January 11, 2008

SI.com's Don Banks had a veteran NFC insider assess the Giants-Cowboys matchup.

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The Giants played a very good game at Tampa Bay last week, and the biggest surprise to me was how well their secondary performed. That's the clear-cut weakness on this team, but it wasn't against the Bucs. Cornerback JasonWebster saved his best game of the season for that week against JoeyGalloway. He and R.W. McQuarters both had interceptions, and that's a testament to their front four and their pass rush. They only sacked JeffGarcia once, but Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora created pressure and that put the secondary in a better position.

The biggest matchup of this game is Strahan versus Marc Columbo, the Dallas right tackle. Columbo is the weakest link on the offensive line. If the Cowboys are going to pass the ball efficiently, they've got to protect Romo. If Strahan starts to have his way with Columbo, it's a big advantage for New York.

The Cowboys are going to have a tough time running the ball against the Giants. This is a good swarming run defense. It held Earnest Graham to 63 yards and a 3.5 average last week in Tampa Bay, and I could see New York doing the same thing against Marion Barber and Julius Jones. They can shut you down in the running game, and that's pretty much what they did against Dallas the last time they played the Cowboys.

Eli Manning played with efficiency and made some big third-down throws last week. He kept the chains moving and stayed away from the big mistakes. That's their winning formula. Any time he can get into a rhythm and stay away from the turnovers, he just plays with a different swagger about him. But the Giants need more out of their running game this week, from both BrandonJacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. They're not going to be able to get away with passing for 185 yards and averaging under four yards a carry in the playoffs. Jacobs had just 2.6 yards per run, and that won't cut it this week.


It really could come down to whether Terrell Owens plays and is healthy enough to really run. He's the X factor for this team. If he doesn't play or he's not well, they're going to have to get great production from their running game. Without T.O. in there, the Giants are going to double cover tight end JasonWitten, and force Tony Romo to make plays outside with Patrick Crayton. With T.O. in there, they've been able to expose the Giants secondary, and he takes so much of the pressure off the other receivers. It's really a different offense without Owens.

If you're wondering why Dallas doesn't get Barber on the field more than it does, join the group. The entire NFL is surprised he doesn't get more touches. But in all fairness, the Cowboys have done a good job of keeping both of their backs, Barber and Jones, fresh. You've got to have fresh running backs to win in the NFL. Jones is a good running back, but he's a one-cut speed back. Barber is a give-me-the-ball type of guy. He's so punishing and such a good finisher. He's just physically a beast, and he's one of the elite backs in this league.

Dallas' front seven defensively is solid, but their secondary is where the Cowboys have vulnerability. Safety Ken Hamlin and cornerback TerenceNewman are great players, but left cornerback Jacques Reeves has had a tough year, and safety Roy Williams still struggles in space. Williams is best when he drops down in their nickel package. If you can get Reeves on an island, you can beat him. If you can get Williams in one on one coverage, he's in trouble. I expect the Giants to consistently go after those two guys.

I don't put a lot of stock into the idea that it's tough to beat a team for a third time in the same season. I think the better team should win almost every time. I'm also not too worried about Romo's game. I think he's mentally tough, and he's had a lot of success against the Giants in his three starts against them. That's what he's going to be thinking of in this game, not that he struggled down the stretch in December.

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