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Giants vs. Cowboys: When Dallas has the ball

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The New York Giants are on a three-game losing streak during which they have failed to score 20 points in each loss. They also failed to score 20 points in their last two victories. Sunday the Giants face a Dallas Cowboys team that has averaged 36.0 points per game the last three weeks.

The Cowboys rank 21st in explosive play rate on the season, according to Sharp Football Stats. On this three-game winning streak, they rank ninth and have 13 explosive plays through the air. Dallas ranks seventh on the season in passing yards per game (264), and 17th in rushing yards per game (112). During their winning streak, the Cowboys are about middle of the pack in both rushing and passing yards per game, but they played with leads in all three games.

Dallas runs a lot of 11 personnel with its trio of star wide receivers in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. Tony Pollard received the start against the 49ers and finished the game with 12 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns, along with 6 receptions for 63 yards. Big money back Ezekiel Elliot returned against the Eagles and assumed the predominant role.

The Cowboys’ offense pushes the ball vertically by using deep concepts and crossing routes to stretch the defense horizontally. A big part of their playbook is using Lamb as the No. 3 receiver in 3x1 sets and using him to stretch the seam while putting the deep safety into conflict in the middle of the field closed defense (the predominant defense the Giants run). The Giants were burned by this route concept several times; the soft spot behind the linebackers and in front of the safety was dangerous. Those throws require touch, timing, and a tough receiver - the Cowboys possess those abilities.

They also do a solid job moving the pocket and using wide zone running looks to get Andy Dalton on a bootleg and crossing wide receivers running horizontally. The tight end leak out to the flat is typically good for a few yards in this situation. Common passing concepts include smash, sail, hitch/seam, spacing, four verts, and bunch sets where one receiver releases inside, the other out, and the other vertical creating a high low.

The rushing attack is horizontal with some stretch zone type of concepts, but there are power/gap elements to the Cowboys as well. They use some DUO double teams to climb as well. The running backs are also involved in the screen game, so the Giants will have to be aware of Elliot and Pollard on passing downs, especially if they bring pressure.

Kellen Moore, the current Cowboys offensive coordinator, could be coaching in his last game with that title because he has interviewed for his alma mater’s head coaching position at Boise State.

Quarterback

Dalton has started most of the games since Dak Prescott’s injury vs. the Giants. He missed the first matchup against the Eagles where Ben Dinucci received the nod and another start against Pittsburgh where Garrett Gilbert put up a solid effort against the once unbeaten Steelers. Dalton has a 65 percent completion rate, with 1,926 passing yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of 14-7. Over the last three games, he has 7 touchdowns to just 1 interception.

Dalton is an experienced player who can win in the league; he still has solid arm talent and can push the ball vertical with solid accuracy. His movement skills aren’t a liability; he doesn’t do it often, but he’s capable of scrambling for first downs if the opportunity presents itself. Dalton has shown the ability to use touch passes up the seam, use timing/rhythm on back-shoulder throws along the sideline, and he processes the defense well pre to post-snap. In the games where Dalton struggled, he was hit quite a bit. This is something the Giants don’t necessarily do a lot when they bring four, but they have to harass the quarterback and not force their secondary to cover the wide receivers for 3+ seconds.

Running back

Ezekiel Elliott is a $90 million man and the Cowboys may not be thrilled about that fact. He received $50 million guaranteed and 2nd year running back Tony Pollard looks a bit more explosive than Elliott as of right now. Elliott started the year hot but has fallen off towards the end of the season. He has 937 yards (4.1 yards per carry) with 49 catches for 319 yards, with a total of 7 touchdowns. Elliott is still very physical, runs hard, is a good pass protector, and his vision is still solid, but his offensive line has been injured. Elliott has 6 fumbles on the season.

Tony Pollard filled in for Elliott when he missed a game with his calf injury and he looked more explosive, showed contact balance, and created doubt within the minds of some Dallas fans. Pollard has 5 touchdowns on the season, with 420 yards on the ground (4.4 YPC), and 174 receiving yards. Pollard hasn’t fumbled like Elliott and has looked good. The Giants can’t underestimate the speed and burst of Pollard when he’s on the field.

Wide receivers

Dallas has three wide receivers who are incredibly talented: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. Cooper is a precise route runner with good athletic ability. He’s seen 121 targets and caught 86 of them for 1073 yards, along with 5 touchdowns. Cooper typically draws the number one cornerback from the other team. He has four games with double-digit targets and four games with over 100 yards receiving.

Michael Gallup has found a groove with Andy Dalton. He had one touchdown in the first 12 weeks and has added four since then. He is coming off a 6-catch 121-yard game with 2 touchdowns. Gallup is explosive, physical at the catch point, wins contested catches, and is good on the boundary. He has seen 97 targets with 55 catches for 794 yards and 5 touchdowns. Gallup may be the “least concerning” wide receiver out of the bunch, but that’s not an indictment on his skill-set; it’s rather a concerning acknowledgment of the Cowboys’ bevy of skill-position players.

CeeDee Lamb has operated quite a bit out of the slot, which is very scary for opponents. Lamb combines burst, release off the line of scrimmage, exceptional body control/tracking, with an ability to win with speed, physicality, and route running. He has caught 69 of 104 targets for 892 yards and 5 touchdowns. He saw 11 targets in the first matchup against New York and caught eight of them for 124 yards. I expect to see a lot of Lamb in Week 17.

Cedrick Wilson is the fourth receiver who will play snaps in 10 personnel but hasn’t received a target since Week 12 against Minnesota. Noah Brown has also carved a role in the offense. The Jersey native is 225 pounds and excels at blocking defensive backs. He saw 6 targets against the 49ers two weeks ago, but none against the Eagles. He has 154 yards on the season.

Tight ends

It was going to be a breakout season for Blake Jarwin, but he, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending injury in the week one loss to the Rams. Dalton Schultz, a 2018 fourth-round pick out of Stanford, plays the majority of the snaps for Dallas. He’s more of a receiving threat than a blocker, but he has come along in that area over the season. Schultz has 56 catches on 75 targets for 545 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s a big target and has solid athletic ability for a tight end. Dallas likes to use him in the flats and on quick curls to the first down.

Blake Bell is more of the blocking tight end and has caught 11 of his 13 targets for 110 yards. He’s a tall, strong, tight end who does a good job holding up against outside linebackers while sealing the edge on outside runs. Bell played about half the snaps against Philadelphia and is a big part of what Dallas wants to do on the ground.

Offensive line

The Dallas offensive line has been beaten up this season. The Cowboys lost versatile lineman Zach Martin, left tackle Tyron Smith, right tackle La’El Collins, and center Joe Looney has been in and out of the lineup. The starting tackles are Terrance Steele and Brandon Knight.

Knight is a 2019 undrafted player out of Indiana. He has played significant snaps after Smith went down with an injury on the left side. He’s allowed 30 pressures and 4 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s got length, but his foot speed can be taken advantage of, which is similar to Steele who plays on the right side. Steele is a rookie undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech. He is a bit lumbering and raw. Steele has surrendered 9 sacks this season and 47 pressures. 9 sacks ties for first in the league with Andrew Thomas.

The Connors hold down the guard spots: Connor McGovern on the right side and Connor Williams on the left. The latter is the only Cowboys offensive lineman to play in every 2020 game. McGovern is a young player that has shown improvement over the season. He provides versatility, much like the rest of the players on the line. Williams is a 2018 second-round pick who can be good as a run blocker but is still a bit susceptible at times in pass protection. He’s given up 27 pressures and 3 sacks. Both linemen are 23 years old and show promise.

Looney missed weeks 5-8, but has now returned and is playing well. He’s a solid overall center that won’t win with brute strength but is typically in a solid position. He’s only allowed 12 pressures, but 3 sacks. Looney is one of their better offensive lineman with all the injuries. Rookie Wisconsin Badger Tyler Biadasz filled in well for Looney during his injury.

Final thoughts

The Giants defense won’t have to worry about the speed and variety of the Ravens rushing attack this week - that’s a plus, but they will have to stress about covering these three receivers. The Cowboys offense has been effective these last couple of weeks, but a Giants defense that has been good most of the season can slow the unit down at MetLife Stadium. The defense can only do so much, and it will be on the offense to sustain drives, allow the defense to regroup, and put some points on the board. If the Giants’ offense can move the football against the Dallas defense that has been creating turnovers the last couple of weeks, then the Giants have a realistic shot at a win. However, the two teams are moving in opposite directions, so the Giants need to be prepared in a pivotal, must-win, game.