Don’t bother knockin’, the house will be rockin’
MetLife Stadium was half-empty the last time it had a national spotlight on it last week when the Jets hosted the Colts in a Monday night blowout. The Giants saw those images and don’t expect it to be similar for Sunday night’s game against the Cowboys, even with a cold and snowy forecast.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a packed house,” Giants receiver Dwayne Harris said. “It’s going to be a playoff-type atmosphere.”
MetLife has never been much of an advantage for the Giants, but this season the team finally seems to be finding a measure of success in their home. Good thing for them, too, since two of the most important games of the season are coming up in back-to-back weeks beginning Sunday night.
The Giants are 5-1 at home, which gives them more wins in the building than they had in any of the previous three seasons. They were 4-4 at home in 2013 and 3-5 in 2014 and 2015. They’ve already matched the franchise’s second-highest win total at MetLife: 5-3 in 2010.
With the two home games remaining against the Cowboys and Lions, they have a chance to eclipse their best MetLife regular-season mark of 6-2 set in 2012.
Hoping for a repeat
Who better to refocus the Giants than the Cowboys?
“[We’re] extremely excited,” Victor Cruz said of the matchup. “Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys are, some might say, our arch nemesis. We look forward to lining up and playing a ballgame against them right here in our home stadium.”
The Giants are in desperate need of inspiration, and the 11-1 Cowboys might be just the answer to snap them out of a week of disappointing events and news.
The Giants are not the team they were a week ago. Their six-game winning streak is history. Their chance to win the division is virtually gone. And the cornerstone of their defensive line, Jason Pierre-Paul, is out for the next month or more. That’s a lot of changes for one afternoon in Pittsburgh.
“You’re going to have days where you’re not at your best and you’re going to lose some,” Eli Manning said of the loss to the Steelers last Sunday. “You’re going to get humbled.”
The key this week for the Giants, then, is to get back on track. To return to winning form. To beat the Cowboys and send shockwaves throughout the league.
“I know we believe that we’re a really good team,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “We know we haven’t played our best ball yet. I think if we put that game together this week, I think it would be a statement game. But we have to be able to do it and get the win, and that’s easier said than done.”
The Giants have not lost faith in themselves.
“We definitely still believe everything is intact for us,” Cruz said. “Our goals are all in front of us. Not one person in here has given up or says, ‘We lost one game, snapped our streak and now let’s tank it.’ I think we are excited about the future and excited about putting our best foot forward down the stretch here.”
This game, then, gives them a chance to prove to the league and a national prime-time audience that they are the team they believe themselves to be. In three previous prime-time games, they went 1-2 and were outscored 67-47.
“I think we need to show ourselves that we’re a complete football team, that we can play complementary ball for four quarters,” Casillas said. “We haven’t done that yet this year. That presents a challenge to us and I think we’re ready for it.”
THE X FACTOR: Ezekiel Elliott vs. Damon Harrison
There seems to be little doubt that the Cowboys will try to run the ball against the Giants. They have the best offensive line in the NFL and the leading rusher in the league in rookie Ezekiel Elliott. Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison knows that will be their plan.
“That,” he said, “is where I come in.”
Harrison is the Giants’ 350-pound lineman who was signed as a free agent this year with the sole purpose of solidifying the team’s rushing defense. So far, so good. Harrison has 45 tackles — an astronomical number for an interior lineman — and the Giants are the fifth-best in the NFL against the run.
The Giants did a good job of containing Elliott in the opener, to a season-low 51 yards on 20 carries. It was the only game this season in which he was held under 83.
“I think everybody was aggressive and we followed the game plan,” Harrison said of that effort. “Everybody stayed in their gaps and played their assignments. If we do something like that, we’ll have some success.”
Harrison said the basics for the defensive line are always the same, although they might be “tweaked” for someone like Elliott.
“Stop the run, set the edge, build a wall,” he said. “That’s all the same.”
And, of course, rely on Harrison to clog the middle.
“When you have a back like that, the team, they want to run the ball,” he said. “And I was born to be a run-stopper.”
230: Receiving yards needed by Odell Beckham Jr. in the next two games to stand alone as the fastest to reach 4,000 in a career. Beckham has played in 39 games. Hall of Famer Lance Alworth reached 4,000 in 42 career games.
13: Years since a Giants defender has made a sack in six straight games. Michael Strahan is the last to do it in 2003. Olivier Vernon has a sack in five straight games and would match Strahan’s streak with a sack against the Cowboys.
2011: The last season in which the Giants swept the two-game series with the Cowboys.
12-12: Eli Manning’s career record as a starting quarterback against the Cowboys. In those 24 games, he has thrown 806 passes and completed 491 for 6,033 yards and 47 touchdowns with 24 interceptions. They are all the highest totals in history by an opponent against the Cowboys.
5: Career TD receptions by Victor Cruz against the Cowboys, tied for the most among active players with Eagles TE Brent Celek.
0: Games in a row in which Cowboys TE Jason Witten has caught a pass. His streak of 130 games with a reception ended Dec. 1 against the Vikings. The last time Witten was held without a catch was Nov. 2, 2008, by the Giants.
Mr. Poise for the ’Boys
The Giants didn’t have much video to go by when they studied Dak Prescott for their first encounter in the season opener in September.
“He’s been a winner,” Ben McAdoo said. “That’s one thing that we noticed when we first played him early in the season. His background is that he’s a winner.”
He’s shown that to be the case in his NFL career, as well. Since losing to the Giants in that first game, he and the Cowboys have won 11 straight. Rookies will sometimes burst on the scene at various positions, but rookie quarterbacks rarely find as much sustained success as Prescott is having.
“So much of what he’s all about is the approach that he takes,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s so prepared for every situation, that’s the report that we got from his coaches at Mississippi State and that’s what we’ve seen first-hand since we drafted him. He’s very poised, he’s very composed, he’s a very mature guy and, again, I think he approaches it the right way.”
The Giants, now that they’ve had a chance to watch him a bit more, see the same.
“The first thing I really notice about him is that it’s not too big for him,” McAdoo said. “He plays with some pretty good poise.”
The Giants are 1-5 in regular-season games against teams that have won at least 11 straight, as the Cowboys have coming into Sunday’s contest. All except the 2004 Steelers came into the Giants game unbeaten.
Date Opponent Streak Result Score
12/10/1972 MIA 12 L 23-13
12/13/1998 DEN 13 W 20-16
12/18/2004 PIT 11 L 33-30
12/29/2007 NE 15 L 38-35
12/04/2011 GB 11 L 38-35
12/20/2015 CAR 13 L 38-35
Four games to watch Sunday that could impact the Giants’ playoff pursuit if they are resigned to chasing a wild-card berth:
Washington (6-5-1) at Philadelphia (5-7), 1 p.m.
Minnesota (6-6) at Jacksonville (2-10), 1 p.m.
New Orleans (5-7) at Tampa Bay (7-5), 4:25 p.m.
Seattle (8-3-1) at Green Bay (6-6), 4:25 p.m.