Arguably the long bright spot from week one’s disappointing loss was the ability of the Cowboys young cornerbacks to shut down the Carolina receivers on the perimeter.
In total quarterback Cam Newton threw for only 161 yards on 26 attempts, but his wide outs accounted for just 79 of those total yards. Newly converted full time cornerback Byron Jones had just about the best day of any Cowboy on Sunday, and second year phenom Chidobe Awuzie continued to show the promise that makes some believe he can be the league’s next great corner.
All of this is exciting, and should be promising moving forward. But make no mistake about it, the New York Giants’ perimeter skill players are on a whole different level than Carolina’s. Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith are nice players, but Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard can break the Cowboys’ will on Sunday night.
Let’s dive in a little deeper and see what these young corners will have to do in order to keep the Giants’ wide receivers in check this week.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Arguably the league’s best wide out, Odell Beckham Jr. has the ability to break a game open every single time he touches the ball. Countless times we have seen Beckham take what should be a 7 yard slant pass all the way to the house, as he did back in 2016 against the Cowboys.
Beckham is also a threat vertically due to his speed and route running ability. Then, of course, there are his hands. Beckham can catch just about everything thrown his way and is truly never covered. He’s earned Eli Manning’s trust in contested situations and presents a plethora of problems for any defense looking to contain him.
Last week, Beckham went for over 100 yards on 11 catches against the vaunted Jaguars defense. Though hyped as Jalen Ramsey vs. Odell Beckham, Jacksonville utilized a lot of zone and bracket coverages to contain Beckham and prevent the big play, and I expect the Cowboys to do some of the same this week.
Both Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie will see Odell Beckham on the perimeter, with Anthony Brown likely covering him in the slot. Dallas doesn’t often let one corner follow a receiver around the field, though they did have Brandon Carr follow Beckham in 2016.
If they were to have someone “follow” Beckham, my choice would be Byron Jones. Jones could utilize his length and athleticism to keep up with Beckham and get physical with him at the line of scrimmage.
Regardless, stopping Odell on Sunday will need to be a team effort.
Sterling Shepard/Evan Engram
In some ways, Sterling Shepard is the New York Giants’ version of Cole Beasley. Often thought of as a slot receiver Shepard actually does play in the Z role often, though he seems to make his money on shallow crossers.
Shepard will probably see a lot of Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown, who will look to cover Shepard in different ways. Awuzie is longer and more physical than Shepard, while Brown will probably need to utilize more traditional cover skills.
Shepard didn’t do much against Dallas a year ago, totaling 9 catches for 60 yards over two games.
While Evan Engram is listed as a tight end, he basically serves the function of a wide receiver within the Giants offense. Engram has the seam-busting ability the Cowboys seem to lack offensively, and will often be matched up with either Jaylon Smith or Kavon Frazier.
Frazier did a good job with Greg Olsen while he was healthy, and did an even better job on backup tight end Ian Thomas after Olsen went down. Engram presents a different set of problems than these two, and it’ll be difficult for the Cowboys to defend him.
All in all in will be critical for the Cowboys defensive line to take advantage of the Giants’ weak pass protection. The best way to slow down these dangerous pass targets is to get to Manning and force him to speed up his internal clock and make mistakes down the field.
DeMarcus Lawrence should have a big night on Sunday, and he will need to cause havoc if the Cowboys are going to get to 1-1 on the year.