Giants Look to Put Internal Problems Behind Them With a Win Over Dallas
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If the Dallas Cowboys can overcome their struggles at Giants Stadium, the NFC East title will be clearly in their sight. The way the Cowboys are playing right now, little may be able to stop them.
Dallas looks to take a commanding, two-game division lead with four to play Sunday when it faces a desperate New York Giants club racked by turmoil.
Last season, the Cowboys (7-4) took an identical record into New York on the first weekend of December, only to commit four turnovers in a 17-10 loss. Dallas missed the playoffs after dropping five of its final seven games, but this year's team believes it's better positioned for a postseason run.
``Guys are just focused more, not to say last year we weren't,'' defensive end Marcus Spears said. ``I think the magnitude of what we can do now and how we can set ourselves up in the future and hopefully getting into the playoffs, I think it's important and it's prevalent. The air is thick right now.''
The Cowboys lost 36-22 at home to the Giants on Oct. 23, when Dallas coach Bill Parcells replaced quarterback Drew Bledsoe with Tony Romo at halftime. Romo threw three interceptions, but also had two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
Parcells handed the starting job to Romo the following week, immediately energizing the Cowboys. Dallas has won four of five games since the switch, with Romo throwing 10 TDs, two interceptions and compiling a 115.8 passer rating over that span.
After turning the ball over 14 times in the season's first six games, the Cowboys have just three giveaways over the last five weeks. Meanwhile, a defense which had given up a combined 74 points in October losses to the Giants (6-5) and Philadelphia Eagles has allowed a total of 70 during the five-game hot streak.
``I think this is a different team,'' Parcells said. ``I think the team is more confident and playing better and doing a whole lot of things better at this point in time this year than it was last year. Doing a whole lot of things better, almost everything. ... We've basically been running the ball OK and stopping the run. We've cut down our turnovers as of late.''
Even with all the positives, Parcells made a change in the kicking game this week, cutting placekicker Mike Vanderjagt 11 games into a three-year, $5.4 million contract and replacing him with veteran Martin Gramatica.
Gramatica, who kicked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1999-2004, was out of the league last year. After a stint in New England's training camp this year, he played three games for the Indianapolis Colts in September replacing injured starter Adam Vinatieri, making one 20-yard field goal.
The Cowboys, winners of three straight games, may need all the momentum they can get Sunday. Dallas has dropped eight of its last 10 road games against the Giants, and six of its last seven divisional matchups away from home.
New York, meanwhile, has played well against its NFC East rivals. A victory Sunday would give the Giants the division lead over Dallas by virtue of sweeping the season series. It would also improve New York to 4-0 within the division, giving the Giants the inside track to their second consecutive NFC East crown.
Doing that, however, will require a quick turnaround for a team plagued by dissension and a three-game losing skid. Running back Tiki Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey each publicly criticized New York coach Tom Coughlin after losses earlier this season.
The Giants squandered a three-touchdown lead in Sunday's 24-21 loss to Tennessee. On Monday, defensive end Michael Strahan accused wide receiver Plaxico Burress in a radio interview of quitting on his team.
Then, on Wednesday, Strahan attempted to blame the media for blowing the incident out of proportion and elaborated on his thoughts.
``The fact of the matter is we are 6-5,'' said Strahan, who is doubtful for Sunday due to a foot injury which has caused him to miss three games already. ``We have lost three games in a row. What do you want us to do, put our head down and run to a corner? We don't do that. We're men. We get back, we practice hard. We prepare to play to win. We don't prepare to come in and have someone who wants to take a comment and try to divide teammates in a way that it just disrupts this team.
``We don't have that division,'' Strahan added. ``So if you want to come here with a negative, you are coming to the wrong guy, because I am not a negative guy. I don't kill my teammates. I'm a man and I talk to my teammates.''
Controversy aside, the Giants will likely need better play from quarterback Eli Manning to halt their losing streak. Manning has thrown two interceptions in each week of the three-game slide, while completing only 50.5 percent of his passes and posting a 46.4 passer rating.
Barber's production has also suffered. The running back has averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in the last two games, well below his 4.8 season mark. However, Barber has exceeded 100 rushing yards in his last two meetings with the Cowboys, including 114 yards on 27 attempts earlier this season.
The Giants defense that takes the field could be stronger than in recent weeks. All-Pro defensive end Osi Umenyiora and linebacker Brandon Short, who have both missed five games since getting hurt in the earlier meeting with Dallas, returned to practice Wednesday and could play Sunday.
``Yes, this team can bounce back,'' center Shaun O'Hara said. ``Why can't we? Give me a reason why we can't. We have everything on the line. We are playing at home. We got the talent. We got the players. There is no reason why we can't, and we will. I am confident in that.''
By: Michael Cash - theSpread.com - Email Us
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