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The ABCs of Giants-Cowboys: From Amari to Zeke

What can we learn from our alphabetical preview this week?

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

It’s time for our final ABCs preview of the 2020 NFL regular season, which of course ends in 2021. Let’s see what New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys topics we can hit.

A is for ... Amari: Some will make the case that with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, the Cowboys have three players capable of being No. 1 wide receivers. Cooper, in his sixth season, is the most accomplished. He leads Dallas in receptions (86), yards receiving (1,073) and yards receiving per game (71.5).

B is for ... Best: The Giants have said over and over during the week that they need their best game on Sunday. Here is what that might look like.

C is for ... CeeDee: Cooper might be the most accomplished Dallas receiver, but Lamb might be the most exciting. The rookie first-round pick might also be the most difficult for the Giants to cover. Lamb had season-highs in catches (8) and yards receiving (124) agains the Giants in Week 5, as he consistently found seams in the Giants secondary.

D is for ... Dalton: The Cowboys signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton as a security blanket in case something happened to Dak Prescott. Something did, of course, a season-ending injury Week 5 against the Giants. After suffering a concussion and battling COVID-19, Dalton has finally settled in and has been a stabilizing force for Dallas. The Cowboys have gone 4-4 in games started by Dalton. Remember, Dalton also threw the 38-yard pass to Michael Gallup that set up the game-winning field goal for Dallas against the Giants in Week 5.

E is for ... Eagles: The winner of Sunday’s Giants-Cowboys game will have to root for the Philadelphia Eagles to defeat the Washington Football Team on Sunday night. That will be uncomfortable for either fan base.

F is for ... Fackrell: The Giants hoped to have edge defender Kyler Fackrell back for Sunday’s season finale. As of this writing, Fackrell has not yet been activated from IR.

G is for ... Gettleman; Will Dave Gettleman return for a fourth season as Giants general manager? Will Sunday be the end of his tenure? We will know soon enough. Here is what coach Joe Judge said this week about his working relationship with Gettleman:

“I’d say the entire building since I’ve been here has really had one vision going forward. I’ve enjoyed working with Dave the entire year. We’ve done a lot of good things together. I really enjoyed the process through free agency and the draft ... There was a lot of cooperation work throughout the building. I think everyone’s doing a good job right now in terms of just understanding where we want to go and pushing in that direction. There’s been a lot of really good communication with Dave, Kevin (Abrams), Mark (Koncz), Tim (McDonnell), all the guys working in personnel in terms of the kinds of players that we’re really looking for that fit into our systems, and looking around the league and who’s available on the street as well as building in the draft with Chris (Pettit) and his staff in terms of who’s going to fit what we’re looking for.”

H is for ... Home field advantage: In a normal year the fact that this weekend’s game is at MetLife Stadium would be a huge advantage for the Giants. With no fans in the stands, though, that is obviously neutralized.

“It’s going to be quieter than any playoff game or any big game I ever played in, it’s going to be pretty much silent like how it’s been all year, so it’s always different,” said Giants safety Logan Ryan.

I is for ... iPad: Of course the 2020 NFL regular season would end with the Giants using an iPad stationed behind the huddle at Friday’s practice to allow offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, quarantining after a positive COVID-19 test, to watch his position group.

“It’s a different deal but hey, it’s something that we’ve become accustomed to,” coach Joe Judge said.

J is for ... Jones: Whether he can run the zone read or not, the Giants need a grown-up, quality football game from second-year quarterback Daniel Jones. The Giants don’t have a 300-yard passing game this season, and they don’t necessarily need one on Sunday. They need mistake-free football and they need to make the plays that are available to be made. That’s Jones’ task on Sunday.

K is for ... Kicking game: Big games almost always pivot on some type of huge play in the kicking game. What’s it going to be this time?

L is for ... Leonard: The Giants need their missing pass rush to make an appearance on Sunday, which means they need some big plays from Leonard Williams. The former New York Jets first-round draft pick has a career-high 8.5 sacks, but hasn’t had one in the past three games after getting at least one in five straight games.

M is for ... Mysterious: That’s a good word to describe the fall of guard Will Hernandez. The 2018 second-round pick hasn’t started a game since going on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and while they won’t explain why the Giants clearly prefer rookie Shane Lemieux. Here is part of what I wrote about that in this week’s mailbag:

“I suspect part of this has to do with how Lemieux works with Andrew Thomas. I don’t know for certain that there is a correlation, but Thomas has played better since Lemieux began playing next to him regularly in Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Giants are also placing a heavy emphasis on double team and combo blocks in the run game, something Lemieux’s pre-draft scouting profile references as a strength. Is it also possible that the communication has been better with Lemieux in the lineup? I don’t know for sure, but it’s a possibility.

“In the end, I think the reasons go beyond pure grades or which guy is a better pass protector. I think it’s more about how Lemieux fits what they are trying to do.”

N is for ... Nose: Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham makes adjustments to his scheme each week. One that was somewhat startling last week vs. the Ravens was that Dexter Lawrence played a season-high 35 snaps at nose tackle. The most he had played there previously was 12 snaps in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers. Dalvin Tomlinson, who usually mans that spot, played only one snap on the nose vs. Baltimore. What will we see Sunday?

O is for ... Offense: The Giants need their sputtering, 31st-ranked group to have a solid game on Sunday.

P is for ... Playoffs: Yes, the winner of Giants vs. Cowboys could go to the playoffs as a 6-win NFC East champion. Ridiculous but true, provided the Philadelphia Eagles cooperate by defeating the Washington Football Team.

Q is for ... Question: Entering play on Sunday, the Giants could land the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. They could win the division, go on a magical run, win the Super Bowl and pick 32nd. Both scenarios are unlikely, but which would you prefer?

R is for ... Records: Who really cares that the NFC East division winner will have a losing record. Sunday is the final day of the regular season and three of the division’s four teams have a chance to win it. The fourth has a chance to spoil it.

S is for ... Slayton: As the Giants’ offense has struggled during the past five weeks, second-year wide receiver Darius Slayton has caught just 10 of the 28 passes thrown in his direction. That’s just 35.7 percent of the throws from Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy. The Giants are going to need better production than that from Slayton on Sunday.

T is for ... Tate: Giants wide receiver Golden Tate is doubtful Sunday with a calf injury. Have we seen the last of Tate as a Giant?

U is for ... Unbelievable: That’s the story of the NFC East this season. The possibility that a six-win team could be division champs, and that a losing team will definitely get the division title. The stories of Alex, Smith, Ron Rivera and Dwayne Haskins in Washington. The fall of Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. The injury to Dak Prescott in Dallas. The Giants going from 0-5 to having a chance to win the division on the season’s final day. Craziness!

V is for ... Vander Esch: the Cowboys will be without stud linebacker Leighton Vander Esch on Sunday, as he is out with an ankle injury. After a Pro Bowl 2018 rookie season, Vander Esch played only nine games last season and 10 games this year.

W is for ... Washington: If the Washington Football Team wins Sunday night, the result of Giants-Cowboys becomes insignificant. Except for the fact that it’s always nice to beat Dallas, and it means the Giants would own victories this season against all of the teams in the NFC East.

X is for ... X Factor: When I think about this game, the X Factor for me is something we don’t discuss often enough. That is field position. During their three-game losing streak the Giants have started one drive inside opponents’ territory, and that was at the Cleveland Browns’ 48-yard line. Against the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals, the Giants’ average starting field position was inside their own 20-yard line. Whether the Giants get them with turnovers, sacks, kickoff and punt returns or simply with good kick coverage that pins Dallas deep followed by good defense that keeps the Cowboys there, New York needs to create some short fields for its struggling offense.

Y is for ... Why did I do this?: I have questioned my decision to do these ABC previews all season. They are informative, but they are anything but easy. And they take forever. In the end, though, I enjoy them and hope you do as well.

Z is for ... Zeke: Ezekiel Elliott is, by his standards, having a pedestrian season. Elliott, though, is coming off his best game of the year, a 19-carry, 1-5-yard effort last Sunday against Philadelphia. He’s still Ezekiel Elliott, and the Giants’ front seven needs to be prepared to deal with a Dallas team that wants to run the football.