Grudge Match: Cowboys-Giants

A look at the key matchups for Sunday's Cowboys-Giants game:

Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins vs. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks: The Giants have three outstanding receivers, but with Steve Smith being ruled out for Sunday’s game, the main focus for the Cowboys now turns to Hakeem Nicks and his matchup with Mike Jenkins.

In the locker room on Friday, several of the media members were hanging around the lockers of Orlando Scandrick and Gerald Sensabaugh talking about how offenses attack defenses. Sensabaugh brought up the point that when you give up plays on defense especially in coverage, you are more likely to see offenses try and attack the same area or weakness.

Anyone who has watched Jenkins play this season knows that he has struggled in coverage, but there have been times where he has been in outstanding position and, whether it was a good throw or an adjusting catch, he has struggled to finish the plays. The Giants are well aware of Jenkins’ struggles and will attack him with Nicks.

When you study Nicks, you come away with the thought of what a nice vertical player he is. He can cover some ground in his routes and he can adjust to the ball at any point. Nicks will adjust his routes for back-shoulder throws and he is a weapon in the red zone.

Jenkins knows that he will have a battle on his hands but some early success could go a long way in giving him confidence to continue to carry the fight to Nicks. Jenkins has the skill to match Nicks. Now Jenkins just needs to go out put everything behind him and find the way to finish the play against a talented receiver.

*Cowboys run defense vs. Giants running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs: The last time these two teams met in October, the Giants physically dominated the Cowboys by running the ball 37 times for 200 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are powerful backs that run downhill at you and, if given a head of steam, are difficult to bring to the ground.

The biggest problem the Cowboys have had in the running game this season is shedding blocks. If you don’t play with your hands and don’t use leverage to work to free yourself from blocks, offenses can move the ball with ease.

The Giants are banged up along the offensive line on the left side, but that will not keep them from running the football. Left tackle Shawn Andrews has stepped in for David Diehl and has done an impressive job of creating push at the point of attack. He is a big man that plays light on his feet. The normal left guard, Rich Seubert, has moved to center to replace the injured Shaun O’Hara. There is nothing pretty about the way that Seubert, Chris Snee or Kareem McKenzie looks physically, but they use their bodies to lean on defenders and create lanes for these backs to run through. Rarely do you see these linemen on the ground and the way they finish blocks is quite impressive.

The front seven for the Cowboys cannot allow the Giants to control and mash them for 6 to 7 yards a running play and stay ahead of the chains. If the Giants do have an offensive weakness, and a slight one, it’s on third down. The Cowboys need to keep pressure on the Giants to have to convert as many third downs as possible in hopes of getting off the field.

*Cowboys running backs vs. Giants defense in blitz pickup: On the 13th play of the Cowboys-Giants game in October, linebacker Michael Boley came on a straight inside blitz that might have ended the season for quarterback Tony Romo. It was a missed assignment by fullback Chris Gronkowski that caused Romo’s broken collarbone.

Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna has been sacked nine times in three games and taken numerous other hits. He is nowhere near as mobile as Romo and protection needs to be planned for him. The Cowboys cannot struggle with assignments when the Giants decide to bring pressure in the form of linebacker or safety blitzes.

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to bring different looks and packages into a game. He will match up his personnel to take advantage of certain situations. The Cowboys running backs have to be aware when they get in passing situations and they are responsible to pick up the extra rusher. In the game last week, Felix Jones missed an assignment and got his quarterback hit.

Of the three running backs on the Cowboys roster, Tashard Choice is the weaker than Jones and Barber in protection. Don’t be surprised if Fewell tries to take advantage of these backs when calling defenses because of the struggles that they have had in blitz pickup cleanly getting their men.