By Paul Dottino
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It’s time. The dominoes have lined up for the Giants, who now have the opportunity to show that they are improved enough to knock them over.
The Giants (4-6) are seeking their fifth consecutive victory Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys (5-5), who grabbed a 36-31 victory over them in Week 1.
Since that time, the Giants have shown improvement in their running game, their offensive line and their rushing defense while the passing game has taken a step backward. The Cowboys’ balanced passing attack remains dangerous, although they’ve had trouble running the ball and their already porous defense took a hit with injuries to MLB Sean Lee (out with a sore hamstring) and DE DeMarcus Ware (limited by a quad).
Here are three key matchups to watch in the game:
1) Giants CB Prince Amukamara vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant: The Giants played straight up in Week 1, but they had a healthy Corey Webster and Aaron Ross. Bryant caught four passes (eight targets plus a pass interference on Ross) for 22 yards. Webster is trying to fight through an ankle injury and Ross is on IR with a back injury, so the Giants are left with Trumaine McBride opposite Amukamara.
It’s not likely the Giants would play straight up, given this scenario, so figure that Amukamara will be asked to shadow Bryant. Given how quickly Bryant allows his frustrations to show, the Cowboys are likely to try to get him involved in the offense very quickly. He’s tied for sixth in the NFL with eight TD receptions, but he has only two over the past five games.
2) Cowboys returner Dwayne Harris vs. Giants’ special teams: There must be no excuses — Harris cannot be allowed to touch the ball because he is a difference-maker. He ranks second in the NFL in punt returns (15.1 avg.) and kickoff returns (32.3 avg.), thanks to his blazing speed.
The Giants’ coverage units, specifically on punts, have broken down too many times this season. A mistake against Harris could turn around the game. PK Josh Brown needs to kick the ball out of the end zone and P Steve Weatherford must boot the ball out of bounds.
3) Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin: Manning must continue to be patient, especially against Kiffin’s scheme. The Cowboys rank last in the NFL in total defense (440 avg.) and passing defense (313 avg.). Their lack of production has prompted Kiffin to rely on a Cover-3 scheme to try to prevent big plays, but that allows teams to chew up yardage underneath — unless they are able to generate a pass rush.
DE Ware, who is batting a quad injury, will move around on third down, trying to find the easiest path to Manning. The Giants, who have established a bit of a running game over the past month, have eight scoring drives of at least 10 plays this season (including seven during their four-game winning streak). Manning must continue to be patient and efficient in order to take what the defense gives him while avoiding unnecessary chances that could lead to turnovers.
PREDICTION: Giants 31, Cowboys 27
PREDICTION RECORD VS. THE SPREAD: 7-3
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