The Dallas Cowboys have a bit of control over their own destiny this Sunday as they face the New York Giants. With a Washington Football Team loss, the Dallas Cowboys would be in the driver's seat to win the NFC East. With the Cowboys playing in the noon slot on Sunday and the Washington Football Team not playing until Sunday Night Football, the Cowboys will have to wait till late in the evening Sunday to know their fate, assuming they're able to pull off the victory against the New York Giants.
As the Cowboys have one small glimmer of hope, let's look at what they have to do to overcome the Giants on Sunday.
1. Get Andy Dalton in a Rhythm Early
Much like Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore did last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys need to look to get the ball out of Andy Dalton's hands quickly and get him into a rhythm early in the game.
Last week against the Eagles' strong pass rush, Andy Dalton averaged 2.12 seconds in Time to Throw per Pro Football Focus. That was the second-fastest release time among quarterbacks who had at least 28 dropbacks in week 16. That was down from his season average of 2.36 seconds in Time to Attempt.
It was an effective way to limit the Eagles pass rush by throwing some quick passes like the slant to Amari Cooper that went for a big gain or the wide receiver screen to Michael Gallup. The best way to minimize a strong pass rush is to get the ball out quickly and allow your playmakers to make a play after the catch.
With Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys have three players who can do something with the football after the catch.
2. Create Turnovers
Through 13 games this season, Daniel Jones has turned the ball over 14 times. In 26 career games, he's thrown 21 interceptions and lost 16 fumbles. He's also been sacked 81 times, but we aren't here to talk about that.
The Dallas Cowboys defense has been on a roll in the turnover department of late, getting at least one turnover in each of their last six games. They've taken the ball away multiple times in four of their last six games. Over the last three games, they've created 10 turnovers.
For a bit of perspective, the 2019 Dallas Cowboys finished tied for 25th in the league with just 17 turnovers. In 2020, they're tied for ninth in the NFL with 21 turnovers.
This is a perfect week to continue that turnover momentum. When the Cowboys' pass rush gets to Daniel Jones, and Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Aldon Smith will get to Daniel Jones, they have to force him to make some bad decisions and take advantage by taking the ball away.
On Daniel Jones revealing yesterday he'd have to play more from the pocket until he is healthy, Joe Judge: "Probably more forthcoming than I would have been with it right there."#NYGiants
— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) December 31, 2020
3. Win the Third Down Battle
One of the more important stats to win in any given game is the third-down battle. Sustaining drives and scoring points is the name of the game.
Sorry for being Captain Obvious for a moment.
The Dallas Cowboys haven't always been consistent getting off the field on third-down this season or sustaining drives on offense. The Cowboys defense currently ranks 30th in the NFL in third-down defense allowing teams to convert on 48.5% of their third-down attempts.
The Giants' offense is one of the worst in the league on third-down, converting just 37.7% of their third-down attempts. Their 28th in the league.
On offense, the Cowboys are middle of the pack, converting 40.9% of their third-down opportunities. The Giants' defense is, again, one of the worst in the NFL in stopping opponents on third down. They allow a conversion on third-down 45.5% of the time, good for 25th in the NFL.
How each team performs on third-down this week will be a key factor in this game's outcome.
When the Cowboys have an opportunity to get off the field, they need to take advantage. With as bad as this defense has been at times this season, forcing punts is just as good as forcing turnovers.
On offense, the best third-down offense is the one you never have to use. Kellen Moore and the offensive staff don't need to play the three-down game. Just attack the first-down marker on every play.
How successful the Cowboys' offense is at sustaining drives and the defense is at getting a stop on third down will be a key factor in the outcome of this game and the Cowboys' chances of making the playoffs this season.