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Scouting Report: Breaking down the Cowboys

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Playmakers on Cowboys first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –**
The Giants will attempt to break a five-game losing streak to the Dallas Cowboys when the two teams tangle Sunday in MetLife Stadium. On opening night in Dallas, the Cowboys erased a late 10-point deficit and defeated the Giants, 27-26. The Giants are 3-3 after their 27-7 loss Monday night in Philadelphia. Dallas is 2-3 and has a three-game losing streak, which has coincided with the loss of quarterback Tony Romo, who has a fractured clavicle. The Cowboys' top receiver, Dez Bryant, has not played since breaking his foot against the Giants, an injury that required surgery. Dallas, which had a bye last week, is 2-0 in the NFC East, and 9-1 in regular-season road games since the start of the 2014 season. The Cowboys' most recent game was a 30-6 loss to New England on Oct. 11.


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DALLAS COWBOYS OFFENSE

The Cowboys are ranked 18th in the NFL with an average of 348.2 yards a game. They are 18th in rushing yardage (106.2 a game) and 17th passing (242.0). Dallas is 25th in scoring, averaging just over 20 points a game. The Cowboys have a minus-five turnover differential.

Dallas is 6-12 without Romo since he became the starting quarterback in 2006. Romo threw three touchdown passes in the opener. In the four games since, Dallas has just two scoring passes. Matt Cassel, who was acquired in a trade with Buffalo on Sept. 22, will make his first start for the Cowboys. Cassel is 34-38 as a regular-season starter, including 0-1 vs. the Giants (Week 4 in 2009 with Kansas City). Cassel is a rhythm passer who has thrown for 96 touchdowns and 70 interceptions for four teams. The backup is Brandon Weeden, who started the previous three games. Kellen Moore is the third quarterback.

Dallas' top running back is Joseph Randle, who has rushed for 289 yards and four touchdowns. He plays primarily on first and second down and has vision, balance, the strength to break tackles, and the speed to go the distance. Third-down back Darren McFadden has speed, receiving skills, and awareness in pass protection. Christine Michael is a short-yardage specialist with two carries this season. Rod Smith was claimed off waivers from Seattle last week after Lance Dunbar – Dallas' third-leading rusher and receiver – was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered at New Orleans on Oct. 4. Smith is a big back with power who is effective on screen passes. The fullback is Tyler Clutts.

Coach Jason Garrett said a decision on Bryant's availability for the Giants game will be made over the weekend, though the receiver is not expected to play. Last year, Bryant led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions. He is a consistent downfield threat who is big, strong and explosive. With Bryant sidelined, Terrance Williams has emerged as the No. 1 receiver. Williams has vertical speed and big-play ability. Devin Street has replaced Bryant in the starting lineup. He is smooth and athletic, with good size and length, and has a knack for locating voids in a defense. Slot receiver Cole Beasley is a quick-footed underneath route runner who has the ability to adjust to passes thrown a little off line. Lucky Whitehead is a backup slot receiver with speed and quickness. Brice Butler has one catch his season – for 67 yards.

In his last five games vs. the Giants, 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten has 26 receptions for 17 first downs and seven touchdowns, including the game-winner with seven seconds left in the opener. The team leader with 30 catches, Witten is a savvy and dependable weapon who makes big plays in big spots. He is also an effective blocker. James Hanna has the skill set to be both a blocker and receiver. He has a quick release and good straightline speed. Gavin Escobar is a reliable receiver with a big strike zone. Rookie Geoff Swaim is a tight end/H-back hybrid with sneaky quickness and soft hands.

The Cowboys made a change on their outstanding line before the New England game, when rookie La'el Collins took over at left guard for Ronald Leary. Collins joins a group that is one of the NFL's best. The unit has three All-Pros in left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick. Smith has excellent footspeed and balance, and sets up quickly in pass protection. Collins has a powerful heavy body and moves well in pass protection. Frederick, the starting Pro Bowl center, is a smart and productive player. Martin excelled as a rookie last season. He has good foot quickness and is stout in pass protection. Right tackle Doug Free was re-signed in the offseason. He has excellent size (6-6, 325) and arm length. The backups include Leary, Mackenzy Bernadeau and former Giant Charles Brown .


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DALLAS COWBOYS DEFENSE

Dallas' 4-3 defense is ranked 12th in the NFL in yards allowed (349.4 a game) and 22nd in scoring defense (26.2 points a game). The Cowboys are 10th vs. the run (95.2) and 17th defending the pass (254.2). They had a season-high six sacks vs. the Patriots.

The big news on defense is the return from suspension of Greg Hardy, Dallas' best pass rusher, and Rolando McClain, the team's premier run defender. They debuted in the loss to New England, when Hardy had two sacks and McClain contributed eight tackles, including a sack.

Hardy, a Pro Bowler when he was with Carolina in 2013, is one of the NFL's very best defensive ends, a dynamic pass rusher and physical run defender. He has 29 sacks in his last 33 regular-season games. The right end, he must be accounted for on every play. Left end DeMarcus Lawrence is improving every game with more pass rush variety and better hand use. Tackle Tyrone Crawford plays with a high motor, toughness and good awareness. He has good first-step quickness. Nick Hayden is a tough tackle who is hard to push off the point of attack. Backup end Jeremy Mincey led the team last season with 6.0 sacks. He is a tough, physical and productive player with good play strength and quickness. Jack Crawford can play inside or outside and has shown pass rush ability and good pursuit. Randy Gregory, the team's second-round draft choice this year, has explosiveness off the edge, but he has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain in the opener against the Giants. Another rookie, tackle David Irving, has good vision and plays with a high motor. Ryan Russell has size and strength.

McClain and Sean Lee team up to give the Cowboys a playmaking linebacker duo. The former is a middle linebacker who quickly diagnoses plays, has the strength to hold his own in the run game, and displays good coverage skills. On the weak side, Lee quickly sorts out a play, is very aggressive, and is Dallas' best coverage linebacker. His 44 tackles are second on the team. Anthony Hitchens has good lateral quickness and blocker awareness, and latches onto the tight end in man-to-man coverage. He has 2.0 sacks this season. Andrew Gachkar has the quickness to beat blockers. Kyle Wilber and Damien Wilson complete the linebacker corps.

The Cowboys are playing this season without slot corner Orlando Scandrick, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury. Strong safety Barry Church and free safety J.J. Wilcox have started every game together the last two seasons. Church is active in run support and leads the team with 46 tackles (33 solo). Wilcox is a physical player with speed and range. Left cornerback Brandon Carr is an aggressive man-to-man defender with the strength to press. On the other side, Morris Claiborne is a savvy player with length. The new slot corner is fourth-year pro Corey White. First-round draft choice Byron Jones can play on the corner, at safety, or in the slot, and shows outstanding speed and range with physicality in press coverage. Jeff Heath, Tyler Patmon and Danny McCray are the other backups.


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DALLAS COWBOYS SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Dan Bailey has hit all eight of his field goal attempts this season, with a long kick of 51 yards. He is accurate from all distances as a field goal kicker and is solid as a kickoff specialist. Chris Jones is a left-footed punter with good leg strength and directional ability. Beasley has averaged 4.3 yards a runback as the primary punt returner. Dunbar was the kickoff returner before he was hurt. The Cowboys are expected to turn to McFadden, Whitehead or Patmon.

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