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Eye on the Dallas Cowboys: Breaking down the matchup

cowboys-eyeon-12717.jpg's Michael Eisen scouts the opposing offense, defense, and special teams:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo will be in charge as the Giants play their first game since this week's organizational shakeup when they host the Dallas Cowboys Sunday in MetLife Stadium. Originally a late afternoon game, kickoff is now scheduled for 1 p.m. The Giants were 2-10 under coach Ben McAdoo, who was dismissed Monday along with general manager Jerry Reese. Dallas is 6-6 and in second place in the NFC East. The Cowboys defeated the Giants on opening night in AT&T Stadium, 19-3, and lead the alltime regular-season series, 63-45-2.

What is the Cowboys' biggest strength?

The continuity of their schemes. Head coach Jason Garrett is in his eighth season. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia are in their fifth year with the team, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is in his fourth. The Cowboys have had the same systems in place. Dallas has played without its best players on both sides of the ball with running back Ezekiel Elliot serving an NFL suspension and linebacker Sean Lee sidelined with a hamstring injury (he is expected to return for the Giants). But the Cowboys have remained in the playoff race in part because of the consistency of their plans and how they prepare their players, who always know what to expect.

What player is key to the Cowboys' offense?

Whoever carries the football. The Cowboys prefer to move the ball on the ground. They are fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (138.8) and third in yards per carry (4.7). Dallas would like to hand off to Elliott, who rushed for 104 yards against the Giants on opening night, but he must sit out two more games. Alfred Morris has filled in capably and ran for 127 yards last week against his former team, Washington. He is averaging an impressive 5.4 yards a carry. Dallas' ground game wore down the Redskins in the second half. If Morris gets going, it will create opportunities for quarterback Dak Prescott and the Dallas passing game.

A look at the key playmakers on the Dallas Cowboys roster

What is the strength of the Cowboys' offense?

An offensive line that is arguably the NFL's best. Like the team as a whole, the O-line has benefitted from continuity – that and the fact that it features three legitimate All-Pros in left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick. Smith is widely considered to be the league' best tackle. When he missed two games last month, the Cowboys gave up 12 sacks. Martin is in any conversation of the NFL's best guards. Frederick doesn't get enough credit for his ability to make the correct calls at the line and the consistency with which he opens holes and keeps Prescott upright.

What player is key to the Cowboys' defense?

The indispensable Lee, the weakside linebacker who is the engine for the entire unit. Everything on defense flows through Lee. When healthy, he usually leads the team in tackles. Lee plays the run and pass equally well. He is smart, instinctive, tough and fast. This year, the Cowboys are 5-2 when Lee is in the lineup and 1-4 in the games he missed.

What is the strength of the Cowboys' defense?

The speed of the unit. Dallas flies to the football as fast as any defense in the league, at all three levels. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is a speedy edge rusher who leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks. On the other side, Tyrone Crawford seems to improve every week. Tackle David Irving has 12 tackles – seven of them sacks. Another fast player, linebacker Jaylon Smith, has a team-high 88 tackles (66 solo).

What is the strength of the Cowboys' special teams?

Kicker Dan Bailey has returned to the field after missing four games with a groin injury, which is unsettling news for any Dallas opponent. Long one of the NFL's best kickers, Bailey has made every one of his kicks this season – eight field goals and 21 extra points. In 13 games against the Giants, he has hit all 34 of his PATs and 22 of 25 field goal attempts – two of his misses were from beyond 50 yards. Bailey has played 104 regular-season games. He has attempted 271 extra points and made 271 extra points.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

Stop Morris and the rushing attack and make Prescott beat you. The second-year quarterback has played well – 18 touchdown passes and nine interceptions – but he has been much better when backed by the strong running game. The Giants hope to take that away and try to make Prescott do the heavy lifting on his own.

Statistics you should know:

*Dallas' next victory will be the 500th regular-season triumph in franchise history.
*Steve Spagnuolo will make his debut as the Giants' interim head coach. On Nov. 14, 2010, Jason Garrett debuted as Dallas' interim coach – against the Giants in MetLife Stadium. The 1-7 Cowboys beat the Giants, 33-20.
*The Cowboys have an NFL-high 191 road victories (against 178 losses) since the 1970 merger.
*Ten-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten has 153 receptions against the Giants, his highest total against any single opponent.

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