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Giants look to continue roll against a banged-up Cowboys defense

Rueben Randle, right, celebrates his touchdown with tight

Rueben Randle, right, celebrates his touchdown with tight end Brandon Myers during the first half of a game against the Green Bay Packers at MetLife Stadium. (Nov. 17, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The knock against the Giants during their four-game winning streak is that they haven't had to face a fully functioning starting quarterback. They beat a clearly ill-prepared Josh Freeman, took advantage of a gimpy Michael Vick (who was relieved by rookie Matt Barkley), faced Terrelle Pryor, who played with a sore hamstring, and beat third-stringer Scott Tolzien in his first NFL start.

Not exactly the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks.

On Sunday, the Giants will face a presumably healthy and well-rested Tony Romo, coming off a bye with the rest of the Cowboys. But just because Romo will be on the field doesn't mean Dallas will be complete. You just have to look on the other side of the ball to see what it is missing.

The Cowboys will play the Giants without their best defensive player, middle linebacker Sean Lee. He suffered a hamstring injury two weeks ago and is expected to be sidelined for another two to three weeks.

"He's one of their keys vocally, putting people in the right position and it's crucial," Giants running back Andre Brown said. "That's the quarterback of their defense."

Lee is just one of the many injured players who have saddled the Cowboys with the league's worst defense, allowing 439.8 yards per game. Four times this season, an opposing quarterback has thrown for 400 or more yards against them, including Eli Manning's 450 with four touchdowns in the regular-season opener. In Dallas' most recent game, Drew Brees of the Saints threw for 392 before taking his foot off the pedal late in the blowout win.

The Giants put up big offensive numbers in that game, and all evidence points to them being better. They committed six turnovers in the loss in Dallas; they have committed six in the last four games combined. They have settled in with an offensive line that is jelling. They are finding more balance in the running game, thanks to the additions of Brown and Brandon Jacobs and fullback John Conner, none of whom were on the active roster for the opener.

"It's definitely a different team," Brown said of the Giants, pointing particularly to the revamped offensive line. "We're effective on offense. We're starting to create a bit of a balance."

The Giants' improvements carry over to defense, too, most notably the emergence of linebacker Jon Beason, who has become the voice of the unit. Beason will get his first taste of the Giants-Cowboys rivalry Sunday.

"The later it gets in the season when the playoff picture is starting to play out, things become more meaningful," Beason said. "It's definitely a game you knew, especially the last few weeks with them still having the division lead as of last night, it was a big game for us. It's a game you want to go out and play well in. It's a game you try and go out and win."

If they can and the defense can do to Romo what it has done to the parade of inexperienced and infirmed quarterbacks they have bullied the last month or so, the Giants will be a game behind the Eagles in the division and nearly out of the 0-6 hole they dug for themselves. And they'll shake the notion that their recent winning streak is more a product of shoddy competition than actual improvement.

"People can say we haven't faced the best quarterbacks, but we don't get much props for shutting down the top running backs, either," Beason said a day after holding Eddie Lacy to 27 yards on 14 carries. "To me, it all depends on how you want to spin it. Guys are going to say you haven't played anybody, but we know how hard it is to win in this league. A 'W' is a 'W' and injuries are a big part of this game and the way the championship [and] playoff teams looks at it is, it's the next guy up."

Not that the Giants are looking to prove anything besides the fact that they can win.

"If you're looking for [extra] motivation for this week," Beason said, "something is wrong with you."

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