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Giants vs. Cowboys Critical Match-Up: Giants' Offensive Line & Cowboys' Defense

If the Giants' offensive line doesn't prove that last week's performance was an aberration, they don't stand a chance on Sunday.

Evan Habeeb

If you watched the New York Giants play the Eagles last weekend, then you know the Giants are in trouble.

Their problem doesn't have much to do with the gutwrenching injury to Victor Cruz, though that did rip the heart out of the Giants' offense Sunday night.

No, the Giants' problem manifested itself long before that ill-fated play.

The problem was the Giants' offensive line spontaneously imploding in the face of the Eagles. The offensive line was a source of questions in the offseason. Those questions had largely been answered when they contained J.J. Watt and silenced Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo, Jason Hatcher, and Barry Cofield.

Very similar questions should be in the forefront of the Giants' minds as they prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys this weekend.

Dallas Cowboys Defense

For this I re-watched last weeks game between Dallas and Seattle. I believe the Rod Marinelli will call a similar defense against the Giants as he did against the Seahawks. Quarterback mobility aside, the two teams feature pretty similar offenses at the moment.

Both teams lean on a power running game, Marshawn Lynch in the case of Seattle, Andre Williams for the Giants. Both teams are relatively thin at wide receiver, but with an explosive play-making receiver, Harvin and Beckham respectively.

Against Seattle, the Cowboys primarily played a single high safety coverage, one - on - one on the outside, and crowded the line of scrimmage. They brought extra pressure occasionally, but they mostly relied on a four-man rush.

I'm expecting the Cowboys to use a similar scheme against the Giants. I'm expecting them to once again rely on a single high safety and crowd the line of scrimmage. I think the Cowboys will throw their defensive resources to stopping the run and forcing Eli Manning to beat them through the air.

Rod Marinelli's defenses have historically relied on a four man rush and dropped seven into coverage. However, after seeing how the Giants' offensive line struggled to match up with Philadelphia's blitzing attack, it seems likely that the Cowboys will send blitzes much more than Marinelli customarily does.

New York Giants Offensive Line

For me, there are four match-ups for the Giants.

  • First (and easiest) is Will Beatty against the Cowboys' right defensive end, likely some combination of Jeremy Mincey and Anthony Spencer.

Simply put, the Giants need Beatty to keep playing like the best left tackle -- and offensive lineman -- in the NFL. If he can keep pass protecting and run blocking like he has been, this shouldn't be an issue.

  • Next comes the interior offensive line. After looking like an NFL starter for three straight weeks, Weston Richburg's rookieness -- no, that's not a word, and no, I don't care -- showed itself against the Eagles. Richburg allowed his emotions to get the better of him and his over-aggression lead to a breakdown in technique and a costly penalty. Veterans J.D. Walton and John Jerry also let bad plays pile on bad, with Jerry also contributing a number of drive-killing penalties.

All three of these guys need to keep their composure, and play fundamentally sound games against the interior of the Cowboys' defense. With the Giants' only rushing options being between-the-tackles runners, the guards and center will be doing yeomen's work against an eight (or more) man box.

  • At the other end of the offensive line is, to me, the most important match-up to me. Justin Pugh put forth a downright disturbing performance against the Eagles. Depending on who's doing the counting, Pugh could be credited with anywhere between four and six of the eight sacks the Giants gave up last Sunday. That was certainly the worst performance of Pugh's (young) professional career, and likely his worst ever (like, back to pewee football).

Pugh will likely be matched up on George Selvie with Tyrone Crawford rotating inside to defensive tackle. Justin Pugh will need to show that last week was an aberration, and he really is the top-5 offensive tackle that Pro Football Focus had him rated as going in to last weekend's debacle. He needs to run block like he did the previous three weeks, and he simply can not have a pass protection performance like that again.

  • The final match-up here is blitz pick-up. This could fall to either the tight end(s), running backs, or all of the above. Rookie Andre Williams is largely inexperienced in pass protection -- at Boston College, if the ball was going to move, it was going to be in his hands, not the quarterback's. That is an area of his game that needs to improve quickly. Also, the tight ends missed blocks, both in the running game and pass protection.

If the Cowboys blitz as much as I think they will, the tight ends and running backs will need to be on their game with their blocks, and can't miss on chip blocks, or in blitz pick-up.

Final Thoughts

If it weren't for the disturbing performance put forth by the Giants offensive line last week, this absolutely would be about stopping the Cowboy's run game. Their success, the Cowboys' defense really isn't any better than it was last year.

They are giving up the exact same 6.1 yards per play, and nearly the same third down conversion rate that they gave up in their historically bad season last year.

The biggest difference between that Cowboys team and this one is that the Cowboys are averaging nearly six minutes more time of possession than last year. That means their opponents get fewer chances and the defense is on the field for fewer games.

And all that should mean that the critical match-up should be the Giants front 7 against the Dallas running game... But if the Giants can't run the ball and/or keep Eli Manning upright to sustain drives of their own, it really doesn't matter if they can stop the Cowboy's running game.

If the offensive line can open holes for Andre Williams, and give Eli Manning more than 2.0 seconds to throw the ball, the Giants should be able to sustain drives and put points on the board. Then, the onus is completely on the defense to stop DeMarco Murray and give the Giants' offense possessions.