The New York Giants will host the rival Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, December 11. What must the Giants do in order to overcome the 11-1 Cowboys?
Article continues below ...
Sep 11, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) in the huddle with wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (87) and tight end Will Tye (45) during the game at AT&T Stadium. New York won 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The 8-4 New York Giants are approaching the biggest game of the 2016 NFL regular season. The 11-1 Dallas Cowboys are coming to town with the NFC East on the line and a postseason appearance potentially hanging in the balance.
Having already handed Dallas its only loss in 2016, the Giants will look to improve to 2-0 and close in on the first postseason berth since 2011.
Dallas has already clinched its berth in the 2016 NFL Playoffs, but New York hasn’t been quite as fortunate. 8-4 is a good place to be with four games remaining on the schedule, but the NFC is as strong as it’s been in quite some time.
Nine teams in the NFC are currently 6-6 or better, with the Arizona Cardinals looming at 5-6-1 and the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles still in the picture at 5-7.
By defeating the Cowboys, the Giants would pull to within two games of the division lead in the NFC East. They’d also move one game closer to pulling away from the competition and clinching an elusive postseason berth.
The question is: which players will need to step up in order for the Giants to pull out the victory over the 11-1 Cowboys?
Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jamie Collins (51) tackles New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
5. The Running Backs
The New York Giants earned the Week 1 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but the formula for success was unsustainable. Dallas dominated time of possession 36:43, which placed far too heavy a burden on the Giants’ defense.
In order to defeat the Cowboys in Week 14, the Giants will need running backs Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins to keep the chains moving and the clock rolling.
Dallas has one of the most explosive and star-studded offensive units in the NFL. Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten create an efficient passing attack, and Ezekiel Elliott is the league’s leading rusher.
The Giants don’t need Jennings and Perkins to match Elliott’s production, but that duo must be able to move the chains and gain positive yardage.
New York is currently No. 31 in the NFL in rushing yards per game and No. 27 with just five rushing touchdowns. It has just one rushing touchdown over the past five games and generated just 56 rushing yards on 14 carries against Pittsburgh.
Shane Vereen could return against Dallas to help the passing attack, but it’s Jennings and Perkins who will need to step up between the tackles.
Oct 23, 2016; London, ENG; Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (41) of the New York Giants intercepts a 4 yard pass from quarterback Case Keenum (17) of the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Secondary
The Dallas Cowboys are known for having one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the NFL. What’s been admittedly underrated during the 2016 season, however, has been the proficiency of starting quarterback Dak Prescott.
Though he’s only a rookie, Prescott has proven capable of leading his receivers with beautiful throws and remarkable accuracy.
The Giants have a Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner in versatile safety Landon Collins. They also have a pair of productive and high-quality cornerbacks in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins, and an underrated safety in Andrew Adams.
That star-caliber quartet needs to step up with a sensational performance in order to hold Dez Bryant and Co. in check.
The X-Factors in the secondary will be rookie cornerback Eli Apple and veteran cover man Leon Hall. They’ll be responsible for holding Cole Beasley in check in the slot and helping to defend the likes of Terrance Williams and Brice Butler over the top.
The rushing attack is Dallas’ bread and butter, but New York will need to win battles in single coverage if it hopes to win this game.
Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon (54) sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown (13) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
3. Olivier Vernon
The likes of Romeo Okwara, Owa Odighizuwa, and Kerry Wynn will attempt to replace Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end. Devon Kennard could also get snaps at the position based on his history of playing both end and linebacker at USC.
No matter who steps in for Pierre-Paul, the New York Giants are going to need Olivier Vernon to continue to produce at an elite rate.
Any time a defensive end is mentioned in the same breath as Michael Strahan, you know they’re doing something right. In Vernon’s case, he’s recorded 7.0 sacks over the past five games after tallying one in the previous seven.
For all of the talk that he wasn’t worth the money, Vernon has developed into one of the most productive defensive ends in the NFL.
Against the Dallas Cowboys, Vernon will have the unenvious task of attempting to get to Dak Prescott. Not only is Prescott big and difficult to wrap up, but the Cowboy have one of the greatest offensive lines of all-time.
If the Giants are going to win this game, they’ll need Vernon to extend his streak to six games and keep Prescott under constant pressure.
Nov 20, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison (98) celebrates in front of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
2. Damon Harrison
The New York Giants are about to go up against the best running back in the NFL. One could easily make a case for Arizona Cardinals star David Johnson from an all-around perspective, but in terms of running the ball, no one is better than Ezekiel Elliott.
If the Giants are going to contain the league’s leader in rushing yards, then Damon Harrison will need to be at his best.
Harrison has been a dominant force for the Giants during the 2016 regular season. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the No. 8 interior defender in the NFL, but his overall ranking isn’t what applies here.
Harrison is the top-ranked interior defender in the NFL against the run, recording a better score than the likes of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Marcell Dareus.
Harrison has been worth every penny for the Giants, which have held opponents to an average of 91.4 rushing yards per game. New York is No. 5 in the NFL in that category, but its most impressive mark is the 3.6 yards per carry it’s limiting opponents to.
New York held Elliott to 51 yards on 20 carries the first time around, but he’s a more seasoned and fearless player than he was in Week 1. Harrison needs to do what he does and step up.
Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
1. Eli Manning
No matter what else goes well or poorly for the New York Giants, the outcome of this game rests squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Eli Manning. Following his underwhelming performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Manning needs to bounce back strong.
Fortunately for the Giants, Manning knows a thing or two about stepping up against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants and Cowboys are an even 12-12 during the Manning era, which means bragging rights will be on the line. Since dropping five consecutive games to the Cowboys between 2013 and 2015, however, the Giants have regained momentum.
New York defeated Dallas 27-20 in Week 7 of the 2015 season and secured a 20-19 road victory over the Cowboys in Week 1 of the 2016 campaign.
Manning failed to produce a touchdown against Dallas in 2015, but he threw for three during Week 1 of 2016. He completed just under 68 percent of his passes for 207 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, including the game-tying touchdown with 6:13 remaining.
Randy Bullock technically decided the game with the extra point, but it was Manning who did what he does best by marching the Giants down the field and putting clutch points on the board.