We have been previewing New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys all week. We know the Giants are heavy underdogs and that, while they have a chance to pull an upset, they are likely to have to play an exceptional game to do so. Here are four things to watch.
A test for Jason Garrett
Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett carries a reputation for being conservative and predictable. It’s a reputation quarterback Daniel Jones fought back against this week, saying “I don’t think that’s a fair conclusion to draw.”
Still, it is the conclusion many have come to. There is a belief that Garrett is behind the curve when it comes to how the best NFL offenses operate.
The Giants, though, are coming off their best offensive game of the Garrett era. They also had a game in Week 2 vs. Washington where they scored 29 points, but an end zone drop and a touchdown-nullifying penalty cost them eight points.
Jones averaged a career-best 10.5 yards per pass attempt last week, some if which was due to 128 yards after the catch. Still, his intended air yards per attempt of 8.9 is a career high and 1.3 yards more than in 2020, so the ball is going farther down the field.
Can Garrett, Jones and the Giants push the ball down the field again on Sunday? Much will depend on the protection for Jones, which could be impacted Andrew Thomas and his foot injury.
Our friends at Blogging The Boys offered a Cowboys’ defensive Achilles heel the Giants should attack:
The combination of tight ends Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph, wide receiver Kadarius Toney, and the always dangerous Saquon Barkley will surely be used to attack the Achilles heel of this Cowboys defense in the linebacker’s ability to defend against the pass. We’ve seen in the past that Vander Esch can do it but that he isn’t always consistent. Neal is returning from testing positive for COVID and is still getting his cardio back so we aren’t going to know how well he’ll be able to play this week. Then you have Parsons who had trouble in coverage in the season opener against the Buccaneers when Rob Gronkowski went off for 90 yards and two touchdowns. And Cox would just now be getting real time on the defense if he plays more this week. Both rookies have the ability to cover ground quickly and cover the Giants tight ends and running backs, but they are still rookies and can easily be tricked with play-action passes or other formation disguises.
We’ve all seen Jason Garrett’s offensive scheme, he’s prone to protecting his quarterback Daniel Jones by giving him the easier reads with quick passes in the middle of the field and on the outside to get him in a rhythm. Last week, though, Garrett was more aggressive pushing the ball downfield, that could cause the Cowboys to keep their safeties deeper this week. If that is the case, then that means a lot of crossing routes and slants that the Cowboys linebackers are going to have to be dealing with. Garrett’s going to be looking to create enough traffic in the middle of the field to confuse or freeze the Cowboys linebackers long enough to make plays. The Cowboys safeties will most likely be there to help the linebackers, but this is an area that could cause the Cowboys some headaches this week, especially if the Giants are able to get Barkley going early in the running game.
A test for Daniel Jones, too
The Giants’ quarterback is coming off a career-high 402-yard passing game. He is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week. An NFL world that has snickered at Jones for more than two years is suddenly waking up to the idea that me might be good. Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks went so far during the week as to says Jones might be a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. Brooks wrote:
It might be hard for some draft analysts to admit, but Daniel Jones is a franchise quarterback. In fact, he is showing signs of emerging as a potential top-10 player at the position. This is probably an unpopular take outside of New York, but the third-year pro has started showing all-star potential as a playmaker, and the rest of the league is on notice.
Both Garrett and quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski lauded Jones’ ball security and decision-making this week. He has thrown just one interception this season, and that on a Hail Mary attempt, and Brooks points out that Jones has just five giveaways over his past 10 games.
Sunday, Jones and the Giants face a Dallas team that is tied with the Buffalo Bills for the league’s best takeaway/giveaway ratio of +7. Dallas leads the NFL with 8 interceptions, and cornerback Trevon Diggs already has 5.
Protecting the football will be paramount to the Giants’ chances of pulling off an upset Sunday. If Jones can do that, and can lead the Giants to an unexpected victory, that would be another big step toward showing that he might actually deserve that “franchise quarterback” label.
Putting the heat on Dak
The Giants have been one of the poorest pass rushing team in the NFL thus far, and last week they did not so much as hit New Orleans quarterback Jameis Winston a single time. That isn’t going to cut it against Prescott and a high-octane Dallas passing attack.
“I know this, you’ve got to affect the quarterback somehow, you’ve got to affect the offensive line somehow and that’s the goal,” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said during the week. “We’ve got do whatever is necessary to affect Prescott this week. Again, I think whether you’re going to compare it to last week or two weeks before or the year before, we’re going to try to do what’s best for the game plan for this weekend and hopefully it’s enough to win the game.”
Against a quality Dallas offensive line the Giants aren’t going to do that without some creativity from Graham. Let’s see what he comes up with.
One surprising note: ESPN has the Cowboys ranked a surprisingly poor 31st in the league in pass block win rate.
Speaking of pass blocking
Garrett praised the Giants’ pass blocking during the week, saying it was a big part of the reason the Giants were able to get the ball down the field against New Orleans. The Giants are actually 18th overall in ESPN’s pass block win rate stat, which is far better than how many thought they would perform this season.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas has been a critical part of that success, with no sacks allowed thus far. He is questionable Sunday with a foot injury. Whether he plays, and how well he is actually able to move and anchor on that foot, could be critical on Sunday.
It was Week 5 last season when Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott went down for the season with an ankle injury. Garrett, the former Dallas head coach, talked this week about how difficult that moment was for him:
“It was a really tough moment for me and really for anybody who’s been around him. Dak’s a special guy. I have a great relationship with him, a great friendship with him and he’s someone who’s made my life significantly better. When you see a guy like that who you’re competing against, go down and you know it’s a serious injury, the human side of everybody comes out. No one wants to see injuries in this game. Nobody wants to see injuries to people they love and care about. That was not an easy moment for me or for anybody who was close to him. He doesn’t surprise me one bit in how he responded to it. Immediately in the aftermath and what he needed to do to get on the road back to recovering and then what he’s done since to come back and play as well as he has. He’s a special guy, he’s made my life way better.”