The New York Giants (5-10) host the Dallas Cowboys (6-9) this Sunday in the first game of a doubleheader that will determine who wears the tainted NFC East crown this season.
The winner of the Giants-Cowboys game will wait to see the result of the Philadelphia-Washington match on Sunday night. If the WFT wins, they clinch the division. If they lose, the Giants-Cowboys winner will be the champ.
The Giants have lost seven straight games to the Cowboys and a win on Sunday would go a long way for them in terms of the direction of the team. Dallas’ seven-game winning streak came while they were under the stewardship of head coach Jason Garrett, who is now the Giants’ offensive coordinator.
On Thursday, Garrett downplayed the fact that facing his ex-team, the team he was the head coach of for a decade, was standing in the way of his current team’s success. But we all knew this awkward moment was likely to come.
“We play them twice a year, and obviously, they’re a division opponent,” he said. “Certainly, it’s interesting. The circumstances are what they are, but we’re just excited to have this opportunity to be playing for potentially the division on Sunday. It’s been a funny year in the NFL, in the NFC East, all of that. You just keep trying to bang away and take advantage of your opportunities, and we certainly have a good one on Sunday.”
Garrett’s offensive scheme has fallen flat here in New York. The Giants are next to last in the league points scored and yards gained, and are on a three-game losing streak in which they’ve rushed for under 80 yards in each game.
The Giants’ defense has played well under coordinator Patrick Graham this season, but have had breakdowns lately, mainly due to the amount of time they’ve spent on the field. The Giants have an average time of possession of 24:18 over their three-game losing streak.
That aside, the breakdowns have mainly come in the passing game, when Graham employs a zone. Last week, there was a miscommunication between cornerback James Bradberry and the defensive backs assigned to the middle of the end zone resulting in an easy touchdown for Dez Bryant, now with the Ravens.
“I can’t speak for the other team,” Graham said when asked if he thought opponents had figured out his zone. “I have to do a better job of coaching. I have to do a better job of coaching and laying out the plan. I have to do a better job of calling it, mixing in zone and man and stuff like that. I don’t know if they’re figuring it out.
“It’s football, these guys get paid too, and they have good players, so they execute. It’s just a matter of I have to coach better, I have to do a better job. I’m working on it every day just trying to get better. Hopefully I have a good day at practice just trying to get the guys in the right spots. All leading towards Sunday where we can execute.”
The Giants’ special teams has been hot and cold all year but one aspect where they’d thought they’d be better this year was in the punt return game. The Giants have returned just 18 punts for 189 yards this year. Safety Jabrill Peppers has been the primary returner with 13 attempts for an average for 11.4 yards.
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey was asked if he thought about having his returners be more aggressive to make up for not scoring enough points on offense.
“I’ve told to guys this before, as returners, I tell our guys not to chase plays,” said McGaughey. “We’re going to let the plays come to us. When we get those opportunities, we just have to take advantage. That’s the thing. As a punt returner, kick returner, we’re never going to press. When you press, you make mistakes and mistakes will get you beat. We just have to make sure we’re smart in how we handle the situations as they come along. Once they come along, we take advantage of it.”