Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 14.
The most disturbing thing to the Giants about their loss in Philly last month was that they were gashed in the running game. They didn't immediately get it fixed but the run defense was excellent in Sunday's 31-24 win over the Cowboys. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield might have played his best game of the season in destroying Cowboys right guard Leonard Davis on several plays. He made himself "skinny" and beat double-teams from Andre Gurode and Davis on a couple of occasions. If the Giants can shut down Leonard Weaver and LeSean McCoy in the early going, they can try to make the Eagles even more one-dimensional than they already are. Brian Westbrook has had some big games against the Giants over the years, but he'll be sidelined because of a concussion. I think you'll see McCoy get at least six or seven touches early in the game. We'll see if the Giants' defensive line can continue to own the line of scrimmage. And keep your eye on Eagles right guard Nick Cole in this game. Everyone talks about left tackle Jason Peters and the rise of right tackle Winston Justice, but it's Cole who's been the glue of this offensive line. He's become a very reliable player and the former New Mexico State standout is about to play himself into a nice contract if he doesn't watch out.
The key for the Cowboys is slowing down Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. The Cowboys did a really nice job against Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and they held down the Eagles' talented young tight end Brent Celek for much of the game. But Gates is a different case. He's a master at pushing off without getting called. Quarterback Philip Rivers has a lot of faith that Gates will adjust to balls, so he's not afraid to fling it in his direction. The Cowboys will try to jam Gates near the line of scrimmage with nickel linebacker Bobby Carpenter, which can be good and bad. Gates is athletic enough to get a quick release, so the strategy could backfire on the Cowboys. The Eagles might have had a chance of beating the Chargers if they had anyone who could cover Gates. Instead, he sealed a win over them by beating a defender across the middle. If Gates only ends up with three catches for 24 yards, I think the Cowboys win this game.
If you can't get fired up for Skins-Raiders week, you're a hopeless cause. This is mediocrity at it's best. Actually, you have to hand it to both teams for still playing inspired football after being eliminated from the playoff race several weeks ago. The Redskins will be without cornerback DeAngelo Hall and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Safety LaRon Landry needs to show a little discipline and consider staying back to help when one of Tom Cable's receivers runs his ninth fly pattern of the game. Landry's refusal to play under control has contributed to the Redskins giving up too many big plays. On offense, it will be interesting to see how Devin Thomas reacts to such physical cornerbacks. The Raiders like to stay in man coverage and beat up receivers at the line of scrimmage. Miles Austin made the Raiders pay a few weeks ago for their aggressiveness. I think Thomas can do something similar if he can manage to get some clean releases. Quarterback Jason Campbell will continue his tryout for other teams around the league. He has played some excellent football over the past month. He's ignored the patchwork offensive line in front of him and used his legs to extend plays.
I don't think the Eagles respect the back end of the Giants' defense. I know Aaron Rouse has brought a little stability at safety but he and Michael Johnson could struggle against this group of receivers. DeSean Jackson will use a double move to blow by cornerbacks and safeties. But Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin can get their catches by going up high and making contested catches. The problem with the Giants' defensive backs is not so much that they're getting burned all the time. They simply do a poor job on those contested balls. Corey Webster was burned for three touchdowns against the Cowboys. He'll end up in a one-on-one situation with Maclin at some point Sunday -- and I don't like that matchup for the Giants. If you're getting dominated by Roy Williams off the line of scrimmage, how are you going to stay with the Eagles' receivers? Maybe Webster will bounce back with an impressive performance, but I do expect the Eagles to go right at him.
If Tony Romo has enough time, he can light up the Chargers' secondary. I think Antonio Cromartie is susceptible to double moves because he's such an aggressive cornerback. And the other corner, Quentin Jammer, is known for playing a little soft. Throw in two nondescript starting safeties and you have the makings of a huge game for Austin and Jason Witten. The Chargers know that they have to hit Romo in the mouth from the start. Shawne Merriman has had his moments this season, but we've also seen teams line up and run right at him. (See Denver.) If the Chargers can collapse the pocket, the Chargers' secondary will have a chance to make some plays. But if Romo has too much time in this game, I think he'll throw for 300 yards and two or three touchdowns. I would not be shocked to see this game turn into a track meet. Two talented quarterbacks and some excellent receivers. I could see a 35-31 game. In fact, that's what I'm hoping for. Have a wonderful football weekend.