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Giants vs. Cowboys: What to expect when Dallas has the ball

The Cowboys have a prolific offense that is proficient both running and throwing

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles are tied in last place among the four teams in the NFC East. Washington is 2-2 after defeating the Falcons in a come-from-behind manner. The Dallas Cowboys sit atop the division at 3-1, their lone loss being opening night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Big Blue seemed to have Washington’s number in Week 2 but couldn’t secure the win. Division games are crucial to playoff contention, and the Giants let a road-division win slip right through their grasp. They’ll have another opportunity in Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys in Jerry’s World.

Defeating the Cowboys will not be an easy task. Their 2020 vulnerability - the defense - has significantly stabilized, with Dan Quinn replacing Mike Nolan. Second-year player Trevon Diggs and rookie Osa Odighizuwa, along with several other young players, are scratching their potential under the Tutelage of Quinn.

Quarterback Dak Prescott has picked up where he left off before the leg injury against the Giants in Week 5 of last season. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has the unit clicking on all cylinders. They can beat defenses with an aggressive, physical, rushing attack, or they can throw the ball around the yard with wide receivers like Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.

Whatever opposing defenses dictate, Dallas can alter their game plan and still maintain a dangerous offense - they’re that versatile. The Eagles attempted to play Cover 2 to remove Prescott’s ability to hit deep passes, and Elliott took advantage with a 17-carry, 95-yard day with two scores.

The Dallas offense averages 421 yards per game this season, ranking third in the NFL. They have scored 31.5 points per game, which ranks fourth in the league. The Giants’ defense has been less than stellar this season. Patrick Graham and company will have to be ready for a run-heavy or a pass-oriented attack.

The Giants’ defensive personnel has been upgraded since their Week 5 37-34 loss to Dallas last season, but they will be missing star middle linebacker, Blake Martinez. Tae Crowder has looked capable replacing Martinez as the leader in the middle of the defense, but this will be a challenging test against Elliott, Tony Pollard, and this excellent offensive line.

Quarterback

The progression year-in and year-out of Prescott is unique and interesting. He’s developed so well since coming into the league as a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State. His ability to create explosive plays while remaining efficient and calm in the pocket is a great asset for Moore and this offense.

Prescott is completing 75 percent of his passes this season - wow. Through four games, he has thrown for 1,066 yards, with 10 touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions. He isn’t quite the threat he used to be with his legs, but he isn’t shy coming off of the broken leg his suffered against the Giants in Week 5 last year.

Prescott’s ability to get through progressions, find the open receiver versus man or zone and his processing are just three of the dangerous traits he brings to this offense. New York will have to be tight with their coverage assignments in zone and maintain solid spatial awareness in the outer parts of each individual’s zone. Prescott threw for 166 yards on 21 drop backs and had 16 completions with an interception through a half-plus of play last time he saw Patrick Graham and the Giants. We’ll see how the Giants respond to this offense in the coming week.

Running backs

Dallas can punch teams in the mouth with a dangerous two-headed attack that consists of star running back Ezekiel Elliott and change-of-pace back Tony Pollard. Elliott is more of the physical, every-down type of back who receives most of the goal line work.

Pollard is a gem that Steven Jones and the Dallas staff drafted in the fourth round out of Memphis in 2019. Elliott gets more work, but Pollard receives designed touches that maximize his ability to create explosive plays - he has more burst than Elliott when hitting the holes.

Elliott has found the end zone four times this season on 64 carries for 342-yards, and Pollard has 37 rushing attempts for 250 yards while also scoring on an end-around type play. Both are quality running back options, and both are good receivers out of the backfield. Expect a hefty dose of both players on Sunday.

Wide receivers

Second-year wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and 27-year-old veteran Amari Cooper are arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. Lamb has an incredible ability to “climb the ladder” to locate contested catches and secure balls over the middle of the field. He’s an incredibly gifted route runner who is explosive, quick, and can stretch the field vertically and horizontally.

The Giants saw Lamb as the No. 3 (innermost) wide receiver in 3x1 sets last season. Lamb was able to take advantage of fellow rookie Darnay Holmes at that position while baiting Giants’ safeties into unnecessary roughness penalties. Graham has to be aware of Lamb’s ability to find space between safeties and linebackers because it was an issue in Week 5 last year.

Amari Cooper was a first-round acquisition trade from the Cowboys to the Raiders, and he’s really helped Prescott develop. He’s such a technician as a route runner. There are few wide receivers in the NFL who can sink his hips and get in and out of breaks as fast and smoothly as Cooper. He’s a true “Z” type of receiver who can run any route in the NFL. Expect James Bradberry to see a lot of Cooper on Sunday.

The Cowboys “X” receiver Michael Gallup is injured and will miss the week five matchup. Dallas uses Cedrick Wilson in 11-personnel. Wilson scored in week four and is a capable wide receiver who is explosive. The Giants may also see Flanders, N.J., native Noah Brown, the fourth receiver used. He’s a big-bodied, contested-catch type of player that attended Ohio State and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. He went to Pope John - my rival high school. Why a public school was playing a private school in the same high school division, I may never know.

Tight ends

In Week 4, the Cowboys’ tight ends had three touchdowns - two to Dalton Schultz and one to Blake Jarwin. The latter was supposed to be the next tight end after Jason Witten left the Cowboys, but he tore his ACL in Week 1 last year, and Schultz filled in nicely. Both tight ends are used similarly, and both see the field frequently, but Schultz receives more attention from Dak Prescott.

Schultz, a 2018 fourth-round pick out of Stanford, has 22 targets on the year. He’s secured 20 of them for 201-yards and two scores. Jarwin is also used in the passing game. He has nine catches on 12 targets for 89-yards and a score. Neither player is a dynamic athlete, but both are reliable options for Prescott if his first or second read isn’t available.

Offensive line

Dallas’ offensive line has been raved about for years, and rightfully so. The investment in Tyron Smith, Travis Fredrick, and Zack Martin - all first-rounders, along with second-round picks like Connor Williams have provided returns on investment. La’El Collins, who fell in the draft for personal reasons, was also a great UDFA signing by Dallas.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Collins is currently injured, and Terrance Steele is filling in quite nicely on the right side of the line. Tyron Smith is still on the left side, and he’s still a very good football player. When healthy, Smith is one of the top left tackles in the NFL.

The guards are effective, specifically, Martin, who has been occupying the right guard position. Martin is one of the top offensive linemen, and players overall, in the NFL. He can play anywhere on the offensive line and brings excellent technique, combined with great power at the point of attack.

Connor Williams has been a solid contributor for the Cowboys’ offensive line, but he’s not as talented or skilled as Smith or Martin. Williams and center Tyler Biadasz are still developing players. If there’s a weak link on this offensive line, it’s these two players; but both are still solid overall NFL offensive linemen.

The Giants will likely get creative with their stunt packages; E/T, T/E twists with Leonard Williams as the looper and Dexter Lawrence, or Danny Shelton, as a penetrating interior defensive lineman. New York has been using Lorenzo Carter effectively in this role as well, so expect Carter to loop into the A-Gap a few times to try and get after Prescott.

If the Giants find a way to win this football game, they’ll bring that abysmal start to 2-3 with a division win on the road against a team primed to take the divisional crown. This is a huge matchup for Joe Judge, Jason Garrett, Patrick Graham, and the rest of the Giants on Sunday.