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Dallas Cowboys - TeamReport

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NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - INSIDE SLANT

With six games to go in what has been a disappointing start to the season, it's now or never for the Cowboys.

Make the playoffs or face a most uncertain future.

That starts with Sunday's game against the Giants, who have won four straight after opening the season with six straight losses.

The Cowboys (5-5) had a chance to distance themselves in what has been a down year in the NFC East. But they have lost two of the last three games, including a 49-17 blowout to the Saints Nov. 10 before last week's bye.

A second straight loss would be devastating to the Cowboys' chances to avoid missing the playoff for a fourth consecutive season, and would give the surging Giants life.

Not to mention the Eagles, who are tied atop the division with the Cowboys at 5-5.

Tight end Jason Witten said the Cowboys are starting the beginning of six one-game seasons and it's a must-win on Sunday.

"People always say you got to have a tunnel vision with your approach," Witten said. "I agree with that 100 percent. But there is a big picture; you have to understand that and where you are at.

There is a mentality that says we have to play our best football and here is what it comes down to. These next six games are going to determine a lot of stuff."

A lot of stuff indeed.

No. 1 on that list could include the future of coach Jason Garrett, who has a 26-24 since taking over as coach midway through the 2010 season. He was 8-8 his first two full years and is 5-5 midway through his third full season.

If Garrett doesn't steer this team into the playoffs there is no guarantee he will return in 2014.

Owner Jerry Jones maintained before the season that this would not be a make or break season for Garrett. However there was no way at the time he thought the Cowboys wouldn't make the playoffs.

As a coach's son, Garrett understands as much.

But he takes the same attitude with his job as he does with his team.

He is just trying to be his best today.

If he and his team aren't their best on Sunday, he will move closer to a time when his best is not good enough for Jones and the Cowboys.

THE SERIES: 103rd meeting. Dallas leads the series, 58-43-2. New York has won three off the last five. Dallas won the earlier meeting this season, 36-31, on Sept. 8. Seven the last 12 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.

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NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cowboys used last week's bye to not only focus on the upcoming game against the Giants but also the Thanksgiving Day game against the Oakland Raiders.

"You want to steal a couple of days," coach Jason Garrett said. "The proximity of our bye to that game is better because we'll have two of the games that we'll use in our breakdown, they've already played. That's been a positive thing for us. But again, you give that a little bit of attention, but our real focus on what we're doing is the Giants."

--WR Dez Bryant got a lot of attention last week when he purchased a few PlayStation 4s for some customers at Walmart. The customers thanked Bryant on twitter for the gifts that went for $399 each.

"That's all from the heart," Bryant said. "I just felt like there were some people there, they didn't look like they played the game, like they were getting it for somebody (else). They were there early -- too damn early -- before the game come out. I was like, let me ease it up for them, try to make their day."

--Former Cowboys S Will Allen, now with the Steelers after being cut earlier in the season, recently gave his take on the team's struggles from being able to get over the hump. Allen said the Cowboys were being micromanaged too much by the coaches and played too tight because of the intense pressure to win in Dallas.

The Cowboys disagreed with Allen, who they said they respected as a player during his brief time with the team.

"No real comment beyond just a great deal of respect for him," coach Jason Garrett said. "Had a chance to be around him in Tampa, and we were really fortunate to have him here.

"We had some younger guys emerge into that position and we just felt like making that move was good for our football team at that time. It doesn't surprise me one bit he's back in Pittsburgh and doing good things. He's a good football player, and he's a good guy."

Allen rejoined the Steelers after leaving Dallas. He has nine tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a defensed pass in Pittsburgh. He had nine tackles in the four games he played with the Cowboys, with an interception and three passes defensed.

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said he has never been on another team to know how other teams do things.

"I don't know, man," Witten said. "I've only been here. I haven't seen. I loved Will as a teammate. I thought he was a good veteran player, a good leader on defense. I think it's a pretty good group, coaches and players. I mean, guys work together and believe in each other, believe in the staff. There is a respect there. We want to win for them; they want to win for us. It's coaches and players, and players and players.

"It's a great group of guys that go out and work their tail off every day. It's the kind of locker room I've been around. I don't think there are micromanagers. There is always the pressure to go perform, and that's in 31 other locker rooms as well. It's part of playing in pro football."

BY THE NUMBERS: 22 -- Number of turnovers the Cowboys have forced in the first 10 games, including six in the season-opening victory against the Giants.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no (such) thing as magic. We've just got to do a better job. We've all got to do a better job." -- Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

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NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--SS J.J. Wilcox took part in his first full-padded practice Wednesday since missing three games because of a knee injury. He is ready to go for the Giants game, although the Cowboys are easing him back into the fold. Rookie Jeff Heath split first team reps with Wilcox in practice.

--WR Miles Austin will return against the Giants after missing the last three games. He has not caught a pass since Sept. 22 because of lingering hamstring issues. The Cowboys are relishing his return as they see he should open things up for the offense and free TE Jason Witten and WR Dez Bryant from double teams or make them pay.

"To have him for these next six ballgames (is good)," owner Jerry Jones said. "I'm really, probably getting ahead of myself because of the history we've had there with him with his hamstrings. To have him back out there, he's our best route runner. He'll make a difference in what we're doing offensively."

--CB Orlando Scandrick is ready for his battle with Giants receiver Victor Cruz out of the slot. "Man, you guys know I'm always out to prove something, so anytime I get a chance to play against a guy that's of that caliber and a Pro Bowler like that, I relish those moments," Scandrick said. "At the same time, I know it's going to be a challenge, and I'm embracing it. I'm going to be ready to play."

Scandrick has allowed only 35 receptions on 60 targets for 315 yards and three touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Quarterbacks have a passer rating of only 75.3 against him.

--DE DeMarcus Ware practiced Wednesday and will play against the Giants on Sunday. Ware, who has five sacks on the season, said he needs to get the quarterback and be effective for the Cowboys to be successful. "The most important player on our scheme and on our defense frankly is the guy who gives the pressure and that's DeMarcus Ware," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "We like to have them all out there but I think DeMarcus can take up some of the slack on the effectiveness of the defense."

INJURY IMPACT

--LB Sean Lee did not practice Wednesday and is still hobbled by a hamstring injury that probably will sideline him for two games. Ernie Sims will replace him at middle linebacker. Weakside linebacker Bruce Carter will replace him as the defensive play caller.

--LB Justin Durant is out for at least two games because of a hamstring injury. Rookie Devonte Holloman is expected to start in his place at strong side linebacker.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Cowboys need to force the run to create some balance and open up the play action passing game, hopefully paving the way for some big plays down the field. They also must find a way to get the ball in the hands of game-breaking WR Dez Bryant early and often. Defensively, the must the stop run and force QB Eli Manning and the Giants offense into some third and long situations. Get to the quarterback and prevent the big play as well as a fifth 400-yard passing day by an opposing quarterback

KEY MATCHUPS:

--Cowboys T Tyron Smith vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul:

Pierre-Paul has been slowed by injuries this year, causing his numbers to be down. But he is getting stronger and better each week. He had a pick-six in Giants' 27-13 victory against the Packers last week and is ready to turn it on against the Cowboys. Smith has quietly had a strong season for the Cowboys, allowing only one sack in 10 games. He will need to be at his best on Sunday and keep a rising Pierre-Paul off of quarterback Tony Romo.

--Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick vs. Giants WR Victor Cruz: Scandrick has been known as the team's best slot cornerback in the past. This year he has been the team's best cornerback, period, but just happens to play in the slot on passing downs. He is second on the team in pass deflections with 11 and has two interceptions. Scandrick did a great job on Wes Welker earlier in the season but understands that Cruz is on another level as a game breaker. Cruz has 58 receptions for 824 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. In five games against Dallas, Cruz has made 25 receptions for 451 yards and five touchdowns.

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