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Keys to Victory

3 keys to victory vs. the Cowboys

The Giants are out the playoffs. The NFC East champion Cowboys can neither hurt nor help their seeding. They should just cancel Sunday's meeting at MetLife Stadium, right? Pat Shurmur and Jason Garrett don't want to hear any of it.

"Hopefully, what I expect [Eli Manning] to do is lead us to victory," the Giants head coach said. "Nothing would be better than for him to assume the victory formation and take a knee, and beating the Cowboys. That's what we're looking to do."

"We think it's important to practice well and go play well in a game like this," the Cowboys head coach said. "We've been in the situation a couple times in recent years and you have to handle them a little differently based on the availability that you have of your players, but typically, if a player's not healthy enough to play, he's not going to play. But the other guys are going to play."

Here are three ways the Giants can end the season on a high note:  

1. Balance the offense. Saquon Barkley has been limited to under 100 scrimmage yards in back-to-back weeks and for just the third time this season. The second overall pick doesn't want to hear the excuse that Odell Beckham Jr. missed the past two games, especially since he ran for a career-high 170 yards without the 1,000-yard receiver in Week 14. In the first leg of the season series against Dallas in Week 2, Barkley set the franchise single-game record with 14 catches but was limited to a season-low 28 yards on the ground.

"If anything, maybe the coverages have been different, not necessarily more guys," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said of how defenses play with Beckham out of the lineup. "We've still had a lot of guys up in the box, so to speak, to stop the run. Even when Odell was in there, just a different way to do it, but it does help. With that being said, that's a good point. Whenever you lose a receiver that attracts a lot of attention, it's one less guy maybe to account for him and get his nose in there in the running game."

2. Stop the run. For the same reasons the Cowboys want to do it, the Giants place an even bigger emphasis on stopping the run when facing the NFC East champions. No matter if the starters last one play, one quarter, or one half, the scheme doesn't change. The Cowboys want to establish the run game with Ezekiel Elliott to set up the play-action and boots for Dak Prescott. Elliott has a 183-yard lead on Todd Gurley and 236 on Barkley for his second career rushing title.

"There's a couple years ago that you can go back and look at maybe a case in point where they were in [playoffs] and their guys played for a while, then came out," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "Whether you look at that as the blueprint, you certainly look at some of the other guys you might face during the course of the game, but to start the game, we game plan for the guy that we expect to start the game, their starters, and some of the things we feel like we need to take away. It's important for us to play well early and get a fast start defensively. We know the run game is a huge part of what they do, and some of the play-action passes off of it, some of the boots, some of the perimeter stuff that'll come off of the run game."

3. Take it. The Giants are tied for the sixth-best point differential in the first quarter (plus-13), but they are tied for the third-worst in the fourth quarter (minus-54). Last week's 28-27 loss in Indianapolis highlighted the disparity. The Giants raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter only to be outscored 21-10 in the second half, including the game-winning touchdown pass by Andrew Luck with 55 seconds remaining. With their style of play, the Cowboys have been the opposite. They have allowed the fewest points in the first quarter but the 12th-most in the fourth quarter.

"The fact that we're competitive, that's for somebody else to take solace in," Shurmur said about seven of the Giants' 10 losses being decided by one possession. "The fact that we fight until the end is what I think is important. Now when there's a victory to be had, we've got to go take it, and I think that's part of learning and part of what we need to do better."

View the Dallas Cowboys' key personnel ahead of their Week 17 meeting with the New York Giants.

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