Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13.
Cowboys left tackle Doug Free needs to have his best game of the season. Most left tackles need some help against Colts All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney, but I don't think Free will have that luxury. Right tackle Marc Colombo will need a lot of help against Robert Mathis on the other side. I actually think Free's up to the task. He'll have to get out of his stance quickly and get an immediate punch with his arms to force Freeney to re-start. As most of you know, Freeney will try to get to the outside and turn the corner on Free. He's been the Cowboys' best offensive lineman this season and I think he'll have a strong performance against Freeney. Is that a stone-cold lock of a prediction? Absolutely not.
It's time for the Giants to actually do something with their opening possession. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride spent a lot of time this week talking about how he likes to get a feel for defenses on the first series of games. The Giants finally scored on their first possession against the Jaguars, but it was only a field goal. The Eagles scored on their first three possessions against the Texans, but the Giants almost always wait until the second half to get going. They've been dominated in the second quarter. The defense has given up 82 points, and the offense hasn't always responded in the first half. With a beat-up team like the Redskins, you can't let them hang around. Just look at what almost happened to the Eagles on Thursday night. Gilbride needs to spend less time setting things up and more time dictating the action. I realize it's tough without Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith in the lineup, but the Giants have enough weapons to get things done, as they showed in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars. Maybe they can get Kevin Boss going a little bit earlier in this game.
The Redskins have to unleash the pass-rush on Eli Manning early in this game. If Washington can bring some pressure up the middle and get in Manning's face, it will cause problems. Mario Manningham's really the only wide receiver he has faith in, and I think DeAngelo Hall has a chance to lock him down. But if Manningham gets the ball on a quick screen, the Redskins have to run everyone to the ball. Manningham has deceptive speed and he's good at making defenders miss. This is also a game where the Skins have to get back to creating takeaways. They were on a torrid pace early in the season, but things have tailed off. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo has to be thinking about the strip because Manning has some ball-security issues at times.
The Cowboys' safeties will be under a lot of pressure against the Colts. Peyton Manning looks for Pierre Garcon on a lot of vertical routes, but Reggie Wayne will look to get loose across the middle. It's important for Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh to be more disciplined than ever. The Colts are looking for a safety to take one false step. If that happens, they're ready to pounce. And I had a chance to watch tight end Jacob Tamme in person against the Eagles. He doesn't have the speed of Dallas Clark, but he's a sure-handed receiver who can break tackles if the Cowboys aren't careful. Manning's like most quarterbacks in that he hates having anyone in his face. If nose tackle Jay Ratliff and defensive end Stephen Bowen can collapse the pocket in the pass rush, I think they can cause some mistakes. Manning took way too many hits against the San Diego Chargers. In Sunday's game, the Cowboys need to use a similar approach. If you allow Manning to find a rhythm, it could be a long day. But without any semblance of a running game, it makes him a little bit easier to defend.
Can McNabb continue his dominance of the Giants? McNabb is 11-7 lifetime against the Giants, but he was wearing a different uniform all those years. He's won four consecutive games over the Giants while throwing to quality receivers such as DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin (in '09). I think McNabb has a comfort level against the Giants' personnel, but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has changed things up. I think he'll throw a lot of different looks at McNabb, and I'd look for him to send Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle on some safety blitzes early in this game. If the Skins can block it up, McNabb will have a chance to make plays downfield. He needs Santana Moss to come up big for him, but I think Terrell Thomas will be ready for the challenge at cornerback. Without a running game, McNabb's a sitting duck. Maybe "sitting" isn't fair because of his mobility, but you get the picture. The Giants will try to make the Skins one-dimensional early in this game.