EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants will attempt to win their fourth consecutive game when they face the Dallas Cowboys in their only Monday Night Football appearance of the season in Arlington, Texas. A victory last week against Detroit improved the Giants' record to 4-2. The Cowboys have dropped their last two games to fall to 1-4. They have lost both of their home games this season. In 2009, the Giants swept the season series from Dallas, including a 33-31 victory in the first regular season game ever in Cowboys Stadium. The Giants trail in the regular season series, 55-38-2, but won the only postseason game between the teams in 2007.
Dallas' record indicates how suspect statistics can be. The Cowboys are ranked third in the NFL in offense (400.0 yards per game) and fourth in defense (allowing (281.4 yards per game). They are fourth in the league in passing yards (305.0 per game) and 23rd in rushing (95.0). Dallas is ranked 16th in points scored with an average of 20.4 a game. The Cowboys have a creative, explosive offense that is extremely dangerous when it plays to its potential. In their first four games they had a sizeable disparity between pass and run plays, though they ran the ball a season-high 28 times last week against the Vikings.
Quarterback Tony Romo has completed 69.4 percent of his passes, the second-highest figure in the NFL. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes, the same number as Eli Manning. Romo has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games. The athletic Romo is a strong passer who can make plays with his feet. He can make strong throws on the run – even when he's moving to his left, where he's adept at squaring up his shoulders and firing the ball. On the down side, Romo threw three interceptions in each of the last two games, losses to Tennessee and Minnesota. His backup is veteran Jon Kitna.
Dallas has a strong running back group. Felix Jones has supplanted Marion Barber as the Cowboys' starting back. Last week, the fleet Jones had 14 carries (for only 32 yards) and was thrown 10 passes, most of them on screens and flares. Jones is an exceptional open field runner who is a big threat with the ball in his hands. He can get into gear and stop quickly. Barber actually has one more carry than Jones (52-51). He 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 has been used in Dallas' wildcat packages.
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. Roy Williams has deceptive speed and a team-high five touchdown catches. He's very good at catching quick slants and taking off and he is tough to tackle once he gets some momentum. Miles Austin, a Pro Bowler last season, leads the Cowboys with 33 receptions for 486 yards. 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 is why he is Romo's most targeted receiver in the red zone. Dez Bryant, Dallas' first-round draft choice this year, is a receiver who is built like a running back – big and thick. He has the skills to be an elite wideout with breakaway speed, strong hands and a knack for easily catching balls over his shoulder. 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 Jason 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. Witten runs good routes and is a vertical threat. 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' offensive line has had one significant change with Doug Free taking over for longtime left tackle Flozell Adams. At 26, Free is the only starting lineman who is under 31 years of age. Last season, he replaced right tackle Marc Columbo for the last seven games and is now getting on-the-job training on the left side. He's a smart, athletic player who is quickly picking it up. Kyle Kozier is sidelined with an Achilles injury, so Montrae Holland has stepped in at left guard. Holland is a short area mauler – a squatty, powerful leverage player who can clear holes in the run game. 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.
Although they are fourth in the NFL in yards allowed (281.4 a game), the Cowboys are tied for 21st in scoring defense (22.2 points per game). Dallas is fourth in passing yards allowed (180.6) and 10th against the run (100.8). The Cowboys' 3-4 defense is fast and instinctive and everyone seems to run to the ball with a sense of urgency.
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. Ends Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky are two-down players who come out in sub packages. Spears, who plays the left side, has never missed a game in his six-year career. Big and powerful, he is difficult to push off the line. Olshansky is also a rugged run defender. Backups Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen have improved. Hatcher is a high-motor player with pass rush skills. Bowen, who plays in all of the sub packages, is a power pass rusher who also plays the run well.
The bell cow of the linebacker group is four-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware, the weak outside linebacker whose team-leading 7.0 sacks (third in the NFL) have increased his career total to 71.5. 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 45 (25 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. He is a relentless player who runs the field, is solid 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 down-in-the-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 has always had a strong leg, but now he's become an outstanding directional punter, a big reason Dallas has the third-best punt coverage in the league. David Buehler is doing all of the placekicking and handling the kickoffs. He has made six of nine field goal attempts with a long of 51 and he has three touchbacks. Buehler is unusually aggressive for a kicker; he is second on the team with six special teams tackles (four solo). Dez Bryant is seventh in the NFC with a 9.3-yard average on 10 punt returns, including a 62-yard touchdown vs. Chicago. The kickoff returner is rookie Akwasi Osusu-Ansah (AOA to his teammates), who has quickness and acceleration and is averaging 21.6 yards on 17 runbacks.