The New York Giants aren't apologizing for the fact that their four-game win streak has come against backup quarterbacks.
The Dallas Cowboys are hoping a week off will help the league's worst defense demonstrate some much-needed improvement.
These NFC East rivals seem to be headed in different directions going into Sunday's matchup at MetLife Stadium.
New York has taken advantage of a favorable four-game stretch to recover from a winless six-game start. The Giants (4-6) played Josh Freeman making his Minnesota debut in a 23-7 victory Oct. 21 and knocked out Michael Vick and were up against rookie Matt Barkley for most of a 15-7 win over Philadelphia the next week before their bye.
More good fortune continued as they took advantage of a hobbled Terrelle Pryor in a 24-20 victory over Oakland on Nov. 10 before last Sunday's 27-13 win over Green Bay, which gave Scott Tolzien his first career start. Now New York will see a proven starter in Tony Romo.
'People can say we haven't faced the best quarterbacks, but we don't get much props for shutting down the top running backs, either,' linebacker Jon Beason said. 'To me, it all depends on how you want to spin it. Guys are going to say you haven't played anybody, but we know how hard it is to win in this league."
There's no way to spin how bad Dallas (5-5) has been defensively. The Cowboys are yielding an NFL-worst 456.7 yards per game, and a low point came in their 49-17 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 10.
Linebacker Sean Lee was lost to a hamstring injury in the first quarter and the Cowboys were horrendous, surrendering an NFL-record 40 first downs and 625 yards - two more than the franchise record set two weeks earlier in Detroit.
'I just didn't expect this,' owner Jerry Jones said. 'I never saw this coming."
Lee is out and fellow linebacker Justin Durant will also miss this game. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher will return after missing a week due to a neck injury.
The Cowboys have already allowed a league-record four 400-yard passers, and it may be surprising that Eli Manning is one of them.
Manning is enduring a difficult season with a passer rating of 70.8, his lowest since his rookie season. But his best effort came when he was 27 of 42 for 450 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in a season-opening 36-31 loss at Dallas in which New York committed six turnovers.
"Our expectations were extremely high and we had, quite frankly, just kind of wrapped it up and handed it to them," coach Tom Coughlin said. "That was the devastation of it for me."
That was part of New York's terrible start, and the team has more confidence now.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who had a 24-yard interception return for a TD last weekend, was coming off offseason back surgery in that game. He spoke of beating the Cowboys this week, saying the Giants were 'going to put it on them,' among other things.
'He's supposed to feel that way,' Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said. 'You're an opponent. We're an opponent for them. It's great confidence.'
Bryant will try to avoid a season-high third straight game without a touchdown, and he's gone four in a row against the Giants without reaching the end zone.
Romo will have one of his weapons back in Miles Austin, who hasn't caught a pass since Sept. 22 while being out with a hamstring injury.
"He can be a very difficult matchup for opposing defenses because he's a big guy who's also quick and explosive," coach Jason Garrett said. "So we try to use him appropriately and he'll certainly help the other guys out just having his presence out there."
The Cowboys will see one of their nemeses in Brandon Jacobs, who re-signed with New York on Sept. 10 - two days after the opener. His 617 rushing yards against Dallas lead all active players.
"I didn't have an opportunity to play against them in Week 1 and all of last year, so I'm really looking forward to the opportunity," Jacobs said.
Coughlin's big concern is that the Giants have committed a league-high 29 turnovers while the Cowboys have forced 22 to tie for the NFL's fourth-best mark. Dallas has also committed an NFC-low 11 turnovers.
Both teams are trying to catch the first-place Eagles, who lead Dallas by one-half game and New York by 1 1/2.
"I can honestly say that we don't like each other and it shows up on the football field so I think it's going to be another one of those drag-out type of games where you get in for four quarters and try to find a way to win it," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
The Cowboys, 1-4 on the road, haven't swept the series since winning twice in 2007. They lost in the playoffs that season to the Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Associated Press News Service
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