New York Giants: Dez Bryant

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The drive that put away the Dallas Cowboys' 31-21 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday was notable not for the predictable way it ended (a 1-yard DeMarco Murray touchdown after a brilliant Dez Bryant sideline catch) but for the way it began.

The Giants were still in this very good game, trailing 21-14 with a little over 11 minutes left. They were deep in their own territory but moving the ball. On third-and-8 from his own 19-yard line, quarterback Eli Manning found tight end Larry Donnell over the middle for a reception that would have moved the chains and kept the drive alive ... but Donnell fumbled the ball.

Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant collected the ball at the Giants' 27-yard line and Dallas' extremely efficient offense was in business -- apparently assured of nothing less than a field goal from their outstanding kicker. A touchdown would put the game more or less out of reach.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who would not throw a single incomplete pass in the second half of this game, found Murray for a 4-yard gain on first down. Murray, the NFL's rushing leader, was stuffed in the backfield by Giants linebacker Jameel McClain for a 2-yard loss on second down, setting up a third-and-8 from the Giants' 25.

But converting third downs is something the Cowboys do quite well. They would convert nine of 14 in this game and lead the league in third-down conversion percentage for the year. Bryant lined up wide left. Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara, who'd drawn the assignment of covering the Cowboys' best receiver due to the injury to fellow corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, tried to jam Bryant at the line -- an idea Amukamara himself later described as "a dumb move by me." Bryant got by him just enough, and made a dazzlingly athletic catch inside the 5-yard line.

Bryant reached for the end-zone pylon and the officials initially ruled the play a touchdown. A replay review showed that it was not, but Murray took care of things on the next play, plunging in from a yard out to extend the Dallas lead to 28-14 with 9:17 left in the game.
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The two weeks that were going to tell us all about the 2014 New York Giants went about as poorly as they could have gone and told us everything we needed to know.

The Dallas Cowboys beat the Giants 31-21 on Sunday at AT&T Stadium to improve to 6-1. They lead the NFC East by a half-game over the idle Philadelphia Eagles, who are 5-1 and beat the Giants 27-0 last Sunday. The Giants are 3-4, well behind two teams that just beat them, and as they head into their bye week, they look absolutely nothing like a team with playoff hopes.

"This is our bye week, and when we come back, we want to be a great team," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We have a good football team. When we get those kinks out of there, we'll be all right."

That is the right way for the players in the locker room to think, because their job is to take the field every week and give an honest effort to win games. But to those of us who stand on the outside and evaluate these teams against one another, it's clear that these Giants are not that good. They're not a terrible team, as they were this time last year, but they're not a contender either. They are a rebuilding team and clearly have been since they changed up the offense and blew out the free-agent budget in the offseason, signing more free agents than any other team.

And while the remainder of this year is likely to feature periods of encouraging progress, right now the Giants just don't have enough good players to hang with the top teams in the league.

"We've got to figure out a way to get better," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have to eliminate the mistakes and the little things so we can execute better and find a way to sustain more drives."

The Giants were penalized six times for 40 yards, and the timing of the penalties was backbreaking. They lost two fumbles, the first of which came at a point when the game was still in question.

These are the mistakes to which Manning refers, and the Giants aren't a team that can overcome such mistakes. Given their significant personnel deficiencies relative to their division rivals, they need to be just about perfect to win games.

The Cowboys' offensive skill-position players Sunday around quarterback Tony Romo included Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and emerging tight end Gavin Escobar. Their opposite numbers on the Giants were Rueben Randle, Andre Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. Size those groups up against each other and there's no reason to believe the game should have been close. That Giants' core has talent and promise, but no neutral observer could think it compares to the Cowboys' offensive personnel at this stage in the careers of the people on those lists.

Add in the fact that the Giants are missing top wide receiver Victor Cruz, starting running back Rashad Jennings, top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and starting middle linebacker Jon Beason due to injury and lost starting defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins early in Sunday's game. These are significant losses to overcome, and the Giants at this stage in their roster rebuild don't have the depth to overcome them.

"We keep forgetting about that, because we have to come back and play next week," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But when you do lose key players, it definitely can hurt your team."

It's crippling the Giants, who needed everything possible to go right to contend this year. In the end, the best they can hope for this season is to be able to say at its end that they made progress in the new offensive scheme and have a plan for patching the remaining holes next offseason. Any talk of firing coaches is likely to be unjustified -- as it usually is -- because this is a roster-in-progress and a project that likely needs at least two years to bear fruit.

That's the reality of what the Giants are dealing with in 2014, and it always has been. Players like Beckham offer hope for the future, and this Giants team is likely to be better this time next year than it is right now. But right now, the simple fact is it's not good enough to be a contender. Not this year.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
7:23
PM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 31-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

What it means: Pretty simply, that the Giants are not an NFC East contender. The first-place Cowboys are 6-1. The second-place Eagles are 5-1. The Giants, having lost to both of those teams in the past eight days, are 3-4. The season is obviously not "over" by any means, but at this point -- especially playing without Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings -- the Giants are outmanned on offense. They don't have enough reliable playmakers or a good enough offensive line to compete with the league's top teams. They're a still-rebuilding team that has shown some progress and will surely show more but is most likely at least a year from serious contention.

Stock watch: Jon Beason's health, DOWN. The Giants middle linebacker practiced as fully this past week as he has at any time since injuring his toe in spring practices, yet he still couldn't even finish the first half as he aggravated the injury again. It's fair to wonder whether Beason can honestly expect to be a helpful player for the Giants this season. He gets two weeks now to rest and heal, but the pattern here is obviously not a hopeful one.

Prince on Dez: Cornerback Prince Amukamara's game deserves mention here, and for positive reasons. Yes, I know he was in coverage on the Dez Bryant touchdown that put the game away, but I don't think he or any corner in the league could have prevented that incredible catch by Bryant. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured and unable to contribute, Amukamara had to cover Bryant all day and, in spite of what the final numbers say, did a more-than-respectable job. He also came up with his third interception of the season, which matches the total number he had in his first three years in the league.

Game ball: Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants' first-round pick has played three games now, and his role is likely to expand as the season goes on. But he's already a very handy weapon for Eli Manning in the passing game. Beckham caught two touchdown passes Sunday and now has three in his young career. He also had a 13-yard pickup on an end-around run early in the game, signaling the possibility that his talent will allow for more creativity going forward in the Giants' offensive game plan.

What's next: The Giants are on bye next week. Their next game is Monday night Nov. 3 at home against the Indianapolis Colts.
Rodgers-Cromartie
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is active and expected to play for the New York Giants here Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Rodgers-Cromartie was listed as questionable after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday and being only a limited participant Friday due to continuing leg and back injuries.

It remains to be seen how much Rodgers-Cromartie will be able to play. He was in and out of the Giants' Week 4 and 5 games due to leg injuries, and he left last week's game for good in the second quarter due to back spasms that the team said were related to the ongoing leg problems. Zack Bowman will fill in for Rodgers-Cromartie when he's not on the field, but if Rodgers-Cromartie can play at all, he'll have a tough time containing top Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant if he's less than 100 percent.

On the offensive side of the ball, newly signed wide receiver Kevin Ogletree is active and rookie Corey Washington, for the first time, is not. Due to last week's season-ending injury to Victor Cruz, the Giants have only four wide receivers active for the game -- Ogletree, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr. and Preston Parker -- and are likely to deploy a run-heavy game plan that leans on the tight ends as blockers and receivers.

The full list of inactives for Sunday's game here at AT&T Stadium:

GIANTS
RB Rashad Jennings
WR Corey Washington
OL Brandon Mosley
OL James Brewer
OL Adam Snyder
DE Kerry Wynn
DT Jay Bromley

COWBOYS
LB Bruce Carter
RT Doug Free
DE Jack Crawford
QB Dustin Vaughan
S Jakar Hamilton
DT Davon Coleman
OT Donald Hawkins
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Left tackle Tyron Smith of the Dallas Cowboys just became the first lineman in 10 years to win an Offensive Player of the Week award. New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is not among those who might be surprised by that.

"He's that good, definitely," Pierre-Paul said of the 23-year-old Smith. "He's as tough as there is in the whole league."

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
AP Photo/James D. SmithTyron Smith, the first offensive lineman in 10 years to win player of the week honors, is just one Cowboy who presents the Giants with matchup challenges.
This will be the second week in a row that Pierre-Paul faces a tough test in the opposing left tackle. He had his worst game of the year last week against Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters. And things don't get easier Sunday in Dallas against Smith, who's a huge part of the reason the Cowboys and DeMarco Murray are leading the league in rushing.

"He's playing at such a high level, JPP and our defensive linemen will have to play at their best to neutralize this guy," Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "And that's what you want to do -- neutralize him."

It won't be easy, but you can look all over the two depth charts for Sunday and find matchups that aren't going to be easy for the Giants.

The Cowboys are 5-1 and playing extremely well. The Giants (3-3) are without their best wide receiver, best running back and maybe their best cornerback and are coming off an ugly 27-0 loss. A list of Dallas' offensive personnel includes wide receivers Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, tight end Jason Witten, league-leading rusher Murray and Smith, who's one of three recent first-round picks starting on their impressive offensive line. Line up the Giants' offensive depth chart against that, and on paper it clearly looks outmanned.

Which is why, when it comes to the Pierre-Paul/Smith matchup, Fewell may have summed up the key to the Giants' chances in this game.

"Our best guy is on him," Fewell said. "So I think it'll be a heavyweight battle."

It has to be. If Pierre-Paul loses his matchup with Smith the same way he lost Sunday's to Peters, the Giants are going to have a hard time overcoming that. All over the field, there are Giants who have to play as big as possible in this game. It's possible cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie won't be able to play, and even if he can he's obviously not himself. (He estimated himself at "60 percent" Thursday). That could mean Prince Amukamara needs to cover Bryant and deliver a flawless performance if he's to stop him. Quarterback Eli Manning -- assuming his line can keep the pass rush off of him for at least a couple of seconds this week -- needs to play the way he did in Weeks 2-5, and to outperform a very comfortable Tony Romo.

In short, the Giants' top players have to be at the very tops of their respective games for this one, because there aren't going to be enough of them there. On offense, they're without Victor Cruz, Rashad Jennings and Geoff Schwartz, who represent more than 18 percent of their offensive salary cap spending. On defense, they're without Walter Thurmond, Trumaine McBride and possibly Rodgers-Cromartie, who make up more than 13 percent of their defensive cap spending. These are players to whom the Giants have committed major resources, and they're not available to them. That means the other big-resource guys -- Manning, Pierre-Paul, Amukamara, Jon Beason, etc. -- have to excel to make up for the losses.

It won't be easy, but the Giants believe in the players they're running out there Sunday. This is a chance for many of them to justify that belief and deliver a win that would qualify in almost anyone's eyes right now as an upset.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie missed a second straight day of practice Thursday, casting significant doubt on his availability for Sunday's game against Dez Bryant and the Cowboys in Dallas.

Rodgers-Cromartie
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday morning that Rodgers-Cromartie would practice on a limited basis. But Rodgers-Cromartie did not practice at all Wednesday, and he was not on the field for the portion of Thursday's practice that was open to the media.

Rodgers-Cromartie has been struggling for weeks with a leg problem that has been described at various times as an ankle, hip or hamstring injury, and he left Sunday night's game in Philadelphia with back problems. His official listing on Wednesday's injury report was "Did not practice (back/hamstring)."

If Rodgers-Cromartie can't play, Zack Bowman likely would take his place as a starting outside cornerback along with Prince Amukamara, who likely would draw Rodgers-Cromartie's usual assignment of covering the opposing team's top wide receiver. For the Cowboys, that means Bryant, who's one of the best and most physically dominating wide receivers in the game. Amukamara is having a strong season, but he does tend to look better when Rodgers-Cromartie is on the field.

The Giants also are down to their third option at nickel cornerback. With Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride out for the season with injuries, Jayron Hosley will draw that assignment Sunday, though it's possible safety Antrel Rolle could play that spot as he has in the past. If that happened, the Giants might have to revive their old three-safety look, which could bring benched starter Stevie Brown back into the mix.
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
11/25/13
10:00
AM ET
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
11/24/13
6:06
PM ET
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
11/23/13
2:00
PM ET
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
10:00
AM ET

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.

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