November 9, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Romo Interceptions Are Essential to a Giants Win
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 9, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/66213

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There are eight weeks left in the NFL season. But the Giants' fate hinges on the outcome of Sunday's game with the Cowboys. A loss would essentially hand the NFC East crown to Dallas, leaving the Giants to battle for one of the conference's two wild-card spots. A victory, on the other hand, would put the Giants in a perfect position for a Super Bowl run. They would emerge in a tie for first place with what could be construed as a soft schedule in front of them. Only two of their next six opponents have a winning record, and the Giants would be in firm control of their own destiny.

These two teams met in the season opener, a shootout that the Cowboys won by a 4535 score. Since that game, each team has gone 61, and both teams feel like they are much better across the board. Here's a closer look at how they'll match up this weekend.

DALLAS COWBOYS (71) At GIANTS (62)
Sunday, 4:15 pm, FOX

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL The Giants were able to move the ball consistently when these two teams first met. Quarterback Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes, and the trio of running backs combined for 120 yards on the ground. It was arguably the offense's best performance of the season.

But this is a different Dallas defense that the Giants will face Sunday. Cornerback Terance Newman missed that first game with a foot injury, and nose tackle Jason Ferguson left in the first quarter with a torn bicep. The Giants exploited the absence of those two key players, and the result was 438 yards of production. But Newman is back and healthy, and the Cowboys signed former Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson to shore up their line.

An improved pass rush has also helped Dallas' secondary. Defensive end Greg Ellis has 5.5 sacks in the last five games, and linebacker DeMarcus Ware leads the team with seven sacks. The run defense has also gotten stronger, with the Cowboys holding six of their last seven opponents to less than 80 rushing yards.

The Giants will put that defense to the test with their power running game. Running back Brandon Jacobs left the first game with a knee injury, and since his return, he's topped the 100-yard mark in three of his four starts. Derrick Ward has not practiced this week and probably won't play Sunday. Ruben Droughns will get some carries in his place. If they keep running the ball, these two could wear down the Dallas defense in the second half.

WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL The Cowboys are the league's most productive offense, averaging an NFL-best 6.5 yards per play. They have a balanced and versatile attack, and have scored 34 points or more in six of their eight games. One of the main reasons for that explosiveness has been the outstanding play of quarterback Tony Romo. He leads the NFC with 19 touchdown passes and has topped the 300-yard mark five times so far this season. Terrell Owens continues to be one of the league's most dangerous receivers, but tight end Jason Witten actually leads the team with 45 catches. He scorched the Giants for 116 yards in the last game, exposing a major weakness in the pass coverage.

Since then, the Giants' defense has improved dramatically, thanks in large part to their ability to pressure the quarterback. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are the league's most prolific pass rushing duo, having combined for 15 sacks in eight games. This has helped to alleviate some of the problems the secondary had earlier in the season. What remains unanswered is whether the Giants will be able to cover Witten over the middle, and whether the pass rush can disrupt the quick passes that Romo loves to throw.

The Giants have had two weeks to prepare for this game, and you have to believe they've carefully scrutinized the game film from the Cowboys game against the Bills. In that contest, Romo threw five interceptions, and the Buffalo defense worked to disrupt the Dallas passing attack. They used the safeties to help contain Owens in the short passing game, and their relentless zone blitz kept Romo from having time to throw the ball deep. Three of the five interceptions came on passes intended for Witten over the middle.

The Giants also need to be concerned about the Dallas running game, which averages 4.6 yards per carry. Marion Barber is a bruising runner with a devastating stiff arm. Julius Jones is elusive and has explosive speed. The pair continues to share carries, meaning that both backs are still fresh in the second half.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants can score enough points to win, but the outcome will hinge on the performance of their defense. The key will be to harass Romo in the pocket and force him to throw interceptions. The Giants didn't get any pressure on him in the first game, and he carved up the secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 2421

November 9, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version