Monday Night Football: Giants at Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants entered the season with high expectations. It's taken both teams a while to live up to them.
The NFC East rivals look to build on strong performances from last week when they meet at Texas Stadium on Monday night.
The Giants (3-2) returned every offensive starter from a unit that scored the second-most points in franchise history last season, helping New York earn its first division title since 2000.
Online Sports Book betED.com has Dallas listed as -3 point spread favorites for Monday nights game. The over/under has been set by betED at 44.5 total points.
New York stumbled out the gate this season, however, losing two of its first three, with the low point being a four-turnover, 42-30 loss at Seattle on Sept. 24.
However, the bye week, which has historically hurt the Giants' play in their next game, seemed to come at the perfect time. New York regrouped during the week off and has since posted back-to-back victories, including a 27-14 come-from-behind win over Atlanta on Sunday.
New York trailed 14-3 early in the third quarter before scoring 24 unanswered points.
``I think guys are having fun again,'' said Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, the team's leading tackler. ``That's what we got back to. Guys out there are shooting hoops (after sacks). (Jeremy) Shockey is talking smack. Eli (Manning) is even pumped up. Tiki (Barber) is doing what he is doing. We have put all the other stuff on the side.''
The Cowboys (3-2), especially brazen wide receiver Terrell Owens, seem to have done the same. Dallas opened with a 24-17 loss to Jacksonville before recording victories over Washington and Tennessee.
The Cowboys failed in their next challenge, losing 38-24 to Philadelphia in Owens' return to Lincoln Financial Field, but seemed to finally put it all together in a 34-6 win over Houston. Owens and quarterback Drew Bledsoe found their groove, connecting for two of Owens' three touchdowns, while the defense grabbed two interceptions, forced a fumble and defended nine passes.
Dallas isn't totally convinced, though, as it has yet to beat a team with a winning record.
``We've got to put together a streak,'' Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. ``Everyone talks about potential, potentially we have all this talent. It doesn't matter if you don't do it. ... It should happen here soon. If not, we're going to be around here weeping a little bit.''
The Cowboys have had little to weep about at home this season, outscoring opponents 61-16 in two wins. Bledsoe has a 93.3 passer rating in those games, throwing for four TDs and no interceptions, as opposed to a 53.7 rating in three road contests with seven interceptions.
Julius Jones helps to balance the Cowboys' attack with 98.8 rushing yards per contest. Dallas is fourth in the NFL in points (29.4) and yards per game (369.4).
The Cowboys and Giants are tied for third in the league with 151.8 yards rushing per game. New York's success on the ground is due to Tiki Barber, the NFL's leading rusher with 533 yards.
Barber ran for a season-high 185 yards last week to earn NFC offensive player of the week honors, but repeating that performance this week could be much tougher against a Dallas run defense that is the league's stingiest at 67.0 yards allowed per game.
``It's going to be a challenge for us, just like it was last week in Atlanta and the week before in Washington,'' said Barber, who said Wednesday that he is leaning toward retirement after this season. ``We have to stay committed to it and we have to find ways to take advantage of things they do. We'll have a game plan. I have faith in our coaching staff and my offensive line to get whatever has to be done, done.''
While Barber is crucial to the Giants' offense, New York can utilize other weapons, having finally rediscovered the diverse attack that allowed it to score 422 points last season. The Giants rank second in the league in yards per game (417.6), third in passing yards (250.0) and sixth in points (25.4).
Quarterback Eli Manning has spread his throws around between top receiving targets Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress, each of which has more than 300 yards receiving, and tight end Jeremy Shockey got into the mix last week. Shockey recorded the first two-touchdown game of his career, catching six passes for 55 yards.
New York has also given more work to 6-foot-4, 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs, who has 34 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He had only 38 rushes in his 2005 rookie season.
The Giants defense has also vastly improved since the bye. After allowing 92 points over the first three games, New York has given up 17 in the last two.
The Giants sacked Michael Vick seven times last week, their most since recording eight against Arizona on Oct. 18, 1998. New York hopes Michael Strahan can help it maintain that strong pass rush Sunday against Bledsoe, who's not known for his scrambling ability.
Strahan has 13 sacks in his last 10 games against the Cowboys and needs two to match Lawrence Taylor's team record of 132 1/2.
The Cowboys, though, are 7-1 against the Giants on Monday night, and Owens has typically been at his best in that situation. He's averaged 122 receiving yards and has nine touchdowns in his last six Monday night contests.
Dallas leads the series with the Giants 51-34-2, including 23-10 at Texas Stadium. The teams split two meetings last season, with the home team winning each time.
Both clubs trail first-place Philadelphia by a half-game in the division.
``At the halfway mark, I think everybody is still going to be in contention,'' current Cowboys and former Giants coach Bill Parcells said of the NFC East race.
By: Michael Cash - theSpread.com - Email Us
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