NFL NEWS

Giants try to put bump in Cowboys’ road to playoffs

The Sports Xchange

December 26, 2018 at 4:00 pm.

The Dallas Cowboys are headed to the playoffs, while the New York Giants are going home after Sunday’s regular-season finale at MetLife Stadium.

The Cowboys beat their NFC East rival, 20-13, in the second game of the season in Texas, but the Giants (5-10) would like to make a point before they go.

“I think we’re a better team than we were back then,” said Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, whose team has turned things around a bit after losing seven of their first eight games this season.

“We’ve sustained some injuries the last couple of weeks, but I do think that all teams kind of morph a little bit as the season goes on,” Shurmur said. “You start to do the things you do well more. Some of the things you didn’t do well early, you don’t do anymore. And again, for guys in their first year, getting the feel for the players, so you change certainly. There’s something to be gained by watching the film because schemes pretty much are the same, but I think we’re both different teams now.”

The Giants have been something of a punching bag for the Cowboys, who have an all-time lead in the rivalry, 65-42-2, and are trying to sweep the series for the second year in a row and for the fourth time since 2012.

And, the Shurmur and the Giants know the Cowboys (9-6) have gotten better since that game in September with the addition of wide receiver Amari Cooper in a trade with the Oakland Raiders.

Cooper has converted 36 of his 48 receptions (75 percent) for first downs since being acquired by the Cowboys. That puts him third in the league among receivers who have a minimum of 25 receptions.

“Yeah, they’ve added a dynamic playmaker at receiver,” Shurmur said. “Certainly, their offense runs through their quarterback (Dak Prescott) and their running back (Ezekiel Elliott).

“Ezekiel Elliott gets yards when he runs the ball and the play-action feeds off of that, so when you add a dynamic playmaker on the outside, from a defensive standpoint, you have to defend everything. They’ve made big plays now with him in the lineup.”

Not that the Giants are awestruck by the Cowboys.

Safety Michael Thomas said the Giants will be ready for whatever Dallas has to offer, whether they play Prescott, Elliott, Cooper and the rest of their starters, or rest some of them for the playoffs.

“I expect them to play their game,” said Thomas, who also is the Giants’ special teams captain. “We’re going to go out here, we’re going to execute. Whoever lines up out there we’re going to go out there and try to put something good on tape.

“I don’t know what to expect from them — they already won the division and they’re in the playoffs, but whoever plays, we’re going to be ready for them.

“We’ve grown. We’ve learned from a lot of mistakes we’ve had.”

Even though the Cowboys have clinched the NFC East title and can’t improve their playoff position with a victory this week, head coach Jason Garrett said he will approach this like any other game.

Garrett said he has no plans to rest his starters after winning six of their last seven games, perhaps to maintain their momentum.

“Really what we’re trying to do is have a really good practice today,” Garrett said. “Our focus is on what we need to do this week against the Giants to play our best game.

“We’re going to play our football team. Anybody who’s healthy is going to play in this ball game. … A lot of people have said this is a meaningless game. It’s a meaningful game to us.”

Interestingly, Dallas finished last season with a victory on the road over the Philadelphia Eagles, who had already clinched the division and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Should the Cowboys lose, they would finish with a 9-7 record, the same as last season.

The difference is, they missed the playoffs a year ago, while this time they will enter the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the NFL with a chance to match the Eagles’ accomplishment.