Who would have ever thought after starting 0-6 that the NY Giants (4-6) would be playing in a pivotal divisional make-or-break game against the Dallas Cowboys (5-5) in Week 12?
Well, after a four-game winning streak, the Giants are right back in the thick of things in the NFC East and the rematch with the Cowboys at home this week doesn’t come much bigger. If the Giants win, they would be only a game back of the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5).
This game is of critical importance, and the Giants are viewing this game as a playoff affair. So, this should be an intense, all-out war. This game should not be for the faint of heart.
Let’s look at five things to watch for.
Will Eli Manning rise to the occasion?
The last time these two teams played, Manning threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-31 loss in the opening week. While he did have a nice stat line, Manning also did throw three interceptions in the game, setting an ugly trend to which Manning now leads the league in picks with 17.
Manning has been playing of late, only throwing two interceptions in his last four games, albeit with only two touchdowns in that same span. If there ever was a game where Manning could go off, this would be it. The Cowboys are dreadful against the pass, giving up a league-worst 313 passing yards per game to go along with 20 touchdowns allowed. So, expect the Giants to open up the playbook and have Manning take some shots downfield.
Can the run game keep pounding away?
Of course, the Giants’ bread and butter on offense has been their running game, as Andre Brown has come back with vigor. In his two games back, Brown has rushed for 181 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants won’t deviate from going what has worked in the last couple of weeks. With the Cowboys breaking down on defense and missing stud linebacker Sean Lee, the Giants will continue to pound the rock.
The Cowboys have allowed six touchdowns on the ground to opposing running backs in the last three weeks. They are also allowing a league-high 4.9 yards per carry, and with Brown posting a 3.8 YPC clip, expect the Giants to call Brown’s number a great deal in this affair.
Does Jason Pierre-Paul have his swagger back?
Fresh off being named NFC defensive player of the week, where he had a key pick-six interception last week against the Packers, Pierre-Paul may just have recaptured some of his lost mojo. His presence and activity on the line could prove to be vital for any hope the Giants have at claiming the NFC East. Can he keep it up and actually get to Tony Romo this week? If he can pressure, knock down and eventually sack Romo, the Giants would be in good position to win.
Which Tony Romo will show up?
After throwing just one interception in his first four games and throwing eight touchdowns in the process, Romo has taken a step back lately. Romo has now thrown five interceptions in his last six games. Romo has long taken flak for not coming up in crucial spots and this game certainly constitutes a measuring stick for Romo and the Cowboys. With the Giants getting healthy on defense and playing wonderfully of late, they have to make Romo feel uncomfortable in the pocket.
If you let Romo get confident in the pocket, he can make you pay as he can connect with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams at a moment’s notice.
Can Terrell Thomas back up his promise?
While Thomas has been a revelation this year and should be commended for the way he has come back, he went a little overboard by saying, “No doubt. We’re gonna win this game” to reporters. Now, he has to back up that bold prediction. The Giants defense is no doubt confident and with the way they have been playing they should be.
However, this is an explosive Cowboy’s offense. After all, the Cowboys are fifth in points per game (27.4) in the league and with playmakers in Bryant, Witten, Williams and Miles Austin, Thomas will have the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is. In the end, actions speak louder than words and we’ll see if Thomas can back up his claim.
Dan Stack | Featured Columnist