Let's break down the defenses for both teams as the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys prepare for Sunday night's win-or-go-home clash at MetLife Stadium. At first glance, neither defense has been dominant, with Dallas ranked 14th in the league in yards allowed per game and the Giants ranked an awful 28th.
Let's take a position-by-position look at the two teams.
The Giants are led by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday. NFL Network's Michael Lombardi says Pierre-Paul "might be the Defensive Player of the Year," and he might be right. In his second year, JPP has 15.5 sacks, leads all NFL defensive linemen with 81 tackles, has two forced fumbles, a safety and a blocked field goal. He has at times been a one-man defense for the Giants.
The Giants also have Justin Tuck, a two-time Pro Bowler who is healthier right now than he has been most of the season and played his best game of the season Saturday against the New York Jets. Chris Canty and Linval Joseph have been solid at the tackles.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is the Cowboys best defensive lineman. The defensive ends in the Dallas 3-4 are Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman. The linebackers, though, are the playmakers in this defense.
This level of the defense has been an issue for the Giants for several years. The Giants start Chase Blackburn in the middle, with Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley on the outside. Rookie Jacquian Williams plays on passing downs. The Giants have struggled at middle linebacker as Blackburn is the third player they have used their, following rookies Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich. They have also struggled in pass coverage at times.
The Dallas linebackers are led by perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware, who has 18 sacks this season and is always a difficult assignment for Giants left tackle David Diehl. Anthony Spencer, Sean Lee and Bradie James round out a play-making unit that is the strength of the Cowboys defense.
Neither team has excelled in pass defense this season. The Cowboys are 23rd in the league, surrendering 238.3 yards passing per game. The Giants are 27th, surrendering 255.4. Thus, you would have to believe there will be plays to be made for Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his Dallas counterpart, Tony Romo.
The Giants have Corey Webster and Aaron Ross on the outside, with rookie Prince Amukamara seeing some time in passing situations. Webster has been good all season, while Ross started well and has faded in recent weeks. Amukamara played only three snaps against the Jets after being toasted by the Washington Redskins the week before.
Dallas has Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman on the outside, and Newman does have four interceptions this season. Orlando Scandrick and Frank Walker provide depth.
The Giants use three safeties frequently. Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle start, and Deon Grant often fills the role of third linebacker in a 4-2-5 alignment. Rolle also sometimes defends the slot receiver. Phillips has had a good, but not spectacular season, while the Giants have often asked both Rolle and Grant to play out of position this season.
Dallas has Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam at safety. Sensabaugh has 67 tackles and two interceptions, but neither player is special.