EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Most of the talk about the Dallas Cowboys this week is focusing on stellar rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and quarterback Dak Prescott’s recent struggles.
Parsons has become one of the NFL’s top defensive players with his sacks and his ability to disrupt opposing offenses, while Prescott has some scratching their heads with a late-season slump as the Cowboys (9-4) prepare to play the Giants (4-9) in New Jersey on Sunday.
Almost forgotten with four games left in the regular-season is the Cowboys are on the verge of clinching their first postseason berth in three years and winning the NFC East. Both could happen this weekend if Dallas wins its third straight and there is a tie in the game with Washington (6-7) at Philadelphia (6-7).
“I think it’s the right time for us to turn it on,” said Prescott, who downplayed the slump theory and said there is nothing wrong with him physically.
Prescott said the offense has struggled a little and the problems are being addressed.
“We’ve held ourselves accountable for it, we can move forward and peak at the right time heading into the playoffs,” he added.
The Giants have issues on both sides of the ball as they look to stop a two-game losing streak. The offense has struggled all season and it will be without starting quarterback Daniel Jones for the third straight week. Veteran Mike Glennon will start again.
The defense gave up 37 points in losing on the road to the Chargers on Sunday. They will face a team that scored 44 points against them in October. Pat Graham’s unit also is expected to be short-handed with star lineman Leonard Williams dealing with a triceps injury incurred in Los Angeles and some key players dealing with COVID-19 issues and injuries.
Giants coach Joe Judge isn’t looking to play the spoiler this week. And he isn’t looking for sympathy, saying his approach is always next man up.
“Our motivation is to go out there every week, regardless,” Judge said. “You get 17 opportunities a year. If you need motivation, you need a pep talk, you need a song, you need some kind of a speech, you’re probably in the wrong locker room.”
BRACING FOR IT
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott wore a brace on his ailing right knee against Washington and said it helped. The two-time rushing champ said it was “the best I’ve felt in a while.” Elliott said he will keep wearing the brace, which he said he last wore in high school, also because of a knee injury.
Elliott has gone five consecutive games without reaching 50 yards rushing, the longest such stretch of his six-year career.
The Giants have been hit with injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak that has a lot of their coaches wondering who will be available. The roster they handed out on Thursday had 45 active players.
The biggest worry is in the defensive backs room. Cornerback Adoree Jackson has both a quad injury and a positive COVID-19 test. Aaron Robinson, his replacement, tested positive earlier this week. Safety Xavier McKinney is in the protocol because he has said he is not vaccinated. However, he has been isolated and should play.
Julian Love, who can play any position could start at cornerback or play the nickel. If Robinson can’t go, expect practice squad member Jarren Williams to perhaps see a lot of action.
The group of Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory was very noticeable against Washington. Each had a sack (Parsons had two), while Gregory and Parsons forced turnovers.
“We all played fast, we all had an impact in the game,” Parsons said of playing with them for only the second time. “It’s real exciting but coming back out here, we’re just cleaning stuff up. Law is coming over saying, ‘Hey we should try this. Do this.’ We’re still learning to talk to each other, so the sky’s the limit for all of us really.”
The offensive line has been banged up all season and there could be some more movement.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas, who has been their best lineman by far this season, aggravated an ankle injury last weekend. If he is limited or can’t play, expect Matt Peart to play there.
Peart alternated at right tackle with Nate Solder last week and actually finished with five more snaps than the starter. So he could see a lot of playing time.
Solder and right guard Will Hernandez are the only members of the line to start every game. The line lost left guard Shane Lemieux after the first game and center Nick Gates in the second. Thomas has missed four with ankle issues.
MORE OL SHUFFLING
Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith will miss the game after aggravating his left ankle injury against Washington. Ty Nsekhe replaced Smith while Terence Steele came on at right tackle after La’el Collins was ejected for throwing a punch.
But this week’s plan won’t be as simple as Nsekhe staying put and Steele returning to the swing tackle spot. Instead, Steele is expected to start in place of Smith, as he did last year when Smith was injured. That would put Nsekhe back in the swing role.
AP Football Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report
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