Thursday, January 10, 2008

NFL Divisional Playoffs Pre-Game Analysis: New York at Dallas

Dallas Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do allow Marion Barber III plenty of touches. While the duo of Jones/Barber III usually starts out with a lot of Orange Julius, Barber III has shown he can run effectively between the 20s, as well as inside the red-zone. His bruising style can complement downfield play-action passing, especially to Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.

Do focus downfield double-teams on Plexico Burress. While Eli showed plenty of patience with Amani Toomer against Tampa, it’s key that Eli doesn’t hit Burress early and often with the deep ball. Torching the Cowboys D for 3 opening week TD receptions, Plaxico’s size and strength can be a real issue for banged up CBs Antonio Henry and Terrance Newman. Not to mention a certain oft-target free safety.

Do gameplan for TO. He’ll suit up. And when he does, keep moving him all over the field. Owens has shown he can play through pain and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be targeted with at least a dozen of Romo’s attempts.

Don't believe any of the overhyped and borderline-ridiculous media coverage about Jessica Simpson’s vacation-fling with Tony Romo. Whether or not they went is irrelevant. Romo won’t play any better or worse because of who he is seen canoodling off of US-waters a week before the game.

Don't put any stock in the two previous meetings earlier this season. While beating a team three times isn’t easy, it’s been done. This Giants team did a complete 180, for the better, after the first minute of their Week 17 matchup against New England.

Don't leave Roy Williams out an island. Ken Hamlin played Pro Bowl-caliber safety this season…Roy Williams did not. After years being unrecognized by a too-often pro-Dallas national media, (ESPN) has realized what many offensive coordinators now know: Williams can be picked on up the middle and especially with the long-ball (anybody else remember Brunell to Moss in the 4th quarter in primetime a couple years ago?). Whether it be a deep pass to Plaxico or perhaps an undernearth route to Boss, Smith, or Toomer inbetween the hashmarks, Williams should have a busy afternoon…for better or worse.

New York Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do use both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw throughout the game. In recent weeks, big backs like TJ Duckett have given Dallas some issues. Don’t be afraid to run at a bull-rushing DeMarcus Ware with the speedy Bradshaw and run away from him with a power-back like Jacobs.

Do your best to win the special teams battle. Nick Folk is a rookie kicker and the return game in Dallas is, at best, hit or miss. Breaking open a few big plays can change the tide, especially on the road for the Giants.

Do allow Eli to get in a rhythm early. Using Amani Toomer and Kevin Boss, as well as targeting Plaxico for the big play, is imperative. Allowing Dallas to simply target Jacobs and Plaxico, the top Giant playmakers, is far too easy a task with such a speedy, talented defense.

Don't fall behind early. Despite trailing Tampa 7-0, the Giants controlled the pace of the game and willed their style of play upon the Bucs. That won’t be so easy against Dallas. Able to score at the flick of their QB’s wrist, Dallas is far more flammable. The Giants don’t want to be trailing when they receive a heavy diet of Barber III and short underneath throws to Jason Witten in the second half.

Don't underestimate Patrick Crayon and Terry Glenn. While the health and impact of both wideouts could be null and void, only focusing on Witten and TO (especially if he is near 100%) leaves the slot and deep corners potentially wide-open for these Crayton and Glenn. Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery have their plates full.

Don't panic in the 1st quarter. The worst thing the Giants can do is fall into old tendencies – specifically a frustrated and belittled Eli – as early turnovers occur. This team can’t target winning a shootout. Brandon Jacobs needs to catch screen passes and sure tackles need to be made by the linebackers to avoid an early deep hole on the scoreboard.

Key Matchups

When Dallas has the ball
Jason Witten vs. Gibril Wilson

While Wilson is far from the only Giant responsible for covering Witten, he will often be responsible for the middle of the field…Witten’s forte. Jumping an early route or giving Witten a nice hit-stick will be key for the Giants D to hope to contain a valuable Cowboy-weapon.

When New York has the ball
Kareem McKenzie vs. DeMarcus Ware

As important as it is to pick on suspect-cornerbacks, Eli Manning won’t have much time at all unless DeMarcus Ware, who will rush from both sides of the defensive line, is contained. Able to force fumbles at an alarming rate, Ware can isolate the well-known fact that Eli isn’t the best under-pressure pocket-passer. Ware, one of the top defenders in all of football, has a knack for changing games with one crushing hit. Center Shaun O'Hara's absence may already be costly.


Bye Week vs. Momentum

One of the tougher jobs in this world is winning multiple playoff games, on the road, in the NFL. Meanwhile, homefield advantage – especially in the NFC – is as good as gold in recent years. Will both trends be disproved this weekend?

Tony Romo in January

All we know thus far is the botched hold during the wild-card round last year in Seattle. It’d be unwise to speculate any further, until Monday morning that is on Romo’s January performances.

Final Score Prediction

Dallas wins, 34-28.

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