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Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Defense the Key to Victory

Week two is finally here. Finally the Dallas Cowboys and we the fanbase can put behind us last week’s loss — mostly — and look toward this week’s matchup with the New York Giants. A division rival who also sits at 0-1 is great medicine to forget about a let down of a season opener.

Hopefully.

This is a really interesting matchup that each team has some areas that they can take advantage. Both the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants have strengths and weaknesses and as I began breaking it down, it appears that the Dallas Cowboys biggest strength is the New York Giants greatest weakness.

So, without further adieu, let’s dive in.

When the Dallas Cowboys Have the Ball

It’s safe to say that last week was a disappointment on the offensive side of the football. Nothing really seemed to go right for Dak Prescott and the offense until they went no-huddle in the third quarter to try and get something going.

I’d love to see them open this week with no-huddle and hurry up to get Dak Prescott and the offense in a bit of a rhythm. But, knowing what we know about this offensive staff, that doesn’t seem very likely.

When the Dallas Cowboys Run

We all know that this is the bread and butter of America’s Team. They want to establish the run, wear you down with the run, and finish you off with the run. Everything that they’re about on the offensive side of the football is about the run.

The problem is that everyone in the NFL and their grandmother’s knows it.

Having an identity is one thing, but being locked into their identity has become a detriment to the team. You could see it on pretty much every first down on Sunday. When they ran, they ran into fronts that had more defenders than the team could block and rarely did it go for more than a three yard gain.

Every team is going to come into a game with the Dallas Cowboys with a sole focus on stopping the run.

The Dallas Cowboys weren’t the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Some of that was due to the play of the Carolina Panthers and some of that was due to lacking variety of play call on certain down and distances.

Warren Sharp provided this gem the other day. It shows the percentage of plays a team passes or runs on first down. The Dallas Cowboys 58% of first down run plays is the second highest rate in the NFL over the last three years. Only the Chicago Bears run the ball on first down at a higher frequency.

Warren Sharp on Twitter

Jason Garrett doesn’t know what defines a “conservative offense”. How about pass rates on first down in the first half. Last 3 yrs pictured. (Note where the good teams sit.)

Predictable much?!?!

Teams get this data and know that they can have their lineman guess run on first down and there’s a really good chance that they’re right.

Ezekiel Elliott ran for only 69 yards on Sunday on 15 carries. Elliott did average 4.6 yards per carry, but if you watched the game, you noticed that it was tough sledding for the Dallas Cowboys run game.

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t play in the preseason and hasn’t really had big games to start the season his first two years. Zeke has been a slow starter. He’s averaging 63 yards rushing per game, with 3.5 yards per carry and has only three rushing touchdowns in games played the first two weeks of the season in his first three seasons (five games).

In Elliott’s three games against the Giants, he’s averaged 22.7 carries for 87.3 yards, and 0.3 touchdowns per game. They’ve done a pretty good job at bottling him up. But given that two of those three games occurred in the first week of the season, it’s hard to know if it’s beginning of season rust, or if it’s the Giants containing Elliott.

Dak Prescott was somewhat hesitant to run at times last week, opting to throw the ball out of bounds as opposed to making something happen with his feet. He ran five times for only 19 yards, but may have been hindered a bit by an ankle injury that happened midway through the second quarter.

Despite struggles in week one, you know that they’re going to continue to run the ball. What we can hope for is that the Cowboys coaching staff allows Dak Prescott to pass more on first down so that the New York Giants defense can’t be sitting on the run.

The New York Giants defense had a difficult task in week one facing the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars against the Giants ran for 4.72 yards per carry and 137 rushing yards in their week one win. This, while Leonard Fournette only received nine carries (41 yards and 4.55 yards per carry) as he was forced to leave the game due to injury. T.J. Yeldon came in and ran 14 times for 51 yards for 3.64 yards per carry.

Quarterback Blake Bortles had a nice day on the ground as well, carrying the ball four times for 42 yards.

The player that the Dallas Cowboys will have to account for along the defensive line is Damon “Snacks” Harrison. He’s one of the better interior defensive lineman in the NFL and will be a challenge for Joe Looney, Zack Martin, and Connor Williams to control. If they are able to win that matchup along the interior, something they struggled with against Carolina, then the Dallas Cowboys should have a good day running the football.

When the Dallas Cowboys Pass

The Dallas Cowboys want to set up the pass by being effective in the running game. The problem that they’ve run into at times over the last nine games is that they haven’t been super effective in the running game, thus making the passing game less efficient. They also haven’t been throwing it well, so teams don’t really have to worry as much about the pass.

We saw it against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers’ defense didn’t have much respect for Dak Prescott and challenged him to beat them. They loaded the box and made it difficult for the identity of the team to get the ball rolling.

The New York Giants only allowed the Jaguars to throw for 168 passing yards in week one. They currently rank ninth in the NFL in passing yards allowed.

Janoris Jenkins is still one of the better defensive backs in the NFL. On five targets in week one, he only allowed two catches, though they both went for greater than 15 yards. One a 17 yard reception to Dede Westbrook and the other a 31 yard reception to Keelan Cole.

Eli Apple played well on Sunday as well, only allowing one reception on four targets.

Surprisingly, Landon Collins, one of the best safeties in the NFL surrendered receptions on all four of his targets.

The Dallas Cowboys may not have the best passing game in the NFL, but if the Jacksonville Jaguars led by Blake Bortles can find some success against this pass defense, then Dak Prescott and the Cowboys should be able to as well.

They’re actually very similar in their lack of top-tier receiving talent, as well as quarterbacks who have struggled to throw the ball at times in their careers. Both the Jaguars and the Cowboys want to run the ball and play defense.

Dak Prescott completed 65% of his passes, but his 5.86 yards per attempt is less than ideal. Generally you want to see that number over seven yards per attempt. There’s been a lot said about Dak Prescott’s week one, and the simple fact of the matter is that he has to be better. It’s his third year in the NFL and it’s time to show progress and not regression or stagnation. For the Dallas Cowboys to win on Sunday, they need Dak to be the Dak Prescott that helped them win 18 games in his first 24 starts.

The receiver to watch this week for the Dallas Cowboys is Cole Beasley. Beasley followed up a strong offseason with seven catches on eight targets for 73 yards. The seven receptions were the most he’d had since week three of 2016 when he put up an identical seven catches for 73 yards against the Chicago Bears.

With the Dallas Cowboys offensive staff moving him around more and opening up his route tree, it’s allowed Beasley to be more active in the passing game. No longer is he relegated to slot duties only, but can work on the outside as well.

For the Dallas Cowboys, they’ll have to figure out how to create balance among the receiving corp to find success. Cole Beasley, as great as he is, can’t carry the receiving load all by himself. Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Terrance Williams, and Tavon Austin have to help Beasley and Dak.

Cowboys Blog - Giants' Fans Bank on Eli to Produce in Week 1
10/19/2014 – New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas – New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning #10 surveys the defense during the 3rd quarter.

When the New York Giants Have the Ball

The New York Giants have one of the better skill position groups in the NFL. With Odell Beckham Jr on your team, it almost doesn’t matter who the rest of the guys are, because he makes your skill position group so much better.

They’ve got four guys who are pretty good to great weapons in Beckham, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley. Slowing these guys down is going to be a team defensive effort, but it all starts up front.

When the New York Giants Run

New York Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley was the subject of much debate leading up to and after the 2018 NFL Draft. He was the best running back in the draft. Of that there was and is no debate. The debate, rather, centered around whether the Giants should take a running back at second overall or whatever quarterback fell to them.

The choice seemed obvious in a draft with several quarterbacks who were being debated as the top pick in this year’s draft. Eli Manning had been benched the season before and many thought that drafting a quarterback was inevitable. Until it wasn’t. The team went with Barkley to help add an explosive running dimension the team has missed since the Tiki Barber days.

Saquon Barkley’s debut with the Giants started out really slowly. Saquon’s first 16 carries went for only 37 yards. Then he broke a 68 yard run that kept New York in the game in the middle of the fourth quarter bringing the score to 20-15. After the long run, Barkley only carried the ball one more time as the Giants had to go pass heavy to try to catch up.

Still his overall line looks really good for his rookie debut against one of the best defenses in the NFL. 18 carries, 106 yards, two receptions for 22 yards, and a touchdown. Not too shabby.

The Dallas Cowboys allowed 147 yards rushing in week one to the Carolina Panthers, though 58 was to dual threat quarterback Cam Newton. Panthers running backs ran 18 times for 86 yards and a touchdown.

You aren’t going to have to worry about Eli Manning running the football on you like Cam Newton did, and so your defense already has a leg up compared to its week one matchup.

Containing Saquon Barkley will be a tough task, but one that is doable. The Dallas Cowboys have an edge along the defensive line and will be able to win their one on one matchups to slow Barkley down.

When the New York Giants Pass

Odell Beckham, Jr. Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley. These are the names that the Dallas Cowboys defense will attempt to cover on Sunday against the New York Giants.

This is one of the best receiving groups in the NFL led by the immensely talented Beckham who had 11 catches for 111 yards in the Giants week one loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eli fed him 15 targets, which was more than twice the number of Sterling Shepard who was second on the team in targets and receiving. He did most of his work over the middle of the field on Sunday, which would put Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and/or Leighton Vander Esch in for a lot of work when Dallas runs its cover three zone.

Seems like he’s back and healthy and ready to roll. He’s going to be a difficult cover for whoever gets that assignment.

The Cowboys have some gamers in their secondary in Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, and Jeff Heath. These guys aren’t going to allow things to be easy for the Giants pass catchers.

The Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line has an advantage over the Giants offensive line.

In week one the New York Giants offensive line allowed 20 pressures to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, you read that right. 20!!! That was more than half of Eli Manning’s 37 drop backs. That’s an insane amount. What’s even more insane is that Eli was only sacked twice during the game. Eli gets rid of the ball quickly, and so the coverage is going to have to be tight and ready to make plays on the football when he does let it loose.

The Dallas Cowboys defensive line was credited with 16 pressures in week one and three sacks of Cam Newton.

How well the Dallas Cowboys rush is able to pressure and affect Manning is a key factor that will decide the outcome of this week’s game.

Matchup of the Week

How well the Dallas Cowboys defense covers the New York Giants skill position players and gets after Eli Manning is going to tell the tale of this game. We know that Eli Manning will turn the ball over. In his career he’s averaged an interception per game.

When the opportunities arise, can the Dallas Cowboys take advantage?

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the Dallas defensive line has a big advantage over the offensive line of the New York Giants. Whether they will be able to use that advantage to create negative plays — either sacks or turnovers — is a big key in the game.

For the New York Giants, they will need to limit the damage done on the ground by Ezekiel Elliott. If the running game for the Dallas Cowboys gets off to a strong start, it will open up the passing game and make for a long day for the New York Giants defense.

Prediction

Last week I predicted a double-digit win for the Dallas Cowboys and that fell flat on its face, though I did predict Carolina’s score correctly. I still see the Cowboys as the victors in this game, but I believe it will be a close one. I think it’s a fairly even matchup, but the play of their respective offensive and defensive lines will be the difference and I believe the Dallas Cowboys are better in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

20-17. Cowboys Win. 

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Tell me, Cowboys Nation, how do you see this game turning out?

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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