EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants will attempt to stretch their winning streak to six games Sunday when they face the Dallas Cowboys for the second time in three games. A 41-7 victory last week in Seattle improved the Giants' record to 6-2 and left them in first place in the NFC East, one game ahead of Philadelphia. The Cowboys are 1-7 – their worst start since 1989 - and enter the game with a five-game losing streak, including last week's 45-7 loss in Green Bay. The Giants have won three games in a row against Dallas, the most recent being a 41-35 Monday night victory on Oct. 25. The Giants trail in the regular season series, 55-39-2, but won the only postseason game between the teams in 2007.
The Cowboys are ranked 10th in the NFL in offense (359.3 yards per game). They are fourth in the league in passing yards (283.6 per game), but have fallen to 31st in rushing (75.6). Dallas' 169 rushing attempts are the second-fewest in the league, just ahead of Arizona's 162. The Cowboys have thrown 326 passes, more than all but three other teams.
The Giants will not see quarterback Tony Romo, who fractured his left clavicle when he was hit by Michael Boley when the teams met last month. Romo has been replaced by Jon Kitna, who is 46-71 as an NFL starting quarterback. Kitna threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants last month. His most recent start vs. the Giants was in Detroit on Nov. 18, 2007. He threw for 377 yards in the Giants' 16-10 victory over the Lions. Kitna has a quick release and the skill level and smarts to win in the NFL. His backup is second-year pro Stephen McGee, who has never taken a regular season snap.
Felix Jones has received the heaviest workload at running back on first and second down. He has a team-high 73 carries for 302 yards. Marion Barber is used more on third down and in short-yardage situations and is right behind Jones with 71 rushing attempts (for 211 yards, a 3.0-yard average). Barber is a strong inside runner, a reliable receiver and an outstanding blocker on blitz pickup, which is why he is on the field so often on third down. Tashard Choice was expected to play a bigger role this season, but has only 11 carries.
Rookie fullback Chris Gronkowski – the brother of New England tight end Rob – is a smart blocker who locates his target and hits hard. He is also a good receiver.
Dallas' wide receivers are all 6-2 or taller except for Kevin Ogletree, who doesn't have a catch this season. Miles Austin, a Pro Bowler last season, is tied with tight end Jason Witten for the team lead with 45 receptions. Big, strong and athletic, Austin has good coverage awareness, which enables him to find the holes in a zone defense. He has a large strike zone and is an exceptional leaper, which makes him effective in the red zone. Roy Williams has 23 receptions, including a team-high five for touchdowns. He excels at catching quick slants and taking off and he is tough to tackle once he gets some momentum. Rookie Dez Bryant is becoming a big-time playmaker, which the Giants witnessed firsthand when he returned a Matt Dodge punt 93 yards for a touchdown. Strong, powerful and fast, Bryant has a big strike zone and he is an outstanding runner with the ball in his hands. Sam Hurd, an excellent special teams player, is the fourth receiver.
The Cowboys arguably have the NFL's best one-two punch at tight end in Witten, who has played in the last six Pro Bowls, and Martellus Bennett. Witten is as complete a tight end as there is in the league. He can block defensive ends at the line and linebackers on the perimeter, line up at fullback and catch short and long passes. Kitna has leaned heavily on Witten, who has been targeted 29 times and caught 22 passes in the last three games. Bennett aligns all over the formation and has the size (6-6) and speed to be a mismatch for linebackers trying to cover him. With John Phillips on injured reserve the third tight end is Scott Chandler, who was with the Giants in training camp.
Dallas has a strong and powerful offensive line. The unit received a boost when left guard Kyle Kosier, the glue of the unit, returned to action in Green Bay after missing two games with an ankle injury. Doug Free, who replaced longtime left tackle Flozell Adams this season, is the only starting lineman who is under 31 years of age (he is 26). Last season, he replaced right tackle Marc Columbo for the last seven games and is now settled in on the left side. Four-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode is big, strong and athletic. Leonard Davis, the 355-pound, three-time Pro Bowl right guard, might be the most powerful offensive lineman in the league. Defensive tackles face a huge challenge when Davis and Gurode combine on a double team. Columbo is a smart and tough player who missed the preseason and regular season opener after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
When the Giants prepared for Dallas three weeks ago, the Cowboys' defense was ranked fourth in the NFL. Now it's 17th, giving up an average of 338.3 yards per game. Dallas is 31st in the league in points allowed at 29.0 a game. The Cowboys have outgained their opponents by an average of 21 yards per game, but have been outscored, 232-161. Dallas is 24th in rushing defense (123.9 yards a game) and 14th against the pass (214.4). In the last three games, the Cowboys' opponents (the Giants, Jacksonville and Green Bay) have totaled 1,299 yards (433 a game) and 121 points (40.3 per game).
The defensive line is led by a unique nose tackle in Jay Ratliff, who was selected to the last two Pro Bowls. Ratliff is both a strong anchor against the run and a legitimate pass rusher. He is very athletic for the position, he fills gaps quickly and he is constantly disruptive. Rookie reserve Josh Brent gets about 10 snaps a game. Left end Marcus Spears was placed on injured reserve this week because of a calf injury he suffered in Green Bay. The Giants game will be the first Spears will miss in his six-year career. His absence will result in more playing time for improving backups Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen. Hatcher is a high-motor player with pass rush skills. Bowen, who plays in all the sub packages, is a skilled pass rusher who also plays the run well. Right end Igor Olshansky is a rugged, two-down run defender who comes out in sub packages.
The Cowboys added defensive linemen Jeremy Clark and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen to their roster this week. Clark played four games for the 2008 Giants and recorded four tackles. He was also on the practice squad for the final month of the 2009 season.
One of the real standouts in Dallas' disappointing season has been weak outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who leads the team with 8.0 sacks (tied for third in the NFL), quarterback pressures (18) and tackles for losses (seven). Ware is a rare and gifted player who is seldom off the field. He has range and speed, is very difficult to block and he stops the run, pressures the quarterback or drops into coverage with equal proficiency. The strongside backer is Anthony Spencer, who plays end in the sub defenses. He is another player with good pass rush skills who seems to improve each week. The strong inside linebacker is Bradie James, the team's leading tackler with 90 (43 solo). He is a smart, instinctive athletic player who shocks ballcarriers on contact. James also has very good blitz production. Next to him is five-time Pro Bowler Keith Brooking, who hasn't missed a game in 10 years. Brooking is second on the team with 85 tackles (42 solo). He is a relentless player who runs the field, in coverage and as a blitzer, and is a solid wrap tackler. Brooking rotates in the nickel with Jason Williams, who is good in man-to-man coverage against both tight ends and running backs. Victor Butler will step in for Ware and Spencer in the base defense and is also a contributor in the sub packages. Rookie Sean Lee has the talent to be a starter and is used in the Cowboys' big base.
Left cornerback Terence Newman is a two-time Pro Bowler. A solid defender in the pass game, Newman is a smart, savvy veteran who plays with speed and good ball awareness. Right corner Mike Jenkins played in the Pro Bowl last season. He is very talented and aggressive and alert in coverage. Orlando Scandrick is a good nickel corner. Gerald Sensabaugh is a tough box safety who hits hard on arrival. The free safety is first-year starter Alan Ball, a versatile player who gets a good jump on the ball. Danny McCray, an impressive undrafted rookie, plays in the dime defense and Barry Church, a physical run defender, is in the goal line package.
Punter Mat McBriar always had a strong leg, but now he's become an outstanding directional punter. McBriar is third in the NFL in both gross (47.1) and net yardage (41.5). David Buehler is doing all of the placekicking and handling the kickoffs. He has made nine of 12 field goal attempts with a long of 51 and he has six touchbacks. Buehler is unusually aggressive for a kicker; he is tied for third on the team with nine special teams tackles (seven solo). Bryant is second in the NFL with a 14.4-yard punt return average and has run back two punts for touchdowns. Rookie kickoff returner Akwasi Osusu-Ansah was placed on injured reserve this week with an ankle injury he suffered against Jacksonville. Bryan McCann, who was signed off the practice squad on Sept. 17, made his NFL debut last week in Green Bay by returning five kickoffs for 139 yards, a 27.8-yard average.