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The VRR: Cowboys Look to Win their Last Game at Giants Stadium

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The bad blood runs thick through the NFC East. Sure, it was tense two weeks ago when the Redskins paid their first visit to Cowboys Stadium. After managing a 7-6 win, and then feasting on the beleaguered Raiders, the Cowboys now find themselves looking down in the division at the 6-5 Giants.

This 2009 version of the Giants began the season with five straight victories - their second, coming at the expense of the Cowboys to open Cowboys Stadium. On Sunday, the Cowboys can atone for that 31-33 loss by winning their final game at Giants Stadium, which would push the Giants down to a paltry .500 record.

Playing the Redskins and Eagles are always intense matchups for the Cowboys. But recently, these games against the Giants have seen a noticeable uptick in rivalry ratings. Maybe it's because Tony Romo has won both of his career starts at Giants Stadium. Maybe it's because of Brandon Jacobs' penchant for trash-talking. That 2007 playoff loss certainly still stings the Cowboys.

Whatever caused this recent rivalry surge has created an infamy monster that continues to grow. Expect it to do so as long as guys like Romo and Jacobs, Bradie James and Eli Manning, DeMarcus Ware and David Diehl, Patrick Crayton and Corey Webster, remain with their respective teams.

Flozell Adams and Justin Tuck, anyone?

More VRR after the jump.

Bradie James takes on the December grumblings, and wants badly to beat the Giants.

"The truth is the truth,'' he said. "What I've learned is no matter what your season is individually - you can have one of the best seasons of your career - if you lose and don't go to the playoffs, you're going to get criticized. Nobody is exempt from the criticism if you don't take care of business in December and go to the playoffs and do what we need to do. That's what time it is now. That's what we've got to do.''

Apparently, the insults from the teams' first meeting this season are still evident.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, James said Manning rubbed it in by scribbling his name and adding the score, the date and the words "First Win in the New Stadium'' on a concrete column in the visitors' locker room. James hasn't seen it, but he's seen a picture and is convinced it's real. True or not, it's being used as motivation.

"We won't forget that,'' James said. "It just makes for a more intense game.''

With the Giants moving into a new stadium next season, this almost certainly will be the Cowboys' final appearance at Giants Stadium. So is James bringing a pen to leave his own mark on the visiting locker room walls?

"I don't know, I might,'' he said. "I just want to win and that's it. I'll let our playing do all the talking. That's it. ... I don't care if it's by 30 or if it's by a point, we just have to take care of business and get rid of these guys right now.''

We can all talk about the Cowboys' December woes until we're blue in the face. Speaking of blue, the Giants have been pretty horrible in recent Decembers, too.

New York has not been good in December the past two seasons. The Giants were 1-3 in the final four regular-season games in 2007, when they won the Super Bowl, and they went 2-3 to close out last season with an NFC-best 12-4 overall mark.

Stopping the run could be the key to a Dallas victory.

When Tom Coughlin’s Giants run for at least 100 yards, they are 40-19. They are 13-19 when they don’t. In winning five consecutive games to start the season, the Giants averaged 160.4 yards on the ground. The past six games, New York has averaged only 98.8 yards rushing, with a high of 141 against the Eagles. The Giants had a season-low 57 rushing yards last week against the Broncos, a week after gaining only 88 yards against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Giants are still good at controlling the ball. The Cowboys have to counter that by taking it away.

The Giants (6-5) have lost five of their last six games but still own one of the most productive offenses. They rank second in yardage (374.7) and are tied for eighth in scoring (24.7) even with quarterback Eli Manning fighting foot issues.

"They're going to run to try to win games, control the ball," Phillips said. "I think they're in the top three or four in the league in time of possession. I think their philosophy is still the same whether they run it for enough yardage or not, but they've got good backs and a really good offensive line."

An area for defensive improvement - and one that will aid the Cowboys' offense - is more takeaways. The Cowboys' 13 (seven interceptions, six fumble recoveries) are tied with Washington for last in the league.

If the Giants focus their blocking assignments towards DeMarcus Ware, Coach Phillips will have to again be creative with how he uses his best pass rusher.

Phillips has tried to help Ware by moving him around to avoid the thicket of blockers. Ware rushed from the left side instead of his usual right side a significant number of times during the Thanksgiving win against Oakland. He has also blitzed as a middle linebacker and, as a change of pace, dropped into pass coverage on a few plays.

Ware's approach has broadened, too. Ware is not always a speed rusher trying to go around a blocker. He has slanted inside at times, allowing the tackle to go to the outside. That stunt led to Stephen Bowen's deflection of a Jason Campbell pass that led to a win-sealing interception against Washington.

"We want to keep them honest," Ware said. "If I just go outside, they'll be waiting on me. I don't want to be predictable."

Unless defensive coordinator, Bill Sheridan, can turn things around for his unit, the Giants' search to replace Steve Spagnuolo will continue.

The first logical replacement is Dick Jauron, fired nine games into this season as head coach of the Bills and someone with strong ties to Tom Coughlin, who in 1995 hired Jauron to run the expansion Jaguars defense.

A more interesting choice - certainly more intriguing to Giants ownership - is John Fox, who likely is to be a free agent if the Panthers continue their downward spiral.

When the Giants placed MLB, Antonio Pierce (bulging disk in neck), on IR, they lost a strong amount of leadership on defense.

So strong, in fact, that many players have said he was the true leader of the defense even when Michael Strahan was around. Strahan may have been revered, but Pierce had more of a connection with his teammates. The linebacker set the tone for the team, which usually rode the enormous chip on his shoulder, and it always looked to him when things got rough.

Who's that type of leader now? There might not be an answer. Justin Tuck, valiantly trying to play through shoulder and leg injuries, seems to prefer to lead by example. Osi Umenyiora, who once walked out on his defensive coordinator and team in a huff earlier this season, tried to fire up his team in Denver, but his effort looked more like an angry rant.

New York may look to second-year man, Jonathan Goff, to be Pierce's replacement.

Eli Manning has been playing with an injured foot and claims that it's getting better.

He's suffering from a stress reaction in his right foot, which previously had plantar fasciitis. Some reports say this could lead to further damage. But he claims the injury has no effect on his throwing. And he's doing his best to downplay the issue.

``The foot feels great, it really does,'' he said after Wednesday's practice. ``It feels better than it ever has since i originally injured it.''

Brandon Jacobs and rookie Gartrell Johnson may be the only tailbacks healthy enough to play for the Giants.

Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware both missed practice on Wednesday, and are looking increasingly doubtful for Sunday's division showdown with Dallas at the Meadowlands. Bradshaw is struggling to return from a foot and ankle injury that kept him out of Thursday's Thanksgiving Day loss to the Denver Broncos.

Ware, a rookie, suffered a concussion during that loss and, given the NFL's newly adopted, suddenly strict policy concerning injuries of this sort, a weekend return seems unlikely.

Ken Hamlin's high ankle sprain kept him from practicing Wednesday, which indicates that Alan Ball will start his third consecutive game at free safety.

Trainers said last week Hamlin could possibly return to practice Wednesday, but he has yet to make enough progress, and spent the team's practice time rehabbing, the same as Monday.

OLB Victor Butler, who sprained his knee against the Raiders, practiced yesterday and expects to play Sunday.

Butler fully participated in practice and said he is ready to play Sunday against the Giants.

"It’s as good as it needs to be," said Butler, who has three sacks this season. "... I’m good to go."

Here is the updated injury report from DC.com.

What the Folk is up with Nick? The Dallas kicker says there is no excuse for his recent misses.

Folk has missed four of his last eight attempts and has at least one miss in each of the last three games. But Phillips said he's not worried.

"A guy that has a strong mind-set like he does will improve and keep working and won't go into a slump where he's really kicking it bad," Phillips said.

Offseason hip surgery prevented Folk from doing much kicking until the start of training camp, but he isn't using it as an excuse. "Physically, I'm fine," Folk said. He also isn't blaming new holder Mat McBriar, although McBriar said poor holds caused two misses. "I don't want to put blame on anyone else," Folk said. "I just have to get it right ... and make a good playoff run."

Mike Florio posits that the NFL Network may be "pressured" into simulcasting the Week 15 Cowboys @ Saints game.

For a chance to win SuperBowl tickets, vote on Sprint's "Can't-Miss Plays of Week 12". There are not any Cowboys' choices, but there is an anti-Giants one: Brandon Marshall's one-hander last Thursday night at Mile High.

Pro Bowl: Vote for Miles Austin!

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald is first with over 500,000 votes, and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson is second with 293,408 votes. Austin is third with 261,107 votes.

Hat tip to scottmaui for his FanPost.

Sam Hurd can use some of our support in the ST department, as well.

Also, it's worth noting that Sam Hurd is second in voting among special teamers. The Vikings' Heath Farwell has 103,215 votes; Hurd has 70,647.

ProBowl ballot link.