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Giants vs. Cowboys: Dallas offense difficult task for struggling Giants’ defense

What to expect from Dallas’ offense Monday night

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2-6 New York Giants will get their first look at new acquisition Leonard Williams when they face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.

This will be the Giants’ second prime-time game of the season and the Giants are hoping to hand Dallas some payback after being embarrassed on the way to a 35-17 loss on the road in week 1. The hope is that the addition of Williams will help spark the Giants’ defense, but the Giants face a tall task in slowing down the Cowboys’ offense

Stats at a glance

Note, as they’re still new additions:

“Pass Protection” is the offense’s pass block win rate and the defense’s pass rush win rate.

“Turnovers” are the offense’s takeaways and the defense’s giveaways.

Keys to the game

Try to slow Dak Prescott down.

The first time around, way back in Week 1, I argued that with the addition of Amari Cooper at last year’s trade deadline, Dak Prescott was able to play like a top-10 quarterback. The assertion that Prescott, and not Ezekiel Elliott, was the Cowboys’ MVP and the most dangerous player on their offense was not well-received.

And I can say that I was wrong about Prescott being a top-10 quarterback.

He has consistently been a top-5 quarterback, top-3 in the league by some metrics.

Dallas is third in passing yards per game and first in expected points added (EPA) per play. Prescott is second behind Pat Mahomes in EPA per drop back and narrowly second in passing success rate behind Drew Brees.

Between Prescott’s development as a passer, the development of Michael Gallup, the additions of Cooper and Randall Cobb, and the play-calling of Kellen Moore, Dallas is fielding one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the NFL.

The good news is that while Prescott is improved in almost every single category as a passer — completion percentage, air yards, aggressiveness, ANY/A, touchdown percentage, sack rate, and more — he is throwing interceptions at a higher rate than in previous years. If the Giants want to slow him, and the Cowboys’ offense, down, they are going to need to exploit any and every miscue Prescott happens to make.

Scheme one-on-ones for Markus Golden

If the Giants want to force miscues in Dallas’ passing game, they are going to need to pressure Prescott. That is going to be easier said than done, as the Cowboys’ offensive line is once again healthy and they have largely done a good job of protecting their quarterback.

And while the Giants’ pass rush has been more productive than predicted, their win rate — the percent of rushes in which a defender beats a blocker in 2.5 seconds — is still among the worst in the NFL. But when the Giants do win, it has been because Markus Golden has gotten one-on-one match-ups.

Golden has been the Giants’ best edge rusher, and while even he doesn’t win at a league-average rate when he does win he finishes at the quarterback. Despite having a below-average in rate Golden’s team-leading 6.0 sacks on the year ties him for 13th in the NFL.

(That tendency to win infrequently but deliver sacks relatively often is an intriguing outlier and something I’ll be looking into over the Giants’ bye week.)

One possibility is that Golden is among the least often double-teamed edge defenders in the league. Whatever other problems James Bettcher has had as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, he had done a good job of getting Golden one-on-one matchups against blockers.

The Giants will also want to (try to) be aggressive with their blitz calls. Given Dallas’ success with play-action and the number of offensive weapons they have, it is difficult to blitz the Cowboys. Prescott has only been blitzed on 23 percent of his dropbacks, down from 32 percent last year, and he has only been hurried 15 times all season. Dallas has done an impressive job of keeping Prescott comfortable behind the line of scrimmage, and perhaps the only way forward for the Giants’ is to do whatever they can to make him uncomfortable.

Beware runs in the red zone

The other outlier of the Cowboys’ passing game is how few touchdowns Prescott has thrown, and how high his resulting touchdown to interception ratio has been. But Dallas still boasts one of the league’s best scoring offenses, and that is due in large part to Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is still averaging 4.5 yards per carry on the ground, but his six rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth in the NFL. Elliott and Tony Pollard have accounted for 7 of Dallas’ 23 touchdowns, with Prescott and Tavon Austin adding another four.

Dallas’ passing attack is better and more dangerous than its rushing attack, which “only” rates fourth in the NFL and their success rate is sixth. But if you are going to run the ball, it is best to be able to run the ball well in the red zone. The constricted field makes it harder for quarterbacks and receivers to find openings in the defense. While that also means that more defenders are going to be closer to the line of scrimmage, the fact that running plays tend to be faster to execute makes up for that.

The Giants’ defense should be trying to force Dallas to punt or kick field goals, and generally, keep them out of the red zone entirely. But realistically, they will be within 20 yards of the end zone at points throughout the game, and when they are, the Giants need to be solid and disciplined in their run fits, as well as sound in their tackling.

The Giants’ defense — and the Giants as a whole — face a tremendous uphill battle this week. That doesn’t mean things are hopeless, but they might need to play a perfect game.