New York Giants: Dallas Cowboys

Romo, Manning at #NFLRank crossroads

August, 21, 2014
In truth, there is very little to tie Eli Manning and Tony Romo together. One was the No. 1 overall pick, the other undrafted. One has won two Super Bowl MVP awards, the other has become the poster child for blowing it in big games. They play in the same division and are about the same age, but their stories are divergent.

Yet there they sit right next to each other, Romo at No. 61 and Manning at No. 62, on this year’s #NFLRank list (see chart, below right). And when you see it like that, you start to imagine where they’ll be on this list a year from now. It’s easy to realize that this is a pretty big season for both of these guys. For different reasons, each faces the question of whether he’s in decline.

Romo is 34 years old and has had back surgery twice in the past two years. He’s set up to produce big numbers as the quarterback of a Dallas Cowboys offense loaded with skill position weapons. For the first time in his career, it appears he has enough elite offensive line talent to protect him. Given the sorry state of the Cowboys’ defense, Romo is going to have the opportunity and responsibility to put up a lot of points.

So the question is whether he can, physically, or whether the back issues will continue to be a part of Romo’s story from here on out. If they are, the rest of the story likely gets a lot shorter and a lot more uncomfortable to watch.

Cowboys people say they’re happy with the progress Romo has made from this year’s back surgery and that the priority now is to make sure there are no further setbacks. If there aren’t, there’s no reason to think there’s reason for long-term worry with Romo. He’s up one spot from his place in last year’s rankings, which indicates that perception of him as a player hasn’t changed much. He’s set up to succeed on the field as long as he can stay there. For Romo, this season is about proving he’s healthy enough to make the next chapter of his career a substantial one.

Manning is in a different spot. As consistently healthy a quarterback as the NFL has, Manning had ankle surgery this spring and missed almost no practice time. He’s fully healthy and expecting to play all 16 games, as he has in every season since 2005. The question with Manning is not whether he’ll play, but how he’ll play.

Manning led the league last season with a career-high 27 interceptions. The Giants’ offense fell apart around him so completely that the organization engaged in a full-scale overhaul, bringing in a new offensive coordinator, installing a new offensive system and making sweeping personnel changes at running back, wide receiver, offensive line and tight end.

While some pieces (Victor Cruz, Justin Pugh) remain in place around him, the most critical constant is Manning, whose 2013 performance was alarming enough to drop him from No. 17 to No. 62 in these rankings. The question hanging over his tousled head as 2014 dawns is whether he was a victim of a system meltdown or an active creator of the mess. Manning is 33, and the way the league is built to preserve quarterbacks now, as long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t play five or six more years, easily.

But Manning has no contract beyond 2015, and the fact that the Giants didn’t extend him this offseason, when doing so would have helped them significantly on cap room, indicates that there are questions about his future. They have said, publicly and privately, that they don’t consider Manning to be a quarterback in decline. They believe he has and will continue to take to the new offense and help everyone else with the ease of the transition. He’s eager to put 2013 behind and play better going forward. He acknowledges his role in the mess and is working to make sure he doesn’t repeat it.

However, another bad year could easily change the narrative here. There’s no doubting Manning’s ability to elevate a team to greatness over a one-month or two-month span, as he has twice, to the chagrin of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But can Manning be a consistent-enough performer in the regular season to shorten the Giants’ rebuilding phase and return them to annual contender status? Or are his best days behind him?

The Cowboys and the Giants could be in for rough seasons. Dallas’ defense appears noncompetitive on paper, and the Giants’ offense is a work in progress that might not be ready for the start of the season. It would be a mild surprise if either team contended for the division title, though it’s important to note that the NFC East always surprises to some extent.

Within that framework, though, Romo and Manning face important seasons from individual standpoints. Regardless of their teams’ final 2014 records, each is going to emerge from this season having addressed a major question about what to expect from the remainder of his career. Five months from now, we’re going to have a lot more information on which to base future expectations for these franchise quarterbacks. Based on the manner in which these players answer these key questions, their teams will either be breathing sighs of relief or addressing huge new questions about the most important position on their rosters.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.

Live blog: Giants at Cowboys

September, 8, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the New York Giants' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Week 1 Prediction: Giants at Cowboys

September, 6, 2013

Double Coverage: Giants at Cowboys

September, 5, 2013
For the third time since 2007, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will meet in a regular-season opener. The Giants have never lost at AT&T Stadium (4-0) but the Cowboys are 6-0 all time against the Giants in season openers, including last year's game at MetLife Stadium. ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you their Double Coverage preview:

Archer: The Cowboys are looking to get off this 8-8 train they have been on the past two years. I'm curious as to where the Giants are entering 2013, two years after winning a Super Bowl.

Graziano: Well, Todd, Cowboys fans may not want to hear it, but the Giants are trying to get off this 9-7 train. Because the team got raging hot at the end of the 2011 season and won the Super Bowl, people forget that the Giants finished that regular season 9-7, the same record as the 2012 season. The difference is, 9-7 wasn't good enough last season to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs. So the Giants want to stop leaving this thing to the whims of fate. When they beat teams like the Packers and 49ers, as they did last season, that makes them feel as if they can beat anyone. And because they feel that way, they believe they should be better than 9-7 every year. So their goal, they would tell you, is to play more consistently week-in and week-out so that they get up into that 11-win, 12-win range that pretty much guarantees you a playoff spot without having to sweat out the final weeks of December hoping other teams lose.

Can they do it? I'm not so sure. The pass rush really tailed off last year. They had 33 sacks after posting 48 in 2011. The Giants' defense is based on the ability of its front four to pressure quarterbacks, and when it's not doing that, it's a pretty ordinary team. So they're hoping Justin Tuck has a bounce-back year and Jason Pierre-Paul recovers soon from back surgery. I don't think Pierre-Paul is going to be ready to play Sunday night, but he could. Which reminds me: What's the state of that Cowboys' front four as the start of the season looms?

Archer: The Cowboys are seeing if they can get Randy White and Ed "Too Tall" Jones out of retirement to help out, which tells you about the state of the defensive line. It’s not good right now, and it looks like even if Anthony Spencer can play, he will be severely limited by his July 25 knee surgery. The earliest we’ll see Jay Ratliff is October. So there’s DeMarcus Ware, who looks great in this move to defensive end, and Jason Hatcher, a favorite of yours, I know. Other than that, you’re talking about Nick Hayden, who wasn’t in football last season, and George Selvie, JPP’s running mate at South Florida.

The backups look even shakier with Landon Cohen, Kyle Wilber, Ben Bass, Edgar Jones (picked up Aug. 31 in a trade with Kansas City) and Caesar Rayford (picked up in a trade with Indianapolis on Tuesday). Not exactly the Purple People Eaters there, huh? But they must believe defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is a genius. They didn’t go after a lineman in the draft and they haven’t gone after anybody of note in free agency. I’ve referred to Marinelli as a pass-rush whisperer. If he can make this group work, then that 0-16 mark in Detroit could be erased. So if the Cowboys can’t get to Eli Manning, then what can we expect from the Giants' receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz?

Graziano: If Manning has time to find his receivers, he is of course dangerous. But the questions with those receivers is health. Nicks was banged up all last year with leg injuries and has been taking it very slowly all offseason, as he's determined to try his best to stay healthy throughout the final year of his contract. Based on the way he's looked in preseason, he's either not fully healthy or he's keeping something in reserve because he didn't want to overtax himself and risk injury in meaningless games. I have a hunch it's the latter, and that he'll be great -- at least until his next leg injury. Cruz is another matter. He bruised his heel 2 1/2 weeks ago in a preseason game against the Colts and didn't return to practice until Monday. He's feeling good, though he remains concerned about keeping the swelling down in that heel as the week goes along. We'll know after a couple of practice days whether he'll play, but at this point I expect that he will. The question is whether he'll have that explosive speed, if he's not sure he can make those hard cuts on a still-sore heel.

Receivers make for an interesting topic in this game. When people ask me which team in the NFC East has the best wide receiver corps, I never know what to say. These days, though, if Miles Austin is healthy, I'm inclined to say the Cowboys, because I'm a big fan of Dez Bryant. How's he been looking these days?

Archer: Who is this Bryant guy? Never heard of him. Oh, wait, yeah, now I remember. He’s been pretty good this summer. Actually, better than that. Actually, really, really good. He has picked up where he left off last year when he was, to me, the second-best receiver in the NFL, behind Calvin Johnson, in the second half of the season. Bryant’s confidence has never been higher. Tony Romo's confidence in Bryant has never been higher.

That’s not to say there won’t be issues, but Bryant looks as if he’s ready for a monster season. I’m curious as to how the Giants will defend him. For all of his physical abilities, he still needs to work on beating press coverage. Can the Giants be physical with him? Maybe that’s how they go. But the key, in a way, will be Austin. He’s healthy, and I say that without the “for now” added to it. If the Giants want to take away Bryant, then that’s leaving Austin alone because you know they have to pay attention to Jason Witten, too. The Cowboys would appear to have it set up pretty well in that regard, but ... the offensive line. It’s a mess, and the addition of Brian Waters is probably too late for this week.

What’s the state of the Giants’ line?

Graziano: The Giants' line is not in great shape. They lost starting right tackle David Diehl and starting center David Baas to injury two weeks ago and have had to do a lot of reshuffling. This year's first-round pick, Justin Pugh, is now the starting right tackle. Left guard Kevin Boothe moved inside to play center, and James Brewer, a fourth-round pick from 2011, is starting at left guard. Brewer had never played left guard in a game until last week's preseason game in New England. He was drafted as a tackle and worked some at right guard in the spring. It's an issue worth watching, because they lost a lot of blocking help when they cut running back Ahmad Bradshaw and let Martellus Bennett leave as a free agent, and they're also without fullback Henry Hynoski, who has a knee injury.

Manning, to me, looked uncomfortable at times in the preseason with his protection. He's fine shuffling receivers in and out all of the time. He can make that work. But if he doesn't trust the folks in front of him to keep him from getting hit, it's another matter. Even the backups in Dallas should be able to find a way through that line early, and if they can, they could potentially get in Eli's head and find him in a generous mood. I heard they were working on forcing turnovers out there this year, which is nice, the way they're embracing such new, cutting-edge concepts. Are you seeing a difference in the way the defense goes after the ball?

Archer: Absolutely. It started at the rookie minicamp when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Marinelli had the players pick up every loose ball, even after an incomplete pass. They wanted to establish a mindset. It’s worked. The Cowboys showed they could take the ball away. I remain a little skeptical because the core of these defenders has been around for some time, and only DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee have shown they have a nose for the ball. Maybe throw in Brandon Carr, too. But until the whole unit does it, I can’t believe these guys will all of a sudden turn into the Bears from last season. They need to have more than last season's 16 takeaways. More possessions equal more points. The offense rarely has been handed short fields to work with after turnovers, or even returns in the kicking game. Too often, the Cowboys have had to drive 80 yards, and we know that’s a hard thing to do in this league. Defenses basically wait for the offense to have an unforced error and punt the ball. But the preseason was a good sign that they can take the ball from the defense.

The question is whether Romo & Co. can stop turning it over to the opponents.

I’m interested in the Giants' running backs. Brandon Jacobs has been gone for a season. Now Bradshaw is gone. So this is David Wilson’s club now?

Graziano: They are expecting big things from Wilson, yes. The initial plan was for him to get the early-down work and Andre Brown (eight touchdowns in 10 games last season) to get the goal-line work and the passing-downs work because they trusted him more in pass protection. That's what they'll miss most with Bradshaw -- he's as good a blitz-pickup back as there is in the league. Anyway, Brown broke his leg in the final preseason game last week in New England, and he's going to go on short-term IR. So Wilson likely gets those goal-line touches back, and they'll hope he's mastered the protection schemes enough to handle third downs as well. They have Da'Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox to spell him, and they worked out Beanie Wells and some other vets this week, but as of now it does look as though the run game is in Wilson's hands.

He's a heck of a runner, Todd. Can break a big one at any time, and was really effective between the tackles last year, too. Explosive, high-end speed and runs with more power than people realize. He's got to show he's not a liability in pass protection, and if he does show that, he has a chance to be special. His biggest problem right now may be the absence of Hynoski, the great blocking fullback who's still out with a knee injury. The Giants are a passing offense built around Eli, but they wouldn't mind a more representative run game than they've had in recent years.

John Clayton picks Giants to win NFC East

July, 27, 2013

Our man John Clayton offers a quickie breakdown in the video above of what he sees as a very competitive NFC East, and he thinks the New York Giants "probably have the best chance to win the division." He acknowledges their question marks on defense but cites Eli Manning, young running back David Wilson and their other offensive weapons as the reasons to favor the Giants to claim their second division title in three years.

John's is obviously an opinion I respect quite a bit, but that doesn't mean we always see things the same way. And, although I'm not ready to make my own prediction for the NFC East yet, I'm not overly enthralled with the Giants as a favorite right now. I find it hard to see where they got better, especially on defense. Assuming full-year health for Hakeem Nicks is risky, and I think the offense lost a lot of valuable blocking help with the departures of Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett and the loss of Henry Hynoski to a knee injury for at least a little while. I also don't think we know yet how the running game will work out or whether Wilson is up to the task of a full-season starter's workload as a ball carrier and a pass-protector.

That said, you never can rule out the Giants, and they're likely the safest pick. Their ceiling doesn't feel overly high, but you do feel as though you know where the floor is. They're unlikely to be a bad team, and they always contend until the final weeks. Manning and Tom Coughlin are the cornerstones at the key positions of quarterback and coach who make sure of that every year.

I think the Redskins, if Robert Griffin III is healthy all year (a big "if," by the way), and the Cowboys, if they can keep their defense healthy, have more potential to have a great season than the Giants have. But there are also more things that can go wrong in those places. The Redskins still have major question marks in the secondary, the Cowboys on the lines. Picking one of those teams this year, I believe, carries more risk than picking the Giants does.

And no, I haven't forgotten about the Eagles. And no, I don't think it's impossible that they could win this division that hasn't had an 11-win team since 2009. But I do think they have the shakiest quarterback situation in the division by far and that they're all being forced to learn a lot of new things all at once on both sides of the ball under a new coaching staff. And I think they have the toughest road to contention of the four teams. I think the Eagles have the best chance of any of these four to have a poor season in 2013.

Brown's knack for ball on display in Dallas

October, 29, 2012
Last season was a tough one for Stevie Brown.

He spent the year with the Indianapolis Colts, a team that would finish 2-14.

The Colts were widely considered to be the worst team in the NFL, but Brown couldn't crack their starting secondary. Instead, he was stuck on special teams.

Brown called 2011 a low-point in his three-year NFL career.

"Whenever you’re just looking out there and your team is not winning and you’re just kind of sitting around and you know you feel like you can contribute, (it's tough)," Brown said. "That was one of those times where I was just like, 'I wish I was out there. I wish I was able to contribute and see if I can do something.'

Brown's gotten the chance to do that the last few weeks with the Giants. And the results have been extraordinary.

Brown leads the NFL in takeaways (five interceptions, two fumble recoveries) after recording two INTs and one fumble recovery in the Giants' win over the Cowboys. He had three of the Giants' six turnovers and has four picks in the last four weeks.

"He has been where the ball is," Tom Coughlin said. "That's something that's really helped us.... We're now plus-13 in turnovers after eight games. I would like to hope that this could continue."

So would Brown.

The former seventh-round pick out of Michigan has started at safety in place of Kenny Phillips (knee) since Sept. 30 against Philadelphia.

In that span, he has four picks and two fumble recoveries for the 6-2 Giants.

"Since I’ve been in there, I’ve been trying to make the most of my opportunities," Brown said.

Mission accomplished.

"He’s been the guy who has been able to be on the spot and anticipate. He obviously has a very good knack for (being near the ball)," Coughlin said.

Brown's crowning achievements came against Dallas. His first pick -- on Dallas' first drive -- resulted in a Giants' field goal. His second pick came with 1:14 remaining and ended a Dallas threat. In between, he added a fourth-quarter fumble recovery.

Brown says his recent run of success has "been everything I’ve been working for."

But can it continue?

Phillips practiced on a limited basis twice last week and is expected to return to his starting role once he gets back on the field, possibly as soon as Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Phillips status is unclear at the moment. But Brown insists that he won't be jealous if he has to take a back seat to the veteran.

Phillips has been a guiding light of sorts for Brown since he's been out.

"He definitely has an impact on the way I’m playing because he helps me out," Brown said. "He’s a professional."

Brown can say the same about himself.

Over the last four weeks, he's been one of the best in the NFL.

Countdown Live: Giants-Cowboys

October, 28, 2012
Join our NFL experts as they break down the NFC East clash between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Next-Level Preview: Giants at Cowboys

October, 27, 2012
The Giants will head to Arlington, Texas, for their second meeting of the season with the Dallas Cowboys. In Week 1, the Cowboys defeated the Giants and are now looking to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007. However, since the new Cowboys Stadium opened in 2009, Dallas is 0-3 at home against Big Blue.

The Giants are coming off a thrilling 27-23 win over the Redskins on Sunday. The Cowboys, meanwhile, beat the Panthers 19-14 on the strength of four Dan Bailey field goals and a 26-yard Miles Austin touchdown reception.

Here are four areas to watch for Sunday:

Eli Manning has been impressive at the new Cowboys Stadium, leading the Giants to a perfect 3-0 record. Manning has a Total QBR of 87.6 in those three games, easily his highest on the road against any NFC East opponent since the start of the 2009 season. Over the last four seasons, all other opposing quarterbacks have a combined Total QBR of 52.2 at Cowboys Stadium.

Manning has been especially good in the fourth quarter, amassing a Total QBR of 88.7 and leading the Giants to two comeback wins in Dallas since the new stadium opened.

• The Cowboys' defense has excelled when sending five or more pass rushers this year, allowing the second-lowest completion percentage and QBR in the league. They will have their hands full with Manning, as he has been very successful when facing added pressure.

Victor Cruz dropped three passes on opening night at the Meadowlands, the most in a single game of his career. Since then, Cruz has only one drop and has the second-most receiving yards (569) and targets (66) in the league.

Cruz has worked out of the slot for 72.4 percent of his targets this season, catching a league-high five touchdowns, including last week’s game winner against Washington. Only Wes Welker has more yards, receptions, targets and receiving first downs out of the slot.

• Since he entered the league in 2009, Hakeem Nicks has dominated the Cowboys. Nicks leads the NFL in receiving yards (504) and receptions (33), and is tied for first in receiving touchdowns (4) against Dallas over that span. Nicks also leads the league in red zone targets (7) and has the fourth-most yards after the catch (145) against the Cowboys. Nicks had four receptions for 38 yards in their first matchup and should improve those numbers this week.

Osi and Co. look to bring heat vs. Cowboys

October, 26, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It didn’t surprise Osi Umenyiora that he and his fellow defensive lineman were mostly neutralized in the season-opening loss to Dallas. With the Cowboys using quick slants frequently in that contest, the Giants pass rush was almost helpless at times to pressure quarterback Tony Romo as they fell, 24-17.

“Anybody can neutralize us if they execute that game plan. It’s easy if you’re going to throw the ball in one second, nobody is going to get there. That’s just the way it is,” Umenyiora said. “We weren't surprised. It might have seemed that way on tape, but when we looked at it on tape we saw what they were doing and hopefully we will be able to counteract that this week.”

Sunday, the Giants will try to get more pressure from their defensive line when they head to Dallas for a pivotal NFC East battle. The Giants had just two sacks in that game, both by defensive lineman, and Romo was able to pick apart the secondary.

“I have no idea (if the Giants will get to Romo better). I don’t know what the game plan is going to be,” Umenyiora said. “If we have the opportunity to, I think we will.”

Umenyiora, who had one tackle against Dallas, credited the Cowboys for effectively using slants in their attack that night. While he and his fellow defensive ends saw double teams, he said it was Romo’s ability to release the ball quickly. Romo completed 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns that day, easily his best game of the season.

As the defensive backs have championed to use more press coverage this week, Umenyiora believes that is a tactic that would help the defensive ends more. Pressing would neutralize quick slants and lead to Romo having to hold the ball longer in the pocket.

“You have to. If you play off, then he’s able to just throw those quick slants. We’ll never get there,” Umenyiora said. “If you press them, that gives us that time to get that extra step and I think we’ll have a better chance of getting him.”

After a slow start to the year, the Giants pass rush has picked up in recent weeks. The defense had its breakout day against San Francisco, recording six sacks in its win two weeks ago. The Giants followed their performance with a three-sack effort against the Redskins' elusive quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Umenyiora has three sacks on the year and said he “hopes” the line is playing better now as the season approaches the halfway point. He believes the Giants are a better team than the one the Cowboys bested on opening night. They’ll get their chance to prove it Sunday.

“I don’t know if we’re a different team but I think we’re a better team,” Umenyiora said. “We’re coming together. I think all phases of the team are contributing better now than they were back then.”

Week 8 Predictions: Giants vs. Cowboys

October, 26, 2012

Madden simulation: Giants at Cowboys

October, 25, 2012

EA Sports
How will the Giants fare on Sunday in Dallas against the rival Cowboys? Let's check
the "Madden NFL 13" simulation from EA Sports: Stats | Video Video

Opposing view: Dallas missing stars

October, 24, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As Dallas beat the Giants 24-17 in the opener, linebacker Sean Lee and running back DeMarco Murray made key plays that helped spark the upset.

Sunday, the Cowboy could be without both of their playmakers. Lee is out for the season with a toe injury, and Murray did not play last week and missed Wednesday's practice with a foot sprain. The indication is that the running back will not be in action against the Giants.

Lee, a top linebacker, had the forced fumble on running back David Wilson in Cowboys' territory that sent the rookie to the doghouse for the next few weeks.

"Sean Lee is a great football player. Anybody who watches our team can see that," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said on a conference call Wednesday. "He’s a heck of a young man who loves to play the game, and plays it really well. He’s very good against the run, he’s really good against the pass; leader of our defense, makes the calls. Guys gravitate towards him. They gravitate towards him on defense and really throughout our whole football team. It will certainly be a loss."

Murray rushed for 131 yards against the Giants, his best game of the year, and had a 48-yard scamper on a busted play that proved to be a big play in the game.

"We’re hopeful it will heal up, but we’re certainly taking it slow with him, and like I said, he didn’t practice today and we’ll just see how he progresses day to day," Garrett said of Murray's foot sprain.

NEED SOME POINTS: The Cowboys are 10th in total yards per game but tied for 24th when it comes to points. Since scoring 24 in the opener, the Cowboys have topped that just once, against Baltimore two weeks ago, and are averaging 20.5 points per game. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sees a lack of execution when the team gets near the end zone.

"We’ve had some passes that we either dropped, or I missed a guy on a throw, or we just didn’t block one guy when a guy was open," Romo said. "When you look at it closely, sometimes it’s just coming down with the ball. Other times, when you’re putting it there, it’s just close."

WITTEN ISTOUGH: Cowboys tight end Jason Witten played in the opener against the Giants despite suffering a lacerated spleen a little more than three weeks prior to the game. He had just two catches for 10 yards but seems to be healthier than he was to start the season.

"It was a tremendous effort on his part and I think it showed a lot (about how) committed he is to playing and to his teammates. Our team really responded well," Garrett said. "He really wasn’t right in that game or in the next couple weeks and mostly because he hadn’t practiced in awhile and was dealing with his injury. Since then, he really seems to be playing like himself. He seems healthy. He’s caught a lot of balls the last couple, three weeks. Seems like he’s playing the way Jason Witten has played throughout his career."

Bennett focused on winning, improving

October, 24, 2012
For Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, Sunday's game against Dallas isn't about payback. And it isn't personal.

The former Cowboy just wants to leave Dallas with a victory.

"I don't care who it is," Bennett said. "It's just another game. We need to win."

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
Rich Kane/Icon SMIHis head coach says Martellus Bennett can improve as a blocker.
Bennett also wants to play better.

In comments that were somewhat surprising, Bennett Monday said he was upset about his performance last week against Washington. He had five catches on seven targets for 79 yards in the Giants' 27-23 comeback victory.

But Bennett was upset over a route that he "screwed up" in the third quarter that ended with an Eli Manning interception.

So, despite having a 31-yard grab and averaging nearly 16 yards per reception Sunday, Bennett wasn't happy with how he played.

"That's the thing about this game, a lot of people just look at fantasy football stats," Bennett said. "I thought I played better against San Francisco."

Both Bennett and head coach Tom Coughlin noted that the tight end could have blocked better against Washington.

"I would say it's good of him to be hard on himself," Coughlin said of Bennett. "I know he can be a better blocker. I think there's some things in the pass game that he could've done better."

Big Blue gained just 64 yards on 19 carries (3.4 yards per carry) against the 'Skins.

The ground game could be crucial this Sunday in Dallas. In Week 1, the Giants ran for 82 yards on 19 carries against the Cowboys.

A win on Sunday would give the Giants a two-game cushion on the Cowboys heading into the second half of the season. To Bennett, that's the most important number to consider.

"I think this is always one of the toughest divisions in the NFL," Bennett said. "No matter who you play every night, they can beat you. It's like that all throughout the NFL, but I just think we have one of the toughest divisions to get out of."

Secondary sets sights on better showing

October, 24, 2012
The last time the Giants faced the Cowboys, some kid from Queens named Kevin Ogletree became a household name for a few hours.

Back in Week 1, Ogletree lit up the Giants' secondary for eight catches and 114 yards. He scored two key touchdowns in Dallas' 24-17 win.

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle tackles Kevin Ogletree.
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIAntrel Rolle and the Giants don't want Kevin Ogletree to repeat his Week 1 heroics.
More than anything, Ogletree's big night highlighted significant holes in the Giants' secondary. Tony Romo had plenty of open targets that night at the New Meadowlands, hitting on 22 of 29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns.

"No explanations," Antrel Rolle said after that game. "We just have to get better."

And they have, to a certain degree.

After giving up large chunks of yardage to Dallas, Tampa and Cleveland, the Giants' secondary has tightened up a bit in recent weeks.

They gave up 258 passing yards in their win over Washington and had two picks, but Robert Griffin III hit on 20 of 28 passes. The front seven, though, sacked Griffin three times, an indication that the back end was doing its job.

The week before against San Francisco, the Giants held Alex Smith to 200 yards passing and Rolle picked him off twice. The Giants also sacked him six times.

"I think we've made strides," Rolle said of the secondary. "With the number of injuries that we've had -- someone's been down every week -- we're trying to continue to get better with our conversations and communication, just our overall chemistry."

The numbers still aren't pretty, but Rolle's right. Strides are being made.

The Giants rank 21st in passing yards allowed per game (253). (The Redskins, by the way, rank last in the league with 328 yards allowed per game.) Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's crew also ranks 22nd in completion percentage allowed (63.6).

"We have work to do," head coach Tom Coughlin said.

That work starts again on Sunday in Dallas. Wonder if anyone will be talking about Kevin Ogletree after the game?