By Curt Macysyn
Coming off their worst performance of the season, the New York Giants (3-3) have a short work week in order to get ready for the Dallas Cowboys (2-3). The Cowboys jumped out to a 2-0 start, including a season opening 27-26 win over the Giants in Texas, but have lost three games in a row to drop below .500 on the season.
The Cowboys’ decline has coincided with the loss of two of their star players, quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. After a 30-6 beating at the hands of the New England Patriots on October 11, Dallas decided to ditch their interim starter at quarterback, Brandon Weedon, and go with recently acquired Matt Cassel.
It hasn’t been all bad luck for the Cowboys in 2015. In fact, Dallas was fortunate to walk away with a 27-26 victory against the Giants on opening day, otherwise the team’s record could be 1-4. In addition, Big D cannot complain about injuries and expect sympathy from the Giants’ faithful. New York has played without Jason Pierre-Paul, Will Beatty and Victor Cruz for the entire season, and they have also dealt with injuries to Prince Amukamara, Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Daniel Fells, Devon Kennard and Jon Beason.
These intra-division battles are usually unpredictable, and the loser of this game will have to dig themselves out of a big hole in the second half of the season in order to remain in competition for the division crown.
At face value, blaming Brandon Weedon for the Cowboys’ three-game losing streak does not make much sense. Weedon completed 72 percent of his passes in relief of Tony Romo, so he has not played badly. But Weedon only threw two touchdown passes in three plus games, after Romo broke his collar bone, so Dallas is rolling the dice with Matt Cassel. Cassel lost out on the quarterback competition in Buffalo in the preseason, and he was shipped to Big D for a draft pick. In three games with Minnesota last year, Cassel only completed 58 percent of his passes and had three touchdowns versus four interceptions. It does not seem to be an upgrade.
There are rumblings that wide receiver Dez Bryant could make a return this week, just six weeks after breaking his foot against the Giants. Whether this is real or a ploy will be figured out on Sunday. According to DallasCowboys.com, “If he can actually practice this week, there could be a chance he plays Sunday although at this point, it still seems like a long shot. With Dez, the Cowboys certainly won’t rule him out.”
Chance are that Cassel will be pitching the ball primarily to receivers Terrenace Williams (14 catches) and Cole Beasley (22 catches), as well as tight end Jason Witten (30 catches). No doubt that the ground attack misses DeMarco Murray with Joseph Randle (3.9 yards per carry) and Darren McFadden (3.5 yards per carry) seeing most of the workload. The Cowboys did acquire running back Christine Michael from the Seattle Seahawks in order to bolster the rushing attack.
Last time these two teams met, the Giants did not have a game plan for Greg Hardy, who was serving the first game of his four-game NFL suspension. In his first game back, Hardy accumulated two quarterback sacks, which ties him for the team lead. The Cowboys also got middle linebacker Rolando McClain back from suspension with an eight tackle performance against the Patriots, so two key cogs in Dallas’ defensive machinery have returned.
Sean Lee has been the anchor of the defense all year with a team-leading 41 tackles to go along with an interception and one quarterback sack. Safety Barry Church has 37 total tackles, including 24 solo tackles, and he provides a veteran presence in the secondary.
Players to Watch
The Giants had difficulty handling Philadelphia’s aggressive defensive line on Monday, and now they have to protect Eli Manning against Greg Hardy. Hardy had two quarterback sacks in his return from suspension, and it would not be surprising to see him accumulate a couple more this week.
Jason Witten has always been a perennial thorn in the side of the New York Giants, so it was no surprise that Witten caught eight passes in the season opener against Big Blue. Of his eight catches, two went for touchdowns, including the game winner with seven seconds left in the game. Can someone please cover this guy?
With the loss of Romo and Bryant to injuries, and the defection of DeMarco Murray to the Eagles, the bite has been taken out of the Cowboys offense. Therefore, the Giants defense should be able to contain the Dallas offense and limit scoring opportunities. On the other hand, the Giants’ offensive line had a shaky performance against the Eagles’ front four on Monday, and if there is a repeat of that lackluster performance, the Cowboys could upset the G-men in the Meadowlands.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.