It feels like forever ago, but the Dallas Cowboys current 11 game winning streak started after a season-opening loss to this week’s opponent – the New York Giants. Now with a remarkable chance to lock up the NFC East with a revenge win at the Giants, I sat down with NJ.com Giants Beat Writer James Kratch to get his insight on this match up from a New York perspective.
Q: So let’s start with the big injury news coming into this game on the Giants side of things. Most notably, Jason Pierre-Paul was injured in that Steelers game – going to be out for some time including this game of course. Who are the Giants really looking at to step up in his absence?
He’s historically always been consistently good, but he’s had his best games against the Cowboys. So who are they looking at not only in the long-term as far as who can rush off that edge opposite of Olivier Vernon, but here against the Cowboys knowing you have Doug Free at right tackle – probably the only potential weak spot on the Cowboys offensive line – who are they trying to put over there to get the same pass rush that they’ve gotten out of Pierre-Paul?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): It’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be one person per say, it’s going to be three main guys. Kerry Wynn, an undrafted free agent that’s been in the league a couple of years. Really strong run defender. Not as much of a pass rusher – he’s only got two sacks in his career. They also have two young guys, undrafted rookie Romeo Akwara – he’s kind of emerged as the third end. Wynn maybe will start the game in the base package but you’ll see Akwara in there on passing downs. He doesn’t have a sack in his NFL career but he’s flashed at times in the preseason, somewhat in the regular season. Then you have Owamagbe Odighizuwa, last year’s third round pick. Basically missed his entire rookie season due to injuries. He had a good preseason but hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot in the regular season — and hasn’t got a whole lot of opportunities. He missed last week’s game against the Steelers with a knee injury. It looks like he should be able to play on Sunday but it’s not 100% sure. He was kind of coming on strong before the knee injury, so they’re going to look to those three key guys.
I think you’ll also see SAM linebacker Devon Kennard also walk up a little bit in pass rush situations on the end. For the most part, it will be those three guys, and they readily admit that no one player will replace Pierre-Paul. It’s really a devastating blow for this defense and this team, especially when you’re going to go up against the Cowboys and that offensive line. They’re kind of hoping that those three guys – and the sum of their parts – will be something equal to Pierre-Paul.
Q: Overall on this defense, how confident is this Giants team and defensive line as a whole that they can duplicate what they did in Week 1 against the Cowboys offensive line and against Ezekiel Elliott playing in his first game? They held Elliott to just 51 yards on 21 carries in this game and ever since we’ve all seen Elliott blossom into what we all expected him to be behind this Cowboys line when they drafted him at fourth overall. He’s been great, Dak Prescott in the backfield as the other rookie has progressed as well. Obviously the Giants understand that they have a whole different test coming into this game facing those two, but how confident are they that what they did in Week 1 was something that can be duplicated here on Sunday night?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): They are very confident. They have the league’s 5th ranked rush defense. Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison in the middle, Vernon on the edge, I would expect them to be confident as an 8-4 football team. They’ve had a really good defense and they’ve done it before, but from an outsiders perspective I just look at this Cowboys team and see a team that is drastically different from what they were in week 1 especially in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. I think the Giants will have their hands full on Sunday.
Q: Ben McAdoo has really been giving a lot of praise to this Cowboys offense, and he even pointed out a couple of defenders that are playing pretty well for Dallas right now. You think back to this rivalry between the Giants and the Cowboys when it was Tom Coughlin over on the sideline for the Giants – coming into a game like this you would always be worried as a Cowboys fan that the Giants were going to get this win or at least make it your toughest game of the season. Always incredibly competitive, he always knew how to rally his guys for any big game and especially these against Dallas. Now under McAdoo, he’s trying to get this team bounced back after a loss, he’s still trying to stay alive in this NFC East race and trying to not let the Cowboys clinch the division on their home field, what’s been his message to the team this week and what has he been emphasizing when it comes to understanding that they beat this team once but they can’t get too far ahead of themselves if they want to prevent the Cowboys from winning their 12th straight game?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I really don’t think they’ve spent much time externally projecting out on this game. I think their main focus is to take it week by week. With Pierre-Paul being out, the rally cry this week has been, “all hands on deck”, and a whole bunch of players have been saying that. Clearly McAdoo is drumming that into their minds. He says they have to get better at getting better, this offense has struggled mightily recently and it’s a major issue. Cruz isn’t getting any targets, Shepard the week before struggled too.
I don’t think the Giants are worried about the Cowboys, I’m sure they want to beat them and they would prefer to not have the Cowboys clinch the East at MetLife Stadium, but I think the Giants are more focused on themselves. The division hasn’t been on the table realistically for weeks now, this team has got to make a push for the Wild Card. You have Tampa Bay and Washington and teams below them that they’ve already lost to getting themselves back into the playoff picture. The Giants needs to focus on themselves and getting their offense right these last four games.
Q: Getting into the Giants offense, they had their six game winning streak snapped at the Steelers as Manning thew two interceptions in that game. The Cowboys defense has forced just two turnovers in their last five games overall. Looking at this Giants offense, knowing the names that are probably going to have a big game – we know Manning is going to bounce back, we know Beckham is going to get his targets and make the explosive plays that we’ve all seen – who else outside of those expected named do you really need to step up for the Giants offense to potentially stick with the Cowboys in what could be a shootout type of game?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I think the running game has to step up. It remains to be seen if Shane Vereen will be active from IR for the game. If he is, they need him, Paul Perkins, and Rashad Jennings. I also think Will Tye is a guy that has proven he can make plays, they need to him to make plays consistently, and him and Jerell Adams need to block to help the run game. The Giants offense is juts not getting the job done 12 games in, and it’s been a surprise given what they expected to be. They have to get this ship righted fast with four games left and a crowded NFC Wild Card mix. I think the Giants would be devastated if they started 8-3 and missed the playoffs, but I think that’s very much on the table if they don’t get their act together.
Q: Another sore spot for the Giants offensively not only in the Steelers game but ongoing is left tackle Ereck Flowers. This is an interesting match up talking about who Flowers is going to line up against defensively. The Cowboys have shuffled through some guys at that RDE position. They don’t really have a true speed rusher. They’ve moved DeMarcus Lawrence back and forth a bit to try to get production from that spot. What do you see coming out of this match up if anything, can Flowers step up and help the Giants running game and really have his best game of the season to get himself right down the stretch or do you see any Cowboys defenders that can have their way against Flowers surprisingly?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): Flowers had a really bad game against the Packers earlier in the season, and he bounced back the next week pretty well. I would not go as far to say he’ll have his best game of the season, but given the fact the Cowboys don’t have a tremendously productive pass rush this could be a bounce back performance from Flowers. I definitely think that’s one of the key things for the Giants giving them a shot to win on Sunday night, the Cowboys don’t have a tremendous pass rush, their offensive line can adjust although they’ve been banged up.
Q: How closely are you personally expecting this game to resemble the week 1 match up between these two teams where it was kind of sloppy on both ends? On the Cowboys side of things you could tell that Prescott and Elliott weren’t in their preseason form, they were a little bit uptight, allowing the Giants defense to make plays. Manning threw the game winning touchdown to hand the Cowboys their only loss so far this season.
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I think this will be pretty much what we saw in week 1. There may be at least some snow on Sunday Night in East Rutherford. This will be a slug fest. The Giants offense isn’t that great, and the Giants defense will have some success against the Cowboys. I don’t think they’ll have all the success they need to have to win the game but I do think they’ll be able to get to Elliott and the run game and get to Dak to a point. I do think they’ll generate some pass rush, and it will be a close game in the fourth quarter. I think Dallas will eventually wear the Giants down and pull away.
Q: In your opinion, is there a better team that is more fit to win a game that might be played in the snow on the road than the Cowboys with this offensive line traveling and their comfort with Ezekiel Elliott touching the ball like a workhorse back that nobody else really has?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): No. I think this Dallas team has it drawn up how you want it to be to win these games in December on the road. In terms of the best team in the NFL, I think the Cowboys have to be considered that now. I do wonder what will happen down the road if they play Seattle, New England, Kansas City, or Oakland. If those defenses force Dak to make all the plays to beat them it will be interesting. This team is built for December football which is unique because they play indoors, and they have most of their games down the stretch indoors. The Giants are built like a dome team that plays outdoors. The Cowboys have the edge if the elements are a factor on Sunday night.
Q: Janoris Jenkins, another big off-season acquisition, still getting a feel for how New York fans respond to having such a high paid player at defensive back going up against some of the top WRs that we have here in the NFC East and around the league. What are you hearing from Jenkins and his teammates coming into this game on his match up with Dez Bryant? A lot of Cowboys fans are certainly aware of Landon Collins coming into this game as the Giants secondary has played well, he can help out along with the pass rush effecting Prescott – but overall Jenkins against Bryant is a game within this game.
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): Dez had one catch for eight yards in the opener. I don’t think the Giants are going to hold Dez to one catch again on Sunday night. Every time Jenkins has faced an elite receiver – Antonio Brown last week had a TD catch on a circus grab, AJ Green earlier in the year, Jenkins did relatively well against Pryor too – he’s proven to be worth his money as a lock down corner against #1 wide receivers.
I do expect Dez to make plays on Sunday night, it would be pretty hard to keep him 0 for the season in two games. The Giants are going to try to make it so Dez doesn’t wreck the game for them. Tight end has been a major issue for the Giants, so Jason Witten could wreck the game and he’s a guy that you have to take care of. Cole Beasley has beat them up on third down at times out of the slot. Overall Jenkins has played well and the secondary is a bright spot for the Giants going up against the Cowboys, but I do expect Dez to do something on Sunday Night – I have a hard time thinking they’ll shut him down for two games.
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