By Paul Dottino
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Jason Pierre-Paul called the game a “must-win.”

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That’s not a stretch. The Giants (3-3) head to Dallas (5-1) for Sunday’s game facing a two-game deficit to the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles (5-1). The way things are shaping up, it would be difficult for them to come back from three games down and win the NFC East. So, for the moment, let’s agree with the Giants defensive end.

That’s not a great place to be for the Giants, who will be without WR Victor Cruz (knee surgery) and slot CB Trumaine McBride for the rest of the season and have to play at least one more game without injured RB Rashad Jennings (knee).

Dallas also is nursing several nagging injuries and will be without RT Doug Free (foot) and LB Bruce Carter (quad).

Here are three key matchups to watch:

1. Giants linebackers vs. Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys have gone back to the old-school approach that habitually sent Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith & Co. to the postseason in the 1990s — a simplified power running game that sets up the pass. They don’t do anything fancy, rather the Cowboys just line up their offensive linemen and knock you on your heels, then Murray reads the hole and takes off. Murray leads the NFL with 785 rushing yards (4.9 avg.) and has joined Jim Brown (1958) as the only players to rush for six straight 100-yard games to open a season. The Giants’ front seven — specifically LBs Jameel McClain, Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams — must hold their ground and fill those rushing lanes in order to contain him and dictate the flow of the game. Their defense ranks 22nd in the league, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. Murray has one 100-yard game in four career tries against the Giants.

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2. Giants slot corner Jayron Hosley vs. Cowboys slot receiver. Dallas will run multiple formations and may use several different options — including TE Jason Whitten — in the slot throughout the day. Hosley has made token appearances since he came back from a four-game NFL suspension for violating the drug policy, but has been thrust into this role because Walter Thurmond (pectoral) and Trumaine McBride (thumb) required season-ending surgery. Hosley (5-10, 178) is a small but quick and skilled cover corner who struggled during his first two seasons while battling injuries that appeared to affect his confidence. However, he claims those experiences have made him better able to handle this role. QB Tony Romo is likely to look his way as often as possible, especially in key situations.

NOTE: If Giants CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (lower body) is unable to go, that likely puts former Bear Zack Bowman next up on the outside — he’s a big, strong and physical corner whose best traits are jamming at the line and breaking on the ball.

3. Giants RB Andre Williams vs. Cowboys MLB Rolando McClain. This is a bit of a reach because Williams is going to need at least SOME room to operate, unlike the brick wall his offensive line left him with to battle in Philadelphia. The Giants MUST re-ignite their power running game if they are going to win this game — it simply has to start with them being able to control the ball and dictating play. The Cowboys are apt to do plenty of run blitzing, like the Eagles did, in an attempt to overrun the Giants’ line. But if the line can give Williams a few seams to hit early, the Giants will be able to open up the rest of their diverse playbook to attack what is a very speedy Dallas defense that closes quickly on the ball — yet has allowed 115 rushing yards per game (5.1 avg.).

PREDICTION: Cowboys 34, Giants 17

PREDICTION vs. the spread: 4-2

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