Despite their incredible success in 2016, the 11-1 Dallas Cowboys still have a glaring concern on defense. This is no small issue with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the New York Giants' offensive weapons waiting for them on Sunday night.
Ranked 18th overall, the Cowboys defense is especially weak against the pass. Here is a quick rundown of just how bad it's been:
- 29th in total yards allowed
- 31st in completion percentage
- 31st in interceptions
- T-22nd in sacks
- 29th in opposing QB rating
It hasn't been pretty. And unfortunately, the Giants are well built to exploit it.
As we prepare for Sunday's big divisional showdown, here's a profile of the Giants' offense. Naturally, we're going to start with the head of the snake.
It feels weird to use "iron man" and "Eli Manning" in the same sentence, but you have to give the guy his due. Since taking over as the Giants' starting quarterback in 2004, Manning hasn't missed a game. He has the third-longest consecutive games streak in NFL QB history behind just his brother Peyton and Brett Favre.
Eli is one of the ultimate examples of a QB whose play goes up or down with the amount of pressure you can put on him. He will carve you up if you don't get in his face, and that's been a big problem for the Cowboys all year.
Last week, Dallas harassed Sam Bradford about as well as they have any quarterback all season. If they can get a few hits on Eli and force that first turnover, he's prone to unraveling. There aren't many above-average passers who get rattled faster than Eli, or who will give your defense more gifts once they're losing their nerve.
The problem for the Cowboys is that the Giants offense doesn't allow much time for you to get to Manning. They have one of the lower yards-per-attempt in the league. They like hitting Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and other receivers on short passes and letting them use their speed to pick yards up after the catch. The ball comes out fast and, once he has rhythm, Manning will dink and dunk you all the way to the endzone.
The Giants use both 31-year-old Rashad Jennings and rookie Paul Perkins fairly evenly. They have the 31st-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. Normally this would be a positive, but Dallas can't get comfortable after last week.
The Minnesota Vikings went into last Thursday's game with the worst run game in the league. They were also missing their starting center that night. Still, the running
backs averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
The Giants' passing offense is far more threatening than Minnesota's, meaning things should be even more open for the running backs than last week. New York's already had rushing success against Dallas this year, getting 113 yards yards on 24 carries in Week One.
The Cowboys do have a few things they can feel good about. The linebacker position is far more stabilized now than it was then. Youngsters Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson have improved throughout the year and will be much better in support. They will have to be, because the safeties will likely be staying deeper than usual.
You also have to watch out for the Giants' backs in the passing game. Last week, Rashad Jennings had six catches for 34 yards and a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He and Paul Perkins combined for seven catches against the Chicago Bears two weeks before that.
It's another great season for Odell Beckham Jr. He is currently in the top five in the NFL for catches, yards, and touchdowns. His numbers tend to take a big hit against the Cowboys, however.
Beckham has only ever had one eye-popping performance against Dallas. Here is a look at his five games against the Cowboys:
Obviously, the Cowboys have done a good job through the years of scheming for Beckham and keeping him contained. It will be interesting to see if they go with veteran Orlando Scandrick or standout rookie Anthony Brown in coverage against the Giants' top weapon.
There is still plenty to be concerned about after OBJ. The Giants drafted Sterling Shepard to replace Victor Cruz, but then Cruz got healthy and now they have both playing well. Both are capable of making big plays both on a deep pass or running after a short route. It could be a rough day for Brandon Carr, who struggles against speed.
All year, Dallas has been content to give up short yardage to opposing offenses. They have focused on stopping big plays and forcing you to march the field and chew up clock. It's obviously worked during the 11-game win streak, but it can backfire if your offense isn't performing at its usual efficiency.
Last week, Dallas got away with this because the Vikings just didn't have enough offensive firepower. The Giants don't have that problem.
New York uses both Larry Donnell and Will Tye a fair bit, with Tye being the more dangerous receiving threat. He is currently third on the team in catches behind Beckham and Shepard.
The Cowboys have had their issues with opposing tight ends through the years, and this season is no different. According to Yahoo, they currently give up the 6th-most fantasy points to tight ends.
What's worse, they haven't even seen the best players in the league. This year, Dallas has only played against two (Jordan Reed & Zach Miller) of the league's top-10 tight ends as rated by Pro Football Focus.
As already mentioned, the Cowboys will likely give up some big chunks of yards to the tight ends as they would any other receiver. The key will be keeping these big targets from hauling in touchdowns once they get down to the redzone. Tye and Donnell only have one score apiece this year, so that's one positive.
The Giants' offensive line isn't a stellar group. Still, they do a good job of keeping Eli Manning clean in a passing-focused offense. Manning helps with his quick release on a lot of short routes.
Here is a quick rundown of the Giants' starting linemen and their Pro Football Focus ratings for their positions:
LT - Ereck Flowers (60th)
- LG - Justin Pugh (4th)
- C - Weston Richburg (25th)
- RG - John Jerry (24th)
- RT - Bobby Hart (46th)
Clearly, their biggest weakness is on the edges. This is good for the Dallas defense, which has its biggest problems at defensive end. DeMarcus Lawrence may get his best matchup all year against Flowers.
The Giants will hope that Pugh returns from injury this week, which he's currently projected to do. He is one spot below Zack Martin in guard rankings and a key to whatever run success they might be able to have.
Free Agent WR Allen Hurns Plans to Sign With Cowboys
It looks as if the Dallas Cowboys will be adding yet another wide receiver through free agency. According to sources, Allen Hurns plans on signing with the Cowboys.
WR Allen Hurns just told me, "I'm going to sign with Dallas." #Cowboys
This is a move that seemed unlikely after the Cowboys signed Deonte Thompson a few days ago, but I know a lot of Cowboys Nation will be excited about this transaction.
While this move is exciting, it does create more confusion for the Cowboys and their wide receivers. It's difficult to imagine all of these WRs sticking to the roster, which means there will be some tough decisions that need to be made.
What will the Cowboys do with Dez Bryant?
Will Cole Beasley be cut or traded?
Are the Cowboys comfortable absorbing Terrance Williams' cap hit if traded or released?
Will this keep the Cowboys from drafting a WR early?
All of these questions and more will have to be answered eventually. But, one thing is for sure, things are definitely about to get interesting.
Of course, there is a bonus here for the Dallas Cowboys. Since Allen Hurns was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he doesn't count against the Cowboys compensatory picks next season.
Please stay tuned and we will continue to keep you updated on contract details and any other news involving Allen Hurns as it becomes available.
What do you think about the Allen Hurns signing?
What Signing Thompson Means for Hurns and Cowboys WR Position
UPDATE: News of Hurns saying he will sign with the Cowboys broke as this article went live.
Free Agency began a bit late for the Dallas Cowboys, but they've already done enough to get fans discussing about the latest additions to the roster. Adding help on offense, defense and special teams in form of tier-2 free agents may not be what Cowboys Nation wants to see, but I'm certain they wouldn't have enjoyed giving Sammy Watkins a three-year $48M contract, either.
However, the Cowboys are clearly in the wide receiver market after an offensively disappointing season. They have quite a few of this year's class of wide receivers prospects scheduled to visit Dallas, and they've hosted some WR free agents as well.
This week, they even signed one.
Deonte Thompson, who started seven games for the Bills last year, is coming to Dallas on a one-year $2.5M contract. The 29-year old could be the burner receiver this offense is missing and could end up being an improved version of Brice Butler for the Cowboys in 2018.
He hasn't had a great career but last season was his best year so far. Starting three games for the Bears and seven for the Bills, Thompson was able to rack up a career-high 555 yards and two touchdowns.
His best attribute as a player is definitely the speed he brings to the table and his ability to separate down the field, which he'll be looking to do on Dak Prescott's offense this season.
But there was another wide receiver visiting Dallas this week and now we wonder whether or not the Deonte Thompson signing will keep the Cowboys from targeting former Jaguars' WR Allen Hurns.
According to Todd Archer, that won't be the case.
Told the signing of Deonte Thompson does not close the door on the Cowboys' interest in Allen Hurns, who visited the team Wednesday and had dinner. Things could get interesting in the Cowboys' wide receivers' room. https://t.co/Ivt5uk9kBN
It shouldn't be. First of all, Hurns is a much better player than Thompson and would provide this offense with a receiver who can play in the "X" or in the "Z" role. We've been talking about getting Prescott a reliable target to try to give him a "best friend." Allen Hurns could be just that.
Sure, he's had a couple of down seasons, but the talent is there to take.
Simply put, the Deonte Thompson signing shouldn't stop the Cowboys from looking at WR in the first round of the NFL Draft. Allen Hurns would.
It sure would make things interesting in the wide receiver room for Dallas. Despite what many believe, Dez Bryant will probably remain a Cowboy even if Hurns is signed. Let's say the Cowboys go out there and get the 26-year old from Jacksonville and have to decide which six receivers to keep for the season.
They'd possibly have to decide among these:
- Dez Bryant
- Terrrance Williams
- Cole Beasley
- Ryan Switzer
- Allen Hurns
- Deonte Thompson
- Noah Brown
- A drafted rookie?
This is where a lot of dilemmas start taking form. Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer are basically the same player and if you're not going to use them both at the same time, do you keep them anyway? What about Terrance Williams? He could be the worst receiver to make the cut just because of his contract.
Noah Brown showed promise in 2017, are they ready to move on from him? And finally, a rookie could very well end up beating Deonte Thompson, who was guaranteed a million in his contract.
Wide receiver is indeed one of the top needs for the Dallas Cowboys. They could head to the 2018 NFL Draft needing one in the top rounds or they could be fine signing Hurns and taking a late-rounder receiver to compete in training camp for a spot on the roster.
As long as they're having a tough time deciding because they are all good, it should be fine.
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
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