|Giants WR Haleem Nicks is getting healthier and that could be a problem for the Cowboys. (USPresswire)|
Six weeks is an eternity in the NFL.
When the Giants opened the NFL season against the Cowboys back in early September, they were unable to stop WR Kevin Ogletree (eight catches, 114 yards and two touchdowns), RB DeMarco Murray (131 yards on 20 carries) and ILB Sean Lee (12 tackles). Dallas won 24-17 and instantly ended New York's Super Bowl honeymoon.
Things are different now to say the least. The Giants are 5-2 and sit atop the NFC East, while the division rival Cowboys are just 3-3 and are coming off a narrow win over the one-win Panthers.
Beyond the records, New York is healthier (they have only six names on the injury report this week compared with 10 leading up to the season opener) and Dallas is suddenly the team battling injuries. Murray is still on crutches and likely won't be playing on Sunday while Lee is out for the year with a toe injury.
Ogletree is still healthy, but he's has only 13 catches for 134 yards (and no touchdowns) since his career day on Sept. 5.
But while Weeks 2 through 7 have been foreshadowing a Giants' win in Week 8, coach Tom Coughlin was naturally skeptical -- particularly on the subject of inside linebacker.
“[Dan] Connor is a good player,” Coughlin said of Lee's replacement and fellow Penn State alum. “He's played in this league; he's played in their scheme. When they go to a three-linebacker scheme, he plays. He's physical, he's a veteran, he's good instinctively. Obviously, Sean Lee is their leading tackler, so there will be a factor there. Connor is a good player.”
Giants fullback Henry Hynoski said he sees a lot of similarities between the mindsets Connor and Lee.
As far as Murray is concerned, his backup, Felix Jones, is battling a knee injury, so there will be plenty of pressure on the Cowboys passing game this week.
Of course, QB Tony Romo didn't have any issues with that against the Giants in Week 1.
“He didn't make a lot of mistakes in the first game,” DE Justin Tuck said of Romo. “That is the thing about Tony. I know a lot of people give him grief when he is on a streak where he is not playing well, but when he is on a streak playing well, like he was on that night, he's one of the best in the league, hands down.
“The times we have had success against him is the times where we have gotten hits on him and rattled him a bit or taken away some of his first and second reads,” Tuck continued. “Get him second-guessing what he is looking at. It is going to be a team effort on defense to kind of keep him in check.”
Fortunately for Giants fans, the secondary has looked much better since Week 1, amassing 11 interceptions.
“I think we've been challenging a lot more,” S Antrel Rolle said of the secondary. “We've been attacking the ball when it's in the air and we've been [getting] turnovers.”
What will the offensive line look like? Both LG Kevin Boothe and C Jim Cordle said they took first-team reps in Wednesday's practice. If C David Baas (ankle) cannot play on Sunday, Boothe is the logical replacement because his move from guard would allow former Pro Bowler David Diehl to return to the starting lineup.
Boothe said the exchanges with QB Eli Manning went well because he usually practices snaps with Manning at every practice. Cordle hasn't had an exchanges with Manning since Baas was dealing with a hand injury in Week 5.
Just what the doctor ordered: DT Chris Canty's return from the PUP list gives the Giants significantly more depth at the position, which was being manned by starter Linval Joseph and youngsters Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin.
Coughlin said Canty could expect to see more snaps than the 25 or so he saw in Week 7.
“I'm looking forward to being a part of it,” Canty said about playing his former team, the Cowboys. “It was tough for me to sit back and watch the first game and see the first game against a division rival and whatnot and now to have an opportunity to be a part of this, having a chance to face my old football team. This is another big division game for us. As coach said, once you win big games, the games after that just become bigger. This is another big game for our football team.”
Is Hakeem Nicks back to full strength? When Nicks hasn't been overcome by foot and knee problems this year, he put together a 199-yard, 10-catch performance against the Buccaneers in Week 2.
However, every other day this season has been defined by pain in one form or another -- until Wednesday.
“I'm a lot healthier now, especially over the last couple of weeks,” Nicks said. “I finally feel like I finally got over the little hump. The last game, I feel like it broke me in a little bit more. First it was the foot and then the knee, today was a great practice for me. I feel like I got back to myself a little bit.”
After seeing Nicks at Wednesday's practice, Manning agreed.
“I saw there was a different burst, running differently,” Manning said. “I think he's just getting more confident and trust and everything and feeling better. That's always good for us.”
Follow the Giants and Alex Raskin @CBSGiants and @AlexRaskinNYC.