The first-place Giants will try to win their first NFC East road game of the season when they face the Dallas Cowboys Sunday in Arlington, Texas. The Giants have won their last three games to improve to 5-2. The Cowboys, seeking back-to-back wins for the first time this season, are 3-3. Dallas defeated the Giants, 24-17, in the season opener on Sept. 5 in MetLife Stadium. The Cowboys lead the regular-season series, 57-41-2. In 2011, the Giants improved to 3-0 in Cowboys Stadium with a 37-34 triumph on Dec. 11and clinched the NFC East championship with a 31-14 triumph at home on Jan. 1. The Cowboys last swept the season series in 2007 (when the Giants later won the only playoff game the teams have played against each other). The Giants have swept the season series 12 times, while Dallas has 18 series sweeps. The Giants are 18-31-1 in Dallas. Offense
Dallas ranks 10th in the NFL with an average of 374.8 yards-per-game. The Cowboys are 20th in rushing (97.2) and seventh in passing (277.7). They are tied for 24th in scoring with 18.8 points per game and have scored only 14 first-quarter points.
The Cowboys have a minus-7 turnover differential that is the NFL’s fourth-worst and their 52 penalties are the league’s third-highest total.
Quarterback Tony Romo has had an up-and-down season. He has an uncanny ability to sense where the rush is coming from and take evasive measures. Few quarterbacks are as comfortable outside the pocket. But Romo has more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (eight). Coupled with his two lost fumbles, Romo is responsible for 11 of the Cowboys’ 13 turnovers. But the Giants need no reminders how good Romo can be. In the season opener he threw three touchdown passes and had a 129.5 passer rating, both season bests. Romo’s backup is veteran Kyle Orton.
Dallas has injury issues at running back. Leading rusher DeMarco Murray, who ran for 131 yards on opening night, was inactive last week with a foot injury and is not expected to play. A physical first and second-down runner, Murray averaged 6.6 yards a carry vs. both the Giants and Baltimore. His replacement, Felix Jones, also missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury but should start. Jones, who has a 5.0-yard career average on almost 500 carries, can break tackles and run through hits. The third back is Phillip Tanner, who has just 22 attempts for 61 yards this season. He has good vision, quickness and awareness.
Fullback Lawrence Vickers is a strong blocker who has three catches this season.
The Cowboys have a group of tall wide receivers in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree, who are all at least 6-1. Ogletree had a career day against the Giants last month when he caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Dallas’ leading receiver is Bryant, a strong, explosive player who can go long any time he touches the ball. Austin leads the team with four touchdown catches and is averaging 17.1 yards on 25 receptions. He’s been battling hamstring injuries this season but has not missed a game. When Ogletree enters the game, Austin most often moves to the slot. Austin is a big, smooth athlete who is a good route runner and has a large strike zone. He’s also gotten the ball on gadget plays in the past. No other wideout has more than two touchdown catches.
Seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten burnished his reputation for toughness in the opener when he played while recovering from a lacerated spleen suffered in the preseason opener. Witten is often Romo’s go-to guy on third down, because he runs precise routes, makes excellent adjustments and has sure hands. He is also a solid line of scrimmage blocker. Witten is second on the team with 33 catches, including 13 for 112 yards in a loss to Chicago. Backup John Phillips is an improving blocker and a big target in the pass game. James Hanna, a good wall-off positional blocker, plays in the three tight-end packages.
Dallas’ offensive line is not particularly athletic, but it is big and competitive. However, it is missing one of its key links in center Phil Costa, who is out indefinitely with a right ankle injury. He has been replaced by seven-year veteran Ryan Cook. The Cowboys’ best lineman is left tackle Tyron Smith, who is strong and moves well. The ninth overall selection in the 2011 draft, Smith moved from right to left tackle this season. Doug Free went the other way and has struggled at times on the right side, where he has been flagged for six false start penalties. Free is a solid run blocker with size and toughness. Left guard Nate Livings can play all three inside positions. When Livings gets his hands on a defender he almost always wins the battle. Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, like Livings a free agent acquisition, has been steady all season. Jermey Parnell is used as an extra lineman in the Cowboy’s jumbo package. Defense
Dallas ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 379.7 yards a game. The Cowboys are 15th against the run (126.4) and third vs. the pass (253.3). They are 14th in scoring defense, allowing an average of 22.8 points a game.
Of course, the Cowboys put together those numbers with linebacker Sean Lee directing and starring in their 3-4 defense. Lee, the team’s leading tackler with 77 (61 solo), was placed on injured reserve this week with a right big toe injury that required surgery. He will be replaced by Dan Connor, a five-year veteran who joined Dallas as a free agent this year and has seen most of his action on special teams. Connor is an instinctive player who is a physical presence inside, but is not as athletic as Lee. Bruce Carter is expected to take over play-calling duties for the remainder of the season. He has improved in pass coverage. For added depth, the Cowboys this week signed Ernie Sims, a former number nine overall draft choice with the Detroit Lions who spent last season with the Indianapolis Colts
On the outside is DeMarcus Ware, one of the NFL’s very best pass rushers. He is a powerful player with an excellent burst and no apparent weaknesses. Ware leads the Cowboys with 6.5 sacks and has 106.0 in his eight-year career. Anthony Spencer, a disruptive force who is extremely strong on his feet, mans the other side. Victor Butler, a backer with good speed off the edge, plays in several packages. Alex Albright is a better defender against the run. Dallas is blitzing much less this season than it has in the past.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff missed the first four games with an ankle injury, but is working his way to the level of play that earned him selections to the last four Pro Bowls. Ratliff is a hard-to-move anchor in the middle who is also unusually quick and athletic for a player in that position. Jason Hatcher, a college tight end who leads the Dallas linemen with 1.5 sacks, is a steady performer against both the run and pass. Kenyon Coleman is a power player who gets good push on the pass rush. Marcus Spears is a smart and active backup. Dallas is missing part of its line depth after Sean Lissemore suffered a high ankle sprain in Baltimore. He is expected to miss five or six weeks.
Barry Church was the starting strong safety before he went on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon. He has been replaced by Danny McCray, who is a solid player in the box and as a short area zone defender and is an outstanding special teams player. The other safety is Gerald Sensabaugh, a smart, savvy veteran who gets everyone lined up. Dallas this week signed Charlie Peprah, a former Giants draft choice who won a Super Bowl with the 2010 Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys got the upgrade at cornerback they sought when they signed free agent Brandon Carr and drafted Morris Claiborne in the first round. Carr, who normally covers the opposition’s No. 1 receiver, has athleticism, speed and range. Claiborne is getting more comfortable in Dallas’ scheme and recorded his first career interception last week at Carolina. The third corner is Orlando Scandrick. Former starter Mike Jenkins can line up at either corner or safety. Special Teams
Dallas has two punters in Chris Jones and former Buffalo Bill Brian Moorman. Jones was inactive two of the last three games with a knee injury. He has a 45.2-yard gross average and a 40.0-yard net average on 12 punts. In seven kicks for the Cowboys, Moorman has a 44.0-yard gross average and a 42.3-yard net average. Kicker Dan Bailey has made 12 of 13 field goal attempts. Jones is averaging 21.5 yards on 11 kickoff returns and Bryant 6.5 yards on 11 punt returns. McCray’s seven special teams tackles are three more than anyone else on the team has.