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Eye on the Cowboys: Breaking Down the Matchup

eye-center-12816.jpg's Michael Eisen scouts the opposing offense, defense, and special teams:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants will face their most significant challenge of the season Sunday when they host the first-place Dallas Cowboys in a prime time game in MetLife Stadium. Dallas has won 11 consecutive games since losing the season opener to the Giants, 20-19. The Cowboys hold a three-game lead over the 8-4 Giants, whose 6-game winning streak ended last week in Pittsburgh, where they lost to the Steelers, 24-14. The Giants' victory on Sept. 11 was their second in a row in the series after five consecutive defeats. Dallas leads the alltime regular-season series, 62-44-2.

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What is the Cowboys' biggest strength?

Their ability to bludgeon opponents. The NFL passing revolution did not stop in Dallas. The Cowboys have 391 rushing attempts and have thrown 360 passes (in contrast, look at the Giants, who have 268 runs and 452 throws). Dallas controls the clock and wears down foes with its relentless rushing attack. The Cowboys are second in the league with 155.8 rushing yards a game, and rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads all rushers with 1,285 yards – 242 more than runner-up DeMarco Murray. Backup Alfred Morris is another bruising back. Their grind-it-out strategy has given them a league-leading average time of possession of 32:20. And they might add another weapon for the Giants. Darren McFadden, their leading rusher in 2015, returned to practice on Nov. 22 and could be activated for the game. The NFL's fourth-leading rusher last season with 1.089 yards, McFadden has not played this year after hurting his elbow in an offseason accident.

A perfect example of what the Cowboys can do occurred in their 27-17 victory on Nov. 20 against Baltimore – which, it must be noted, has the NFL's No. 1 run defense. The Ravens led at halftime, 13-10. In the second half, Dallas had just three possessions – but they ran 10, 13 and 12 plays; gained 92, 88 and 72 yards; and consumed 5:59, 7:54 and 6:26. The Cowboys ran 21 times and threw 14 passes, and the drives ended touchdown, touchdown, field goal. Dallas won, 27-17.

Which player is key to the Cowboys' offense?

It's tempting to select rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who has completed 68% of his passes and has thrown for 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Wide receivers Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley are playing superbly, and the offensive line is widely recognized as the NFL's best. But no player is more important than Elliott, who is the favorite to win the league's Most Valuable Player Award. He can do everything – run with power, bounce outside, make precise cuts, sprint to the corner, and even protect Prescott.

What is the strength of the Cowboys' offense?

Its balance and its ability to consistently run the ball and control the clock and tempo of the game. We know Dallas can run the ball. But when defenses start to commit an extra player or two to stop the run, Prescott can throw to Bryant, Beasley and perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, forcing the defense to cover every corner of the field. And that, of course, leaves more room for Elliott to run. The formula works. The Cowboys recently had an NFL-record eight-game streak with at least 400 total yards. And they've scored at least 27 points in nine of the 11 games in their winning streak.

Which player is key to the Cowboys' defense?

Linebacker Sean Lee, who plays on the strong side in their base defense and the weak side in the sub packages. He leads Dallas with 134 tackles, or 57 more than anyone else on the team. As the numbers suggest, Lee is a playmaker who does it all. He leads the team with 10 tackles for losses, and is great in pass coverage.

What is the strength of the Cowboys' defense?

The ability to limit big plays, thanks largely to the coordinated efforts of the three levels of the defense. The defenders play well together. Dallas isn't particularly big up front, but the linemen are quick penetrators that disrupt both run and pass attacks. Lee leads an active group of linebackers, and the talented secondary is seldom beaten over the top. One stat to note: the Cowboys have allowed just 82.3 rushing yards a game, the league's second-lowest average.

A look at the expected starters for the Giants' Week 14 opponent

Which player is key to the Cowboys' special team?

The recent spate of missed extra points around the league hasn't affected kicker Dan Bailey, who has made all 240 PATs in his career, including 61 from the longer distance instituted last year. He's also succeeded on 90.7 percent of his career field goal attempts, the highest percentage in NFL history among kickers with at least 100 field goals. This season, he's connected on 21 of 23 field goal tries, including 56 and 54-yarders in the opener against the Giants.

Based on the Cowboys' scouting report, the Giants must do this one thing to win:

Slow down their rushing attack and reduce the number of deep completions to Bryant. And toughen up late in each half. At Green Bay, the Cowboys drove 97 yards in 33 seconds to score a touchdown with :27 remaining in the second quarter. In Pittsburgh, their game-winning 75-yard drive was also completed in 33 seconds. Elliott scored the deciding touchdown with nine seconds left.

Statistic you should know:

Dallas is 6-0 on the road this season. That adds to an incredible streak for Elliott, who has never lost a road game in his football career. He didn't lose on the road in his three varsity seasons at John Burroughs School in Ladue, Mo. (2010-12). Elliott also never lost a road game during his three seasons at Ohio State (2013-15). The Buckeyes were 14-0 in road games, and he accumulated stats in 11 of them. And now the Cowboys are perfect as visitors entering the game on Sunday.

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