Giants’ front four need to step up

Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how the New York Giants defense should attack Cowboys QB Tony Romo.

The mind is a funny thing. Studies show that our brain often fools us, as it many times perceives things different than reality.

December is reality in the NFL.

And while it might appear that nobody wants to win the NFC East, I can assure you they do, which brings me to this week’s showdown — and my assignment — between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams are sick about last week’s losses — the Cowboys to the Cardinals and the Giants to the Packers.

Mind games. That’s where, as an NFL player, you have to learn to forget and move on. This time of year, it comes down to mental toughness because everybody is physically and mentally exhausted. Your body might be telling you one thing, but that’s where your mind has to fight through the body’s natural instincts that are telling you something is too hard. The players — and teams — that can overcome that are the ones that go on to great success.

When I played for the Broncos, coach Mike Shanahan actually did a great thing. He would shorten practice and send us home early because he trusted us. I’m not sure you could do that with every team, but we had a veteran group and he knew we would use the time off wisely. It allowed us to get some extra rest, which enabled us to get some energy back, something that is crucial this time of year.

4. 2. 1. Those are the key numbers for the 6-6 Giants, who I’m game-planning for against the Dallas offense. Four games left. Two games against the Cowboys. One-game back.

There are no moral victories, but I think that the loss to Green Bay will still give the Giants a much needed confidence boost. I know they’ve had injuries — everybody does — and I know they’ve lost four in a row, but they just went toe-to-toe with the defending world champs. I think that’s going to give them belief in each other and in the coaching staff and catapult them back into this thing.

And for them, it starts with the front four, which in my opinion, is one of the very best in football. It’s time for them — Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dave Tollefson and Chris Canty — to all step up and put this team on their shoulders. They only sacked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice Sunday, but even Rodgers admitted that the Giants kept hitting him all and that it forced the Packers to change their plans a number of times.

The Giants, particularly the defense, have been criticized heavily of late. The last two games — the Packers and Saints — they’ve given up more than 1,000 yards. Granted, those are two of the better offenses in the league, but against the Packers, they forced Rodgers to throw quicker than he wanted to on several occasions. The Giants were rotating their pass rushers to keep them fresh and they disguised their blitz packages, including blitzing on first down.

So let’s start the game plan with that. Here are my three keys:

* Take the pressure the Giants brought against Rodgers and use the same plan against Tony Romo and the Cowboys. I covered the Cowboys-Cardinals game for FOX last week, and despite the gaffe by coach Jason Garrett at the end, I think he’s done a tremendous job coaching this team. The perception is that the Cowboys are a wildly talented football team and I don’t think that’s true. I think they have some special players and Romo is one of them. But this is the time of year he needs to show he’s special. DeMarcus Ware is another and so is Jason Witten. And they’ve had a real find in running back DeMarco Murray.

* That leads me to my next key. Murray played a big role for the Cowboys during their four-game winning streak. The Cardinals loaded up the box and made sure Murray wasn’t going to beat them. He gives the Cowboys balance, but the Cardinals made a concerted effort to take him out of the game. And they did. After averaging 22 carries (108-yard average) and five catches (39-yard average) during the winning streak, Murray was held to 12 carries and 38 yards with no receptions. So the Giants need to take him away, just as the Cardinals did.

* And finally, I mentioned Witten before, but he’s Romo’s go-to guy. If the Giants are going to stop the run, then they are going to have to make sure Witten is taken care of as well. Mix up their zones, and keep the pressure on Romo. That front four has to get back to the way they were during that ’07 season when they took down Tom Brady and the Patriots. When you have a front four like that, they can carry an entire team, because even the great QBs can be affected if they don’t have time to throw the ball.

The Giants just need to remember two things:

It’s December and it’s time to make their move … and it is mind over matter.

John Lynch will be calling the San Francicso at Arizona game for FOX at 4:05 pm ET Sunday.