Preview: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants have played some classic matchups over recent Decembers, some of which have determined playoff fates.

Sunday’s showdown probably won’t be one of them.

The Giants officially kick off the Steve Spagnuolo era on Sunday afternoon, looking to deal a fatal blow to the fringe playoff chances of the Dallas Cowboys, who wrap up their yearly season set with the Giants on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium (1:00 PM, FOX).

A streak begins a new for Eli Manning, who will return to his customary position of starting quarterback for the Giants (2-10).

In his absence, New York put up a valiant effort, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 24-17 road loss to the Oakland Raiders. In Manning’s place, Geno Smith performed admirably, going 21-for-34 for 212 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram in the fourth quarter.

However, two crucial Smith fumbles, both in Oakland territory, doomed the Giants, as did a 101-yard afternoon from Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders running back scored on Oakland’s third play from scrimmage, while Derek Carr added 287 yards and fourth quarter score. Running back Orleans Darkwa had the Giants’ other touchdown, a one-yard plunge in the second quarter.

For the second consecutive season, the Giants will welcome in a Cowboys team coming off a 10-day break. Dallas (6-6) is coming off back-to-back Thursday games, following up a disastrous Thanksgiving against the Los Angeles Chargers with a 38-14 win over Washington last week.

Running back Alfred Morris tallied 127 yards and a score against his former team, while quarterback Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes. The Cowboys’ defense harassed Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins all night, tallying four sacks, while rookie Ryan Switzer scored the first touchdown of his NFL career, taking a second quarter punt back 83 yards.

With the win, the Cowboys remained in the NFC wild card chase, currently two games behind Seattle for the final wild card spot, snapping a three game losing streak in the process.


Season Series History

This will be the 112th all-time meeting in this everlasting NFC East rivalry, with the Cowboys leading 63-46-2, and the Giants winning the lone postseason game in 2008. Dallas is looking for their first sweep of the set since 2014, as they earned a 19-3 victory back on opening week in prime time.

While the Giants were able to mostly limit the damage to Dan Bailey field goals, they mustered just 233 total yards of offense. Manning was sacked three times, including twice by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who currently leads the NFL in the stat with 13.5. The lone touchdown in the game came in the second quarter, when Prescott found tight end Jason Witten from 12 yards out to give the Cowboys a 13-0 lead.

Ironically, Spagnuolo finds himself in the same situation that Garrett did back in 2010, when he took over as an interim coach in the wake of Wade Phillips’s firing. Garrett’s debut came against the Giants at MetLife, where the 1-7 Cowboys pulled off an upset victory against the 6-2 Giants. Paced by quarterback Jon Kitna’s 327 yards, Dallas emerged with a 33-20 win.

Spagnuolo, who called Garrett “a great friend” earlier this week, has faced off with him as a head coach in 2011, when Garrett’s Cowboys took a 34-7 decision from Spagnuolo’s Rams. The pair squared off as coordinators in the teams’ lone postseason match, with Spagnuolo’s defense besting Garrett’s offense in a 21-17 victory at Texas Stadium in the NFC Divisional playoffs en route to Super Bowl XLII.


The Competitive Edge

Unit Giants Cowboys
Quarterback X
Running Back X
Receivers X
Tight Ends X
Offensive Line X
Defensive Line X
Linebackers X
Secondary X
Special Teams X
Coaching X

Key Matchup To Watch: RB Alfred Morris vs the Giants Defensive Line

One can only imagine the repercussions on the Giants’ season if Ezekiel Elliott missed the first game in Arlington, when his controversial suspension was originally set to begin. The Giants welcomed the challenge of Elliott then, but have stated on several occasions this week that Morris, a former divisional foe in Landover, has picked up the slack tremendously.

“There’s a lot of outside zones and formations they still run now (even without Elliott),” defensive tackle Damon Harrison remarked on the Cowboys offense. “But with Morris being more of a downhill back, you get a lot of inside zones and downhill runs, more so than you would with Elliott.”

Among qualifying rushers, Morris’s 5.4 yards per carry is good for third in the league. With last season’s rookie darling Prescott struggling under center (he had two scores but only 102 yards in the Redskins win), Dallas would be wise to put their fate in the hands of the veteran Morris.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has been nursing an injured hand all week, so the Giants may have to ask Romeo Okwara to step up on Sunday. Fresh off injured reserve, Okwara subbed brilliantly for Pierre-Paul in last season’s December showdown, leading the team with eight tackles and tallying a sack in the Giants’ vital 10-7 win.


Injury Report

Team Player Injury Status
Giants OL Justin Pugh Back OUT
Giants LB BJ Goodson Ankle OUT
Giants RB Orleans Darkwa Illness QUESTIONABLE
Giants WR Travis Rudolph Hamstring QUESTIONABLE
Giants CB Eli Apple Hip/Back QUESTIONABLE
Giants WR Sterling Shepard Hamstring QUESTIONABLE
Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul Finger QUESTIONABLE
Giants OL Chad Wheeler Concussion QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys T La’el Collins Back QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys WR Brice Butler Foot QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys DT Maliek Collins Foot QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys LB Justin Durant Concussion/Illness QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys DT David Irving Concussion QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick Back QUESTIONABLE
Cowboys T Tyron Smith Back QUESTIONABLE

The Giants Will Win If…

They play the home crowd and get momentum on their side.

This season has been an absolute nightmare for the Giants, but there’s a good portion of the fan base that would find a major silver lining if they were somehow able to crush Dallas’s playoff hopes.

With Manning back under center and franchise hero Spagnuolo at the helm instead of town pariah Ben McAdoo, MetLife Stadium will likely be at its loudest since September’s home opener.

The Giants must play the crowd to their side, getting constant pressure of the struggling Prescott, making him feel the cold of an East Rutherford December. The uglier this game gets, the more likely the Giants can win.


The Cowboys Will Win If…

They establish a run game.

It’s no secret that Prescott is struggling right now, with Elliott, but Morris has subbed in brilliantly. He finally earned an extended opportunity against Washington, and it paid off huge dividends for the Cowboys.

Now in the fifth game of the Elliott dismissal, Morris had 37 carries in the first three games combined, but allotted 27 last Thursday, the Cowboys found an offensive spark that was missing during their three game losing streak that dropped them from the NFC’s top contenders.

In losses to the Falcons, Eagles, and Chargers, Morris had 11, 17 and nine carries respectively. The Cowboys lost those games by a combined 70 points. With an increased workload, they won by 24.


Prediction

The Cowboys will enter an ultimate trap game, and true to the Garrett years, they won’t make this winnable game easy on themselves.

The Giants will have an early wave of momentum, but there’s going to be a point in this game where they remind us that they’re 2-10 for a season. The offense probably won’t be as cold…at least play-wise…as they were in September, but asking them to beat a team with everything to lose seems like too much at this point.

Cowboys 17, Giants 10