Still struggling from the loss of their top two offensive stars, the Dallas Cowboys are counting on a quarterback change, some additional rest and a matchup against a division opponent they haven’t lost to in three years to help them get back on track.
With Matt Cassel now under center, the Cowboys return from their bye week seeking to avoid a fourth consecutive loss while aiming for a sixth straight win over the New York Giants on Sunday.
Brandon Weeden’s failure to effectively move the offense in a 30-6 home loss to New England preceding the Cowboys’ Week 5 bye prompted coach Jason Garrett’s decision to call upon Cassel. The veteran of 72 career starts was acquired from Buffalo two days after Tony Romo broke his collarbone in a Sept. 20 victory at Philadelphia. The 33-year-old journeyman makes his first start since being displaced by then-rookie Teddy Bridgewater three games into Minnesota’s 2014 campaign.
"He knows the offense and you can tell he’s a veteran pro," Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. "He has great command out there. The guys respond to him. He’s a sharp guy and has picked things up very quickly."
Cassel attempts to become the first Cowboys quarterback to win a game other than Romo since Stephen McGee beat Philadelphia in the 2010 season finale. Since Romo became the starter midway through the 2006 season, Dallas (2-3) is 5-11 in games he’s missed and has lost the last five.
Weeden went 0-3 during his fill-in period while handcuffed by a defense that didn’t force a turnover as well as Dez Bryant’s absence from a broken right foot suffered in the Cowboys’ 27-26 comeback win over New York (3-3) in Week 1. Though the All-Pro receiver has progressed to doing individual drills, he didn’t travel with the team to New York and is listed as doubtful.
”We want to be deliberate with the process that we go through,” Garrett said. ”And that’s with every player that is hurt. We will never put them in a compromising position in practice or in a game.”
While Bryant’s status remains in limbo and Romo won’t be back for at least another month, Cassel will have Jason Witten at his disposal. The standout tight end has historically been a matchup nightmare for New York, with seven touchdown catches during the Cowboys’ five-game series win streak. Two came in the final 5:08 of the opener to bring Dallas back from a 23-13 deficit.
Witten also had two TD catches in a 24-21 Dallas win at MetLife Stadium in 2013. Bryant’s 13-yard reception with 1:01 remaining accounted for the go-ahead points in a 31-28 decision in East Rutherford last season, with both victories following a Cowboys’ bye.
Dallas is 4-1 against the Giants at MetLife Stadium under Garrett and has won seven straight on the road against NFC East opponents since the start of 2013.
The Giants had won three straight after also blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against Atlanta in Week 2, but they’re coming off a clunker after a litany of mistakes and a failure to capitalize on their opponent’s miscues resulted in a 27-7 loss Monday at Philadelphia.
New York was held to a season-low 247 total yards, committed 12 penalties and had three turnovers that were converted into 14 points. The Giants induced four Eagles’ giveaways but didn’t score off any.
”It’s a bad game, it’s a bad production,” coach Tom Coughlin said. ”We’ve got to be able to handle the big games. The games where things don’t go our way, we’ve got to handle them better. You’ve got handle those situations better.”
The Giants have been one of the league’s more opportunistic teams, with their plus-6 turnover margin tied for the best in the NFL. They scored 17 points off three Dallas turnovers, including a Cole Beasley fumble that cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned for a touchdown, to keep the previous meeting close despite being outgained 436-289.
Dallas ranks near the bottom of the league with a minus-5 turnover ratio and has produced just three takeaways, all coming during the Week 2 win over Philadelphia. The defense, boosted by pass rusher Greg Hardy’s return from a four-game suspension, did record a season-high five sacks against New England and is expected to have rookie end Randy Gregory back from a four-game absence caused by a high ankle sprain.
New York is dealing with several injuries in the secondary, with cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (pectoral) and Trumaine McBride (groin) likely to miss a second straight week and nickel back Trevin Wade is questionable with a concussion.
Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to play for the Giants despite a hamstring injury. The big-play receiver had 10 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting at MetLife Stadium and has scored 10 TDs over his last seven division games.