New York Giants: Dez Bryant

The New York Giants invested heavily in free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they're going to use him accordingly. Speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would be deployed as the team's No. 1 cornerback. Per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

When asked how exactly DRC would be employed within defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defensive system, head coach Tom Coughlin didn't hesitate.

"Are you the best receiver of their team? [He's] following you then," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL Meetings.

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNew Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, left, can expect to be matched up with elite receivers like Dallas' Dez Bryant next season.
Coughlin and the Giants targeted that type of player right from the start of free agency. They checked in on all the top cornerbacks, before landing Rodgers-Cromartie when the options were slimming. It's clear what drew them to talented cornerback.

"He's physical enough. When you watch him closely, he doesn't shy away," Coughlin said. "He's got great big long arms, he's tall, he's fast, he can match up."

So that's the answer to a lot of the questions that were asked when the Giants signed Rodgers-Cromartie. The question is whether he can handle the assignment of tailing guys like Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and maybe DeSean Jackson around the field for a whole game. All of those guys are on the Giants' 2014 schedule (unless Jackson gets traded to a team that is not), and each is a tough matchup for even the best cornerbacks in the league.

Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't really been used that way in previous stops, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I asked my NFL Insiders colleague Louis Riddick what he thought. Louis is a former defensive back himself who worked in the Eagles' front office when Rodgers-Cromartie was there in 2011 and 2012.

"He may actually respond favorably to that, to be honest, especially if there are guys like [Antrel] Rolle who he doesn't want to let down," Louis said. "While we had him, no, he would not have reacted well to that kind of responsibility."

Interesting point about safety Rolle, who is the Giants' defensive team captain and was a teammate of Rodgers-Cromartie's in Arizona earlier in their careers. Rodgers-Cromartie was calling Rolle "big bro" around the time of his signing and clearly looks up to him. Part of the reason the Giants have confidence Rodgers-Cromartie can harness his talent and establish a level of consistency with them that he hasn't shown to this point in his career is that they expect Rolle's influence to be strong and positive.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can handle that "shut-down" responsibility with regard to the opponent's top wideout every week, that would obviously be a huge asset to the Giants' defense and justify their five-year, $35 million investment in him. It would ease some of the pressure on Prince Amukamara, who tried gamely to fill the No. 1 cornerback spot in 2014 but isn't really suited for that role full-time. It would allow fellow newcomer Walter Thurmond to stay on the slot receiver, where he should be a tough matchup every week. And the overall depth at corner now should allow Rolle to stay at safety for a whole season, which he prefers and will likely make him as effective as he can be.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can't handle that assignment ... well, then they're going to have to move a lot of pieces around to make up for that. The positive thing there is that they have a good number of quality pieces to move around in case Plan A doesn't work out.
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 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.

Drive of the Game: Cowboys end the dream

November, 25, 2013
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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.

Halftime thoughts: In a fight

November, 24, 2013
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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
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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.
Did you remember to use the #nygmail hashtag in your Twitter question about the New York Giants this week? If you did, you might just find your question (and my attempt to answer it ) below. If you didn't ... well, better luck next week.
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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.

Double Coverage: Cowboys at Giants

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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A lot has happened to the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants since they met in their season opener 11 weeks ago, and not much of it has been good. When they meet again at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the second-place Cowboys will be 5-5 and the third-place Giants 4-6. The best thing either team has going for it is that the first-place Philadelphia Eagles are only 6-5. But that's a story for another day. This story is about the Cowboys and the Giants, and it's being told to you by ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano, as only they can.

Dan Graziano: Todd, not to be overly dramatic or anything, but I personally feel as though the Cowboys should be ashamed of themselves for not having run away with this dumpster fire of a division weeks ago. Do you agree?

Todd Archer: I can't go that far. I'd put some of the blame on us, the media. We constantly build the Cowboys up to be better than they are because of the names we know. This team's issue is the names we don't know. They just don't have the depth required to pull away from teams. From afar, the eyes are always on Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Jason Witten and pick another big-name player. It's never on the underbelly of the roster. That's where Jerry Jones the GM has failed this team. The Cowboys got hurt last season and it seemed their strategy to avoid injury this season was "hope." That's never a good strategy, and they are now left taking guys off the street for the second straight season and putting them in the starting lineup. Maybe that's too easy, but I just don't see -- and haven't seen -- an uber-talented team here.

I guess with the Giants I have to start with how in the heck have they dug out of that 0-6 hole? Product of the competition?

Graziano: Blaming the media? Come on, man. You're better than that. The Cowboys have let the Nick Foles Eagles pass them and the worst Giants team in a decade onto their back bumper. No excuse!

The Giants earned every bit of their 0-6 start and remain a terribly flawed team, but they have grown fat and confident over their past four games against this Pro Bowl roster of quarterbacks: Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and Scott Tolzien. The defense has improved dramatically from the last time you saw it, largely because of the in-season trade for middle linebacker Jon Beason, the return of safety Will Hill from drug suspension and the improved health of Jason Pierre-Paul, who's as fired up for this game as Rachael Ray gets for Thanksgiving. But it remains to be seen if the defense can play as well against the remaining quarterbacks on its schedule as it has against the past four. The Giants' final six games are against Romo, Robert Griffin III, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and Griffin again.

So the first one on that list is Romo, who's got some sweet-looking stats when you look in from the outside. How's Romo looking to you these days, and how well equipped is that Cowboys offense to test this new and improved Giants D?

Archer: The stats look good because he is avoiding interceptions, but something has been wrong since he had his best game against Denver, when he went pass for pass against Peyton Manning. The offense, in general, has taken a step back. It is awful on third down. It can't get the ball to Bryant or Witten enough. Romo's completion percentage has taken a hit. He completed at least 69.4 percent of his passes in the first five games, and he has been better than 60 percent just once in his past five games. It's not that he is playing poorly. He's just not playing to the level we're accustomed to seeing, especially in November.

I'm curious to see how a "more involved" Jason Garrett affects the offense, even if Bill Callahan is still calling the plays. With the way the defense is playing, they have to be more aggressive. I think the bye week will help them come up with some fresh ideas on offense.

Let's stick with the quarterbacks. Eli Manning's season started awfully down here in Dallas and went that way for the first six weeks. He has curtailed the picks, so is it something he's done differently, or the coaches?

Graziano: Well, in contrast to Romo, Manning has played quite poorly. The significant problems the Giants had in pass protection early in the season (many of which have not been solved) have left the two-time Super Bowl MVP jittery in the pocket, and he's not consistently planting his feet and making accurate throws.

Now, there were positive signs in Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. Manning's completion percentage of 71.4 was his highest in any game this season. His 92.4 passer rating was his highest since the opener, and his 279 passing yards were his highest single-game total since Week 5. So it's possible he's getting better and about to get on a roll.

The improved running game has helped, but the key is really going to have to be wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who hasn't scored a touchdown all season and simply doesn't look like the same player he used to be. Manning and Nicks haven't developed any kind of rhythm this season, and it has crippled the passing game.

However, Todd, I'm not sure whether you heard about this or not, but the defense Manning faces Sunday gave up 40 first downs and 625 yards in its most recent game. That suggests to me that this game offers the potential for a Giants offensive breakout. Does it?

Archer: There's no doubt it can. Lee is out. Justin Durant is out. Morris Claiborne could be out. Ware is banged up. So is Jason Hatcher. And those guys all played in the opener, when Manning threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns.

The defense is a mess. Even with those guys healthy, it was kind of a mess. Monte Kiffin just hasn't been able to get the job done. Good quarterbacks have lit up the defense, and the New Orleans Saints exposed the run defense. When the Cowboys have decided to play man coverage more, they have been better. When they have sat back in a zone, they have been torched. When coach Jerry Jones, oops, owner Jerry Jones says the Cowboys will use more man, you tend to believe him. I'm not sure it will solve much, but it will at least force Manning to make throws in tighter spaces.

JPP kicked off the week with some nice trash talk, so I'll ask this: Do the Giants hate the Cowboys more than any other team in the division? Justin Tuck has had his barbs in the past. So has Brandon Jacobs. Without Patrick Crayton, the Cowboys don't have anybody to really retort.

Graziano: The Giants definitely seem to be a team that seeks any form of external motivation it can find, and they always seem to find it when they're getting ready to play the Cowboys. I think they feel like it's always a big game, always a rivalry game, the type of game that gets the fans fired up, and they look forward to feeding off that. They also feel as though they should have won that opener and that the six (SIX!) turnovers they committed are what cost them a chance to start the season 1-0. Much might have been different had they done that.

Anyway, the Giants are feeling considerably better about themselves now than they were after that game, and I think they're eager for a chance to put what they believe is a vastly improved product on a big stage. They'll be winding themselves up all week about this game because they feel like that's the best way to get up for it.

Where are the Cowboys right now psychologically? Had to be brutal after the New Orleans game, and by the time Sunday rolls around, they'll have been sitting on that for two weeks. Do you expect them to bounce back in a game like this, or do you think they're in a downward spiral?

Archer: This is where they start to pay for past sins. They have had a history of late-season crashes. Maybe this one started a little earlier. For the optimists, the New Orleans loss was an anomaly. The other four losses have been by a total of 14 points. For the pessimist, it's the same old Cowboys. To me, this game is one that defines their season. If they lose, they won't be eliminated, but it's hard to see them being able to get out of the downward spiral. If they win, they'll be 4-0 in the division and all but eliminate the Giants, with the Washington Redskins almost out of the picture as well.

The best part of the bye week for the Cowboys was the chance to get guys healthy and get the healthy guys rested. They had been going at it for 17 straight weeks thanks to their time with the Hall of Fame Game.

The Cowboys have not shown they can stop a passing game by a good quarterback this season. It's been awhile since Nicks and Victor Cruz scored. Both went for more than 100 yards in the opener. Is there any reason to think they won't play a huge part Sunday?

Graziano: They have plenty of track record to indicate that they can, but they simply haven't. Cruz has played well, but he's caught only one touchdown pass since catching three in the opener, and that was way back in Week 4. Nicks hasn't caught one all season. It's possible that playing Dallas will fire these guys back up, and that they'll play the way they played in Week 1. Nicks certainly has motivation to pick up his game since he's got six games left before unrestricted free agency, but I just don't think his legs are what they used to be. More and more, when the Giants get in close, Manning looks for Rueben Randle, who leads the team with six touchdown catches.

In the opener, the Giants had a good coverage plan against the Dallas wideouts, keeping a safety on Bryant's side and asking Terrell Thomas to handle Miles Austin in the slot and not let him get past him. Terrance Williams wasn't a factor yet, though, and the Giants had no answer that night for Witten. How will the challenge be different for the Giants secondary this time around?

Archer: Williams has kind of hit a wall here lately. Or maybe defenses are getting a better read on him. Austin's return should help, but his hamstrings are as reliable as my youngest daughter doing her homework every night. Sometimes it's OK, sometimes it's not.

The Cowboys swear they spent the bye week trying to devise ways to make it difficult for teams to double-team Bryant and Witten. They have to be a bigger part of the offense. They can't just be decoys. Austin had 10 catches in the opener but for only 72 yards. They'll need to go down the field and make some big plays. To do that, they'll need to pass protect, so that might mean less shots for Witten. One thing to pay attention to on Sunday is how active Garrett is with Romo between series. If he is talking to him, then there really has been a change with the offense.

What will the atmosphere be like Sunday? Have the fans jumped back on the bandwagon or are they skeptical as well?

Graziano: It seems to me that Giants fans want to believe. There's a segment of the fan base that will always believe because it's seen this team come back from dire-looking circumstances and win Super Bowls. But there's a more realistic segment that wants to see the team get back to .500 before believing in this group. A victory over the Cowboys would really start to get the bandwagon humming again. So I think it could go either way for the crowd Sunday.

Thanks, Todd. Always good chatting with you. Travel safe, and I'll see you Sunday.

This week's "NFL Nation Says" feature polled players around the league on the best way to handle a sideline rant the likes of the one the Cowboys' Dez Bryant put on Sunday. And while there isn't an exact parallel here, this whole thing has me thinking about the New York Giants and the way they have handled adversity during a 2-6 first half that began with an incomprehensible six-game losing streak.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
AP Photo/Evan PinkusThe Giants defensive players' meeting with Perry Fewell may not have fixed the team's problems, but it was constructive.
My thought has to do with this meeting the Giants' defensive players say they had a few weeks back with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, in which they say they offered suggestions on how to simplify things and perhaps play better. We didn't find out about the meeting until weeks after it happened, and after the Giants' defense did start to play better. And when we did find out, it was in a matter-of-fact way, with the Giants' players and coaches willingly discussing it because there was nothing to hide. No one snapped at anyone on the sideline or cursed out a coach in public or in private. The meeting was a case of grown men acting like grown men toward each other -- of a group of people understanding the best way to solve a problem was to work together toward their common goal of getting better, and doing so in a professional way.

"The only thing I make of it is people trying to be the best they can be," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday when asked about that meeting. "And the honesty, the openness about being able to discuss those kinds of things with your coach, and the coach making a very serious attempt, without putting us in a position where we're not going enough, to do some things to help simplify."

In other words, Fewell wasn't going to just give the players everything they wanted. But he was willing to listen to their suggestions, since they were being offered as constructive criticism and an effort to make everyone (including him!) better. This sounds like a simple concept, but too often we see it go the other way, so it's worth pointing out instances in which adversity is handled the way everyone would prefer it be handled.

Even the Giants haven't been immune to slip-ups on this front, if you recall the 2009 season in which the defense quite obviously quit on short-time defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. But in general, the tone Coughlin sets as head coach lends itself to an atmosphere of professionalism and accountability, where blame isn't the priority and emotions tend to make their way through the proper channels. If part of the point of the Bryant story is that there was a time and a place to voice his concerns and that wasn't it, the Giants' meeting story would seem to stand as an example of what that right time and place might look like.

Coughlin and his coaches haven't had any kind of great season, don't get me wrong. The team ranks among the league leaders in penalties, and coaches and players alike have made some questionable in-game decisions during the rotten start. But through it all, the locker room has remained upbeat and professional. The leaders have stayed strong and encouraging. They have handled the tough time the way every coach wishes its team would but many don't.

Big Blue Morning: T2's great comeback

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his 11-tackle performance against the Eagles on Sunday. Thomas' comeback from a third ACL surgery on the same knee was remarkable already when he made the team and took the field in Week 1 against the Cowboys. But the fact that his recognition as the best defensive performer in the conference in Week 8 is an occasion to marvel once again at what it took for him to get back to the NFL. ... Giants tight ends coach Mike Pope says everybody needs to go easy on Brandon Myers, who has not continued the Giants' streak of success with changing faces at the tight end position. ... And David Diehl told Pro Football Talk that he doesn't see Hakeem Nicks returning to the Giants in 2014, which would be really interesting if Diehl were either the Giants' GM or Nicks' agent. He is neither, and quite frankly I like Nicks' chances of playing for the Giants in 2014 better than I like Diehl's.

Around the division: The Cowboys sure are rallying around Dez Bryant as he absorbs criticism for his sideline behavior Sunday. Even Jason Witten, who had to be separated from Bryant by DeMarcus Ware late in the game, says he thinks the Cowboys need more guys like Dez. My take on Bryant is that nothing's stickier than a reputation, and even though all of his issues in the past have been off-field and he's been a solid citizen in the locker room, he's perceived a certain way. So he can't slip up, or this is what happens. Unfair? Sure. But it's his reality, and that's his lesson of the week.

Around the league: Raise your hand if you're surprised Roger Goodell didn't go to the meeting with the Oneida Indian Nation about the Redskins' team name. Yeah, I didn't think so. Goodell wants this to go away. I'm not sure he's getting his wish.
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants

The news of the day: What else could it be? In their seventh try of the 2013 season, the Giants went ahead and actually won a game. It wasn't pretty, and the ineptitude of the Minnesota Vikings obviously had a lot to do with it. But the defense looks energized with Jon Beason at middle linebacker. Eli Manning didn't throw an interception for the first time all year. And after the game, everybody in the locker room was feeling good. Their 1-6 record surely isn't anything of which to be proud, but right now all the Giants are thinking is that it's better than being 0-7.

Behind enemy lines: The Giants' next game is Sunday in Philadelphia against the Eagles, who beat them in New Jersey in Week 5 with Michael Vick starting at quarterback and Nick Foles relieving Vick once Vick got hurt. Vick hasn't played since, and Foles got hurt Sunday, which leaves the Eagles' quarterback situation muddled and the Giants unsure which guy they'll be facing come Sunday.

Around the division: Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant says he thinks he can do anything Calvin Johnson can do. Says he believes Johnson is the best but that he also believes it about himself. You guys know what a fan I am of Bryant, and that I believe he can be as good as anyone in the league at his position. But what Johnson did Sunday was still something for which Bryant is striving. He may get there. Heck, he may get past there. But Johnson is still the king. There is only one Megatron.

Around the league: Brandon Meriweather should have known this was coming. It's like I used to write about James Harrison. Doesn't matter what you were taught or how you've always done it. You've been warned many, many, many times that you have to change or else you'll be suspended. And now, you're suspended. And you should be.

Why Prince Amukamara matters Sunday

September, 12, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara did not practice Wednesday. He suffered a concussion in Sunday's game and has to pass several tests before he's cleared to practice and/or play in Sunday's home opener against the Denver Broncos. People around the Giants' building, including Amukamara, seemed upbeat Wednesday about his chances, and it's possible he'll practice Thursday afternoon.

Amukamara
This is a significant matter for the Giants because of their coverage needs against Peyton Manning and the Broncos' receivers. In many ways, Sunday night's opener in Dallas offered a preview of how the Giants plan to handle the Broncos. The Giants opened Sunday's game in a nickel defense, with three cornerbacks on the field, which makes sense because they have almost nothing at linebacker anyway and the Cowboys like to use three wide receivers. The Broncos also like to use three wide receivers, and all three of them are great, as is their young tight end, but we'll get to that in a minute.

The Giants on Sunday used Terrell Thomas as their nickel cornerback, playing him over Miles Austin in the slot. Thomas played off of Austin all night, giving him room to make catches, and Thomas told me after the game that the plan was to keep Austin in front of him and make sure to tackle well. Thomas is a good and willing tackler who liked the plan and basically carried it out. Austin's 10 catches look like a gaudy total, but his 6.0-yards-per-target average was a number Thomas and the Giants' defensive coaches counted as a win.

Thomas expects to be used the same way Sunday against the great Broncos slot receiver Wes Welker, who caught nine of his 11 targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns in Denver's opener against Baltimore. The plan against Austin was to avoid the big play, and they did it. Thomas will try to do the same with Welker -- keep him in front of him and contained.

On the outside, the Giants said all summer that their plan was to split the field and let Amukamara cover one side and Corey Webster the other. This is a shift from years past, when they would use Webster as the "shut-down" option on the opponent's best receiver and have him shadow the guy all over he field. Sunday night, they very rarely switched sides, though the Giants did shade a safety to whichever side Dez Bryant lined up on -- whether it was against Webster or Amukamara. The Broncos' best downfield threat is Demaryius Thomas, a big-bodied big-play threat in the mold of Bryant (and who actually went two picks ahead of Bryant in the first round of the 2010 draft). So it's possible the Giants would do the same thing -- shade the safety to Thomas' side and leave whichever corner is on the other side one-on-one on Eric Decker.

And that's why Amukamara's important. They'll feel a lot better about him one-on-one against Decker than they would about Aaron Ross in the same role. In fact, if Amukamara can't play and Ross has to start, it's possible they have to switch up their coverage plans and use Webster to shadow Thomas. That could mean a big night for Decker against Ross, the Giants' No. 3 or 4 corner.

As for the tight end, we saved it for last because there's not a lot the Giants can do here. Dallas' Jason Witten did what he wanted to do against the Giants, as he usually does, and Julius Thomas, who caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns in Denver's opener, is positioned to have a big game as well. If middle linebacker Dan Connor has to miss the game with his neck injury, that leaves the Giants with four linebackers -- including a seemingly overmatched Mark Herzlich in the middle. They will need to find a way to get Thomas covered without help from the three corners, who will be otherwise occupied, and possibly without a safety, since they may be doubling the other Thomas. Someone like Jacquian Williams needs to step forward from the linebacker corps and show he can cover a tough tight end. Until then, this remains a significant weak spot in the Giants' defense that teams will work to exploit.

Double Coverage: Cowboys vs. Giants

September, 5, 2012
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Manning/RomoUS PresswireThe performances of Eli Manning, left, and Tony Romo will go a long way in deciding the outcome of Wednesday's season opener.
The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants are set to kick off the NFL season on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It's a rematch of last year's regular-season finale, which the Giants won to clinch the NFC East title before going on to win the Super Bowl. As always, both teams enter the season with high expectations. But which of these two division rivals is primed to have the better year? ESPN.com NFC East blogger Dan Graziano and ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer debate.

DAN GRAZIANO: Well, Todd, we've got to stop meeting like this. It doesn't seem that long ago that the Cowboys rolled in on New Year's Day with hopes of winning the division title, only to give up the first 21 points and help launch the Giants on a Super Bowl run. They tell me the Cowboys have fixed their defense, and given what they spent on their two new cornerbacks, they'd better hope so. But when I look at these Giants, what I see reminds me a lot of last season. They're really strong at quarterback, wide receiver and pass-rushing defensive end but have questions elsewhere on the roster. Their hope, once again, is that Eli Manning and that pass rush are good enough to overcome their deficiencies. The division picks I made last week had the Giants going 12-4 and repeating as division champs, and the Cowboys finishing in third place at 8-8. So it's clear what I think about it. Both of these teams have flaws; I just feel like the Giants have shown they're better at overcoming flaws and adversity better than other teams are.

TODD ARCHER: Wow, 12-4 and you see a team with questions? There can't be that many questions to finish 12-4. But it's hard to go against the Giants just because of their two Super Bowl wins in the last five years. They've done it and they get the benefit of the doubt. The Cowboys haven't done it and they don't get the benefit of the doubt. Winning at MetLife Stadium is difficult anyway, but it will be even more difficult because of what happened in training camp. Maybe Jason Witten and Jay Ratliff play, but that's pushing it. Miles Austin didn't play in the preseason. Dez Bryant missed the last week-plus in camp. The offensive line hasn't taken a snap together. So, other than that, the Cowboys are in great shape. But I'm not sure I see the Giants finishing 12-4. I think the Cowboys go 10-6 and make a wild-card run, but I'll admit I felt better about it before camp started.

DG: When I look at the Cowboys, the last thing I worry about is the Austin/Bryant/Witten crew. If any of those guys is out, they're in big trouble anyway. My thing with them is that I don't think they're strong enough on the offensive line, or up front on defense, to overcome a significant injury to one of their star players. They feel a little flimsy to me in too many spots still. And I'm not 100 percent sold on the idea that the improvements at cornerback will automatically help the pass rush. I feel like it works better in the other direction -- i.e., a great pass rush supports the secondary. I think the Giants are built on that philosophy, and that they really lean hard on those strengths, especially in big games.

TA: Man, I hate having to agree with you on this, but I think the Giants and other teams have shown a pass rush can cover up for an average/mediocre secondary. I can't think of too many great secondaries that make a pass rush. But that's the way the Cowboys have gone in signing Brandon Carr, trading up for Morris Claiborne and keeping Mike Jenkins. Carr was great in the preseason and he gives the Cowboys a physical presence on the outside that they have lacked. The Cowboys' offensive line is a huge question and I know I'm going to commit heresy in your eyes here, but Tyron Smith had some issues at left tackle this summer. The interior is a huge question, too, but the Cowboys believe in Bill Callahan. He has a great reputation and I think eventually the line is OK this year. Maybe not versus the Giants, though. But I will say this: The Giants' line is a little suspect, too, so that could be a push if Rob Ryan has figured out a way to defend Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

DG: No doubt the Giants' line is suspect, and where that really shows up is in the run game, which ranked 32nd in the league last season. I don't see how it's improved, which means once again it'll be up to Manning and the receivers to get it done on offense. I know from talking to Redskins people, after they beat the Giants twice last year, they feel you have to shut down one side of the field against Manning and limit his range of decisions, or else he'll pick you apart. You think these Cowboys are built to do that this year? At the very least, I can't imagine we see too many Giants fullbacks hurdling Cowboys cornerbacks this time around.

TA: I was surprised Henry Hynoski was not invited to the Olympic hurdle trials after what he did in January, but, yes, I think the Cowboys are better suited at cornerback to shut off one side of the field this year. Doesn't mean they're going to do it, but they have a better chance to do it. And I think Nicks' foot injury helps them, too. He's not going to be 100 percent for this game and not moving as well as he usually moves. But Cruz in the slot could be a major issue, as he was last January. I can still see his leaping grab on third-and-7 after the Cowboys made it interesting there for a bit. One guy who will make a difference for the Cowboys this year won't even take a snap. It's secondary coach Jerome Henderson. To me, he has future head coach written all over him. He has changed the attitude of this secondary. Defensive backs were more aggressive in camp. Maybe it's because Dallas has Carr, who likes to play press coverage, but I think Henderson has brought a swagger built on productivity and not just bravado.

DG: Good point on Nicks, and if he's limited that not only helps the Cowboys but probably gives them the advantage at wide receiver (assuming, of course, that both of their guys are healthy). I'm also interested to see whether Witten plays and, if he does, how he looks after his spleen injury. But I think this is a big game for Tony Romo. Last year's opener, when he turned the ball over against the Jets, just fed into his (I believe largely unjustified) reputation as a guy who can't get it done in big games. A win here against the champs would at least delay the "same old Romo" stuff for a few weeks, if not set him on the path to wiping it out. Manning doesn't have to worry about such things after his second Super Bowl MVP award, but games like these are the ones Romo has to win if he wants to combat the popular perception of the kind of quarterback he is.

TA: I have a column up on Romo talking about how he can change the narrative so many have of him by winning, specifically his lack of leadership. I don't believe there is a player who catches more grief in the NFL than Romo. Everything gets distorted with the guy. I asked Manning on the conference call if he is aware of all the garbage Romo receives and, paraphrasing, he said yeah and you have to ignore all of the outside voices. I think Romo does a good job of that. If the Cowboys beat the Giants, then Romo will get a reprieve, but it'll be short lived if they lose at Seattle. He has to walk a tightrope that other quarterbacks don't. But if you're asking me who wins this one, I have to go with the Giants, but it'll be closer than people think.

DG: I'm taking the Giants to win this game, too, but the only thing we know about an NFL season before it starts is that we don't know anything. I think everyone can agree that it'll be great to see a real game again after so long, and that the NFL picked a pretty juicy matchup to start its season. I know I'm looking forward to it and you are, too. Thanks for the chat, and I'll see you in the press box in a few hours.

 

NFC East teams must look to the lines

August, 20, 2012
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allas Cowboys Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLike its NFC East rivals, Dallas is shuffling and searching for ways to solidify its offensive line.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries ... all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it -- and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season -- only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.

But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division's other two teams -- the Giants' recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys' longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins -- the stats don't back up the NFC East as the league's toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division's honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.

A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division's offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren't cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.

But they're not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone's biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East's four teams. To wit:

  • Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can't get healthy, and they're thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven't seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn't get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
  • The Cowboys' offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp -- specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free's struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
  • The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn't, obviously, so they're still dealing with Jammal Brown's hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger's knee injury and Will Montgomery's limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
  • After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.

The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who's getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy ranks with the game's great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.

All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it's not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East's teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division's annual claim to Beastliness.

Fewell: More cohesion, fewer breakdowns

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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To Perry Fewell, take out the secondary breakdowns against Dallas on Dec. 11 and you have a product that looks much more like the one the Giants produced on Saturday in their 29-14 win over the Jets.

"I don't think there was really anything different. They had the same hunger and the same attitude. We had breakdowns," the defensive coordinator said when describing how the team could play so poorly vs. Dallas but so well vs. the Jets. "We had a couple breakdowns in the [Dallas] game and we didn't have any breakdowns with 98 plays or 89 plays in the ballgame. Why that occurs, how that occurs -- if I knew that beforehand I would be a genius. But we just had breakdowns in the Cowboys ballgame and we were just on top of our game last Saturday. Hopefully we're on top of our ballgame this Saturday."

The lasting image of the Giants' defense from that 37-34 win over the Cowboys is one of disarray and confusion. The play most remembered from that game was receiver Dez Bryant streaking down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown with no defender within 20 yards of him. The two players on that side of the field, Antrel Rolle and Corey Webster, both claimed they were in the right spot on that play.

Heading into this week's Dallas game, the Giants are coming off perhaps their best effort of the season. They held the Jets to just 14 points, the fewest points given up all season, and had five sacks and two interceptions in the game. The Giants were able to bring pressure all game and the secondary didn't give up the customary big plays that it has yielded all season long.

"I thought they performed well Saturday," Fewell said. "I thought their intensity, the focus, their drive, no matter what they were going to fight through and they were going to play for 60 football minutes. That's the Giants defense that we both know. That's what we're looking to get this Sunday also, is to play 60 football minutes."

Playing similarly to how it played Sunday will be key for the Giants defense against Dallas. The Cowboys are one of the most explosive offenses in the league and torched the Giants for 444 total yards in the previous game. If the Giants want to get back to the playoffs, it will be key for the defense to not have the big breakdowns it did last time.

"We plan on having a more cohesive product on Sunday night than we had the first time we played them," Fewell said. "I think the Cowboys are a very talented football team. They can buy time because they can block, (Tony) Romo can scramble and they can do a lot of things to hurt you and break down your coverages. I think that we’re playing better than we’ve played and I think our guys feel a lot more confident in the things that we’re doing."

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