After snapping a three-game losing streak in Week 7 with a convincing rout of the Philadelphia Eagles to give them first place in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys received a gift as meaningful as that 37-10 victory: rest.
A bye week last week has enabled Dallas to mostly return to full strength for its Monday night visit to MetLife Stadium and its second meeting of the year with the New York Giants.
Left tackle Tyron Smith, right tackle La'el Collins and top receiver Amari Cooper all battled injuries in the blowout of Philadelphia. With 15 days between games, the trio and other Cowboys who weren't healthy have received the breather they needed to tackle the season's second half.
"I'd rather be here at 4-3 with other positives going right for us - injury being the principal one," Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "I think we've got a chance to get in the playoffs, and if we do and we're healthy, I think we've got a chance to advance."
Cooper went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time since Oct. 4.
The record aside, the Cowboys appear to be a team capable of winning in January. Their offense leads the league in yards per game (437.9) while ranking in the top 10 in passing yards, rushing yards and points per game. The defense is sixth in the league in fewest points allowed per game at 17.7.
And Jones moved to fortify the defense after Tyrone Crawford landed on injured reserve with a hip injury. Dallas swung a trade with New England to acquire 33-year-old veteran Michael Bennett, who has 65.5 sacks and three Pro Bowl appearances in an 11-year career.
"He plays with edge, tenacity, full confidence in himself," said linebacker Jaylon Smith. "He's never out there doubting. You need that."
New York (2-6) also made a move to improve its defense, acquiring lineman Leonard Williams from the Jets for a third-round pick in 2020 and a fifth-rounder in 2021. It seems like a reasonably cheap price for a former Pro Bowl player, but Williams can hit free agency after eight games with Big Blue.
The Giants rank 22nd against the run and 28th in yards allowed, so the 6-foot-5, 302-pound Williams has a chance to make an instant impact. In fact, Williams has enjoyed success against the Cowboys this year, making a couple of tackles in Week 6 when the Jets upset Dallas 24-22 in this stadium.
Williams said the transition to the Giants' scheme under coordinator James Bettcher should be smooth, since his system is similar to the one Todd Bowles ran the past four years as the Jets' coach.
"Even some of the terminology and verbiage is pretty similar, so I think it should be a little easier to pick up," Williams said. "It's a little easier of a transition since I've actually played in the defense for a little bit."
New York is hoping for a better second half of the season after ending the first half on a four-game skid. The Giants fell 31-26 Sunday in Detroit despite a 322-yard, four-touchdown performance from rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Running back Saquon Barkley should be closer to full health this week and has been able to create splash plays against the Cowboys.
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith said Barkley is to him this generation's Barry Sanders. In three games against Dallas, Barkley has 257 rushing yards, but 127 of those yards came on two carries. Barkley ripped off a 59-yard run in Week 1.
The Cowboys spanked New York 35-17 in the season opener, getting 405 yards and four scoring strikes from quarterback Dak Prescott.
--Field Level Media