EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J (WFAN/AP) — With Osi Umenyiora out with ankle and knee problems, and Justin Tuck still fighting through neck and groin issues, the Giants’ pass rush in Dallas Sunday will again hinge on the talents of Jason Pierre-Paul.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing as Pierre-Paul is enjoying a breakthrough season.

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Pierre-Paul, a second-year pro who has a team-high 10½ sacks, will undoubtedly face the same double-teams Umenyiora and Tuck have battled throughout the years against the Cowboys. The difference, though, is that the 6-foot-5, 278-pound Pierre-Paul’s has progressed meteorically in his short pro career.

The Giants (6-6) are a game behind first-place Dallas (7-5) in the NFC East.

Pierre-Paul’s thrust against veteran left tackle Doug Free will gauge whether the seventh-rated passing offense of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten can exploit a secondary where rookie Tyler Sash will likely replace injured safety Kenny Phillips (doubtful).

“He brings that athleticism, energy, and spontaneity that a guy like him brings to something he loves doing,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “He’s a spark.”

The Giants could use that right now. After dropping their fourth straight game against Green Bay last week, a win against the Cowboys would, somehow, draw them even for the NFC East lead and put them a leg up on the divisional tiebreaker. They also face Dallas in the regular-season finale on New Year’s Day.

With yet another loss in the secondary, the front seven pressuring Romo will be imperative, especially if fast-rising running back DeMarco Murray gets going. And Pierre-Paul will be the focal point of that attack, just as he was last week against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Tuck and Dave Tollefson recorded the sacks in that game, but Pierre-Paul delivered two hits on Rodgers and broke up two passes in a heavy-duty, 70-snap outing.

He was also cited as the only player to make any significant plays in the previous week’s blowout in New Orleans.

“My motor’s always running,” Pierre-Paul said. “I’ve always been that guy, even when I’m tired. I wasn’t tired against Green Bay. A little sore, but not tired. I’d rather stay in there. If we’d gone to overtime, I’d have been fine.”

Still, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would rather spell him from time to time.

“I never want him in for that many snaps,” Fewell said. “But you have to pry him off the field and we have to tell him, ‘Hey, JPP, take a rest.’ But he loves to play the game and he plays hard and fast. We think he can play harder and faster when he doesn’t play as much.”

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Putting Romo on his back will help the secondary. Sash, in his most extensive defensive appearance this year, expects to play both near the line and in Phillips’ traditional deep coverage spot in the three-safety alignment with Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle.

He took a few snaps against the Packers, but his full workload of reps as Phillips spent the week on the stationary bike is expected to have a significant effect on the sixth-round rookie out of Iowa.

“This is the first time I’ve actually gotten (defensive) reps in practice,” Sash said. “Antrel came up and said I’ve got to get ready to go, and everybody’s embraced any questions I have.

“Just having that confidence of playing a little bit will help.”

An inquisitive mind is something Pierre-Paul and Sash have in common. The defensive end is one of the most curious of players in team meetings.

“He’s as schooled on responsibilities as anyone,” Tuck said.

“I’ve always been like that, and I’m gonna stay like that even if I’ve got eight, 10 years in,” Pierre-Paul said. “The more I understand, the more I can play faster.”

He needs to play fast Sunday. The Giants’ postseason hopes depend on it.

NOTES: OL Stacy Andrews (injured reserve) visited the locker room for the first time since being discharged from the hospital with blood clots in both lungs. He credited the Giants training staff for saving his life as he tried for three days to shrug off pain in his ribs and chest. He has two more days of clot-busting injections, after which he’ll be on pills for several weeks. A doctor’s visit in two to three months will determine whether the clots have dissolved, and it will take about six months until he’s cleared for football. “There’s no long-term impact, so I’m happy about that,” Andrews said.

C David Baas (migraines), LB Mark Herzlich (ankle), LB Spencer Paysinger (hamstring) and DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee) have been ruled out for Sunday. LB Michael Boley (hamstring), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring), CB Prince Amukamara (back), WR Mario Manningham (knee), and DE Dave Tollefson (knee) are probable after taking limited practice all week. … Coughlin said Baas is continuing to talk to the doctors about the tests surrounding his migraine problems, and the Giants should hear something definitive in the next few days.

Will Pierre-Paul make the difference for the Giants on Sunday?  Let’s hear you Giants-Cowboys predictions below…

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