Saint Landry, I humbly beseech your forgiveness for the sin of heresy I am about to commit.
It looks like there is an excellent chance for a rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl between the detested New England Patriots and the hated New York Giants. While this is a situation that, for many of us here at BTB, has absolutely nothing pleasurable about it (as so eloquently expressed by our resident podcastmeister KD Drummond), there are some things that can be learned here.
The first (excuse me while I overcome the gagging and retching) is that the New York Giants are now the lead dog in the NFC East. They are clearly the team that the Dallas Cowboys must find a way to beat if they hope to get back to the land of milk and honey, otherwise known as the playoffs. And from watching what they have done in advancing to the NFC Championship game, there are some lessons for Dallas to learn. When you also look at the failure of the two NFC favorites going into the playoffs, the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints, a path back to success for the Cowboys begins to emerge. One that, in some ways, they have already begun.
But it is a difficult thing to face. One that rends the soul and blasts the mind.
Dallas must strive to become the same team as the New York Giants.
Follow after the jump to see if I was smitten by lightning from the hand of St. Landry.
Well, maybe the good Saint's own background as a Giant has given me some level of absolution. But I digress.
If you are muttering obscene imprecations about me, please let me explain. First, consider the meme that was going around about how the old adage of "offense wins games, but defense wins championships" was dead. Both the Packers and the Saints were supposed to be illustrations of how that was no longer true, as Green Bay rolled to the best record in the NFL and New Orleans looked to be the hottest team in December, both of them rolling with a high powered offense and a rather porous defense. Then they hit the playoffs, and it turned out that maybe defense wasn't so dead after all, particularly in the Green Bay game. Both teams got killed by turnovers. While there is a certain random aspect to that, as has been argued here before, the basic eyeball test said that both the Giants and the San Francisco 49ers were effectively going after the ball and disrupting the quarterbacks, while the supposed favorites in each game failed to do so.
More to the point, the key thing I saw in the Giants victory at Lambeau was how they won the battle at the line of scrimmage, on both sides. The defensive front for NY was in Aaron Rodgers' face all day, and he never looked comfortable. On the flip side, even though I did not watch all the game, the one phrase I swear I heard a dozen times was "Manning has all day to throw". He got hit a lot, but was only sacked once, and I thought several of the knockdowns he took were because he was willing to stand in to give the play time to develop. The big number that jumped out at me was the yards per pass, where the Giants were clearly ahead, 9.8 to 5.2.
And now the Giants are one step away from another Super Bowl appearance. It looks like a model for success to me.
It is also, I think, one the Cowboys have already started trying to emulate.
Consider the ingredients.
Offensively, the Giants have (my fingers want to curl up just typing it) an elite quarterback. He has been supported, at least in the playoffs, by some athletic receivers, effective if not spectacular running backs, and a line that was, as mentioned, giving him a clean pocket to work with. This combination is not something that takes a lot of football genius to figure out as a winning combination. But it does take some work to assemble.
Dallas already has three of the four components in place. Tony Romo is quite equivalent to Eli Manning in his ability. The top four Dallas receivers, if they are healthy, give him a set of weapons that compare nicely with the Giants corps. And if DeMarco Murray comes back from his injury, I would argue advantage Dallas here.
The big difference, of course, is the work in progress that is the Dallas offensive line. Tyron Smith was obviously a huge step in the right direction, but the rest of the Yuglies didn't work out as well as had been hoped, particularly as the season wore on. Bringing Bill Callahan in is one big step in the right direction, and hopefully the team is as interested in Stanford G David DeCastro as everyone wants them to be. The indications from Stephen Jones are certainly that the O line is still a priority.
I don't need to repeat what upgrading the interior line will mean to the offense. Everyone pretty much understands that it would be all good.
However, as the examples of the Packers and Saints clearly proved, even an elite quarterback and a red hot offense cannot carry a team. You have to have a defense. Dallas has big issues there. The Giants do not have a statistically impressive defense themselves. But what they do have, especially with the return of Osi Umenyiora, is a disruptive, penetrating defensive front. The line and the linebackers outplayed the Packers offensive line. It was the battle in the trenches that won the game.
This is where Dallas is facing a bit of a decision. Should the first priority on defense be a pass rusher to compliment DeMarcus Ware, or should it be a corner or safety to shore up the sieve-like back end?
Well, I think going after both is the correct answer. All season long, we watched the rush almost get to the passer, but the receivers were coming open too quickly. As long as the team invests in upgrading both parts of the equation, things should get better. Having defensive backs who actually cover and go after balls will help the pass rush get more sacks, and getting better pressure on the quarterback will keep the secondary from having to cover as long. However, some upgrade in the front seven is definitely a part of the equation, and I find myself leaning towards finding a pass rusher as a slightly higher priority. (I will probably change my mind on that about 94 times between now and the draft.) But if DeCastro is gone before the Cowboys pick, they can opt for a pass rusher like Melvin Ingram, Michael Brockers, or Nick Perry, or they can look at Janoris Jenkins for the secondary (based on the current postioning in BTB's prime draft guru ChiaCrack's Big Board, one of those players is likely to be available at 14).
The main thing is that the Cowboys can become much more like the Giants. (I feel so dirty saying that.) They have shown us how to not only win the East, but how to become a force in the playoffs. And while I feel queasy contemplating the thought, they may show us even more in a couple of weeks. The key to doing that is to get some players to fight it out along the line, much as ScarletO has laid out in his article on how to beat the Giants and Eagles.
It corrupts my soul to write this, but the Cowboys need to head in this direction. They can beat the Giants by imitating the Giants. And they can make major strides in that direction this year.
And when they beat them, I don't think I'll really care how they did it.