The Giants have reached an interesting juncture in their schedule, as their next road game and next home game is against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants [4-2] are one of two teams – along with the Denver Broncos — who have yet to face a division foe, so this next block of games is crucial in seeing who takes control of the NFC East. The Giants will face their first division foe Monday night when they play at Dallas. This is the latest they’ve played their first division game since the 1970 merger, when the NFC East was formed.
After their bye and a trip to Seattle to play the Seahawks, New York faces the Cowboys [1-4, 0-2 at home] at home, Nov. 14. Monday’s tilt begins a stretch in which they’ll play six of their final 10 games against division opponents Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington.
No one in the Big Blue locker room had to waste time recounting the importance of this game. Also, no one took the bait in discussing the possibility of putting a stranglehold on the Cowboys’ season. Former Cowboy Chris Canty was one player who didn’t want to hear anything about the Cowboys’ ills.
“You know what, I’m not answering any questions about the Dallas Cowboys this week,” Canty said in a polite yet stern voice. “Anything concerned about our football team and the challenges moving forward, no problem.”
Canty, a free-agent signee in 2009, is definitely aware of the predicament his current team can further put Dallas in but was more inclined to talk about what the Giants can do for themselves.
“I’m not even going to comment to that,” said Canty when asked about any satisfaction he’d feel about crippling Dallas’ playoff hopes. “The Dallas Cowboys are obviously a good football team [but] we’re concerned about our football team and improving each and every week and cleaning up things we have kind of lingering. We’ve still got some things to correct to give ourselves the best chance to be successful on Sundays moving forward.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin also had little interest in talking about the Cowboys’ tribulations. He said he’d rather focus on his team and how to expand this three-game winning streak. Coughlin has been pleased with how certain players have responded to the challenges placed before them – specifically defensive end Osi Umenyiora and running back Brandon Jacobs. Both were relegated to backup duties during training camp, Umenyiora behind the now-injured Mathias Kiwanuka [bulging disk in his neck] and Jacobs behind Ahmad Bradshaw. But as of today, both have gladly accepted their roles and are excelling at them lately.
“The entire season, he’s been playing really well. He certainly has given us some excellent opportunities to create turnovers,” Coughlin said of Umenyiora, who leads the team with eight sacks. “Osi has played well against the run and against the pass. He’s shown the ability to bull rush, get on the edge, and come underneath [on tackle-end twist stunts]. And he’s done a good job in the class room watching tape. We encourage him to keep it up.”
Canty also marveled at Umenyiora’s 180-degree turn from the inconsistent malcontent he was last season.
“Unbelievable. I don’t know if this guy has a cape on or something. Us other defensive linemen are trying to figure out ways to slow him down so we can get some sacks,” Canty cracked. “No, in all seriousness, Osi’s doing a tremendous job. He’s a very talented individual and has the work ethic to make him a dominant football player.”
Canty said Umenyiora is “making our jobs easier” but still took time out for a little ribbing.
“We always mess with him because even when he gets those sacks, he never tackles the quarterback – he just knocks the ball out. He doesn’t want to get his uniform dirty I guess,” Canty joked. “But he does a tremendous job of creating turnovers. It’s exciting to be out there with him because you know at any moment in the game he can change [momentum].”
As for Jacobs, who was a brooding mess as recently as three weeks ago, Coughlin praised him for his maturity and selflessness.
“He’s played very well. He’s been the thumper that he always has been and the combination of Bradshaw and Jacobs has worked very well,” Coughlin said. “They’re great supporters of each other and Brandon has made extremely strong contributions…I think he’s realized that it takes more than one outstanding player to be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish.”
What the Giants are trying to accomplish is to go up in the standings by another game on the team many picked to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, as well as gain a little distance from the rest of their conference foes, as the divisional head-to-head games commence.
“This is much different for us [starting divisional play so late] but I understand it. I know what the commissioner is trying to accomplish,” Coughlin said. “It is very different for us, but as you see, they come rapid fire here pretty quick, so this is an important time.”