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Giants at Cowboys: When Dallas has the ball

Can the Giants slow down the high-scoring Cowboys?

Atlanta Falcons v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The 0-4 New York Giants have the opportunity this weekend to travel to Dallas and attempt to earn their first win in the Joe Judge era. It’s a rivalry match for offensive Jason Garrett and hopefully the offense can stabilize against a high-powered Dallas’ Cowboys team. The Cowboys’ offense, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, leads the league in yards per game with 509.5, is third in the league and is third in points per game with 31.5.

The Giants defense needs to have answers for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Gallup and even Dalton Schultz.

Prescott currently leads the league in passing yards with 1,690, first downs with 83, passing plays of 20+ yards with 22, and passing plays of 40+ yards with 6. The Cowboys’ ability to find success with the vertical passing attack is going to be very problematic if the Giants have communication issues as they did on Cooper Kupp’s 55-yard touchdown reception last Sunday.

The Cowboys are a team typically known for their potent rushing attack and their gifted offensive line, but left tackle Tyron Smith has missed games and is playing through a neck injury, right tackle La’el Collins is expected to have hip surgery surgery and be out for the rest of the season and starting center Joe Looney is out of action with an MCL sprain. The instability of the offensive line has contributed to Elliott averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. The Cowboys have trailed in every game and could easily be 0-4, if it wasn’t for an Atlanta Falcons meltdown in Week 2.

Amari Cooper leads the team with 37 receptions on 49 targets for 401 yards, and a touchdown. Behind Cooper, Elliott, tight end Dalton Schultz, and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb all have 28 targets on the season. Michael Gallup has 20 targets this year, and two touchdowns. Even reserve wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, with 13 targets the past two weeks, has been significantly involved in the passing attack.

Dallas has done a good job commanding the middle of the field and utilizing the seams to stretch the defense and split two high safety looks.

The skills of Cooper and Gallup on the outside, in plus splits off the numbers, are going to attract the attention of safeties. When this happens in a 3x1 set to the field, with Lamb tight to the tackle, it forces that field safety to expand outside leaving a void in the middle of the field. This is an excellent way to split zone coverage and exploit a vulnerable area behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties

Lamb does it again against the Browns above. That boundary safety expands outside giving Lamb inside leverage, as the field safety is focused on cloud covering the backside receiver to the field.

The linebackers here in zone don’t even seem to notice Lamb’s seam. Just like we saw before, the safety drops too far outside to compensate for the presence of the number one and two receivers, while no one is there to account for the number three inside. The backside safety didn’t even see Lamb bend. These deep seams are also run by Schultz.

Here, Schultz is the No. 2 receiver and Lamb clears out the defenders horizontally as the no. 3. Schultz does a solid job initially, expanding his route stem to the numbers before coming back inside towards the seam. If he bent the route more towards the middle, this could have been a touchdown, due to the middle linebacker not getting the depth to cover the part of the middle of the field open defense. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that the Cowboys will try and split the safeties when they see a two-high look. Dallas also uses other deep route combinations to have vertical success.

Here, the Cowboys are in a six-man protection from 12 personnel with a Yankee Concept over the top. Gallup runs the deep corner/post route outside, while Wilson runs the horizontal cross with Elliott and a tight end keeping the linebackers up towards the line of scrimmage. There are several options here for Dallas — if Prescott didn’t feel great about the deep shot, he had Elliot wide open in the flat with no defender anywhere near him. Prescott saw the coverage, took the shot, and it was six points for the Cowboys.

Here’s another type of two-man deep route concept, with one check down and a seven-man protection. The Cowboys line up tight, and the field side receiver runs at the MIKE in a two-high defense, which occupies the field safety and the MIKE. Then the boundary receiver runs a 15-yard vertical stem right at the safety before planting inside and exploding into space with no defenders around him. The result is a huge gain for Dallas. The Cowboys have done a magnificent job manipulating the defense with deep vertical concepts against zone coverage. Controlling the seams forces the safeties to stay tighter to the middle of the field in two-high, which can create 1-on-1 opportunities outside.

Watch the boundary side safety eliminate Lamb from the No. 3 receiver spot. Controlling the seam forces both those safeties to be cognizant of that deep middle route, which allows Gallup to have a 1-on-1 outside. The chess match of Kellen Moore’s deep vertical offense proved to be successful on a lot of these plays. The safety takes away the No. 3, Gallup releases well at the line of scrimmage, stacks, and scores the touchdown.

Another part of these 3x1 sets that can be dangerous is mismatches. If the Giants are in the wrong personnel, like Seattle was above, then it can be a long day with a quick dink-and-dunk type of passing attack. At the No. 3 receiver spot, Wilson is lined up tight with a linebacker in coverage on a first-and-10 play. This is an easy mismatch. Patrick Graham has to ensure that the personnel is correct and that Dallas doesn’t get Martinez or Crowder lined up against a wide receiver.

Final thoughts

This game script may be totally different for the Cowboys who have trailed in all four of their contests. The Giants have not scored a touchdown in the last two games, which is a problem. I expect Dallas to use Elliott a lot on stretch zone, just like they did against the Giants in their second matchup last year. The more time Prescott has in the pocket, the more time he’ll have to find any one of these talented options downfield. Look for the play-action attack with deep passing concepts, and also look for Prescott to use Schultz/Lamb in the middle of the field, while also targeting whichever wide receiver is on Yiadom/Lewis (I’d imagine Lewis will be starting as he seems to be the better option). I don’t think Prescott will shy away from James Bradberry, but he has a ton of options to choose from with these Cowboys’ weapons.