New York Giants: Tony Romo

The New York Giants are pass rush, and pass rush is the New York Giants. So we have been told for decades, since the days of L.T. and Bill Parcells. When the Giants win, it's because they pressure quarterbacks. Pass rush is acknowledged as the single biggest reason the Giants have won four Super Bowls and the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots have only won three. Lawrence Taylor, Leonard Marshall, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul ... these are the fearsome edge rushers who have delivered for the Giants in their greatest seasons.

And yet, this offseason has been about the smaller, faster guys who play on the back end of the defense. The Giants let 2013 sack leader Tuck leave via free agency and have not replaced him, instead signing three new cornerbacks and re-signing one of their own cornerbacks and their own safety. If you didn't know any better, you'd think some sort of broad organizational philosophy shift was in the works.

I doubt that's it, because the Giants aren't big into sudden, broad organizational philosophy shifts. But it's entirely possible that the commitment to a secondary that didn't seem to be one of the most pressing needs when the offseason began has something to do with the way offenses are trending in the NFL in general and in the NFC East in particular. The Chip Kelly Eagles get the ball out of their quarterback's hands before a pass rush can get there. Tony Romo is elusive and was picking apart the Giants with short, quick passes in two games last season. And while he didn't look it in that Dec. 1 game last year, Robert Griffin III was a nightmare for Giants pass-rushers the year before when healthy.

If the trend is toward mobile quarterbacks and up-tempo, quick-release passing games, it's entirely possible that devoting more resources to covering receivers is a smart way to go. I still think the best way to disrupt a passing offense is to pressure the quarterback into throwing (or not throwing) the ball. But if you're running a defense these days and you see the way offenses are trending, it's possible to come to the conclusion that you're just not going to be able to dictate that the way you used to. And if that's the case, locking things down on the back end and maybe trying to buy your pass-rushers some extra time that way is a reasonable counter-move.

John Mara said last week that the reason the Giants ended up devoting so many of their free-agent resources to defensive backs was because that's the way the market fell for them, and I believe him. The Giants were a team with many needs, and if the players they liked best for the prices all happened to play defensive back, there's no reason they shouldn't have leaned that way. But I'm interested to see whether beefing up on the back end of the defense rather than the front end is a formula that can work for a team that has, for so long, believed in doing things the other way.
This week, we'll be taking a look at five moments that shaped the New York Giants' disappointing 2013 season. I chose the word "moments" in order to be intentionally broad. For our purposes, a "moment" could be a play, a series of plays, an injury... any number of things. Vague is the way to go on these types of projects, and I think that's for the best. We'll also do them in reverse order, so No. 1 will be Friday. Now, without further ado...

No. 5: Tony Romo ends the dream

I resisted, but faithful Giants fans, the state of the division and actual math did in fact keep the Giants' hopes of reaching the playoffs alive in spite of their 0-6 start. They won four in a row to move within a game of the second-place Cowboys and a game and a half of the first-place Eagles. When Dallas rolled into MetLife Stadium on Nov. 24, the Giants had a legitimate opportunity to move within a game of first place with a win. And when they finished erasing a 15-point second-half deficit and tied the game with 4:45 to go, the frozen home crowd was as fired up as it would be at any point in the season.

But it was not to be. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo led Dallas on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that sapped all of the remaining time off the clock and set reliable Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey up for a game-winning 35-yard field goal. Romo completed three third-down passes on the drive, the last one to Cole Beasley with 1:17 to go to move the ball from the Giants' 28 to the Giants' 15. Had that pass not been completed, Bailey's attempt to win the game would have been from a far less certain 45 yards and, even if successful, would have given the ball back to Eli Manning and the Giants with at least some time left on the clock to get themselves into range for a game-tying field goal.

Instead, the Giants fell to 4-7, two full games behind the eventual division champion Eagles and the Cowboys, against whom they were 0-2. With almost no chance to win any tiebreakers, trailing two teams by two games with five to play effectively ended the Giants' hopes for a miracle comeback. They would be officially eliminated from postseason contention two weeks later with a loss in San Diego.
You tweet, I answer. Or give you my best guess. Or something.

Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: The game Sunday against the Redskins could be the final one in a Giants uniform for long-timers like Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, David Diehl, Hakeem Nicks and others. Tuck says the fact is on his mind, even as he works to focus on trying to win the game. Nicks is a free agent too, and doesn't appear to have the support of the coaching staff anymore after playing as poorly as he has in his contract year. Nicks' possible replacement, if such a thing is on the roster, is Rueben Randle, who missed Thursday's practice with a knee injury.

Behind enemy lines: The quarterback for the Redskins on Sunday will be Kirk Cousins. But the quarterback of the Redskins' future is still Robert Griffin III. And whoever's coaching him next year, his current offensive coordinator believes he'll have plenty of success.

Around the division: The Cowboys appear to be playing games with their quarterback situation, refusing to admit that Tony Romo won't be able to play due to his back injury. Eagles coach Chip Kelly says his team won't be taken in by any attempts to confuse the situation.

Around the league: We'll go around the league today on "NFL Insiders" on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET. I'll also be on the 11 am ET SportsCenter, talking about league-wide issues including the Cowboys-Eagles game. Tune in, DVR it or whatever it is you do. Hope you enjoy.

Big Blue Morning: Good sign for Brown

December, 26, 2013
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants:

The news of the day: The Giants held a "jog-thru" on Wednesday, as opposed to a full practice, so the injury report only projects the extent to which injured players would or would not have participated in a real practice. The report did list running backs Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis as limited participants, though, and that has to be counted as a good sign for their progress in recovery from their respective concussions and their chances to be available to play Sunday. The league's concussion protocol mandates various tests throughout the week, so it could be a few days before either is fully cleared to play. The Giants also placed safety Cooper Taylor on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and signed guard Eric Herman from their practice squad. Guard David Diehl was listed as a limited participant and guard Brandon Mosley did not practice due to a broken hand, so the Giants need coverage at that spot.

Behind enemy lines: Giants left tackle Will Beatty had a terrible time with Redskins pass-rusher Brian Orakpo in the Week 13 game in Washington. Beatty swore after that game that things would be different the next time he got a shot at Orakpo, but that may not come this week after all. Orakpo is dealing with a groin strain and may not play in Sunday's season finale at MetLife Stadium. He was listed as a limited participant on Washington's simulated injury report Wednesday.

Around the division: The Cowboys will need a miracle, or perhaps a series of them, to avoid losing their third straight Week 17 NFC East title game Sunday night. Already without quarterback Tony Romo due to a back injury, they're also going to continue to be without perpetually injured middle linebacker Sean Lee.

Around the league: In case you missed it, enjoy the final MVP Watch column of the 2013 season. I did have a blast writing it all year, and I hope it brought some non-Giants sunshine into your week every now and then.

Big Blue Morning: Holiday break

December, 24, 2013
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants

The news of the day: Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered no concrete updates on any of the players who were injured in Sunday's game. He said running back Andre Brown, who had a concussion, seemed all right on the flight home but admitted "that doesn't mean anything." If Brown can't go and Peyton Hillis, who has his own concussion, is still out, Michael Cox would have to handle tailback responsibilities for the Giants in the season finale against the Redskins. Also hurt Sunday was guard Brandon Mosley, who has a broken hand and looks likely to miss Sunday's game, costing him a chance to show the coaching staff something for the future. There will be further updates on these players Wednesday, when the team practices but is not available to the media.

Behind enemy lines: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan continues to insist he wants to return to coach the team next year and that he expects to know his fate soon after the finale. By this time next week, this situation is likely to have been resolved one way or the other.

Around the division: The big news in the division and the league Monday was the news that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will miss the remainder of the season with a back injury. That obviously means the Cowboys will have to play their NFC East title game against the Eagles on Sunday night with Kyle Orton at quarterback, which puts them at a significant disadvantage against an Eagles offense that's really humming.

Around the league: Mike Sando ranks that NFC East game as the biggest of Week 17, but there are a ton of games Sunday with postseason implications, in case you don't feel like watching Giants-Redskins the whole way through.
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: Needing a roster spot so they could elevate a practice-squad receiver with Victor Cruz's status in doubt, the Giants put veteran cornerback Corey Webster on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season and likely his time as a Giant. Webster's was a lost season, as he played the first two games, injured his groin, played parts of two other games, injured his ankle and has been out of action for more than a month. But for whatever it's worth, he becomes the seventh Giants starter to have been placed on IR this season.

Behind enemy lines: In the wake of Monday night's bitterly disappointing loss to the Ravens, Lions coach Jim Schwartz is facing questions about his job security. Schwartz is likely in big trouble unless the Lions pull off a miracle and win the NFC North in spite of losing four of their last five games. And they're going to need a huge pile of help in order for that to happen, in addition to winning some games themselves.

Around the division: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones continues to support quarterback Tony Romo, which isn't surprising given the size of the contract Jones gave him last offseason. And look, for all Romo's faults, that game Sunday is on a defense that couldn't keep Matt Flynn from coming back from a three-touchdown halftime deficit. But Romo's legacy in Dallas isn't changing much unless the Cowboys recover, win the division and make some noise in the playoffs.

Around the league: Tuesday was Power Rankings day. Click here to read about the Giants and the 25 teams that rank ahead of them this week in our poll.
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants

The news of the day: The Giants had a Thanksgiving Day practice and released an injury report that looked a lot like Wednesday's. Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee), cornerback Trumaine McBride (groin) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) did not practice. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (abdomen), cornerback Corey Webster (ankle) and cornerback Terrell Thomas (knee) were listed as limited participants. The only change is Thomas, who was limited after not practicing Wednesday. But Pierre-Paul is the interesting one, because Giants coach Tom Coughlin made it clear earlier this week that he expects the shoulder injury suffered in Week 10 to bother Pierre-Paul all season. Pierre-Paul was on the field for fewer than half of the defensive snaps Sunday against the Cowboys. My sense is that there will be some weeks in which he can do more and some in which he can do less, but that he's probably not going to do a lot of practicing from here on out.

Behind enemy lines: John Keim thinks a big part of the reason for the Redskins' offensive struggles Monday was the absence of tight end Jordan Reed, who sat out with a concussion. But Reed says he's definitely playing Sunday night, and if he's right, that means the Redskins will be a healthier unit than the one we all watched look so inept against the 49ers.

Around the division: Down 21-14 to the Raiders at halftime Thursday afternoon, the Cowboys stuck with the run game and the short passing game and played a patient second half in which they dominated time of possession and Tony Romo didn't throw an incomplete pass. I was impressed. The Eagles now have to beat the red-hot Cardinals on Sunday to keep pace atop the NFC East.

Around the league: Remember when we were talking about this Sunday's Bengals-Chargers game as the potential replacement if they decided to flex Giants-Redskins out of prime time? Turns out it'll be the first local blackout game of the year.

Drive of the Game: Cowboys end the dream

November, 25, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After the New York Giants' touchdown and two-point conversion tied the game at 21-21, and Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys got the ball at their own 20-yard line with 4:45 left in the game, there was surely a segment of the football-watching populace that was expecting Romo to make a mistake that cost his team the game. The Giants were not part of that segment.

"Romo's a good quarterback," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "And he showed that again today."

Romo would convert three third downs on the final drive of Sunday's game, moving the ball all the way to the Giants' 16-yard line and setting up Dan Bailey for the game-winning field goal as time expired. It was a 14-play drive that covered 64 yards and likely ended all of the Giants' remaining hopes of recovering from their 0-6 start to make the playoffs.

Tuck said after the game that he was surprised the Giants' defense played coverage on the final drive rather than trying to pressure Romo. Especially with starting cornerback Trumaine McBride out with a groin injury and Antrel Rolle rolling all over the place in and out of different positions, the Giants seemed vulnerable back there. And Romo seemed to know that. Instead of running the ball to bleed the clock once the Cowboys got into field-goal range, Romo threw it twice to get closer. On second-and-10 from the 28, he threw deep down the middle to Dez Bryant, who appeared to catch the ball only to have it pop out as he hit the ground. The pass was ruled incomplete, but Romo went right back deep to Cole Beasley on third-and-10, connecting for 13 yards. A couple of kneel-downs got the clock down to four seconds, and Bailey was true from 35 yards to seal the win as time ran out.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 12

November, 25, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz and Jeff Heath
ndrew Mills/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports"For them to have a touchdown on a play like that," coach Tom Coughlin said of Jeff Heath's return of a Victor Cruz fumble, "is just unbelievable."
The final drive: Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was confused about the team's decision to play coverage on the Cowboys' final drive instead of trying to pressure Tony Romo into a mistake. "Maybe we needed to be a little more aggressive and play the way we played the previous four drives," Tuck said. And the fact that Romo converted three third-down throws on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal supports his theory. I'm not sure I agree, though. Pressuring Romo can create problems due to his ability to keep plays alive with his legs. And the conversions were on third downs of 7, 5 and 10 yards, so they weren't exactly letting him get into easy spots. Sometimes, you just get beaten by a better team and/or player. Romo and the Cowboys made the plays. The Giants didn't.

The fumble: Giants coach Tom Coughlin made it clear he thought the whistle should have been blown and forward progress ruled before Orlando Scandrick stripped the ball out of Victor Cruz's hands and into the hands of Jeff Heath, who ran it back for the game's first touchdown. "We started off the year knowing full well that the officials were going to blow the whistle this season for every play," Coughlin said. "You hope that the whistle should blow. For them to have a touchdown on a play like that is just unbelievable." Tough spot for the officials, obviously, since what happens if he gets loose and scores a touchdown and you have to bring him back because you ruled forward progress? Surely, the other sideline would have found that unbelievable. Judgment call, but the fact is the whistle hadn't blown and Scandrick made a great play.

The absentee: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was inactive for the game after missing practice time during the week due to an abdominal injury he says has been bugging him all season. Nicks was certain as recently as Friday that he'd play. He didn't speak after the game. The fact that the Giants didn't let him suit up obviously intensifies the questions about the remainder of his season and his chances of returning to the team next year.

The math: The Giants could still win their final five games and finish 9-7, but even if they did, that wouldn't guarantee them a playoff spot. As Prince Amukamara said after the game, the Cowboys have four division wins (two against the Giants), and the most the Giants can get is three. The Eagles also hold a tiebreaker edge over the Giants. Their chances of catching and passing either of those teams are insanely slim. Their chances of catching and passing both are inconceivable. The residue of the 0-6 start is a complete lack of margin for error. They couldn't lose another game, and they just did.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

November, 24, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

What it means: You have to think it's over now, right? The Giants' four-game winning streak came to an end in a tough game in which Dan Bailey's 35-yard field goal went through the uprights as time ticked away, and now they are 4-7 with five games left in their season. The Giants ran the ball well, but Eli Manning and the passing game couldn't even get 200 yards against a pass defense that was allowing a league-worst 313 yards per game coming in. Now, the Giants need to win all five of their December games just to finish above .500. Dreams of a miracle run to the playoffs all but died in the cold at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Stock watch: The running game -- UP. The Giants ran for more than 200 yards in a game for the first time since Oct. 7 of last year. Andre Brown went over 100 yards for the second time in his three games this season, and Brandon Jacobs contributed with a couple of surprisingly big plays. His 37-yard gain in the first half was the first Giants' run play of the season that covered at least 20 yards. The interior of the offensive line, even after losing center Jim Cordle to a knee injury, did a fine job of opening holes for the running backs, and the Giants stuck with the run even though they were trailing all game.

Sacks are back: After being largely absent during the season-opening, six-game losing streak, the Giants pass rush has returned over the past month. They sacked Tony Romo four times Sunday. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins collected two by himself as the interior of the Giants defensive line continues to be a consistent strength of the team.

Bonehead plays: There were plenty both ways, but Mathias Kiwanuka picked up a couple of damaging personal-foul calls that ranked among the lowlights of the 11 penalties assessed against the Giants. The Cowboys were called for 11 as well.

What's next: The Giants play their first road game since Oct. 27 when they travel to Washington for an 8:30 p.m. ET game against the Redskins next Sunday night. The Redskins are 3-7 heading into this week's "Monday Night Football" game against the 49ers.

Halftime thoughts: In a fight

November, 24, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The thinking going into this game was that the Dallas Cowboys would pose a tougher test than any team the New York Giants had faced during their four-game winning streak. And to this point, that has been the case. The Cowboys lead the Giants 14-6 at halftime at MetLife Stadium as the Giants have had to settle for field goals twice after moving the ball deep into Dallas territory.

But the Giants will get the ball back to start the second half, and they are by no means out of the game. They have sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo three times and held him to 127 yards on 8-of-15 passing. They also came up with an interception on a ball that caromed off the hands of receiver Dez Bryant in the first quarter. Romo and the Dallas run game looked good on the second-quarter drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten, which gave Dallas a 14-3 lead, but other than that drive the Giants' defense has been able to limit the damage. The Cowboys have 61 rushing yards but only seven carries. The Giants hold the time-of-possession edge, 18:20 to 11:40.

Yet, they are losing, and the reasons are reasons that have plagued the Giants all year. The first is a turnover, as the Cowboys' first score came when cornerback Orlando Scandrick stripped the ball from Victor Cruz's arms and Jeff Heath ran the fumble in for a touchdown. The Giants entered this game with the third-worst turnover differential in the league (minus-11), and it is the chief reason for their disappointing 4-6 record.

The other is the red zone offense, which has bedeviled the Giants all year. Twice so far in the game, the Giants have had first-and-goal inside the Cowboys' 10-yard line, and they haven't been able to score a touchdown. With backup center Jim Cordle out with a knee injury, the interior of the offensive line has been weakened even more, and Eli Manning is facing pressure from the interior of the Dallas defensive line. Jason Hatcher already has his eighth sack of the year. The Giants have 108 yards on 17 carries between Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs, but Manning still isn't putting together those rhythmic drives for which he was so well known earlier in his career. It doesn't help that wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is inactive due to an abdominal strain, but Rueben Randle has played well in Nicks' place, and backup receiver Jerrel Jernigan threw a great downfield block to spring Randle for an early first down.

The Giants can win this game, but to do so they'll need to take advantage of a Dallas passing defense that came into the game allowing a league-worst 313 passing yards per game. Forecasts said the wind was supposed to die down around 6 p.m. ET, so it may be easier to throw the ball in the second half. We shall see if that's what Manning needs to get in sync and deliver a fifth victory in a row.

W2W4: Giants vs. Cowboys

November, 23, 2013
A Week 1 loss to the Dallas Cowboys was the first of six straight defeats to open the New York Giants' season. Since that 0-6 start, the Giants have won four in a row to move a game behind the second-place Cowboys in the NFC East. Revenge for the season opener, as well as their still-flickering hopes of a historic comeback, is on the Giants' minds as they prepare to host the Cowboys at 4:25 pm ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Here are some things to look for if you're heading or tuning in to the game.

Prince Amukamara vs. Dez. Bryant: Amukamara, the Giants' top cornerback, is likely to draw the bulk of the assignment of stopping Bryant, the Cowboys' dynamic top wide receiver. Bryant had just 22 yards on four catches in the opener, largely because the Giants were able to double-team him for most of the game. But rookie Terrance Williams hadn't established himself as a major threat yet, and the Giants may have to adjust due to Williams' improvement and Miles Austin's anticipated return from a hamstring injury. That could leave Amukamara against Bryant one-on-one in some instances, and it will be important for Amukamara to be able to win the physical matchup downfield against Bryant. Amukamara doesn't mind getting physical with receivers, but Bryant is as tough a challenge as any this side of Detroit.

Is this the week for the passing game? Eli Manning had his best game since the opener Sunday, and the Cowboys are allowing a league-high 313 passing yards per game this year. That bodes well for Manning and a wide receiving corps that saw three different guys eclipse the 100-yard mark in Week 1. Questions surround the health of Hakeem Nicks, who doesn't have a touchdown catch all year. But if he can play and the receiving corps is at full strength, this could be the best chance yet for Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to return to that Week 1 form.

Lacking Lee: Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is out for this game with a hamstring injury, and the significance of that is not lost on the Giants. Running back Andre Brown called Lee "the quarterback of their defense." Lee is an instinctive sideline-to-sideline difference-maker whose absence should offer the Giants greater opportunity in the run game and in the short passing game.

Rattling Romo: The Giants sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo twice in the opener, but their pass rush wasn't clicking the way it has been lately. Since they play Romo twice a year, the Giants know he's able to extend plays with his feet, and they will work to pressure him without letting him escape the pocket. It'll be a tougher test for a defense that has built the current four-game win streak against lesser quarterbacks.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The thing about the season opener, even though it was a 36-31 loss, is that the New York Giants' defense didn't think it played all that badly. The defensive players wouldn't come right out and say it for fear of making the offense look bad, but two of the Cowboys' four touchdowns in that game were scored by Dallas defensive players off turnovers. And the six turnovers the Giants committed overall had a lot more to do with the outcome than did the performance of the defense. The 331 yards of offense the Cowboys amassed in that game represent the fourth-lowest number the Giants have allowed in a game so far this season.

So while the Giants' offensive coaches have been showing the horror-film tape of that game and preaching all week about the importance of limiting turnovers, the defensive coaches have focused on some things the Giants did well in that game. Holding Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant to 22 yards on four catches with double coverage. Tackling Miles Austin in the slot to limit the damage he could do after the catch. Holding Dallas to a field goal after the first interception gave Tony Romo the ball on the Giants' 15-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Thomas
Al Bello/Getty Images"More than anything, we have confidence as a defense. Everybody's on the same page," Terrell Thomas said.
"It was a loss, and then we lost five more in a row, so it's probably hard for people to remember, but there were a lot of positives for us to take out of that game," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "There's a lot we can work on, too, but we have things from that game that I think we can definitely build on."

The Giants also feel they have more tools with which to do the building. Middle linebacker Jon Beason wasn't there for that game, since he didn't arrive until late September in a trade with the Panthers. Spry safety Will Hill missed that game and the next three due to his drug suspension. And defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul played that night, but it was his first game action since June back surgery, as he'd sat out all of training camp and the preseason while recovering.

"We definitely feel more confident," said cornerback Terrell Thomas, who's likely to reprise his Week 1 role as the slot corner in charge of keeping Austin in front of him. "I thought we played a great game that night, given the circumstances, and obviously now we have some great additions. More than anything, we have confidence as a defense. Everybody's on the same page. We have an identity. We know who we are. We're going to go in there, stop the run, force Romo to throw the ball and hopefully limit the big plays and get some turnovers."

Pierre-Paul's presence up front as a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage would help with that. He showed the impact he could have on a game Sunday, when he jumped at the line to intercept a Scott Tolzien pass and ran it back for a touchdown that swung the game in the Giants' favor for good. Pierre-Paul didn't look like that same old game-changer in Week 1, or for most of this season, but if Sunday was a sign that he's back, then that sets the Giants up to do a lot more against Dallas than they could the first time.

Beason's presence as both a leader and a physical player in the linebacking corps should help the Giants find an answer to Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who had 70 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches in the opener. Romo threw 49 passes in that game and only averaged 5.4 yards per completion, throwing short over and over again to Witten and Austin in an attempt to attack the Giants' defense at its weakest point. The linebacking corps is strong now.

And Hill has been an all-over-the-field safety who has enabled defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to be more flexible with his coverage schemes. They rolled a safety to Bryant's side all night in the opener and likely will double him again, but Hill, Antrel Rolle and Amukamara have all shown an ability to come up and play the run and operate in blitz packages as well. This Giants' defense is better equipped to confuse Romo than the Week 1 version was.

"When you're playing against Dallas and their receivers, you have to get a feel for what challenges they don't like," Fewell said. "If you're physical with them and they don't like it, then you'll press a lot. If you're playing off and they don't understand what you're doing, then you'll play off. You have to give them a number of different combinations, because you want to try to feel them out a little bit."

Now, the disclaimer on all of this is that the current four-game winning streak in which the Giants' defense has been so strong has been built against unprepared and/or inexperienced quarterbacks Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and Tolzien. So with Romo coming to town, the defense is getting a test more difficult than any it's faced since the team was still winless. The Giants believe the confidence they have built up during the streak will translate as the schedule toughens.

"Jon Beason and Terrell Thomas and Antrel Rolle have really taken control of our defense and they’re the voices of our defense and they’re demanding from their teammates the execution of the things that we’ve game-planned each week," Fewell said. "That’s the confidence that I’m seeing in our people, because they are really putting pressure on themselves to perform. I just think those guys are doing a great job of leading us to where we need to be."

Sunday will offer a fresh test of how good this new and improved Giants defense really is.

Big Blue Morning: The Playoff Machine

November, 22, 2013
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: Hakeem Nicks says he'll play Sunday, but that doesn't erase the weird mystery that continues to surround his disappointing season. He says he's been dealing with an abdominal injury all year and that his agent recommended he get it looked at by team doctors this week. That's why he's on the injury report for the first time with it, I guess, but he didn't want to explain it very much. Just says he's playing. So we'll see. Some other stuff that happened Thursday included defensive coordinator Perry Fewell comparing Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as a guy who's "seen it all," as well as a lot of talk about how different the Giants' defense is from when they faced the Cowboys in Week 1 with no Jon Beason or Will Hill and a still-recovering Jason Pierre-Paul. But it's the passing game that's got to elevate to new heights if the Giants are going to cash in their sudden hot streak with a real playoff run. And that's why Nicks remains a story. The Cowboys are the worst pass defense in the league, and if Eli Manning and his receivers can't get it going this week, we have license to believe they won't.

Behind enemy lines: The big news from Dallas on Thursday has little to do with this week's game, but a lot of people were surprised to hear Jerry Jones say Jason Garrett would return as head coach next year no matter how this year ends up. I wasn't, because I think Jones has strong personal feelings about Garrett and wants him to be the coach long-term. And yeah, it's certainly possible that Jones could change his mind next year or even tomorrow. But I've long believed that Garrett's seat wasn't as hot as many people assumed it to be. Doesn't much matter whether people outside the building think he's a good coach. Only Jones' opinion on this counts.

Around the division: Mike Sando and my "NFL Insiders" colleague Louis Riddick broke down the issues plaguing the Washington Redskins and whether they'll be able to overcome them. It's going to be real tough for any potential fixes to matter in time for this season, but the story is what happens power-structure-wise once the offseason rolls around.

Around the league: If you'd like to see exactly which scenarios will and won't lead to the Giants' making the playoffs, look no further than ESPN's Playoff Machine, which allows you to play out the remainder of the NFL season as many different ways as you'd like to see which teams make the playoffs. You can go to each week and put in your projected results from each game and see the playoff field change as you do it. And yes, I just wrecked any chance you had to get anything done at work today. You're welcome, America.