Every time the New York Giants face the Dallas Cowboys, Dave Halprin of SB Nation’s Blogging The Boys and I trade questions. We have been doing these ‘5 questions’ segments together twice a year since 2007, probably longer than any other duo on SB Nation’s network.
Here are Dave’s answers to my latest round of Cowboys questions.
Ed: Of course we knew Ezekiel Elliott would sign in time to play Sunday. How much should we expect him to play?
Dave: I would expect the Cowboys to give him a healthy workload on Sunday, but I don’t think they’ll ride him as much as they might in a week or two from now. He reportedly was staying in shape during the holdout, but Jason Garrett admits that staying in shape is one thing, and that practicing and playing against NFL players is a different kind of shape. I would definitely expect Zeke to get the majority of the carries from the running back group, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they subbed him a little more liberally than normal. They are very high on rookie Tony Pollard at the position, and he represents a little different style than Zeke. He is a great pass catcher/route-runner for a running back, but in preseason he ran between the tackles some and looked good doing it. How he is deployed separately from, and in conjunction with, Zeke has been one of the storylines since Dallas drafted Pollard.
Ed: What is the biggest difference we might notice about this Dallas team from 2018, if there really is one?
Dave: The biggest difference would have to be the change in offensive coordinator from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore. Linehan was long on experience but short on creativity. The Cowboys scheme and play-calling had begun to go stale, opposing defense were reading what was coming much too easily. This put much of the onus strictly on players to win battles, instead of scheme and play-design helping to win a play. In the passing game especially, Linehan had yet to really adopt some of the in vogue techniques of scheming receivers open. Kellen Moore came out of the Boise State offense that used a lot of pre-snap motion and many different personnel looks that disguised familiar plays. The system won’t change as much as it will be efforts to disguise plays and create mismatches by catching the defense out of position. The side that creates trepidation for Cowboys fans is the fact that Moore has never been an offensive coordinator or called plays before. And he’s only been a coach for two years after retiring from the NFL. It’s a gamble, but everyone in Dallas seems to think that Moore is up to challenge. We’ll see when they start playing the games.
Ed: What, if anything, concerns you about the Giants heading into Sunday?
Dave: Obviously Saquon Barkley concerns me. He’s the kind of player that can take over a game, so you have to be aware of him at all times and send extra help to keep him in check. The Cowboys linebackers, Jaylon Smith and Leigthon Vander Esch, plus the safeties are going to need to contain the damage Barkley can cause. Without OBJ, you definitely shift your game plan to stopping Barkley from exploding and hope you can contain the rest of the offense. The Cowboys run defense started to show cracks at the end of last year, so seeing them hold Barkley somewhat in check would be a confidence boost. Evan Engram is also a threat, so you can’t sleep on him. And then there is always the element of surprise in Week 1 when teams don’t preform like everyone predicts they will. The odds-makers have the Cowboys as big favorites, but every year there are teams that play much better than they did the previous year. So who says New York couldn’t be one of those teams?
Ed: Excluding Saquon Barkley, which player would you like to take off the Giants’ roster and add to the Dallas lineup?
Dave: Give me a guard to really complete our offensive line. Kevin Zeitler.
Ed: Dallas wins if? The Giants win if?
Dallas wins if Kellen Moore can live up to what is expected and call a game that puts the Cowboys offense on track. For all the firepower on that side of the ball, they didn’t exactly play like an offense to be feared for large chunks of 2018. Having Travis Frederick back, and a full year of Amari Cooper, will certainly make a difference. But it’s up to Moore to take this offense to a higher level. The defense should be solid enough to do its part.
The Giants win if the Cowboys defense can’t control Barkley and Kellen Moore’s offense stumbles in its 2019 debut. The Cowboys roster on offense has improved a bit over last season, so Moore is under the spotlight to use it correctly. If that side of the ball can’t run up points, then Barkley becomes the key to the game.