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NFL Preview - Dallas (1-7) at N.Y. Giants (6-2)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Welcome to your dream job, Jason Garrett.
The 44-year-old former Princeton quarterback and ex-backup with the New York Giants was officially thrown into the NFL fray this week, when he was named head coach of the Dallas Cowboys to replace the newly-deposed Wade Phillips.
Not your father's Roger Staubach Cowboys. Not your favorite uncle's Troy Aikman Cowboys.
Instead, the version currently piloted by career journeyman and injury replacement Jon Kitna that's on a five-game losing streak and comes immediately off a 38-point loss to the Green Bay Packers in a primetime showcase last Sunday night at Lambeau Field will be heading to New Meadowlands Stadium this weekend to battle the NFC East-leading Giants.
And it's not as if long-term job security is a given for Garrett regardless of second-half results, with owner Jerry Jones expected to begin pursuing big- name coaching free agents like Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher in the aftermath of the Super Bowl taking place in his billion-dollar palace that is Cowboys Stadium in February.
"There'll be some changes that I think will be tangible that people in our organization will notice right from the start," Garrett said. "I just think the personality of the leader will come through a little bit.
"We have to learn from the things that didn't go well, have to build on the things that did go well and go forward. The challenges are ahead. So we needed to have a great day at practice and meetings [Wednesday], have a great one [Thursday] and get ready for the Giants on Sunday."
Garrett's players noticed the first-day changes and responded with positivity.
"I believe in Jason Garrett," said defensive captain Keith Brooking, a second- year Cowboy who signed as a free agent from Atlanta. "There is zero grey area there. It is black and white, very direct and to the point. No misunderstanding. I've been hit in the head a lot, but I could understand what he is saying when he stood up there and communicated to our football team.
"I believe in anybody like that."
On the other extreme, the Giants come in with a five-game win streak that�s lifted them to a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East and prompted Big Apple chatter of a return trip to championship contention for the first time since their 2007 Super Bowl title.
Columnist Gary Myers started the ball rolling this week in the New York Daily News, comparing Giants coach Tom Coughlin to New York Jets counterpart Rex Ryan and theorizing the matchup could be settled at Cowboys Stadium to close the playoffs.
"Coughlin is having a better year than Ryan," Myers said. "Let's see if they can settle this on Feb. 6 in Dallas. The winner gets his own reality show."
The Cowboys lead the all-time regular-season series with the Giants by a 55-39-2 count, but New York has now won the last three matchups in the set following its 41-35 verdict in Dallas three weeks ago. The Giants have also prevailed in their past two bouts with the Cowboys held at the Meadowlands, including a 31-24 victory last December that completed a home- and-home season sweep. Dallas' most recent road win occurred at Giants Stadium in 2007, a 31-20 triumph, and the Cowboys haven't lost four straight times to New York since the G-Men took all six meetings between the longtime rivals from 1988-1990.
New York was a 21-17 road winner over Dallas in a 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff, a game that ranks as the only postseason encounter between the franchises to date.
Coughlin has a 10-7 record against Dallas as a head coach, including 9-5 since arriving in New York in 2004. Garrett was a member of both the Cowboys and Giants during a 12-year playing career as a quarterback and earned two Super Bowl rings as Aikman's backup during a seven-year stint in Dallas from 1993-99. He was with New York from 2000-03.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Making his third start since replacing Tony Romo, Kitna passed for two touchdowns against the Giants in Week 7. Including playoffs, running back Felix Jones has eight career touchdowns (seven rushing, one kick return) and averages 47.1 yards per score. Also including playoffs, fellow back Marion Barber has a pair of 100-yard games versus the Giants. Rookie wide receiver and first-round pick Dez Bryant had three touchdowns in the teams' last meeting, including a 93-yard punt return and two 15-yard scoring receptions. He has six total touchdowns (four receiving, two punt returns) this season, the most among NFL rookies. Fellow wideout Miles Austin had 10 catches for 104 yards and a 22-yard touchdown in last year's road meeting with New York. Tight end Jason Witten has 23 catches for 251 yards (125.5 per game) and a touchdown in his past two matchups with the Giants. He's aiming for a third game in a row against the Giants with nine-plus catches and 95-plus yards.
The Giants are led defensively by end Osi Umenyiora, who has seven sacks and six forced fumbles in his past five games, while counterpart Justin Tuck has four sacks, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles in his past five outings. Including the playoffs, the Giants have won 14 in a row when Tuck has sack. The Giants are the best in the NFC against the run according to the numbers, allowing just 80.9 yards per week and 3.45 yards per carry, while opposing quarterbacks have completed just 54.6 percent of their passes for 169.8 yards per game on a New York defense that's amassed nine interceptions and 24 sacks. Umenyiora's eight quarterback takedowns are tied with Dallas' DeMarcus Ware for third in the league, while cornerback Terrell Thomas' three interceptions are best on the team. Safety Antrel Rolle has racked up 44 tackles, including 37 solos, to pace Big Blue.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
The streaks could continue as Giants quarterback Eli Manning aims for a fourth win in a row against Dallas. He tied a career-high with four touchdowns in the teams' last meeting, and has passed for four scores in a game four times, two of which have been versus Dallas. He had a 125.8 rating in last week's 41-7 win at Seattle and aims for a fourth in a row with a 100-plus rating. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw had 126 rushing yards in the Week 7 meeting with Dallas. He rushed for two touchdowns versus Seattle and ranks third in the NFC in scrimmage yards (905). Backfield mate Brandon Jacobs has five rushing touchdowns in his past five games and has found the end zone in four of his past five versus Dallas, including the playoffs. Wideout Hakeem Nicks had six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown last week against Seattle. He has 100- plus yards in four of his last five games. Nicks shares the NFL lead with a career-high nine receiving touchdowns and has three scores in his last two meetings with the Cowboys. Fellow wide receiver Steve Smith aims for a fourth game in a row with 100-plus yards versus Dallas.
Dallas' defense is paced by Ware, who has eight sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his past seven meetings (including playoffs) with New York. He has 64 1/2 sacks since 2006, the most in the NFL over that span. Cornerback Terence Newman had an interception in his last meeting with the Giants and has three picks in the past four games between the teams. Brooking had a 41-yard interception in his last game versus the Giants, the longest of his career. Also, cornerback Mike Jenkins has two career interceptions against New York, including one that was returned for a 23-yard touchdown. Statistically, the Cowboys are allowing 123.9 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, while the pass defense has yielded 214.4 yards per week and a 67.5 percent completion rate while generating 17 sacks and just five interceptions. The aforementioned Ware has eight of the team's 17 sacks, while five players have an interception apiece. Linebacker Bradie James is tops among Cowboys with 60 tackles, including 40 solo stops.
Big names no longer outweigh small numbers for the Cowboys, whose overall tumble has left their statistics in disarray. If any player has warranted a start based on the last several weeks, it's probably Bryant at wideout and perhaps Witten as a tight end. On the other hand, nearly everyone wearing Giants' blue in this game seems a viable choice. Manning, Bradshaw, Jacobs and Nicks can justify starts, as can No. 2 receiver Smith and the New York defense.
Go ahead, find a way to pick the Cowboys. No matter the holdover level of talent on offense and the potential for motivation in big spots against major opponents, results have been negative for Jerry Jones' gold standard. Meanwhile, the Giants have looked like a Super Bowl-caliber team since consecutive losses to Indianapolis and Tennessee in Weeks 2 and 3. No reason exists to change that mindset when a 1-7 team faces a 6-2 one on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 28, Cowboys 17
11/11 19:20:17 ET