A lot has changed since the first time the Dallas Cowboys (2-3) and New York Giants (3-3) met in Week 1. The Cowboys have lost key offensive starters Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The Giants have lost several key starters on defense -- some of whom are set to return for this game.
The Giants hope to erase an ugly Week 6 loss marred by turnovers and uneccesary penalties. In order to do so, they may need to approach this game differently than their first meeting with the Cowboys when Odell Beckham Jr. was held to just 44 yards receiving on five receptions.
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The Cowboys are looking to end a three-game losing streak and they have a plan for that -- switch things up on offense. They will enter Week 7 with a new starting quarterback and a new starting running back. They are hoping these changes will spark an offense that has been stagnant since Romo went down.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Cowboys and Giants.
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1. Establish the power running game
After the Philadelphia Eagles scrapped the sweep and stretch plays and moved on to a power-running game in the second half of their Week 7 27-7 win over the Giants, running back DeMarco Murray racked up 97 rushing yards in the second half. The power-blocking run game is the staple of the Cowboys' run game. Although it hasn't gotten going in recent weeks, new starter Christine Michael weighs in at 220 pounds with explosive short area burst. He is built for this blocking scheme, and the Cowboys will need to use him early and often in this matchup
2. Focus extra defensive attention on Odell Beckham Jr.
In their first meeting with the Giants, the Cowboys used bracket coverage against Beckham throughout the game. He was held to under 50 yards receiving with no touchdowns. A staple of the Giants' offense under coordinator Ben McAdoo is to avoid difficult throws that can lead to turnovers. Manning will take what is given to him, and if Beckham has too much defensive attention, he will look for another player. This is a good thing for the Cowboys -- the Giants don't have any other reliable options in the passing game with Victor Cruz out and Rueben Randle playing through an injury.
3. Use the play-action pass early and often
New starting quarterback Matt Cassel has always been an excellent play-action passer due to his arm strength and ability to deliver the ball with zip in the intermediate areas of the field. If the Cowboys can establish their running game in the early going, this will allow Cassel to effectively utilize the play-action game. In this matchup, he shouldn't face too much immediate pressure when the Giants guess pass on a play-action attempt -- the Giants have arguably the NFL's weakest pass rush -- but the running game will help in another way. The Giants' linebackers will react to run on play-action attempts if the Cowboys run the ball successfully and this will open up the middle of the field for Jason Witten and the wide receievers.
1. Force the ball to Odell Beckham Jr.
Eli Manning stopped throwing to Beckham in the second half of the team's Week 7 loss becuase he was drawing double coverage. Later, he doubled down on his decision and instead called for other players to get open in the passing game when defenses focus on Beckham. This is not the solution -- the Giants can't rely on a gimpy Randle, Dwayne Harris and Larry Donnell to create consistent separation. Beckham is the type of unique talent that can make contested catches despite being double-covered. The Giants need to find ways get him football.
2. Commit to the run in every way
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo believes that the key to a successful defense is their ability to stop the run, but his unit has been much worse the last two weeks thanks to injuries and fatigue. Against the Cowboys, Spagnuolo would be wise to use run blitzes and to roll safeties Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather into the box. If you make the Cowboys beat you by passing the football without Romo and Bryant, you have done everything you can as a coach. It's that simple.
3. Make it a Rashad Jennings game
The Cowboys have struggled to stop the run through the interior of their defense. Defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden and Jack Crawford make up the defensive tackle rotation, and although they've had success rushing the passer, they are too often losing at the point of attack. Middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens is tasked with cleaning up at the second level, but he has also struggled against the run this season. The strength of this Giants offensive line lies on the interior with left guard Justin Pugh, center Weston Richburg and right guard Geoff Schwartz. Running early and often behind this group will slow down the Cowboys' pass rush and keep the Giants' defense off the field.