IRVING, Texas – With rain potentially in the Meadowlands forecast and Matt Cassel making his first start at quarterback, field position is one key area for the Cowboys on Sunday against the Giants.
Currently tied with Jacksonville for last in takeaways (3), the defense will look to force their first turnover since Week 2 at Philadelphia. And on special teams, the Cowboys are seeking their first big kickoff or punt return of the season.
So far, the longest totals have been a 32-yard kickoff return from Lance Dunbar and a 12-yard punt return from Cole Beasley. Dunbar's season ended in Week 4 when he tore his ACL on a kickoff return against the Saints, leaving the Cowboys without their primary kickoff returner and part-time punt returner. Rookie Lucky Whitehead had the team's only kickoff return the following week against the Patriots, and he and Beasley each had one punt return.
In the 30-6 loss to New England, the Cowboys' average starting field position was their own 18-yard line. Those are long drives for an offense. Some shorter fields would help.
Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia said the return game can improve. Part of it has been dealing with difficult field position against some good punters. Part of it is creating more room for the returners.
"It's not always the return guy," Bisaccia said. "I've said that for years. In the past we've had a good group of guys blocking in front and certainly a dynamic returner, and now we're getting comfortable with the returns that we've used and getting a little bit better blocking up front."
For the Giants, former Cowboys wide receiver/returner Dwayne Harris has held the same duties in New York. In four seasons with the Cowboys he scored two punt return touchdowns and averaged 11.1 yards on 87 returns. This year he's averaging 7.4 yards on 16 punt returns and 27.8 yards on five kickoff returns.