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Giants vs. Cowboys: A full arsenal for Giants when they have the ball?

Defense has been Giants’ biggest problem, but the offense also has to be better

New York Giants v Detroit Lions
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Can the New York Giants play efficient offense, score enough points and hold the ball long enough to take pressure off their defense when they face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night? Let’s look at that matchup.

Finally getting the band together?

As of this writing, wide receiver Sterling Shepard has not been cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol. He has, however, been practicing fully this week — a strong indication that could happen in time for him to play Monday night.

If that happens it would mark the first time this season that Shepard, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Golden Tate are on the field together. That should help rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and provide a boost to an offense that is 22nd in the league in points per game at 19.8.

“I think it’ll help us,” Jones said. “Those are all really good players. When you put them all together there’s a lot of different things that we can do, a lot of different ways to attack. I think the guys who stepped in have played well throughout the season. But yeah, getting Shep back this week will help.”

“I think we all need to go out and play well together,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “This is probably the first time they’ll all sort of be out there together. Our new version of things. It’s important that they just go out and play, do their jobs and try to execute. If the ball is thrown your way, catch it. If you’re supposed to block somebody, block him. If we hand it to you and you run with it, make yards. I don’t mean to try to minimize it or boil it down too much for you, but they just need to do their jobs.”

“Little Manning

“Big Manning,” or maybe it’s actually “Medium Manning,” as in Eli Manning, is no longer the Giants’ quarterback. The Giants are now quarterbacked by Daniel Jones, Or, as Demarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys calls him, “Little Manning.”

Well, “Little Manning” is cut from the Manning quarterback cloth in a great many ways. Those include everything from the way he plays the position, albeit with better ability to use his legs than either Eli or Peyton Manning, to the quiet, team-first way he carries himself and deals with the media.

Jones got off to a fantastic start after replacing Manning. He led the Giants to back-to-back victories, including a historic 18-point comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his debut. Since then, we have seen him go through some rookie growing pains that have been exacerbated by injuries and other issues that were beyond his control.

Still, if “Little Manning” is going to get a signature victory over the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, he is going to have to do some things he hasn’t recently been able to do.

Jones has 12 of the Giants’ 19 turnovers, and he has had two fumbles recovered by his own team. He has yet to play a completely clean game as an NFL quarterback.

Next Gen Stats had Jones with 3.11 seconds to throw Sunday vs. the Detroit Lions, second-most of any quarterback. Now, that’s a double-edged sword. It might mean his protection was good. It might also mean there were times he was hanging onto the ball too long while waiting for a play to develop. Maybe it is a little of both.

If the Giants are going to have a chance Monday, Jones is going to have to be decisive with the ball rather than hesitant, and he’s going to have to take care of it both when he lets it go and when he is hit while he still has it in his hands.

Giving themselves a chance

In the first meeting between the two teams, the Giants converted just 2 of 11 third-down attempts (18.2 percent) and 1 of 3 fourth-down tries. They ended up losing the time of possession by nearly five minutes, 32:18-27:42. On the season, the Giants are 15th in the league in third-down efficiency, converting 40.4 percent.

To have a chance at an upset Monday, the Giants have to convert more often on third down. That would not only lead to more scoring opportunities but would keep their vulnerable defense on the sideline.

Another thing the Giants have to get a handle on is the football itself. The Giants lead the league with 19 giveaways, and they just aren’t good enough on offense or defense to overcome that kind of generosity. In last week’s five-point loss to the Detroit Lions, the Giants gave up seven points on a fumble recovery for a touchdown. In a six-point Week 7 loss to Arizona, three giveaways led to 17 points for the Cardinals.

Better ball security and the Giants could conceivably have won both of those games.

A little help, please!

If it seems like the field has been tilted against the Giants most of the season, that’s because it has.

The Giants’ average starting field position this season is the 26.07-yard line, 26th in the league, per Football Outsiders. The Giants have started only three drives in opponents’ territory this season, second-fewest in the NFL per Inside Edge.

Part of that is the Giants are -9 in takeaway/giveaway ratio with just 10 defensive takeaways to their league-worst 19 turnovers. The Giants are 19th in the league in yards allowed per drive at 34.59 while gaining 30.67 yards per drive. By that average, the field tilts progressively against the Giants.

The Giants are ninth in the league in kickoff return, but the absence of Corey Ballentine (26.3 yards per return) has been noticeable the past couple of weeks. Darius Slayton is averaging just 21.0 yards per return.

The Giants’ 10.3 yards per return average, third in the NFL, is also misleading. Take away the 60-yard return by T.J. Jones, who is no longer with the team, and that average is a bottom half of the league 6.6 yards per return.

Better field position would put less stress on the Giants’ rookie quarterback and give them better opportunities to score.

Handling the edge pressure

It doesn’t take a former NFL player and brilliant NFL analyst like Brian Baldinger to figure out that the Giants have struggled to handle edge pressure this season.

Shaq Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had four sacks and four quarterback hits against the Giants. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen of the Minnesota Vikings combined for three sacks. Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals destroyed the Giants for four sacks and the same number of quarterback hits.

Giants’ left tackle Nate Solder has been charged, per Pro Football Focus, with seven sacks and 33 total pressures. Right tackle Mike Remmers has been charged with one sack and 25 pressures allowed.

Dallas ranks only 22nd in the league with 17 sacks, but per ESPN the Cowboys are third in the league in pass rush win rate at 55 percent. Dallas defensive end Robert Quinn is tied with T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers for the league lead with a pass rush win rate of 33 percent.

That means that Jones is not going to be able to sit back in the pocket and hold the ball endlessly, as has been his habit too often in his six NFL starts. It also means that, while it’s apparent he doesn’t want to, Shurmur really should consider giving Solder and Remmers more help in the former of chip blocks from backs or extra tight ends kept in to block on passing plays.