W2W4: Giants vs. Cowboys

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
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The 3-7 New York Giants host the 7-3 Dallas Cowboys at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium. A loss would officially eliminate the Giants from the NFC East race, and possibly from the playoffs entirely. Here's what we'll be watching closely as the Giants look to put off that inevitability for another week:

1. Can they stop the run? Dallas has the No. 2 rushing offense in the league at 153.2 yards per game, and Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL with 1,233 rushing yards (123.3 per game). The Giants' run defense is the worst in the league, allowing 145 rush yards per game. You don't have to be Vince Lombardi to spot the potential for a mismatch here. Murray ran for 128 yards in the Cowboys' Week 7 victory over the Giants in Dallas, and the Cowboys as a team had 156. There has been no indication in their three games since that the Giants have tightened up against the run, and unless they play tougher up front, they're going to have a hard time keeping Dallas from controlling the clock and the time of possession with its ground game.

2. Can they stop Dez Bryant? The Cowboys' star wideout had 151 yards on nine catches in the Week 7 matchup in spite of a generally strong coverage performance by cornerback Prince Amukamara, who was on Bryant because Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was too banged-up. Amukamara has since been placed on injured reserve, and while Rodgers-Cromartie is healthier this week than he was that week, he's still not healthy enough to play a full game at full strength. The Giants believe Rodgers-Cromartie could cover Bryant if he were fully healthy. It's kind of the reason they signed him. But he's not fully healthy, and without Amukamara as a fallback, the Giants will have to get creative in their coverage schemes to try to slow down Bryant, who has eight touchdown catches already this season.

3. Can they stop turning the ball over? Two fumbles cost the Giants a chance to win that Week 7 game in Dallas, and the five interceptions quarterback Eli Manning threw last week cost them a chance to beat the San Francisco 49ers. Manning had just six interceptions all year up until last week, so there's still a chance that game holds up as a fluke when it's all said and done. But if the Giants can't do a better job keeping the defensive pressure off of Manning than they've done the past couple of weeks, he's liable to keep throwing those back-breaking interceptions

Twitter mailbag: Head coach shopping?

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
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If it's Saturday, that means it's time for the New York Giants Twitter mailbag. Many thanks to you and your #nygmail-hashtagged questions.

We start with a question so good that it has since moved on from the mortal realm of Twitter: Are we shopping new head coaches for '15-'16 season?
@DanGrazianoESPN: This would seem to be the question on everyone's mind as it pertains to the Giants right now. Will this be the end of Tom Coughlin's time as the team's head coach? I still think a lot depends on how these next six games go. To this point, there's no evidence that the team has quit on Coughlin, and if they win, say, three or four of their final six games and bring their record back toward respectability, the Giants could easily convince themselves that this was the first year of a rebuild (which it was) and that it's not fair or prudent to make such a major change at this still-early time in that rebuild. If they finish 4-12 or something like that, then maybe it's easier for ownership to decide it's time for major change. The direct answer to your question is that Giants ownership says it's always got a list of candidates that it's evaluating for a potential time in the future when it might have to make a change. So if they decide to move on from Coughlin at the end of this year, they'll do so with a plan in mind for who succeeds him. And don't overlook the importance of that piece. People sometimes want change just for change's sake, but you have to be careful what you wish for. Coughlin is one of the very best coaches in the league, someone who's built a Hall of Fame resume during his time with the Giants. If they decide to replace him, they'll have to make sure they're bringing in someone with a clear vision for how to run things -- and a leader who can get the most out of his rosters the way Coughlin has been able to. It could be they see that potential in first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo (whom they do view as a future NFL head coach), but it would be tough to hand the reins to him after only one year as a coordinator -- especially if it ends up being the kind of year that gets the head coach fired. If they decide McAdoo's not ready yet for the big job, that could buy Coughlin more time as well. Lots of moving pieces still here. Nothing is decided at this point.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I'm thinking auto-correct got you there, and that your contention is that the Giants should have kept defensive tackle Linval Joseph. I thought so at the time, given his age and how much he meant to their run defense. Second-year man Johnathan Hankins has indeed played well, but they lack depth at that spot, especially with Cullen Jenkins injured, and their issues at linebacker (middle linebacker Jon Beason out for the year) have compounded the problem. The Giants had tough financial decisions to make last offseason as they scrambled to find enough pieces to fill out their roster, and Joseph did get $6.25 million a year, which is a lot of money for a defensive tackle. But this is a guy who just turned 26 last month and was a good player and solid citizen for them. I'd have found room in the budget for him, yes, and I said so at the time.

@DanGrazianoESPN: If Jameis Winston is still on the board when the Giants' turn comes to pick in the draft, and there's a quarterback-needy team willing to trade three first-round picks and a second-round pick for him, the Giants would be nuts not to take that. I doubt it happens, because (a) Winston's talent alone makes him worthy of going even earlier, if not No. 1 overall, (b) the extent to which Robert Griffin III has flopped in Washington is going to make teams more leery of doing such deals, especially for a guy who comes with Winston's off-field baggage and (c) the Giants don't generally maneuver that creatively in the draft. So my thinking is that the Giants end up taking their best available player, which if they're smart would be an offensive or defensive lineman on which they can build some kind of foundation. But yeah, to your point, if they're in a spot where they could conceivably take Winston, they'd be wise to shop the pick. It just doesn't seem like their way.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I don't believe Eli Manning is at all interested in taking a pay cut, nor should he. You get the money you can get in this league, and few deals are ever advantageous to the player. He's earned the right to cash all of his checks as scheduled. The Giants could threaten to cut him, since his salary next year isn't guaranteed, and get him to take a pay cut that way. But he'd be wise to call their bluff if they did that, because they don't have a sufficient fallback option. They could get cap relief if they extended him and restructured the remaining year as part of the extension, but the question then becomes how much the extension will/should be worth, and I imagine that's still a source of contention between the player and the team. For all of his flaws, Manning remains a far better option at quarterback than most, and the Giants realize that. He's also got franchise-icon status, which plays into the extent to which they can play hardball. Regardless, with the cap set to rise another $10 million or so next year and with other big salaries like Mathias Kiwanuka's likely to get wiped out by roster cuts, I don't think they're going to be desperate for the room a Manning pay cut would provide.

Thanks for your questions. Catch you Sunday night from MetLife.

 

Tom Coughlin praises Eli Manning, 10 years after promotion

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In a season when the New York Giants have had a tough time keeping key players on the field, it's all the more amazing that Eli Manning hasn't missed a game in 10 years.

Yes, it has been 10 years now -- 10 years exactly since Nov. 21, 2004, the day a 23-year-old rookie debuted as the Giants' starting quarterback. It hardly matters now that the first game wasn't great (a 14-10 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons in which Manning was 17-for-37 with one touchdown and two interceptions), or even that his most recent game wasn't great (five interceptions in a 16-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers).

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin, Eli Manning
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsThese two have made a pretty good team over the years.
So what if there's been some debate this week about Manning's future, when his past already includes two Super Bowls. And 161 consecutive regular-season starts.

No current player in the NFL has made as many, regardless of position. The other four NFC East teams have gone through 28 quarterbacks in those 10 years, while the Giants have been more than pleased to go with just one.

"It was a heck of a move by me, wasn't it?" coach Tom Coughlin quipped Friday, when reminded of the anniversary.

The 2004 Giants were 5-4 when Coughlin made the move, sitting down veteran Kurt Warner after the Giants had lost three of four (and Warner had been sacked 24 times in the four games). Manning had played in just two of the first nine games, throwing only nine passes and completing just three of them, but Coughlin understood that it was time to turn the team over to the kid drafted first overall, the kid with the $54.6 million contract and the arm and sense to earn much more.

"He is the future of the New York Giants," Coughlin said that week. "It just starts now."

"I felt like it was time, for the good of the franchise, to take the franchise quarterback and put him on the field," Coughlin said Friday. "And so we did. It was an experience for Eli [that year], but it was a good move in the long run."

It sure was. Manning lost his first six starts, finally winning in the final game of that 2004 season against the Dallas Cowboys, the same team he'll face Sunday night.

The Giants went 11-5 the next season, and by 2007 they were Super Bowl champions. They're 88-73 overall since Manning took over, with Manning throwing for a franchise-record 37,840 yards and 247 touchdowns.

The numbers are big, but the biggest might well be those 161 consecutive starts at quarterback. Only Brett Favre (297) and Eli's brother Peyton (208) have made more in the entire history of the NFL.

"It's a most impressive statistic, to be able to line up and play all those games," Coughlin said. "It's a tribute to his toughness and his will to want to play, his desire to be on the field as captain of the New York Giants and lead his team. I remember one time the speculation was that his shoulder was hurt and he wouldn't be able to play. Well, he didn't throw all week, but he took the field and started the game and threw the ball, and did well.

"So it's a great testament to his toughness and desire, and the motivation and inspiration he has to play the game."

It's not easy, as Manning knows. Peyton's streak ended because of a neck injury that required surgery and cost him the entire 2011 season. Meanwhile, Eli's own team has been hit by injury after injury this year, the latest a quadriceps problem that will keep right tackle Justin Pugh out of this week's game against the Cowboys.

"I don't think other teams have had the major injuries we have," said offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, expected to play Sunday after missing the first 10 games with a toe problem. "Guys get injured everywhere, but they come back."

The list of players the Giants have lost for the season goes on and on, but it includes four players who were starters when the season began (wide receiver Victor Cruz, linebacker Jon Beason, and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Walter Thurmond). Beyond that, running back Rashad Jennings missed four games and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins is about to miss his fourth straight.

"It certainly has been a huge, huge disappointment," Coughlin said. "I try not to dwell on it, to be honest. You can't. If you did, you'd be a basket case."

Through it all, though, the one position he hasn't had to worry about changing is the most important one on the field, the one the Giants haven't had to think about changing since that day in November, 10 years ago, when Coughlin decided it was time to start Eli Manning.

It was a heck of a move.

Week 12 Predictions: Giants vs. Cowboys

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Jason Pierre-Paul: 'Don't count us out yet'

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Dallas Cowboys always bring out the best in Jason Pierre-Paul.

On the field and off it.

A month ago, Pierre-Paul played his best game of the season in the New York Giants' 31-21 loss in Dallas. The next day, he said the Giants could win their remaining nine games.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Giants have gone from 3-4 to 3-7 since JPP's first "run the table" proclamation.
Now it's time for the Giants to play the Cowboys again, on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. And even though the Giants have gone from 3-4 to 3-7 since his first "run the table" proclamation, Pierre-Paul doubled down on it Friday.

"Don't count us out yet," Pierre-Paul said. "We made it hard on ourselves, but we can dig out of this hole."

The Giants have lost five straight. They're four games behind the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, who are tied atop the NFC East with 7-3 records and only six games remaining.

As Pierre-Paul helpfully pointed out, both the Cowboys and Eagles still have to come to MetLife.

Also, as Pierre-Paul helpfully pointed out, he has some history with the Cowboys.

"When it comes to the Cowboys, I always play great against them," he said.

He has played well against them. In nine career games, he has seven sacks, his most against any opponent. Coach Tom Coughlin singled Pierre-Paul out after the first Dallas game this season, pointing out how well he did while lined up against Tyron Smith, the Cowboys left tackle who was coming off winning the NFL's Offensive Player of the Week award.

"He's good competition," Pierre-Paul said. "He brings it. I bring it. He's one of those tackles you've got to study real hard."

Pierre-Paul is playing for a new contract, so there's little doubt that he's motivated to be at his best the rest of the season ("I would love to be a Giant next year," he said Friday). But he insisted that the Giants still have plenty to play for as a team, too.

"They've got to come through here," he said. "You know what I mean. Every team's got to come through here. Any team that comes through here, we're going to be playing our hardest. We've made it hard on ourselves, in this predicament that we're in right now. We can dig ourselves out of it by winning all these games. We've got six games left. Let's win them. I think we can.

"I think we can run the table," he said. "Honestly, I do."

He always says that. Honestly, he does.

First, they need to find a way to beat the Cowboys, who have beaten the Giants three straight times.

"We had a great week of practice," he said. "Everybody did their jobs, running to the ball, interceptions, getting to the quarterback, stopping the run. Those are things we need to do. Special teams need to step up. Offense needs to step up. We've all got to play as one.

"If everybody plays as one, we're going to win this game."

He's said it before. He'll say it again.

One of these times, he may even turn out to be right.

Injury report: Pugh won't play vs. Dallas

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geoff Schwartz says he's ready to play. Justin Pugh definitely won't play.

As to what that means for the New York Giants' offensive line Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, the team still isn't saying.

"I haven't settled on it," coach Tom Coughlin said Friday.

Pugh, who had started 26 straight games since the beginning of his 2013 rookie season, came out of last Sunday's game against the 49ers with a quadriceps injury, and he wasn't able to practice all week. The Giants officially listed him as out of the Cowboy game, along with linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf).

Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who missed practice Thursday to rest his knee, returned to practice Friday and was listed as probable to face the Cowboys.

Schwartz was signed in the offseason to play left guard, but he may end up making his Giants debut in Pugh's spot at right tackle. Schwartz, who missed the first 10 games of the season with a toe injury, practiced this week at both positions.

"I've got to be ready to do either one," Schwartz said. "I played both last year [with the Kansas City Chiefs]. It's not that big a deal."

The Giants have other options to play tackle in Pugh's place. Charles Brown took his place last Sunday (although he didn't play well). James Brewer could also play there.

Guard Adam Snyder, who has been inactive for five of the past six games and has played sparingly this season, could also see action on the line Sunday. Snyder has 87 career NFL starts, including four last season with the 49ers.

"I'm ready," Snyder said. "This is my 10th year in the game. I prepare like a professional."

Prediction: Giants will beat Cowboys

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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During their current five-game losing streak, the best game the New York Giants' offense has played was the Week 7 loss to the Cowboys in Dallas. In that game, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants had an offensive EPA (expected points added by offense) of 5.36.

That is by far their best number in any of their seven losses, and it's a better one than they had in their Week 3 victory against Houston. They were done in by two costly turnovers in that game, and by the defense's inability to get off the field on third down against DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys' offense, but on the whole Eli Manning and the Giants' offense played well.

Can the defense step it up if the offense gets it going again? Based on the fact that the Cowboys always seem to wake up Jason Pierre-Paul, who has more sacks (7) and more tackles (25) against them than he does against any other team in his career, I'll say sure, why not? The Giants aren't going to lose the rest of their games, and a home game against a rival while facing elimination feels like as good a time to pick them as any.

Prediction: Giants 24, Cowboys 21

Giants vs. Cowboys preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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video When: 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford TV: NBC

The 7-3 Dallas Cowboys have a chance to mathematically eliminate the 3-7 New York Giants from the NFC East race on Sunday night. ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano hereby present your game preview:

Graziano: Hey, Todd, the Giants haven't won a game since the last time we did this, so I'm eager to see what questions you've come up with. But during their current five-game losing streak, the Giants' best offensive game was the loss in Dallas. It was the only game in the streak in which they've rushed for 100 yards and the only one in which the opponent didn't generate consistent, disruptive pressure on quarterback Eli Manning. How is that Dallas front seven looking these days?

Archer: The easy answer is not bad, but for those used to seeing DeMarcus Ware for close to a decade, he's not walking through that door again. The good news for the Cowboys is that they are getting healthier whereas last year they were signing guys on a Tuesday and playing them on Sunday. Tyrone Crawford did not play against Jacksonville, but he should be back. Rolando McClain didn't play against the Jaguars, but he will be back. Henry Melton has been much more active. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence didn't play in the first meeting because of a foot injury but he is coming on. Josh Brent is eligible to play but I don't think he will be on the 46-man roster Sunday. They have been decent against the run but have had some breakdowns. The pass rush has been better but it's still not good enough. Like the defense as a whole, the front seven is getting by.

I'll keep it simple off the top: Is this the end for Tom Coughlin?

Graziano: Well, this game surely isn't. Coughlin will certainly coach out this season, and I honestly think his future as the Giants' coach will depend a lot on how the Giants do in their final six games. If they rally against a December schedule that includes games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis and get back to 7-9 as they did last year, it'll be easier for Giants ownership to justify giving Coughlin another year of this rebuilding project. If they fall completely apart and finish, say, 4-12 or 3-13, I imagine all bets are off and no one is safe. A lot of people want a definitive answer on Coughlin's status, but I don't believe ownership has made one yet. They love him and love having him as their coach, and if he does decide to leave or if they decide to move on from him, they know they'll need a good plan in place for how to replace perhaps the best coach in franchise history (apologies to Bill Parcells). So it's no sure thing, but the way this team is playing and the inevitable fact that they'll miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons does not work in his or any other coach's favor.

What's Jason Garrett's status these days? Has the Cowboys' surprisingly good season done anything to quiet those who perpetually call for his head?

Archer: A little bit it has, but if they don't make the playoffs then the calls for his job will be heard again. I've written that he deserves to be extended. I think the plan he has put in place has started to come together. But it will all be determined by what they do from now on. As you know, they have lost three straight winner-take-all season finales to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. At least Garrett had them in position to win the division, but this year they have to get over the top. Jerry Jones has been patient with Garrett and often talks about wanting him to be the coach long term, but he hasn't backed those words up with a new deal. Along with the contractual statuses of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, this one could get juicy here down the stretch.

How much of this Giants mess is on GM Jerry Reese? They have let guys go and not had replacements ready, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

Graziano: I think it's almost all on Reese, Todd, and you've hit it right on the head. His drafts have been flat-out terrible from the standpoint of finding players who have turned out to be foundation pieces. Do you know that, since Reese became Giants GM in 2007, only three of his draft picks have signed second contracts with the team? And none of those three was a first-rounder? (They're Will Beatty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Zak DeOssie.) You're right that the Giants haven't done a good enough job of finding and developing players to replace those who have left, and the result was that last year's roster got so hollowed out that they had to sign more free agents than any other team in the league just to fill out a 53-man roster. That's why I say this is a rebuilding project that has to take more than one year, and why I blame Reese much more than I blame Coughlin or the coaching staff for the mess this team is in. The Giants don't fire GMs as a matter of policy. They've had only three of them in the past 38 years. But as I said when we were talking about Coughlin, if things get really ugly over these final six weeks, all bets are off.

Let's move the discussion to the field. When the Giants and Cowboys played in that Week 7 game, Murray have to leave for a while with an injury. He came back and seems to have been fine since, but are there any signs of his extreme workload wearing on him? And are they doing anything to keep him from wearing down?

Archer: There really hasn't been any drastic change in his production. He has had 100 yards in every game but one this season and even in that Arizona game he averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He had at least 22 carries in the first seven games of the season but has maxed out at 19 in each of the past three. I don't know if that is by design. Some of it has been dictated by the circumstances of the games. They are using Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar earlier in games to spell Murray some. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said he is not worried so much about the carries as he is the snaps Murray plays. He's a three-down back and has 36 catches. It's a tricky balancing act the Cowboys have to follow because Murray is so valuable to what they do. He said he felt refreshed after the bye week and largely stayed off his feet. Whatever the Cowboys do in their final six games will be with the same formula they used in their first 10 games: a lot of Murray.

When these teams met in October, it looked like Manning was feeling his way through the change in offense pretty well. Is this scheme a fit for what Manning does best or is he held back by what's around him?

Graziano: The group around Manning sure has taken a pounding. The Giants lost top wide receiver Victor Cruz to a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, and they were without starting running back Rashad Jennings for four games due to a knee sprain. Jennings was back last week, and I thought the offense would look better as a result, but then Manning went and threw five interceptions, nearly doubling his season total. (He'd thrown six in his first nine games.) You're right that Manning was looking comfortable in the new offense until last week, and I think all eyes are on him Sunday night and the rest of the way to see whether this last game was a fluke or whether it's a sign that "Bad Eli" is always potentially around the corner no matter what system they put him in. One thing he has dealt with is a lot of pass-rush pressure, and that crescendoed a bit last week against the 49ers. They may make some changes on the offensive line this week, and if those changes help protect him better, I think he gets back into that rhythm he was in earlier in the year.

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Matthew Berry discusses the tight end he loves and hates for Week 12.

Bill Parcells: Tom Coughlin can still coach

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Parcells
Parcells
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells did not return to the New York Giants' sideline after winning his second Super Bowl in four seasons. Tom Coughlin has stuck around for three seasons since winning his second ring, and the team has stumbled to a 19-23 record since.

But according to Parcells, that lackluster record should not deny Coughlin the opportunity to turn the team around.

Responding to criticism of Coughlin's dismissal, Parcells questioned why the Giants would be motivated to fire their coach. "The question is, OK, you want to fire him, who are you going to get that's better?" said Parcells in an interview on "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.

"It ends for all of us at some point in time, but we're not talking about someone that's incompetent here. His history shows that he's not incompetent," said Parcells.

Former Giants Tiki Barber and Antonio Pierce have both called for Coughlin to be fired, accusing their him losing his grip over the locker room. Parcells did not agree, saying, "Losing the players, losing the team, I don't know where that comes from. It sure doesn't seem to be coming out of the locker room itself. It's coming from ancillary sources and people that used to play."

Parcells says that the Giants' problems should not be blamed on their championship-duo of coach and quarterback, referring to Coughlin and Eli Manning. Instead, he listed personnel deficiencies on the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker and injuries at wide receiver as key reasons for the team's struggles. "You're not playing solitaire out there," said Parcells. "You have to have enough help to be functional, and right now, I think the situation with their offensive line is a very difficult situation for any QB."

Parcells firmly believes that Coughlin should not have to pay for the Giants' lost season. "I know who can coach and who can't coach," Parcells said, "and this guy can coach."
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Matthew Berry discusses the running back he loves and hates for Week 12.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants think Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is a really good player.

This was my No. 1 takeaway from the Giants' locker room Thursday. I learned a lot in there, including the facts that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie thought the movie "Interstellar" was too long and center J.D. Walton got a paycheck this week that was for $0.00 because his previous checks had failed to withhold federal income tax and they're in the process of correcting that. ("Tight budget," Walton joked.)

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Giants had issues containing Dez Bryant with a healthy Prince Amukamara in Week 7 and will have to cover him Sunday with a mix of cornerbacks.
But the biggest thing I took away was that the Giants believe Bryant presents a truly significant challenge for them in Sunday night's game against the Cowboys.

"When you have a dude of that caliber and he's got that dog in him, you have to have kind of a nasty attitude to go against him," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He's a tough cover. One of those big guys who's good to the ball. You just have to cover him for as long as you can."

He is, and it likely will fall to Rodgers-Cromartie to handle him as long as he can. Rodgers-Cromartie was too injured to play much of the Week 7 game in Dallas, leaving it to Prince Amukamara to handle Bryant, who caught nine passes for 151 yards in that game. Amukamara is out for the year now, so that's no longer an option. And while Rodgers-Cromartie is in better shape now than he was that week (read: actually practicing), his leg and back injuries continue to flare up and force him out of games for stretches.

That means the Giants won't be able to stick Rodgers-Cromartie on Bryant all game as they'd like to, and that they'll have to arrange coverage on one of the game's most fearsome receivers with some combination of him, Zack Bowman, Jayron Hosley and Chykie Brown.

"It does make it difficult to match up without a full-strength 21," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said, oddly referring to Rodgers-Cromartie by his uniform number. "I'm encouraged by what we see out of 21. Obviously, he's feeling better, because before he just didn't practice. But we never know, because sometimes he's working well and then he'll tighten up in a ballgame and he'll need a break. So we never know."

Fewell said he was "very confident in Brown," indicating that he might draw the Bryant assignment if Rodgers-Cromartie can't. But the point is, whatever solution they come up with will be an imperfect one, and that's a tough pill to swallow, especially given the already tough matchup of their 32nd-ranked run defense against NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants ran four consecutive pass plays after attaining first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. None of them worked, and the Giants lost the game by six points. After the game, coach Tom Coughlin said that, in hindsight, they should have tried to run the ball at least once.

But while Coughlin does have veto power (and says he can and does use it), he does not call the offensive plays. That duty falls to offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who's in his first year ever, at any level, as a coordinator and an in-game playcaller. Since the Giants only allow media to speak to their coordinators once a week, Thursday was the first time McAdoo addressed this issue. He did not do so shyly.

[+] EnlargeBen McAdoo
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesBen McAdoo liked the matchups his Giants receivers had, so he felt comfortable calling four consecutive pass plays within the 49ers' 5-yard line.
"I'm not going to stand up here and apologize for the play calling," McAdoo said. "I have faith in our perimeter players. If we go out there and have the same players and the same matchups, I'll take those matchups any day. I will take those matchups any day of the week. I'll take them last week, and I'll take them again this week. I have confidence in those guys that they'll go up and make the play."

The first three passes in the sequence in question were fade routes -- one each to wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle and one to tight end Larry Donnell. Coughlin said earlier in the week that he had no issues with the calls because the Giants have had success with those plays before, and he seemed to believe the ones to Beckham and Donnell were almost completed.

McAdoo said the calls were matchup-based -- that the Giants liked the matchups of their receivers on the 49ers' defensive backs in close range, and that quarterback Eli Manning checked out of run plans on first down and again on one of the other three (he couldn't recall which) because the 49ers were loading up the box to stop the run. He seemed to believe Donnell's play was the one that had the best chance to succeed, and he thought for a second (as many did) that Donnell had made the catch.

It didn't help, of course, that Manning threw an interception on fourth down, which wasn't a fade but rather a throw across the middle to Preston Parker. As is almost always the case, we view in-game decisions through the prism of results, and McAdoo's play calling wouldn't be as big a talking point this week if the Giants had completed one of the four throws.

But I'll say this for McAdoo: The Giants took a chance on a very young (37) first-time coordinator, and when you do that you're assuming some growing pains. McAdoo's play calling has not been among the Giants' biggest problems this year. I have not heard players grumble about the play calling, either in general or in specific reference to Sunday's goal-line sequence, and sometimes you do hear that. And if you're going to be a good coach and a strong leader, as the Giants believe McAdoo is, then it's important to be able to stand up and confidently project your belief in yourself and your players. It's also important that your decisions have well-considered reasons behind them, and that you're able to convey that fact (and those reasons) when challenged.

McAdoo passed that test Thursday, and while I know Giants fans would have preferred him to pass the in-the-moment test Sunday, those who take the long view might draw some encouragement from the way McAdoo owned the situation and explained himself.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Justin Pugh has started all 26 games at right tackle for the New York Giants since the start of his 2013 rookie season, but that streak looks likely to end Sunday night. Pugh, who came out of last Sunday's game against the 49ers with a quadriceps injury, missed practice for the second day in a row Thursday, and the team is preparing to play without him.

Options to play right tackle Sunday night against the Cowboys, assuming Pugh can't go, include Charles Brown (who took over Sunday with disastrous results), James Brewer and Geoff Schwartz.

Schwartz was signed in the offseason to play left guard but has yet to suit up for the Giants due to a late-preseason toe injury. He's eligible to play Sunday and has been working at guard and tackle in practice this week, but at this point he's not sure where or whether he'll play. Schwartz said he was still working on technique and conditioning following his long layoff, though his hope is to play a full game Sunday if they'll let him.

"I think I could do it," Schwartz said. "Until I do it, I don't really know. But I've done it before after being hurt. You just find ways to get through it. I'm a veteran and I could do it. The conditioning's the biggest thing. You have to find ways to make sure you don't get too tired in the first quarter."

Also sitting out practice Thursday were linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (knee). Williams is unlikely to play Sunday, and Mark Herzlich should get a second straight start in his place. Jenkins says he's feeling better and has a chance to practice Friday and play Sunday. Kiwanuka has been resting his knee once a week for several weeks now and he should be fine to play Sunday.

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