Forget Romo, The Run Defense Will Decide the Game

Light a candle for Ken Hamlin's ankle. 

Say a prayer for Keith Davis' knee.

Their health, more than Tony Romo's mental state, or the Wheaties in Cory Proctor's diet, will decide Sunday night's matchup against the Giants.

Let's go back to the first meeting between these teams on November 2nd, because it has marked a turning point in Dallas' season.  On that day the Giants, with major help from the Dallas QBs, broke the game open in a five minute span between the 3:00 minute mark of the second quarter and the 13:00 minute mark of the 3rd.  That's when two awful picks, one by Brad Johnson and the second by Brooks Bollinger, gave the Giants two very short fields that their offense traversed for two TDs.

 

The Dallas defense had come in with an aggressive game plan, stacking the line, sending linebackers into the New York backfield, blitzing Eli Manning heavily and pressing his receivers. 

The plan had kept the game under control.  New York led 14-7 at the 3:22 mark, and Dallas had the ball.  The Cowboys D had forced three punts.  It had two takeaways, one a Mike Jenkins pick six for Dallas' only score.  It had pressured Manning and forced several risky passes.

Marion Barber had just run a toss right for 24 yards to give Dallas a 1st down near midfield.  The Cowboys were hanging around, and were at worst a first down from keeping the score 14-7 at the half. Then came the picks and two minutes into the second half, Dallas was down 28-7.

The defense collapsed at that point.  The Giants runners went off, finishing with 200 rushing yards.  This, just two weeks after Stephen Jackson ripped Dallas for 160 yards and four scores.

The spine of the Dallas run defense was gelatinous.  All the defensive ends were missing.  The linebackers were slow to fill running lanes and even slower to shed blocks.  The safeties were missing tackles. 

All that changed over the bye.  Whatever adjustments the coaches made have worked.  The defense, which let New York rush for 200 yards has only allowed 210 yards on the ground in the subsequent four games.  Clinton Portis gained 121 yards in the first Cowboys/Redskins game but gained just 68 the second time. 

Frank Gore could muster just 26 yards against the Cowboys front.  The Seahawks trio of Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Maurice Morris gained 67.  Last week, Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore could only push for 47 yards. 

The Cowboys look ready to throw a bigger roadblock before the Giants' rushers.  And Brandon Jacobs is nursing a knee injury that took him from the Eagles game one play into the second half.  He has not practiced this week and will likely be a game-time decision. 

It will not matter if Davis and or Hamlin are kept out of the game.  I expect Dallas to pressure every bit as much this time around, and with Romo back at the controls, the Cowboys offense will have far more down-the-field firepower than it had last month. 

If the safeties can't play, the odds of another big New York rushing day go up -- way up.  This game can be won if the defense can put it on Eli Manning's shoulders.  The Eagles showed how to slow Manning down last week, when they doubled Dominik Hixon, the Giants lone deep threat, and forced Manning to rely on short tosses.  Manning never got a rhythm and didn't tally a single point until the final minute of the game. 

If Dallas can slow the run, they can play Jim Johnson's game.  Today, that plan is in the trainers' hands. 

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