October 23, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Putting Pressure on Bledsoe Essential for Giants Tonight
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 23, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/42051

A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T

Most of the stories coming out of Dallas this year have been about the Terrell Owens sideshow, but behind all of the distractions you'll find a pretty good team. With an aggressive young defense and a veteran passing game, the Cowboys appear to have a shot at returning to the playoffs for the first time in four years. It's tough to win in Dallas, and the Cowboys have outscored opponents 6116 in their two home games this season. But while the Giants have faced tough opponents every week, the Cowboys haven't beaten a team with a winning record. Here's a look at how the two teams will match up tonight.

GIANTS (3-2) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (3-2)
(Tonight, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

The Giants offense enters tonight's contest ranked second in yards per game. They've had remarkable balance between their passing and running attacks, which is what makes them so dangerous. Despite the discussion this week about retiring at the end of the season, Tiki Barber is arguably the best running back in the league right now. He's averaging an NFL-best 106 rushing yards per game, and every opponent must build their defensive game plan around him. Last week, he rumbled for 185 yards against the league's second-ranked run defense, ripping off nine runs of at least 12-yards.

The Cowboys have the league's stingiest run defense, and they'll mix in a 43 system with their base 34 defense in an effort to contain him. A former Jets' defensive tackler, Jason Ferguson, is the key player in the middle, with the size to collapse the middle of the line and the speed to penetrate. The retirement of Dat Nguyen means there are some new faces in the linebacking corps. Bradie James might be the best defensive player nobody knows. He's a tough, physical inside linebacker with good range. Second-year man DeMarcus Ware is also a big hitter on the outside and he's emerging as a star. Veteran Greg Ellis has moved from end to outside linebacker in the 3-4 system, which has made him an effective edge rusher.

The Dallas secondary has been vulnerable this season. Strong safety Roy Williams earns Pro Bowl invitations because he delivers big hits and forces turnovers, but he's often a liability in pass coverage. He doesn't have the speed or the agility to run with top receivers and consequently gets beat deep. When the Cowboys go to a twodeep coverage, opposing teams will target Williams.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning entered the weekend with 11 touchdown passes, second only to Donovan McNabb (and three more than brother Peyton). He has struggled with his mechanics at times too many of his throws last week were uncatchably high but has shown an ability to work through those problems, make adjustments during the game, and not get flustered by the adversity. He's able to find his second and third option on a pass play, spreading the ball out between receivers Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress, and Barber out of the backfield. A healthy Jeremy Shockey last week reemerged as a dangerous target over the middle, catching six catches and posting the first two-touchdown game of his career.

WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL

When Drew Bledsoe plays well he can lead his team to victory, but when he struggles he takes the whole team down with him. The last two weeks have been a perfect illustration. Against the Texans, Bledsoe completed 17 of 28 passes for two touchdowns in a 346 victory. By contrast, he was sacked seven times at Philadelphia the week before and threw three interceptions, as the Cowboys fell 3824.

Bledsoe has always been immobile, and as the years have passed he's developed the bad habit of standing flat-footed in the pocket for too long.Teams with a consistent pass rush have been able to sack him or force him into making bad throws. When his line has given him time to throw, however, he's still sharp enough to find receivers down the field. The addition of Terrell Owens this year has really helped to open things up for Terry Glenn.With Owens drawing most of the double teams, Glenn has flourished, and he's having his best season since he went to the Pro Bowl in 1999.

The Giants pass defense is giving up an average of 323 yards a game, a figure that is due largely to their inability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks earlier in the year. If they're going to have any chance to win this game, the Giants need to keep Bledsoe contained, because they're also going to have to figure out a way to slow down the Dallas running attack. Julius Jones is averaging 99 yards a game. He's a good cutback runner who finds an opening and hits the hole quickly. His backup, Marion Barber, is more of a power runner, and has averaged just over five yards per carry this season.

KEY TO THE GAME Last week, the Giants defense sacked Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick seven times. If they can generate that kind of a pass rush against someone so quick and elusive, there's no telling what they can do to Bledsoe. When these two teams met last December, the Giants sacked Bledose four times, forced two fumbles, and intercepted two passes. If they can get a comparable amount of pressure on Bledsoe tonight, he'll self-destruct and the Giants will win.

Lahman's Pick: Cowboys 2721

October 23, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

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