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Tom Coughlin: Dallas Cowboys different, but dangerous

By
Patti Traina, The Sports Xchange
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin stands on the field in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ERS at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 11, 2015. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin stands on the field in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ERS at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 11, 2015. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants will host a Dallas Cowboys team on Sunday that changed significantly since the first meeting between the rivals this year in the season opener.

The Cowboys won that game, 27-26.

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And the Cowboys are still substantial this week, despite numerous changes since the opening game. They are missing key players such as quarterback Tony Romo, running back Lance Dunbar and receiver Dez Bryant to injuries. And there are other changes involving La'el Collins in at left guard, Darren McFadden and Christine Michael at running back, Matt Cassel at quarterback and Greg Hardy at defensive end.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin believes the Cowboys haven't lost any firepower.

"I think they're going up," he said. "I think they played better, even though they lost to New England by that score (30-6) ... the Cowboys played New England very well, to be honest with you."

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The biggest of the changes is Cassel, who takes over for previous stand-in Brandon Weeden while Romo continues to heal from a fractured clavicle.

Cassel, who is with his fifth different team, began his career with the Patriots, with whom he played four seasons (2005-2009), his last one as a starter when Tom Brady was lost for the year with a knee injury.

That season, Cassel completed 327 of 516 passes (63.4 percent) for 2,924 yards and 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while leading the Patriots to 11 wins.

"Well, we've gone back and done all our homework," Coughlin said. "Matt had the outstanding year when Brady went down and they still won 11 games there in New England with him at quarterback."

Since then, Cassel also started games for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills before being acquired by the Cowboys in a Sept. 22 trade.

Besides the change in personnel that the Cowboys are hoping give them a spark for the rest of the season, the losers of three straight are coming off a bye week.

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Since 1990, when the bye week was implemented, the Cowboys are 18-8 in games after the bye, the third-best mark in the NFL, tying them with Minnesota.

This will also be the third year in a row that the Cowboys are facing the Giants coming out of their bye week. Dallas has won their last two post-bye games, both against the Giants, by a combined 55-47 score, and is 2-2 against New York in games after the bye.

SERIES HISTORY

107th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series 62-42-2. The Giants will be looking to avoid being swept in the regular-season series for a third straight year. The Giants are 23-28-1 at home against the Cowboys (regular and postseason).

GAME PLAN

--Last week against the Eagles, the Giants were beaten badly in the trenches on both sides of the ball. If they are to reverse their fortunes against the Cowboys, the Giants cannot let that happen again.

On offense, the Giants' offensive line collectively had its worst game of the season, allowing season highs in sacks (three) and tackles for loss (seven) and tying their season high with seven quarterback hits allowed.

"We've got to pick ourselves up and get back on track and recognize the strength of their defensive front, which is a good one with the addition of a couple new players," head coach Tom Coughlin said.

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"Hopefully, we'll get some of this straightened out. We've certainly got to do a better job of not getting beat on the edge or even getting pushed back into the quarterback's face. Even with the three-step drop stuff, you've got to have time to get the ball out."

Defensively, the Giants continue to struggle with their pass rush. That could change this week if defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. is able to return after being sidelined for four weeks with a hamstring strain.

Even if the Giants can't get home against the Cowboys' offensive line, which by the way has allowed 11 sacks this season, tying them with the Packers, Colts and Bucs for 17th in the league, it might behoove the Giants to send an extra man or two at quarterback Matt Cassel, promoted ahead of Brandon Weeden as the starter, in an attempt to force a mistake or two.

The Giants are tied for third with the Packers, Panthers and Jets for the most interceptions (eight) in the league.

Last week against the Eagles, the Giants had three picks but were unable to convert any of them into points, something they'd obviously have to fix if they are able to pick off Cassel.

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MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Giants LT Ereck Flowers vs. Cowboys RDE Greg Hardy.

The Giants' first-round draft pick will face his toughest test of his young career when he lines up against Hardy, who since returning from a four-game, league-imposed suspension already has two sacks for minus-7 yards. Flowers has struggled at times in pass protection this season, especially when facing speed rushers, and in Hardy, he'll see another speed demon looking to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield.

--Giants LBs Uani 'Unga and J.T. Thomas vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten.

In the teams' first meeting in Week 1, the Giants managed to hold Witten to eight receptions for 60 yards, but two of his catches went for touchdowns as Witten continues to be a thorn in the Giants' side. 'Unga, who takes over for Jon Beason at middle linebacker on passing downs, and Thomas will have the task of covering Witten. Unga, remember, made his first career start in Week 1. Now that he has a little more experience, it will be interesting to see if he can do a better job keeping up with Witten should he find himself isolated against him.

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