Tale of the Tape: Romo, Manning prepare for heavy pressure

In a battle between two up-and-down NFC East rivals, the matchup between the Giants and Cowboys will be won by the team that can take down the opposing quarterback – and keep its own standing.

Rob Ryan has to be licking his lips or plucking his gray beard. However excitement manifests itself with the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, he must have shown plenty of it this week after taking a look at the Giants’ situation at offensive tackle.

Because of injuries, guard David Diehl is playing left tackle. On the other side, Kareem McKenzie, who has been in the league 11 seasons, seems to be playing with tired feet.

For the Giants, they must stop Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware. For Cowboys QB Tony Romo, he will have his own issues on Sunday with DEs Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.

Eli Manning’s nightmare

There is no telling where Ware might be in this game, because Ryan likes to place his sack artist on both sides of the formation. That’s bad news for the Giants, who will have a tough time figuring out which tackle to line the tight end next to for blocking help or where to send a running back to chip block.

Even if the Giants double-team Ware, Ryan is also known to send another one, two or even three blitzers to the weak side of a team’s protection. This forces teams to release the ball quick to a voided zone. But that’s not something the Giants are looking to do.

The Giants lead the league in pass attempts of more than 20 yards this season, with 73 through 13 games, totaling 1,022 yards. But they have to protect Manning on five- and seven-step drops in order to let those routes develop downfield. While the Cowboys’ secondary is vulnerable, Manning needs time to sit in the pocket to make those throws.

And that puts pressure on Diehl, who is not a natural, blind-side pass protector. The Giants were actually more confident in Diehl last week than McKenzie, sending a majority of their help in pass protection to the right side of the line. When they took a chance and put the tight end or running back chip to Diehl’s side, McKenzie consistently lost one-on-one battles.

Tony Romo’s nightmare

The Cowboys have their own challenge in blocking the Giants’ ends. New York doesn’t need to blitz and sacrifice coverage to get pressure, because Pierre-Paul and Tuck can collapse the edges of a pocket on their own.

What the Cowboys need to counteract the Giants’ pass rush is a once-inspiring ground game that fizzled last week. DeMarco Murray rushed for only 38 yards versus the Cardinals after gaining 761 yards the previous six weeks.

Part of that was the Cowboys trying to attack their opponent’s weakness (the Cardinals are 25th versus the pass), but they still have to reassert the ground game to help rookie RT Tyron Smith and LT Doug Free against Tuck and Pierre-Paul.

If the offensive line can sustain blocks versus the Giants’ front four, and get Murray running free on the second level against an ever-shuffling linebacking corps, there should be opportunities for big plays on the ground.

Who’s left standing?

Between two highly erratic teams, it is hard to pick a winner. If we had to bet on one pass rush versus one offensive line, we would take the Cowboys’ pressure scheme in this game over the Giants’ protection.

Would we necessarily take Romo over Manning? No. Not this season. But will we take Romo if he is clean and Manning isn’t? Absolutely – and vice versa.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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