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Giants vs. Cowboys, Week 3: When Dallas has the ball

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The 2-0 New York Giants face the 1-1 Dallas Cowboys in a Week 3 matchup on Monday Night Football. Primetime has not been kind to the Giants in recent memory.

After a Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where starting quarterback Dak Prescott suffered an injury to his throwing hand that required surgery, Dallas turned to the veteran Cooper Rush to face the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals.

The Cowboys defeated the Bengals, 20-17, after a strong start where Dallas scored 14 points in the first quarter. Week 3 is Dallas’ first time on the road this season, and the Giants will be in their white Color Rush uniforms.

Cooper Rush

Rush improved his starting record to 2-0 last Sunday. He started on the road against the Minnesota Vikings on Halloween night in primetime last season and helped Dallas win 20-16. Here are Rush’s stats from his two starts:

  • 2021: @ MIN 24-40, 325 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
  • 2022: vs CIN 19-31, 235 yards, 1 TD

Rush had a cup of espresso with the New York Giants in 2020 before returning to Dallas to back up Andy Dalton. The 28-year-old knows the system of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. He operates well out of quick game and isn’t shy to attack off coverage for quick hitters;. Conversely, Rush isn’t shy to take one-on-one matchups and attack deep.

Rush averages 8.25 intended air yards per pass attempt, which is higher than Daniel Jones throughout his career. It’s a small sample size, but Rush’s completed air yards per completion averages 6.75 yards, which is also higher than any year of Jones’ career.

For context, two reasons these numbers are high are a 73-yard touchdown pass to Cedrick Wilson against Minnesota and a 47 yard touchdown pass to Tony Pollard against Cincinnati. The Wilson touchdown was a good read and throw against Cover-2, where Wilson split the safeties and took the pass to the house, but Rush did very little on Pollard’s explosive touchdown from last week.

Still, Rush took several deep shots in both games to Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Noah Brown when he liked a mismatch in a one-on-one scenario. He’ll see similar situations against the Giants on Monday with Wink Martindale’s aggressive man-to-man philosophy. Couple that with a possible question mark opposite Adoree’ Jackson, and we may see Rush attempt to create explosive plays through the air.

According to Pro Football Focus, 20.5 percent of Rush’s passing attempts (including YAC) in 2022 were 15 yards or beyond. 13.6 percent were 20 yards or beyond. Only 3.6 percent of Jones’ passes were 20 yards or beyond, and 14.5 percent were beyond 15 yards. 11.6 percent of Rush’s pass attempts traveled more than 21 yards through the air; Jones was at 3.6 percent.

Kellen Moore

This is Moore’s fourth season as the offensive coordinator, second under head coach Mike McCarthy. Dallas was the highest-scoring team in 2021, albeit the defense’s ability to cause turnovers and score touchdowns heavily attributed to the success.

The overall talent of the Dallas Cowboys took a step back from last year. Dallas traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to Cleveland. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson and guard Connor Williams signed in Miami. Michael Gallup is still recovering from a torn ACL (he may return against the Giants), and tackle Tyron Smith suffered a devastating leg injury in training camp.

Moore’s offense features a lot of 11 and 12 personnel, and he sprinkles in a handful of plays a game with both running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on the field simultaneously.

Franchise-tagged tight end Dalton Schultz will likely miss the game with a PCL injury. Without Schultz, Moore may not rely as heavily on 12 personnel, which could work in the Giants’ favor. More 11 personnel means lighter and quicker defenders on the football field: also known as fewer linebackers and more safeties.

Rookie tight end Jake Ferguson will likely slide into a much more significant role. I expect running back Tony Pollard’s role to expand but not at the expense of Elliott. Moore will attempt to run the football with Elliott and design screens, quick-hitting passes, and jet-sweeps to Pollard.

Pollard has nine targets through two games and an average snap share of 45.9 percent. He ran routes on 35.6 percent of Dallas’ drop backs with a 12.7 percent target share and an average of 2.65 yards per route run. His explosive play-making ability was a big factor in Dallas’ upset win over Cincinnati, and I expect Moore to showcase his ability with the entire football world watching.

Elliott will be used early in the game to try and move the sticks, quiet the crowd down (BE LOUD!), and exploit Leonard Williams’s loss. If successful (and perhaps even if they’re not), Dallas will attempt to work play action crossers as the Tennessee Titans did against the Giants, who currently ranks second in the NFL in man coverage rate; it’s important to note that Cincinnati ranks fourth in the NFL, and they ran man coverage 32 percent of the time against Dallas.

Moore will likely attempt to attack the second cornerback opposite Jackson more than Ben McAdoo. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb will probably be moved around a lot, and we could see him operate in the slot where he’s had success against Darnay Holmes in the past. Adoree’ Jackson plays mostly on the left side, but will travel to the right. He only has four snaps in the slot through two games.

If Martindale attempts to rattle Rush early, I expect six man protection. The quick game of Dallas might prompt the Giants to align in press more often, which could lead to some deep shots in Cover-1 against Fabian Moreau or Cor’Dale Flott; discipline and technique at the line of scrimmage will be crucial for the Giants.

What should the Giants do defensively?

Wink Martindale, be you!

New York ranks 11th in pressure percentage with a rate of 26.8 percent. Dallas is just ahead of them at 27 percent. However, the Giants are third in blitz rate (42.3 percent) behind only the Cardinals and Broncos, whereas Dallas is 23rd in blitz percentage. The Giants are blitzing more but getting less pressure - the three injuries they suffered at EDGE can be ascribed as one reason.

One of the more interesting sub-plots of this heated divisional rivalry is the Giants’ ability to stop Dallas’ rushing attack, possibly without their star defensive linemen Leonard Willams. If Dallas uses more 11 personnel, and the Giants match speed with more three safety looks, can New York’s front stop the rushing attack without Williams?

New York will likely lean heavily on Dexter Lawrence, Nick Williams, and Justin Ellis. I’m also curious to see if the possible return of Thibodeaux or Ojulari allows Martindale to leverage the unique skill-set of Jihad Ward on the inside. If either of those two edge defenders return, Martindale could get creative with the 290-pound Ward, which could help mask possible deficiencies up front.

Pressure Rush

The Cowboys’ offensive line is inexperienced, and raw rookie Tyler Smith is the starting left tackle. Through two games, Smith played well, allowing only three pressures and a sack, but he hasn’t dealt with a Martindale defense quite yet. Smith’s day will likely be more stressful if the Giants receive positive news on the injured Thibodeaux and Ojulari.

New York must keep Rush guessing as to the location of the pressure. There were several occasions where Martindale aligned seven or even eight defenders on the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers, brining only four or five on the blitz. If Dallas aligns in condensed formations, this should continue. It is imperative for New York to hit and rattle Rush.

If the pressure is dialed up, expect slip-screens to both running backs. I also expect to see more EMPTY formations to spread the Giants’ defense out to disallow them from crowding the line of scrimmage and confusing the five offensive linemen.

The Giants had a collective 12 snaps from their linebackers not named Tae Crowder. Can the Giants get away with a similar approach against Dallas’ rushing attack out of 11 personnel? We may find out, but that’s another question I have heading into this game.

Final thoughts

The Giants have a realistic shot to start the season with three straight wins. I don’t think it’s a certainty, nor do I take Dallas lightly even without Prescott. The Giants are favored to win the game, but they have to slow down Micah Parsons and Dan Quinn’s defense to successfully defeat Dallas at home. They have to generate pressure, stop the run without Williams, and force more third-and-long situations for Rush who will only be starting his third NFL game.