

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There were two penalties that you could excuse.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher was flagged for a personal foul for pushing quarterback Eli Manning. It seemed Hatcher pushed Manning just as he threw the ball, but it was a questionable call. Left tackle Tyron Smith was flagged for a horse collar when he grabbed linebacker Michael Boley up high on a 51-yard interception return. It prevented a touchdown and led to the Cowboys holding the Giants to a field goal.

But five false starts, two holding calls -- especially in the fourth quarter -- were bothersome to coach Jason Garrett.

It was probably the only negative to the Cowboys' victory.

"Well probably a combination of things," Garrett said of the penalties. "Certainly the crowd has an impact, a new center has an impact, but we have to clean that up. We do too many good things on offense to have to deal with that throughout the ballgame. The pre-snap penalties. We will continue to give that attention and make sure that gets better going forward."

Cowboys make a tough opening statement

September, 6, 2012
Tony RomoAP Photo/Bill KostrounTony Romo completed 22 of 29 passes for 307 yards and a touchdown on opening night.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He saw the linebacker racing down the field the other way with the ball in his hands, and he didn't know if he could catch him but he knew he had to try. Tyron Smith, the Dallas Cowboys' second-year offensive lineman, took off after the New York Giants' Michael Boley as the linebacker raced toward the end zone for what looked like a sure touchdown. They arrived simultaneously at the 2-yard line, where Smith grabbed Boley by the back of his collar and hauled him down just short of the goal line. Yellow flags flew. The tackle was illegal -- a horse-collar, they call it -- and Smith knew it as he was making it.

"I just didn't care," Smith said with a smile in the Cowboys' locker room after his team's 24-17 upset victory in the NFL's regular-season opener. "Anything to keep him out of that end zone."

Smart play, really. The penalty, enforced at the 2, was only a 1-yard (half-the-distance) penalty, and it did keep the Giants out of the end zone at a time when the game was still scoreless in the second quarter. Boley was sure he was returning an interception for a touchdown, and instead the Giants' offense had to take the field against a fired-up Cowboys defense.

"When you see a guy like that get down the field to make a tackle on a play like that, you know you've got to make the stop," Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher said.

And they did. They stopped the Giants three times and held them to a field goal. They scored a touchdown of their own just before the end of the first half. They built a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, just as they did last Dec. 11 in Dallas, but this time they held it and won the game. And if you don't think that's just flat-out huge ... well, you just haven't been paying attention.

"This was a very significant win for our franchise," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We made a lot of mistakes against a good team that might should have beaten us. But they didn't, because this bunch persevered and stayed the course."

I don't think Jones is overstating things here. This was a much bigger win for the Cowboys than it was a loss for the Giants. The Giants played lousy, sure, and have reason to be angry about starting their title defense 0-1 against a division rival they owned when it counted last year. But recent history tells us that the Giants can overcome pretty much anything, and there's little reason to doubt that they can get things tightened up.

But for the Cowboys, who had more than a few of their own sloppy moments in this one, this victory was a statement of toughness. It was a vital bit of proof, for themselves and for the outside world, that things have a chance to be different this year. That maybe they can hold the fourth-quarter leads, convert the big third down when they need it, stop the other team from beating them with big play after big play. You spend a whole offseason believing and proclaiming that you've fixed last year's problems, it has got to be fun to go out there the first night and show people you just may be right.

"We've seen it," Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "Every day in practice, we've seen that we're a defense that's able to make a play and lock a game down in the fourth quarter and win a game. We've seen it. Having the opportunity to do it just gets you that much more excited to do it the next time."

[+] EnlargeKevin Ogletre
Al Bello/Getty ImagesKevin Ogletree caught 8 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants.
Make no mistake. This was not a perfect effort. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties for a total of 86 yards. Five of those penalties were false starts by the offensive line, which had a rough night and looks as though it could have more. But the point here is that they overcame it all. Tony Romo made the plays he needed to make with his feet to sidestep the rush, keep plays alive and convert with clutch throws to receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree. Running back DeMarco Murray, who couldn't find room to run in the first half, kept pounding away and ended up with 131 yards, including 35 on the long fourth-quarter drive that led to their final touchdown.

And on defense, which was such an Achilles' heel for the Cowboys last year, they made their plays. Their coverage in the secondary, with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne at cornerback, was good enough to allow defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to get pressure and sacks with the blitz -- something he couldn't do last year because he couldn't trust the coverage. They got enough pressure on Eli Manning that he was just off with just enough throws, and they made the stops when they needed to make the stops.

"Was it pretty? No," Carr said. "But we knew that going in. We knew we were going to find out something about how tough we were, and I think tonight we did."

Romo outplayed Manning. The defense held. They converted the third down that kept the fourth-quarter drive alive and Manning on the sideline. Smith, beaten up all night by Jason Pierre-Paul and those false-start whistles, made the game's critical goal-line tackle. They found a way. All of the things the Cowboys couldn't do in last year's two critical late-season games against the Giants, they did Wednesday night. And while that doesn't mean they're in the clear or that the Giants are toast or that the division race is decided, what it does mean is that maybe the 2012 Cowboys are going to be a little tougher to knock out than the 2011 Cowboys were. And if their first game did anything to prove that -- especially to themselves -- then it was a very important victory indeed.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Giants preview

December, 9, 2011

Scout's Eye
The Cowboys host the New York Giants on Sunday night -- the first of two matchups that will decide the NFC East champion. The Giants have lost four straight, while the Cowboys are coming off a game that they let slip away in overtime against Arizona. If the Giants win this game, they'll be tied for the division lead and have the tiebreaker. If the Cowboys win, they'll have a firm grasp on the division title with a two-game lead with three to play.

The Cowboys faced one of the better NFL receivers last week in Larry Fitzgerald, who was covered by Mike Jenkins for the majority of the game. Jenkins, making his first start since being sidelined several weeks with a hamstring injury, was outstanding. Where the Cowboys had the biggest problems was allowing down-the-line receivers big days catching the ball.

Five weeks ago, Terence Newman was playing at a high level. In the last three games, however, he's really struggled in his off coverage. Newman was one of those players that were driving on the ball and make plays. Orlando Scandrick, starting in place of Jenkins, didn’t struggle as much as Newman, but we didn’t see the plays that we had when he was in the nickel role.

ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen hops on to preview this weekend's Cowboys-Giants matchup.

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Giants' Bradshaw will find hole, punish tacklers

There are two areas of the Giants' offense that can hurt you -- running the ball with Ahmad Bradshaw, and Eli Manning throwing the ball to an outstanding group of receivers.

When you watch the Giants, Bradshaw is a real difference-maker for this team. He's a physical back that is difficult to get on the ground. He doesn’t have the elusive moves of a Reggie Bush, but instead tries to punish tacklers. Bradshaw has a low center of gravity, and he doesn’t give defenders much to hit. If you don't hit him hard, he will run over you. He's like DeMarco Murray in that he likes to cut back when he sees a hole.

The Giants' offensive line doesn't blow defenders off the ball. They're more likely to grab and run with you. This fits Bradshaw's style as he doesn't need much of a hole because of his ability to burst through tacklers with power.

Receivers Nicks, Cruz will give fits to Cowboys

On the outside, other than the Eagles, this is the best group of receivers that the Cowboys have faced all season. What makes Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz outstanding is their ability to sell routes to get open and their ability to adjust to the ball and make large gains with the ball in their hands.

I was very impressed watching Nicks on film. He's the Giants' version of Dez Bryant -- physical receiver who can make plays all over the field. His hands are outstanding and his footwork and body control are even better. Nicks has no fear where to run his route and he will make defenders pay for having to cover him. He can be dominant in the red zone using his body position and his leaping ability. Last week, Nicks outfought Green Bay's Charles Woodson -- one of the most physical corners in the league -- for a ball on a fade route where Woodson was in perfect position to defend, but the result was a touchdown.

On the opposite side, Cruz has become a special player for the Giants. With Mario Manningham struggling with injuries, Cruz has taken the opportunity and has excelled. He's tough, instinctive and slippery in the way he plays. I know this is going to sound like too much praise, but he is very similar to the Patriots' Wes Welker in the way he plays. Cruz is able to adjust to any ball and, like Nicks, will take his route inside, catch the ball in traffic and take a big hit.

Cruz lines up all over the formation and, when the Giants need to convert on third down, he is usually running the route that will get them the first down. Manning has a great deal of confidence in Cruz and will do everything in his power to get him the ball on the move. Cruz has the speed and the quickness to get down the field on vertical routes and will make big plays in this way.

Different looks could expose Giants' offensive line

The Giants' offensive line has been shuffled around due to injuries. Against the Packers last week, left guard Kevin Boothe moved to center to start for David Baas, who has struggled with a neck injury. In Boothe's place at left guard has been backup Mitch Petrus. LT David Diehl has had many a battle with DeMarcus Ware, and on the right side is Kareem McKenzie.

This isn't an outstanding offensive line but, much like what is going on here with the Cowboys, Manning's ability to get rid of the ball quickly and Bradshaw's rushing has helped to hide the ills of some less-than-perfect blocking. Where the Giants have struggled is when teams make them move their feet in pass protection. McKenzie will struggle with this more than Diehl.

Look for Rob Ryan to attempt to make the Giants' line adjust on the move. I believe there will be plenty of times where Ryan's defense will have different looks. Where Manning struggles throwing the ball is with pressure in his face. He'll tend to throw the ball off his back foot with no regard for where it might end up.

Don't sleep on Giants' defensive front

I have read throughout the week that the Giants have struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks as opposed to years' past. After studying the Giants, I really don’t understand where all this is coming from. The Giants' front four really does a nice job of creating problems for blocking schemes. The one game they were blocked well was against the Saints. Last week, it was the skill and the mobility of Aaron Rodgers that allowed the Packers to make as many plays as they did.

In the past, Osi Umenyiora has made the most plays. This season, second-year DE Jason Pierre-Paul has caused the most problems for blockers. Pierre-Paul is an explosive player that has outstanding first-step quickness. He is able to get on blockers immediately, which doesn’t allow the tackle much time to adjust. Pierre-Paul is a good technique player, and his hands and feet work very well together.

Justin Tuck plays on the opposite side, but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is using him in an interesting way as a stand-up player inside at linebacker. Where the Giants are most effective in the rush are when they use twist stunts with their defensive linemen. As mentioned before, this group has the ability to get four-man pressure, which allows them to use their linebackers in coverage to help a secondary that has had its share of struggles.

Where the Cowboys have been weakest this season is when pass rushers have used twist stunts inside. Last week, the Cardinals were able to attack the middle of the pocket because Phil Costa and Montrae Holland have had their problems adjusting. The Cardinals were also affective slanting their defensive line one way and then bringing a rusher the opposite way. The Giants have shown the ability to use these types of stunts.

Cowboys should target Giants' secondary

If the Giants have weaknesses, it's in two areas -- linebacker and secondary.

Michael Boley is the Giants' best play-making linebacker, but he's struggled with a hamstring injury. This is not an athletic group of linebackers, and you can see it when they play. Look for the Cowboys to play one-on-one in coverage or running the ball outside to take advantage of that.

In the secondary, the Giants took some huge hits in the preseason by losing guys to season-ending injuries. Where this group has been able to make plays is when quarterbacks have underthrown passes. CBs Aaron Ross and Corey Webster will miss play balls in the air. They will also miss tackles in the open field. Safety Kenny Phillips is more of a hitter than a cover guy. Antrel Rolle covers a little better, but backup Deon Grant struggles the most. Rookie Prince Amukamara had an interception vs. the Eagles and is dealing with a back issue, but he really isn't ready -- and he plays like it.

If the Cowboys can block this front in the passing game, there are plays to be made down the field. Watch early in this game if the Giants try to attack the Cowboys on passing downs by moving the front. The Cowboys receivers are better than what the Giants have in the secondary, but the Giants' pass rushers are better than this Cowboys offensive line.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 14, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Third-down monsters: The first-place Redskins do a variety of things well on defense. For example, they are holding opponents to a 33.3 percent conversion rate on third downs. That's the best mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Not only do they hold the line in most big passing situations, they've been able to actually move opponents backward. The Redskins have recorded a sack on 9.6 percent of opponents' passing plays this season, second in the league only to the Eagles, who are at 9.8 percent. In a lot of ways, the Redskins are the anti-Eagles -- a team that doesn't have as many big names on the roster but wins by minimizing mistakes and adhering to the basics and fundamentals. You know? Like tackling.

[+] EnlargeTim Hightower
James Lang/US PresswireDon't be surprised if the Redskins use Tim Hightower and their other backs to run up the middle often against the Eagles.
Men in the middle: How do teams run on the Eagles? Right up the gut. Our Stats & Info group says only the Titans have had to defend more runs up the middle than have the Eagles this season, and Philly is not doing it well. The Eagles have allowed 449 yards, 6.2 yards per carry, 21 first downs and four touchdowns on runs up the middle. Each of those figures ranks them dead last in the NFL. It's still unclear whether the Redskins will use Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain or Roy Helu as their primary running back in this game, but whoever it is, expect him to run right at the middle of the Eagles' defense.

Screened in: Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson has been one of the breakout stars of this NFL season, and one place he has really sparkled is as a pass receiver in the screen game. Jackson has caught 11 balls for 152 yards on screen passes, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which leads all NFL running backs in both categories. However, he's going to face a tougher test than usual this week, as the Giants have allowed just 22 yards to running backs on screen passes this season. Giants linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka are likely a big part of this, as each has the speed and instincts to make plays against running backs in space.

Full-strength boys: This should be the first time since the early portion of the Week 1 game that the Cowboys have had top receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant on the field and healthy at the same time. This should, obviously, be a benefit to Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, as six of his seven touchdown passes this season have gone to either Austin or Bryant. Romo has a completion percentage of 57.9 when targeting Austin or Bryant, versus 67.5 when targeting other receivers. But his yards per attempt are 10.7 when throwing to those two, as opposed to 7.7 when throwing to others. Also, three of his five interceptions have come on passes intended for receivers other than Austin or Bryant.

Ryan will be tryin': The Patriots have scored at least 30 points in 13 straight regular-season games, which is one short of the record held by the 1999-00 St. Louis Rams. The last team to hold New England under 30 was the Cleveland Browns in Week 9 of last season. The Browns' defensive coordinator at that time was Rob Ryan, who is now the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Giants

November, 13, 2010
A look at the key matchups for Sunday's Cowboys-Giants game:

Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins vs. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks: The Giants have three outstanding receivers, but with Steve Smith being ruled out for Sunday’s game, the main focus for the Cowboys now turns to Hakeem Nicks and his matchup with Mike Jenkins.

In the locker room on Friday, several of the media members were hanging around the lockers of Orlando Scandrick and Gerald Sensabaugh talking about how offenses attack defenses. Sensabaugh brought up the point that when you give up plays on defense especially in coverage, you are more likely to see offenses try and attack the same area or weakness.

[+] EnlargeMike Jenkins
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMICowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins will have a battle on his hands Sunday with Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Anyone who has watched Jenkins play this season knows that he has struggled in coverage, but there have been times where he has been in outstanding position and, whether it was a good throw or an adjusting catch, he has struggled to finish the plays. The Giants are well aware of Jenkins’ struggles and will attack him with Nicks.

When you study Nicks, you come away with the thought of what a nice vertical player he is. He can cover some ground in his routes and he can adjust to the ball at any point. Nicks will adjust his routes for back-shoulder throws and he is a weapon in the red zone.

Jenkins knows that he will have a battle on his hands but some early success could go a long way in giving him confidence to continue to carry the fight to Nicks. Jenkins has the skill to match Nicks. Now Jenkins just needs to go out put everything behind him and find the way to finish the play against a talented receiver.

*Cowboys run defense vs. Giants running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs: The last time these two teams met in October, the Giants physically dominated the Cowboys by running the ball 37 times for 200 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are powerful backs that run downhill at you and, if given a head of steam, are difficult to bring to the ground.

The biggest problem the Cowboys have had in the running game this season is shedding blocks. If you don’t play with your hands and don’t use leverage to work to free yourself from blocks, offenses can move the ball with ease.

The Giants are banged up along the offensive line on the left side, but that will not keep them from running the football. Left tackle Shawn Andrews has stepped in for David Diehl and has done an impressive job of creating push at the point of attack. He is a big man that plays light on his feet. The normal left guard, Rich Seubert, has moved to center to replace the injured Shaun O’Hara. There is nothing pretty about the way that Seubert, Chris Snee or Kareem McKenzie looks physically, but they use their bodies to lean on defenders and create lanes for these backs to run through. Rarely do you see these linemen on the ground and the way they finish blocks is quite impressive.

The front seven for the Cowboys cannot allow the Giants to control and mash them for 6 to 7 yards a running play and stay ahead of the chains. If the Giants do have an offensive weakness, and a slight one, it’s on third down. The Cowboys need to keep pressure on the Giants to have to convert as many third downs as possible in hopes of getting off the field.

*Cowboys running backs vs. Giants defense in blitz pickup: On the 13th play of the Cowboys-Giants game in October, linebacker Michael Boley came on a straight inside blitz that might have ended the season for quarterback Tony Romo. It was a missed assignment by fullback Chris Gronkowski that caused Romo’s broken collarbone.

Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna has been sacked nine times in three games and taken numerous other hits. He is nowhere near as mobile as Romo and protection needs to be planned for him. The Cowboys cannot struggle with assignments when the Giants decide to bring pressure in the form of linebacker or safety blitzes.

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to bring different looks and packages into a game. He will match up his personnel to take advantage of certain situations. The Cowboys running backs have to be aware when they get in passing situations and they are responsible to pick up the extra rusher. In the game last week, Felix Jones missed an assignment and got his quarterback hit.

Of the three running backs on the Cowboys roster, Tashard Choice is the weaker than Jones and Barber in protection. Don’t be surprised if Fewell tries to take advantage of these backs when calling defenses because of the struggles that they have had in blitz pickup cleanly getting their men.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Giants preview

November, 12, 2010
This season’s second game of this longtime series takes a new twist.

Jason Garrett takes over for a departed Wade Phillips, who was unable to deliver the hopes and dreams of a Cowboys Super Bowl in the home stadium. Garrett out front has appeared to alter the culture of the franchise that struggled with issues throughout this 1-7 start to the season.

Scout's Eye
Make no mistake about it, the Giants are the last team the Cowboys need to be facing right now. When I study this squad, the first thing that comes to mind is how physical they are on offense. This is not a pretty offensive line in the way they sustain their blocks, and it’s not a group of running backs that are fleet afoot, but they beat up on you. If you are not ready to handle that, they can make you look poor playing defense.

The one advantage that the Cowboys have is that beating along the front is fresh in there minds. The Giants were able to rush the ball for 200 yards in the last meeting between the two clubs. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs both are down hill runners and provide little relief for those in their path.

Bradshaw is the perfect back in this offense for Kevin Gilbride because this line likes to push and shove opponents around the field. Shawn Andrews has been added to the mix and he will play at left tackle this week for David Diehl, who hurt his hip blocking for an extra point. Kevin Boothe moves inside to left guard off the physically unable to perform list and Rich Seubert moves from left guard to center to play for the underrated Shaun O’Hara.

The Giants wear you out with the size they bring at you at the point of attack. Kevin Boss and fullback Bear Pascoe are difficult to separate from once they get their hands on you.

The receiving crew has been super productive not only this season but games in the past against the Cowboys. Steve Smith was hurt in practice on Thursday and has shown up questionable on the injury report, which would be a huge break for the Cowboys. He has been a killer in the last three meetings with 25 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

Hakeem Nicks has had his share of production as well. Three of his 11 catches against the Cowboys have been for touchdowns. He has 14 catches for 20 yards or more this season.

Offensively, the one player who can derail the Giants or keep them on the track is the quarterback Eli Manning. With this offense, Manning doesn’t need to be great but steady works nicely. This team has the ability to run the football effectively and with purpose. The tight ends are dependable and the receivers are some of the best in the league. Manning just needs to be steady and not make the mistakes that have plagued him in years past.

It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys attack Manning to make him feel rushed. Will you see more zone coverage against these receivers that appear to eat up man coverage?

If the Cowboys are going to have any success on defense on Sunday, it will take a huge effort. If they don’t match the physical play of the Giants offense, then this will be a difficult opening trip to the new Meadowlands Stadium.

At the halfway mark, the Giants have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. It’s not by luck or playing against weak opponents, but a complete and total team effort of using talent and scheme to physically handle opponents each week.

Its starts up front with defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to give you different looks up front and the Giants do a nice job of working Umenyiora and Tuck around the defensive front to create different mismatches. The pass rush has been outstanding this season for the Giants and it’s helped them in the secondary as well.

Cornerback Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster both do a nice job in zone coverage of playing their responsibilities but have been equally as good when playing in man. There is not much room in this Giants secondary because of their ability to play tight and stay in route position, but the safety help has been solid too. Antrel Rolle has been an outstanding free agent signing for the Giants and Kenny Phillips can play up or back to help in the running game or work deep with these corners and offer support. When the Giants go to their nickel package, it’s Aaron Ross that comes into the game.

Of the three Giants linebackers, Michael Boley is the one that can really run. Boley plays all over the field and he has the speed to be an effective blitzer as the Cowboys learned in the first meeting with the Giants. Longtime Tennessee inside linebacker Keith Bulluck now plays the strong outside linebacker and is a hard guy to move in the running game. It’s been his physical play that has helped the Giants control the opponents’ running game. The inside three of Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker and defensive tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield play with more power than quickness.

It will be a difficult task for the Cowboys to run the ball against this front and we all know the pitfalls if this turns into a passing game for them. The Giants on defense will put a great deal of pressure on the Cowboys and challenge their ability to move the football.

Jason Garrett has to be smart mixing his play calls and not allowing Fewell to put his defense in attack mode.

The strength of this Cowboys offense has been its receivers and their ability to make plays. Protect and get the ball into your playmakers’ hands. Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Dez Bryant can put pressure on the Giants secondary.

Again, the Giants don’t give you much room back there but when given the opportunity, they need to convert on the chances they have. Jason Witten is going to have to play well. When Fewell puts coverage to the outside, it’s Witten working against linebackers that allows Jon Kitna an opportunity to deliver the football for a positive play.

If the Cowboys have to consistently play behind the chains, this offense will suffer too many three-and-outs, which puts their defense in harm’s way. Garrett needs to be aggressive, but he needs to put his players in the best possible situations to make plays.

More importantly, he needs to find a way to have his team play a physical game on both sides of the ball. They will need to match the intensity of their opponent this week down after down. If not, this Giants team will put a physical beating on them.

Scout's Eye: Giants-Cowboys review

October, 27, 2010
In my preview for the New York Giants matchup, I wrote about the importance for the Cowboys to find a way to get their record to 4-4 by the next time these teams met again in the new Meadowlands Stadium. Despite the fact that the Cowboys had some difficult matchups with the scheme and personnel of the Giants coming into this game, I felt that it was a game that the Cowboys were capable of winning on Monday night football in front of their home crowd.

Scout's Eye
The Cowboys needed this game more than the Giants. My thinking was the intensity and determination would carry the Cowboys on this night.

The game couldn’t have started any better for the Cowboys with the early turnovers and the building of the lead, but to the Giants credit, Tom Coughlin’s squad was able to weather the storm of the early mistakes and make plays.

With the Cowboys up 10-0 late in the first quarter, the Giants are faced with a second-and-goal from the Dallas 7. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride through scouting knew that if he uses his heavy or goal line package that Wade Phillips was going to match him with his personnel. Gilbride has Shawn Andrews, Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum all in the game as tight ends with Ahmad Bradshaw as the lone running back and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in the huddle as well. The call from upstairs in the coaching booth is for the heavy personnel group but fails to identify that Nicks is still on the field.

In this Cowboys’ goal-line or short-yardage group, there are five linebackers and three safeties but no corners. The linebackers were DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking, Sean Lee, Bradie James and Anthony Spencer. The safeties were Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church and Danny McCray. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Alan Ball, the one safety who has cover skills, were off the field.

When the Giants broke the huddle, Nicks went wide to his left, McCray originally lined up in front of him but then began to look inside to Sensabaugh, who was lined up to the side of the three-tight end set to the right. In the three-tight end set, Andrews was on the line, Boss was in a wing to the right of Andrews and Beckum was lined up as a wing next to Boss. Clearly the strength of the formation was to the Cowboys’ left.

Church was lined up on the line over Andrews, but as Manning begin to set the protection, Sensabaugh and McCray switched positions with Sensabaugh now lined up over Nicks. At the snap, Nicks starts out like he is going to run a slant, then works to the fade. Manning looks like he wants to throw the slant but double pumps the ball, waiting for Nicks to complete the route. Sensabaugh gets no jam on Nicks, who now plants off his left foot then works back outside. Sensabaugh is too far away from Nicks to make a clean play on the ball. Nicks is able to snatch the ball out of the air from Manning for the Giants first touchdown.

The play was successful and much too easy for the Giants, who were able to take advantage of the Cowboys and the personnel group they had on the field at the time. In the postgame press conference, Phillips was asked about the matchup that led to the touchdown and said that the staff did not realize that Nicks was on the field at the time and the normal corner that would have been on the field to match, Terence Newman, was injured.

Give the Giants credit for the matchup and how they were able to get one of their best receivers in position to make a play while the Cowboys were left wondering what personnel group the Giants were in.

*In the NFL, there is a saying that mistakes will get you beat, rookie mistakes will get you hurt.

It’s the second quarter and the Cowboys are holding onto a 10-7 lead with the football on the Dallas 43. Cowboys break the formation in an off set “I” to the left. Miles Austin and Jason Witten are lined up wide left with Austin on the ball and Witten off. Witten starts in motion inside. Dez Bryant is up top by himself. Giants are in a base or regular front with linebacker Michael Boley lined up on the outside hip of rookie defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

As Romo takes the snap, Giants defensive tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield run a twist stunt on the inside that Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Montrae Holland are able to sort out and keep the two defensive tackles along the line. The linebacker to that side was Jonathan Goff, and he begins to drop in coverage so now you have three blocking two.

On the outside, Pierre-Paul is now rushing Doug Free wide and to his left shoulder. Fullback Chris Gronkowski begins to release to outside the left side of Free as Boley begins his charge through the gap created by the widening Free and Holland working on the twist inside. There are three to four yards of separation between Boley and Gronkowski, who is unable to adjust back to pick up the Giants’ linebacker that has the best speed.

Romo sees that Boley is a free rusher and bravely hangs in the pocket to deliver the ball to Austin on the outside. With Romo’s right arm and ribs exposed, Boley catches him right in the side and drives the quarterback into the ground. Boley lands with his entire weight on Romo’s body, breaking the quarterback’s left collarbone and putting him on the shelf for the next six to eight weeks.

When you study this play, it was a perfect call by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Where Gronkowski was lined up in the formation, it was going to be difficult to complete that block and the path he took at the snap did not help the situation as well.

Later in the game, Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh has an opportunity to get a similar type of hit on Eli Manning. As he is coming forward in the blitz -- a well-designed one by Wade Phillips -- Sensabaugh checks up slightly in the hole and doesn’t get there in time or lay the wood to Manning. The result of the play was that Manning was able to deliver the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith for a touchdown. Smith was able to work around Orlando Scandrick, who was in man coverage and unable to handle the adjusting Smith.

Boley took an opportunity to deliver a huge blow to Romo and to the chances of the Cowboys’ hopes this season by knocking the quarterback out of the game. For the Cowboys, a well-designed blitz again was unable to get home -- not what the defense needed on a night when knockout blows were needed.

News and notes from Wade Phillips

December, 3, 2009
IRVING -- Free safety Ken Hamlin (right high-ankle sprain) didn't practice for the second consecutive day and coach Wade Phillips said, "it doesn't look good for him" in terms of playing on Sunday at the Giants.

Other notable Cowboys on the injury report: Tony Romo (back), Gerald Sensabaugh (thumb), DeMarcus Ware (foot), Jason Witten (foot), Victor Butler (knee) all participated in practice. Marion Barber (hand) is not listed on the injury report.

The Giants linebacker Michael Boley (back) was a full participant on the injury report as was quarterback Eli Manning (foot). Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (ankle and foot) did not practice.
*Dallas practiced in a steady wind on Thursday with temps in the 40s. Kicker Nick Folk, who has struggled from between 40-49 yards this season, he's 4-8 on the year, made a 47-yarder with the wind at his back to end the open media session.

Folk will be tested this week at Giants Stadium because of the swirly winds. Folk will kick some against the wind at practice to get a feel for the wind.

"We kick in all conditions here anyway," Phillips said of Valley Ranch. "We we're kicking outdoors today and the weather was colder so we got an idea there. But once you get in the stadium before the game, it will determine how you kick it also."

*Right tackle Doug Free makes his third start of the season on Sunday and he will face the Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. It's Free's biggest test since he replaced the injured Marc Colombo (out until January with leg injuries). Phillips said Free is a work in progress but he's getting better and by using players such as DeMarcus Ware against him in practice it's helped in his development.

"It just takes a little while to get comfortable in ballgames and against different teams and different players and get used to it," Phillips said. "That's part of the process."