EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A most unusual week for the Giants will end in a familiar and traditional manner when they host the Dallas Cowboys, their division rivals for more than half a century, in MetLife Stadium. The teams are meeting in the final four weeks of the season for the fifth time in six years.
But none of the other games had a buildup like this. The Giants, already without their starting quarterback and other important contributors, is one of several NFL teams whose rosters have been significantly thinned by COVID-19. The virus forced nine players to go on the NFL reserve list, eight with positive tests and one close contact.
That contact, safety Xavier McKinney, was activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday and will start Sunday, a big boost for the depleted secondary.
The Giants also activated three players from their practice squad as COVID replacements: cornerback Jarren Williams, linebacker Jaylon Smith and wide receiver Alex Bachman.
In addition, cornerback Sam Beal was signed to the practice squad.
The addition of McKinney and Williams increases to seven the number of defensive backs the Giants will have in uniform against the Cowboys. The others are cornerbacks James Bradberry and Keion Crossen and safeties Logan Ryan, Julian Love and Steven Parker. The Giants will be missing cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson and Aaron Robinson and safety J.R. Reed, who remain on the reserve list, as do linebackers Cam Brown and Oshane Ximines, wide receivers Kadarius Toney and John Ross, and practice squad cornerback Natrell Jamerson.
The defenders in uniform will face a Dallas offense that is second in the NFL in scoring (29.2 points a game) and total yardage (409.1 average), is directed by one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Dak Prescott, and boasts productive weapons like running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper and tight end, Dalton Schultz.
"If we had all our guys healthy, I think it would be a challenge for us either way, so it's definitely a challenge when you don't have all your guys," cornerback James Bradberry said. "We expect a lot from our guys. I know we're down on numbers and whatnot, but we still expect to go out there and compete. That's what this game is about, is going out there and competing. It isn't really about anything else other than going out there and playing against another guy and trying to win, so that's what we're going to try to do."
With McKinney able to play, Julian Love will likely take snaps at both corners and in the slot.
"The benefit of having Julian, aside from being a great person, a good worker, and generally a good football player, is the fact that he can play a bunch of different spots and he's a jack of all trades," Graham said. "He's played safety, he's played corner, he's played sub linebacker. Really, it's about using … practice to kind of figure it out. You never know what curveball you're going to be thrown. We've got to adjust and luckily, we've been trained to do that. I can see some more adjustments coming about."
The 9-4 Cowboys, who lead the NFC East by three games and the Giants by five games, can clinch the division title with a victory and a Washington loss or a win and a Washington/Philadelphia tie. Those teams will meet Tuesday in Lincoln Financial Field.
Dallas takes a 7-1 conference record into the game and with a 3-0 record in the NFC East. The Cowboys are the only NFL team that is unbeaten against division foes.
"The offense runs through the quarterback," Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "You can see all the checks that get made at the line of scrimmage, whether it's seeing blitz and checking to screen, whether you see the 'check with me' run game that they implement. He's got complete control of the offense and I think he's earned the right in terms of that elite status in terms of how he's able to execute. That's what you really see from him. I hope it's not just us he gives problems. This guy has been pretty good. We've got to see what we can do Sunday."
The same can be said of the Giants' offense. Mike Glennon will start his third consecutive game, and first at home, in place of Daniel Jones, who remains sidelined with a neck injury. Against the Dolphins and Rams, Glennon completed 50% of his passes (40 of 80) for 378 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also scored his first career rushing touchdown on a seven-yard run with 1:18 remaining last week.
"I think it's good to just get out there repetitively, be out on the practice field, speaking up in the meetings," said Glennon, a nine-year veteran. "The more times you're out there the more comfortable you're going to feel. I think that's for anybody, but I think it's always good. The more reps you get in practice and the more reps you get in the game is going to be beneficial."
In addition to playing without Jones and two receivers, the Giants' offense must contend with a Dallas defense that has standouts on all three levels, leads the NFL with 20 interceptions, and is second with 27 takeaways.
The new face of the defense is linebacker Micah Parsons, the 12th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. His 12.0 sacks lead the Cowboys and all NFL rookies, his 17 tackles for loss are more than twice as many as any of his teammates and he is tied with Randy Gregory for the team lead with three forced fumbles.
"This guy coming out of college, we knew he was going to be an impact player," coach Joe Judge said. "We had a lot of love for this guy in the building, a lot of respect for him. We knew he was going to be a good player. They're using him in different spots right now. (Cowboys defensive coordinator) Dan (Quinn) is doing a really good job of matching him up and letting him play with his pass rush skillset, playing coverage with speed. He's become a factor in a lot of different areas. You've got to know where he is on the field. They're moving him around, they're definitely doing a lot of things to help his skillset or use his skill set to help the defense. This guy is a phenomenal player. I don't think anyone is surprised by that."
Nor should they be stunned that the undermanned Giants relish the challenge of playing the first-place Cowboys.
"This is what the essence of competition is, really," Love said. "People live for this moment to really overcome a few obstacles and be victorious, so I think that's what I like. That's why I'm looking forward to this game. It's really just going out there, giving it our best shot, and really shocking the world. I think that's kind of our mindset. We have a lot to prove still not only to ourselves but to everyone who's been doubting us."
View rare photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
*Williams was credited with five tackles (four solo), while playing a total of 48 snaps in the last two games. He will play his fifth career game tomorrow.
Smith was signed to the practice squad yesterday. A Pro Bowler two years ago with Dallas, the 6-2, 235-pound Smith played in 68 regular-season games with 56 starts and started two postseason games for the Cowboys from 2017 through this season when he played four games before his release on Oct. 6. Smith was signed the next day by the Green Bay Packers, for whom he played two games before he was cut on Nov. 2.
Smith's career totals include 579 tackles (397 solo), 9.0 sacks two interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Since Nov. 3, Bachman has been on the practice squad, where he spent the final six weeks of the 2019 season and most of 2020. He was on the field for one snap in his only regular-season game, at Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 2020.
*Beal played three games for the Giants this season before his release on Nov. 9.
In 2020, Beal did not play after choosing to opt-out of the season. In his first season of NFL action in 2019, Beal played in six games with three starts and totaled 26 tackles (20 solo) and one pass defensed. He made his 2021 debut vs. the Rams on Oct. 17 and also played at Kansas City and against Las Vegas. Beal was credited with one special teams tackle.
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their NFC East matchup against the Cowboys.