New York Giants: DeMarco Murray
The news of the day: The Giants are always professionals in the locker room, so while they were glum and disappointed Monday, they came out and spoke openly about their circumstances. "We have to deal with reality," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We are what we are. We've created this situation for ourselves." They're not waving any white flags, and you can count on them to play the remaining games on their schedule with a hard and honest effort to win them. But the situation to which Coughlin refers is the extremely uncomfortable one in which the Giants can't afford any more mistakes at all... and would still need a mountain of help even if they managed to be perfect the rest of the way. Coughlin did say he wasn't happy to hear about all the chirping his players did last week and would address it in a meeting Wednesday. And he seemed rather aggravated about the Hakeem Nicks situation, which continues to remain one of the weird mysteries of this season. He also said Jason Pierre-Paul is playing hurt, which it seems as though he'll be doing the rest of the year at this point. Pierre-Paul played fewer than half of the Giants' defensive plays Sunday due to his shoulder injury.
Behind enemy lines: Impressions from "Monday Night Football": If the Giants can generate a pass rush with their front four, which has been a trouble spot for them for much of this year due in part to Pierre-Paul's health problems, they should be able to cause problems for the Redskins' offense Sunday night. Robert Griffin III just looks horrible. And while he's making more than his share of poor throws and decisions, a huge part of his problem in Monday's loss to the 49ers was a seemingly complete lack of protection. Don't get me wrong: The Giants would still have to score enough points to win, which is no sure thing. Just saying they won't be the only team on the field with big problems Sunday night in Landover, is all.
Around the division: The Cowboys won the big game against the Giants on Sunday and move into a tie for first place with the Eagles, but that doesn't mean they think all their problems are solved. They want DeMarco Murray to be more aggressive in the way he finishes his runs. And they'd like Dez Bryant to be a little bit less greedy about the yards he's trying to pick up after the catch. These are contrasting sentiments, but both problems were on display Sunday.
Around the league: The NFC East has taken a lot of well-deserved abuse for the overall lack of quality it's put on display this season. But as John Clayton pointed out in the wake of Sunday's games, no one seems to want the NFC North either. What an opportunity the Lions have blown with Aaron Rodgers injured and the Packers weakened.
The news of the day: Running back David Wilson won't require surgery for his neck injury at this time, but he's still out at least 3-4 more weeks, and with Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott dealing with hamstring injuries, the Giants will work out running backs today.
The one name I heard was Jeremy Wright, the former Louisville back the Giants signed as an undrafted free agent and cut after two days of minicamp. Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com reported on Twitter on Monday night that Peyton Hillis was among the others scheduled to work out today. Usually, the Giants will bring in several guys for workouts at a position of need and pick one (if any) to sign. It's also possible that Jacobs could be ready for the next game, on Monday night against the Vikings, or that the Giants could offer rookie Michael Cox his first NFL carries. It's an increasingly desperate situation, as Kieran Darcy writes.
Behind enemy lines: The Vikings are hoping to decide on a starting quarterback for Monday's game by Wednesday of this week, though it's no guarantee that they can. The sense you get is that they'd love for newcomer Josh Freeman to be up to speed in time to play this game, but that they have to be realistic about the chances of that happening. Ben Goessling thinks Freeman is going to get the start in this game.
Around the division: Tough news for the Cowboys, who lose top pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware for a few weeks due to a pulled quad and likely won't have starting running back DeMarco Murray next week either. Obviously, the defense works best with Ware in there, but there's a lot of evidence over the past few years that the Cowboys' offense works best when Murray is playing, too. Could be a chance for the Eagles to catch the Cowboys at their weakest and take over first place in the NFC East.
Around the league: Jeff Chadiha thinks the 6-0 Chiefs could bolster their chances for the stretch run by bringing back former Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez to help the passing game at tight end. And he's right, of course. Gonzalez would help almost anyone. I just feel it's unlikely that Gonzalez would want a trade. He didn't come out of retirement because he was dying to play again. He came out to play for the Falcons, specifically, because of his relationships there and his belief in their chances to win the Super Bowl. Obviously, those chances are in big trouble now, but even so, I wouldn't assume Gonzalez would just jump at a chance to play for any contender.
The news of the day: Lots of talk around the Giants on Wednesday about the pass rush, and what can be done to jump-start a unit that's come up with only five sacks in its past seven games. I personally think it's only going to get back to where it needs to be if and when Jason Pierre-Paul is back to full strength. And the guy did just have back surgery. It's at least possible that he's never the same again, right? Ohm also checks in on the "terrible" run game.
Behind enemy lines: Cam Newton struck me as extraordinarily upbeat and positive on the conference call with Giants writers Wednesday. He apparently struck the Panthers writers that way, too. Newton appears to be making an effort to be more of an outward leader, which is something the 0-2 Panthers likely could use. The Giants were able to contain Newton when they clobbered Carolina last season, but he presents a dual challenge as a passer and a runner for a team that's struggling even to get to stationary quarterbacks.
Around the division: The Giants aren't the only NFC East team struggling to run the ball. The Dallas Cowboys have struggled to get their run game going behind DeMarco Murray, even though Murray seems healthy for a change. They're hoping the Rams, against whom Murray had his breakout game in 2011, provide some relief. But the Rams are a bit tougher up front than they were that year.
Around the league: The stunning NFL news of the day was the Cleveland Browns' trade of 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson to the Colts for a 2014 first-rounder. Gives the Browns two first-rounders next year, which I assume they'll use to try to secure a franchise quarterback. But what's amazing about that is that they had two first-rounders just last year and used them to get Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. With the new coaching staff apparently (and understandably) dissatisfied with Weeden, they end up basically taking a do-over with the Richardson pick. Which is fine, but hard not to feel like two years got wasted in the meantime, right? Anyway, I'm back on "NFL Insiders" today at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN to discuss this and many other topics. Please tune in.
Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 78 yards and a touchdown but 33 came on one run with under six minutes left. When the Giants had to establish the run in the first half, they managed 23 yards. They also failed to punch the ball in the end zone despite having first-and-goal at the 1 in the second quarter.
Making matters worse, Tom Coughlin was going to utilize exciting rookie David Wilson as evidenced by giving him the second carry of the night.
But Wilson fumbled on his second carry later that drive and Coughlin kept benched the rookie except for on kickoffs. Hopefully this won't affect his confidence. The O-line has to open more holes for Bradshaw.
Eli Manning got the Giants within seven points with 2:36 remaining but he still had one of his poorer games against Dallas with just 213 yards and one touchdown. The offensive line allowed him to be sacked three times as DeMarcus Ware got past David Diehl twice.
Victor Cruz only had six receptions for 58 yards and dropped a few balls. But he did appear to draw a pass interference in the end zone in the second quarter that wasn't called.
In the first half, the Giants stuffed DeMarco Murray for 20 yards. Linebacker Keith Rivers was very active until being slowed a bit by a hamstring issue. But Murray broke free for 111 yards in the second half and broke tackles in the process.
The Giants were repeatedly gashed by opposing running games in the first half of last season and they must stop the run in order to let their pass rush take over. With Chris Canty on the PUP list, the Giants can use Marvin Austin (back) on the field soon. And they have to work on tackling.
The Giants were able to get some pressure on Tony Romo but they only sacked him twice with the two sacks coming from Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul have to get sacks.
They almost certainly will not survive if the secondary can't cover. Kevin Ogletree burned the Giants for eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. They also surrendered a touchdown on first and 30 to Miles Austin. Cornerback is a big concern with Michael Coe re-injuring his hamstring and Prince Amukamara still nursing a high ankle sprain. Even Corey Webster struggled a bit in this game. Michael Boley did have an interception return for 51 yards and just missed scoring a touchdown.
Lawrence Tynes converted a 22-yard field goal. Steve Weatherford punted four times for a net average of 44.5 yards and had one land inside the 20. More importantly, the dangerous Dez Bryant had two punt returns for zero yards.
Domenik Hixon returned to being the punt returner but only had one return for five yards. And David Wilson was the kick returner with 71 yards on three kickoff returns. Andre Brown handled two other kickoffs for 29 yards.
The Giants were only down 7-3 at the half and the game clearly was there for the taking. But there were too many breakdowns defensively, most of them seem to be on the players more than the coaches such as missed tackles and bad coverage. The Giants were thin at corner to begin with.
One coaching move was Tom Coughlin benching David Wilson for fumbling but I can't blame him for that, especially if Wilson learns from this. The Giants, though, never could seem to get a handle on Kevin Ogletree and offensively, they had a hard time moving the ball on Dallas' defense until they fell behind big.
For the first time on Sunday, the Giants will face Murray, the rookie who has revitalized Dallas' run game and is a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Murray has rushed for 872 yards and two touchdowns on the year and also has 25 catches for 177 yards.
"(He) plays hard," Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "Has good athletic ability. Understands protection schemes and those kind of things."
Over the past few seasons, the Giants have seen the likes of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice in the Cowboys backfield. This year, it's Murray's chance to shine. The third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma has run with the starting position ever since he replaced an injured Jones against St. Louis on Oct. 23.
Murray is a dual threat out of the backfield, providing speed and giving Romo an underneath option if plays don't develop down the field. With Jones now healthy and spelling him at times, it makes the Cowboys very dangerous offensively.
"DeMarco Murray coming out of college was a hell of a player," defensive end Dave Tollefson said. "He was just dinged up. You've seen him get back to that level and they're doing a great job up front, no doubt. They're blocking real well."
Stopping Murray will certainly be a challenge for a Giants rush defense that is among the worst in the league. The Giants give up 127 yards per game on the ground while Dallas is rushing for 114.8 yards per game. Just as recently as two weeks ago vs. New Orleans, the Saints rushed for 205 yards on the Giants.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he "really" likes Murray, calling him a physical runner. He said that the strong run game has made Dallas' offense more balanced and the Cowboys are doing some good things in that regard.
Tollefson said that the Cowboys offense has done a great job each week of doing whatever it needed to do to get the win, whether that be emphasizing the run or emphasizing the pass. With so many weapons on offense, Dallas can beat teams in a variety of ways.
Still, for the Giants on Sunday, stopping Murray will be a key to the game. If the rookie has a big day, it could be a long Sunday night for the visiting team.
"It gives them the ability to do things that they like to do," Kiwanuka said of how Murray changes the Cowboys offense. "They like to run the ball and throw the ball when it's necessary. You take a guy like that out, it changes up their tendencies and things they have to do. We have to understand they're going to be more effective than maybe they have been in recent weeks. As long as we do everything we're supposed to do, we should be fine."
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:
Cowboys going conservative? According to ESPN Stats & Information, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is throwing downfield with much less frequency over his past four games. In the Cowboys' first five games of the season, Romo averaged 6.6 passes of 15 or more yards downfield per game and had a completion percentage of 48.5 with three touchdowns and two interceptions on those throws. But in the past four games, he's averaging only 4.5 such attempts per game and completing 61.1 percent of them with five touchdowns and just one interception. So while he's still taking his shots downfield, Romo seems to be doing so more judiciously and with greater effectiveness.
Bag the blitz: The Cowboys ought to be able to pressure Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman into mistakes out of their base 3-4 defense. Of Grossman's 11 interceptions this season, nine have come in situations when the opposing defense sends four or fewer rushers. The Cowboys have nine interceptions as a team this season when rushing four or fewer, which is the fourth-best figure in the NFL. With DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge, they don't need much help getting to the quarterback. And it appears Grossman is the kind of quarterback who will force a throw and make a mistake even when faced with minimal pressure.
Home away from home: Counting playoff games, the Philadelphia Eagles have won four straight road games against the New York Giants. That's their longest road winning streak against the Giants since they rattled off eight in a row from 1974 to 1981. Eagles fans and Giants fans alike will remember the last time these teams met in the Meadowlands as the game in which the Giants blew that huge second-half lead and DeSean Jackson ran a punt back with no time left on the clock, delivering a victory that propelled the Eagles to the division title and helped dash the Giants' playoff hopes. This season, though, it's the Eagles who blow the fourth-quarter leads (in five of their six losses), and Jackson has been a non-factor in the return game as well as the passing game.
Two-minute Manning: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has four touchdown passes so far this season in the final two minutes of either the first or second half of a game. ESPN Stats & Information says that's tied with New England's Tom Brady for the most such touchdown passes in this league this season, and that since the start of 2008, no quarterback in the league has more touchdown passes in the final two minutes of halves than Manning, who has 20. That puts him ahead of his big brother, Peyton Manning, who has 19 -- two ahead of the Saints' Drew Brees and four ahead of Romo and the Bears' Jay Cutler. Interesting list.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:
DeMarco tough to bring down: One of the things that's made Dallas Cowboys rookie running back DeMarco Murray a success in his past three NFL games is his ability to break tackles. According to the ESPN Stats & Information Group, Murray is averaging 3.1 yards per rush after contact, which is the best figure in the league among players with at least 40 rush attempts. The Saints' Darren Sproles and the Texans' Ben Tate are tied for second on that list at 2.8 yards per carry after contact. It doesn't appear as though Felix Jones will play this week, so Murray has the Cowboys' backfield duties all to himself for another game and should retain the lion's share of the carries even once Jones returns.
Taking the fourth: If NFL games had just three 15-minute periods, the Philadelphia Eagles would be among the best teams in the league. They have outscored their opponents by 57 points in the first three quarters of games this year, which is the fourth-best figure in the NFL. But in fourth quarters, they've been outscored by a total of 36 points. They've held fourth-quarter leads in four of their five losses, making them the third team in league history to blow fourth-quarter leads and lose in at least four of their first eight games. The others were the 1954 Packers and the 1999 Saints. So if the Eagles go into the fourth quarter with a lead Sunday against the Cardinals... you know... don't change the channel.
Comeback kids: Speaking of fourth quarters, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning leads the NFL with five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this year. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, the Giants' opponent this week, is second in the league with three of them. So whichever team takes a lead into the fourth quarter Sunday in San Francisco... you know... don't change the channel.
Second half start: The Giants are in first place with a 6-2 record at the midpoint of their season. But as every Giants' fan can tell you, the second half of the season is where things get interesting. Since Tom Coughlin took over as their head coach in 2004, the Giants' second-half record is 24-32, which ranks 24th in the league. The Giants would love to get the second half kicked off the right way with a big win over a potential playoff opponent in San Francisco.