Giants wide receivers vs. Cowboys defensive backs: As good as the Giants run the football with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, I could see offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride taking some shots down the field to try and gauge the state of the Cowboys’ secondary this week.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins has struggled with technique in several opportunities this season, and free safety Alan Ball hasn’t played with the instincts and range that I thought he would when he was moved from cornerback.
The challenge that lies ahead for the Cowboys is that Hakeem Nicks has emerged as the go-to guy for Eli Manning. Nicks wasn’t a factor in either of the two games last season, but the second-year receiver has six touchdowns in 36 receptions this year.
Nicks can cover some ground as he works up the field and his hands are dependable. The Giants like to use him on slants and on routes where he can get the ball on the move.
On the other side, Steve Smith was a productive receiver against the Cowboys last season. Smith had 16 catches in two games and, like Nicks, he will go all over the field to catch the ball. He is the quickest of the Giants receiver with the ball in his hands.
Mario Manningham is the third receiver, but you can’t sleep on his production either because he is deceptive in the way he runs his routes and adjusts to the ball. Manningham has a 16-yard average per catch as well.
When the Giants throw the ball, they will do everything in their power to protect Manning when he drops back to pass. You will see tight ends Kevin Boss and Bear Pascoe lining up with Bradshaw in the back field to limit the number of hits that Manning might have to take.
If the Giants protect Manning in this game, the pressure to hold up on the back end is even more critical for the Cowboys and their secondary.
Cowboys offensive tackles vs. Giants defensive ends: Another weekend finds tackles Doug Free and Marc Colombo in a battle with two of the better defensive ends in the NFL in Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
In studying these two ends, Umenyiora is playing like a different player than the one that we had seen the last couple of season. His desire and passion once again appear to be back. He is focusing on being that dominant pass rusher that we once saw.
Umenyiora has a variety of pass rush moves that can hurt opponents. He just isn’t one of those ends that rushes up the field and tries to just beat you with quickness or power. Umenyiora likes to take you up the field and get the corner, but he is effective at rushing down inside. He has a very good spin move as well. What Free and Colombo need to be aware of is his movement.
Patience will be a key in handling these ends. They give you a lot of moves and shake. Footwork and punch will be their friends. If you can get your hands on these rushers, you can slow down their progress but technique will need to be sound.
Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will move Umenyiora and Tuck around in the defense. The Cowboys will need to be aware of where these guys line up at all times.
Watch how the Cowboys handle these rushers. Last week against the Vikings, they went to a quicker passing game with some screen packages mixed in. If they have some success with this, it could slow down and frustrate this Giants rush.
Pressure Giants quarterback Eli Manning: Manning has a career record of 2-3 against the Cowboys on the road. If the Cowboys are going to win this game, Wade Phillips is going to need to find a way to pressure Manning.
As good as Manning has played these last three weeks in victory, he still will make mistakes with the football. In the two losses the Giants have had this season against the Colts and Titans, Manning had been sacked six times and thrown three interceptions.
I spoke of the Giants’ ability to run the football and that might be the direction that they try to go to early in this game to keep the Cowboys’ rush off Manning. If the Cowboys can control the Giants’ running game and put them in some situations where they are behind the chains, the Cowboys will be able to focus on their pass rush.
The problem is that Manning still has is a tendency to try and make something out of nothing. He will throw the ball up for grabs instead of taking a sack and fighting for another play. The worst example of this was in the red zone against the Titans when he tried a left-handed pass that was intercepted.
A key matchup for the Giants will be tackle David Diehl against linebacker DeMarcus Ware. When you study Diehl, he has had trouble with rushers that take an inside rush on him. Ware needs to attack Diehl as hard as he can up the field and then hit him on a move to the inside. Diehl will struggle to handle quickness and power if he makes that move.
As far as scheme adjustments, I would not be surprised to see the Giants lining up Bradshaw and a tight end in the backfield to help in the protection of Manning on passing downs.