*Three Giants writers give their take on the team following Sunday's loss to the Steelers: *
The Giants' longest winning streak since 2008 ended at six games on Sunday.
With only 234 yards of offense and two turnovers, the team fell to the Steelers, 24-14, at Heinz Field to drop to 8-4 on the season. Big Blue will look to rebound when the first-place Cowboys come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday night with postseason seeding and berths on the line.
In this week's "Cover 3" on Giants.com, we asked our staffers what is the main issue to come out of the Pittsburgh game that the Giants need to correct heading into the showdown with Dallas. Here is what they had to say:
PASS DEFENSE IS KEYBy John SchmeelkIt's odd for my eyes to focus on the defense after the Giants gained only 234 yards against the Steelers on Sunday, but that's where they're going. The Giants' strength in coverage is at their cornerback position with Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple. Despite his touchdown, Antonio Brown had just six catches for 54 yards. The Steelers did little damage throwing the ball outside the hashes. Three of the Steelers top four receivers were tight ends or running backs, who work the middle of the field. That could be a dangerous formula against the Cowboys next week.
Dez Bryant is still very important to the Cowboys for a big play, but he is no longer the focus of their passing attack. He has just 37 catches this year (with an impressive 17.1 average and 6 touchdowns) on 72 targets. Janoris Jenkins has done a great job on No. 1 wide receivers all year and there's no reason not to think that will continue. Dak Prescott is far more comfortable throwing it to Jason Witten, who has 52 catches on the same number of targets. After Ladarius Green had 110 yards receiving for Pittsburgh (and Jesse James had 32 yards), the Giants will have to be careful that Jason Witten doesn't have a similarly explosive performance. Witten doesn't have the athleticism of Green, but he is expert at using his route running to gain separation and finding holes in the zone. Witten had nine catches for 66 yards in their Week 1 matchup. Gavin Escobar is the Cowboys' second tight end who is more of a vertical threat, but he has only three catches on the season.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott is also a weapon the Cowboys use in the passing game, albeit to a lesser extent than how the Steelers use Le'Veon Bell. Elliott has 28 catches on the season, including an 83-yard screen pass that he took for a touchdown against the Steelers. The Giants will have to be mindful of Elliott as a receiver just as much as a runner. Bell caught six passes for 64 yards on Sunday, and the Giants can't let Elliott have similar success. Prescott also likes throwing to slot receiver Cole Beasley (the team's leader in receptions with 60) in the short areas in the middle of the field. Rodgers-Cromartie has done a great job in the slot this year, but Beasley's quickness will be a challenge. Eli Rogers, a receiver similar to Beasley, had just one catch against the Giants. In Week 1, Beasley caught 8 passes for 65 yards against the Giants, and is a constant third down target for Prescott. The Giants' run defense has been consistently good all season, so if they defend the Cowboys tight ends, backs and slot receivers, they should have a great shot of winning Sunday night.
NEED TO CONTAIN ZEKE
By Dan Salomone
The Giants' typically stingy run defense allowed 118 yards on the ground to Le'Veon Bell, the first time an opposing player has broken the 100-yard mark this season. The previous high was 87 yards by Baltimore's Terrance West in Week 6. While the Giants remain No. 5 against the run in NFL rankings (91.4 yards per game), Ezekiel Elliott, who currently has a 242-yard cushion for the 2016 rushing title, comes to town in Week 14 with the 11-1 Cowboys. The fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has run for 1,285 yards, already the most by a rookie in franchise history, to go along with 12 touchdowns.
But where Bell did a lot of the real damage was in the passing game, something Elliott thrives on as well. Bell caught six passes for 64 yards on Sunday and increased his league lead in yards after the catch to 491. Meanwhile, Elliott leads the NFL in average yards after catch per reception at 12.7, including an 83-yard touchdown in Pittsburgh in Week 10. The Cowboys thrive on controlling the clock – they're No. 1 with an average time of possession of 32:20 – and will look to do so in an NFC East matchup on the road with a chance to lock up the division.
BALANCE THE OFFENSEBy Lance Medow
In Week 13 against the Steelers, Eli Manning threw the ball 39 times with 16 of those pass attempts going to Odell Beckham. The next closest receiver was Sterling Shepard, who had eight targets. Just three receivers, two tight ends and one running back caught at least one pass. In comparison, during the six-game winning streak, at least eight different players caught at least one pass in five of the six contests, and Beckham had no more than 11 targets in any game. When Manning spreads the wealth, the Giants offense showcases balance and it has to return to that form against the Cowboys in Week 14. But it's not just the targets.
Balance between the run and pass is just as important. Last Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Giants ran the ball just 14 times. They were playing from behind for the entire game, but with 6:30 to go in the third quarter, it was a one-possession game. With the exception of the Ravens game in Week 6 that ignited the winning streak, the Giants had a pass-to-run ratio less than 2:1 in every contest. They ran the ball at least 20 times in each of the five games following Baltimore and Manning attempted more than 37 pass attempts just one time during that stretch. In Week 12 against the Browns, the Giants' ratio was ideal: 27 pass attempts, 27 runs. In the Steelers game, New York flipped the script and lacked the balance it had become so synonymous with over the previous few games.
The Cowboys are No. 1 in the NFL in time of possession. They're holding the ball for 32:20 thanks to one of the best rushing attacks in the league (155.8 yards per game – 2nd in NFL). When playing teams like that, sometimes the best defense is your offense, meaning the Giants will need to put lengthy drives together that showcase a balance between the run and pass to keep the defense off the field. In Week 1 in Dallas, the Giants ran the ball 24 times and Manning had 28 pass attempts. It added up to a one-point victory.