8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Dallas -3
Bitter rivals clash tonight at MetLife Stadium as the struggling New York Giants host the AFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Coming off their Bye Week, Dallas (7-3) currently owns a share of the division lead with Philadelphia, and is about to embark on a crucial part of their schedule, with two meetings with those same Eagles in the upcoming three weeks. However, first things first, and that’s the Giants, whom they defeated 31-21 back on October 19th; with the contest squared away at 14-14 at Halftime, Jason Garrett’s charges handled New York with relative ease, outscoring them 17-7 over the final thirty minutes of play. Tony Romo was a solid 17-of-23 (73.9%) for 279 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, while DeMarco Murray continued to add to his league-leading rushing total with 128 yards and a score on eighteen carries. Dez Bryant turned in a huge performance to boot, hauling in nine balls for 151 yards, while Sophomore Tight End Gavin Escobar made quite an impression with 65 yards and a pair of scores on three receptions. That victory turned this historic rivalry into the Cowboys’ favor, as they have now taken four out of the past five meetings, including each of the last two in the Meadowlands.
After three years of disappointment, there is a different air about these Cowboys, and all they had to do was make one simple, minor change. With his job on the line, Garrett finally ignored his base urge to throw the ball forty times a game, and run the football, which has had a positive ripple effect throughout the team. Through ten games, Dallas ranks second in both rushing yards (153.2) and yards per carry (4.9), and has now carried the ball 315 times this season, fourth-most in the league, and just twenty-one fewer than they had attempted in all of 2013. Finally healthy, Murray has been a revelation, rushing for 1,233 yards (5.1 yards/carry) and seven touchdowns, taking the heat off of Romo and the passing game, which has gladly taken a backseat in this more conservative incarnation of the offense. Romo had back surgery in the Offseason, and has already missed one game thus far after sustaining multiple hits to his spine, so it’s only logical that Garrett would prefer to keep his Quarterback upright ; the Cowboys have attempted the fifth-fewest passes in the NFL (309), but as a result have become deadly efficient, ranking seventeenth in passing yards (250.4), eighth in passing touchdowns (20), and sixth in net yards per pass (7.1). However, the effects of rushing the ball haven’t just been exclusive to the offense, for the defense has benefited a great deal. Less has been more for a Dallas defense that was statistically the worst in franchise history in 2013; this unit has been on the field for just 575 plays thus far, the fewest in the NFL. With more time to rest, new Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has routinely whipped his charges into a frenzy, ranking tenth in points allowed (21.1) and fifteenth in total defense (348.8). Granted, they have still allowed a mediocre 5.9 yards per play, including 6.9 per pass (25th overall) and 4.4 per rush (27th overall), but the major difference between this season and the last is that they are managing to get off the field thanks to producing big plays. Dallas has racked up seventeen takeaways (10th overall), including ten interceptions (10th overall), seven recovered fumbles (12th overall). Rolando McClain has resurrected his career under Marinelli’s watch, returning from semi-retirement to log 45 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, three deflected passes, and a pair of interceptions.
Meanwhile, it’s been another disappointing season for the Giants (3-7), who despite their plethora of changes in the Offseason, still find themselves in last place in the NFC East. After winning three consecutive games to improve to 3-2, New York has since lost five straight contests, courtesy of the same prevailing problems that always seem to afflict this team. It may sound like a broken record by now, but injuries and turnovers have once again sunk Big Blue’s ship, and one can’t help but wonder if this is indeed Tom Coughlin’s final campaign guiding this franchise. Coughlin, 68 year of age, is currently the elder-statesman among Head Coaches, and in his eleventh season with the Giants is the second-longest tenured skipper behind only Bill Belichick. Many have called for his head before, particularly rabid New York Media, but the two-time Super Bowl Champion has always found a way to silence his critics with a late postseason run. However, in the stacked NFC, it simply doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to do so. Just take last weekend’s excruciating 16-10 loss at home to San Francisco, which served as a microcosm of their problems; with both teams separated by a mere three yards of total offense, the hosts committed an unforgivable five turnovers, all of which were interceptions from Eli Manning’s errant arm. After a Third Quarter Field Goal cut the Niners’ lead to six points, Coughlin’s charges collapsed over the final four drives, turning the ball over on downs twice with a pair of interceptions sandwiched between them. In fact, each of the final two drives ended inside the visitor’s Five-Yard Line; the fiftth pick of the day came in the Red Zone, where a touchdown would have likely won the game, but on Second-and-Five, Chris Culliver picked off a pass intended for Rueben Randle, followed shortly by four consecutive incomplete passes from the Four-Yard Line effectively ending the game.
It truly has been a disappointing season for the Giants, who despite an Offseason ripe with optimism have very little to show for it. No team in the league saw more changes to their roster (via Free Agency or NFL Draft) than New York, while their Coaching staff received some significant turnover as well, particularly in the form of new Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo. The former Packers’ OC was expected to turn around a flailing offense, led by the turnover-prone Manning, who led the league in interceptions thrown in 2013 (27). In many respects, McAdoo has done his job; Eli has improved in a number of categories thus far, completing 61.2% of his passes for 2,495 yards (6.8 yards/attempt), eighteen touchdowns and eleven interceptions, with a Total QBR of 64.00. The difference has been more quick, shorter throws, which allowed the eleventh-year veteran to get rid of the ball faster and connect on higher-percentage throws. Hell, if you took away the five interceptions thrown against the Niners, then Manning would only have tossed six on the season, which would have had him on pace for the lowest total of his career. Furthermore, you wouldn’t be crazy to expect him to bounce back tonight against Dallas; over the course of his career, Manning has led his team to a 9-4 record in games after he has thrown at least three interceptions, with four of those victories coming against NFC East foes. In fact, he has thrown twenty-four touchdowns to eighteen interceptions in this scenario, proof of his resilience. However, a Quarterback is oftentimes only good as the sum of his parts, and No. 10’s supporting cast has been riddled with injuries; with Hakeem Nicks departing in Free Agency, Victor Cruz’s torn ACl was a near-fatal blow, especially given Odell Beckham Jr.’s absence with a nagging hamstring injury to begin the campaign. Oh, and let us not forget about Rashad Jennings, who was acquired in the Offseason to improve the running game, but has missed five games already with a knee injury of his own. But that’s not all folks, for the Defense has been pretty bad themselves; New York has allowed 26.3 points (27th overall) on 397.7 yards (31st overall), including 252.7 versus the pass (22nd overall) on 7.4 net yards per attempt (31st overall), and another 145.0 versus the run (32nd overall) on 4.9 yards per carry (31st overall), while racking up just seventeen sacks.