Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 11, 2020
In terms of overall talent and emotional mindset, the Dallas Cowboys are better positioned to win this game. But this is a winnable game for the Giants. While New York is 0-4 on the season, the Cowboys are only 1-3. Both have new coaching staffs and Dallas may have actually regressed in the coaching department (I think the loss of Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli was huge).
We have two very interesting match-ups on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Dallas is #1 in yards per game (510) and #3 in scoring (31.5). All of this despite some serious injury issues on Dallas’ offensive line. Defensively, the Giants are #5 in yards allowed (328) and #13 in scoring defense (24).
On the flip side, offensively, New York is dead last in yards per game (278) and scoring (11.8). Defensively, Dallas is 30th in yards allowed (431) and dead last in scoring defense (36.5).
In other words, something has to give on both sides of the ball for both teams. In all likelihood, the Giants offense will look better in this game while the defense looks worse. Whether or not that translates into a win remains to be seen. The Cowboys are huge favorites in this game.
THE INJURY REPORT
- LB Oshane Ximines (shoulder – out)
- LB Kyler Fackrell (neck – questionable)
- S Jabrill Peppers (ankle – questionable)
- S Adrian Colbert (neck – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
Sy’56 wrote at the end of his Giants-Rams game review that fans should focus more on player development this year than wins and losses. That’s a sad state of affairs, but from a mental health perspective for Giants fans, probably wise advice. My fear is that this team has gotten far too comfortable and used to losing. Anyone who has played competitive sports on a bad team knows what I mean. While the roster keeps churning each year, the core group that has been here for the last few years just simply doesn’t know how to, or expect to, win. The front office execs, the coaches, and the players all say the right things during the week, but the team loses every Sunday and everyone says, “We need to execute better.” Frustrated fans begin to look for quick and easy scapegoats. We used to laugh at teams like the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins who fell into these never-ending negative cycles. The Giants have officially become one of those teams.
But this week I’m going to take Sy’56’s advice and provide my overall thoughts on the state of each position group and who I think the team can count on moving into 2021 and beyond.
Quarterback: To state the obvious, Daniel Jones is not playing as well as hoped or expected. This has started the inevitable conversation that if the Giants are once again in the position to draft a “franchise” quarterback, do they do so? Right or wrong, I’m more optimistic about Jones because I think he has the mental and physical tools to succeed and I think the rest of the team is dragging him down right now. Others would argue he is not elevating the play of those around him. They could be right. Needless to say, the remaining 12 games is crucial in terms of understanding where we are at with respect to the quarterback position. What is frustrating is that Jones makes enough plays with his arm and feet to tease, but mistakes have marred his performance and contributed to losses. What I find equally frustrating is the lack of patience with quarterback development among today’s fans. I would like to remind everyone that the bulk of NYG fans were ready to run Eli Manning out of town as late as November 2007 (his fourth season). Nevertheless, this team is scoring less than 12 points per game. That’s beyond pathetic. And until that dramatically changes, Jones will be blamed for it. Guy to watch: Daniel Jones.
Running Back: I still don’t think many fans understand the catastrophic impact the loss of Saquon Barkley is having on this offense. I’ve argued since he got hurt that his loss changes everything for the worse. He was the ONLY guy on this team who scared opponents both as a runner and receiver. Saquon was so much better than everyone else on the Giants that I would equate his loss with that of a pro basketball team losing their superstar scorer. He is being replaced by three players (Devonta Freeman, Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis) whose contracts expire this offseason and I would not be surprised if all of them are not re-signed. That’s how barren the cabinet is at this position. With Barkley out of the picture, is there a worse group of running backs in the NFL? Guy to watch: Wayne Gallman (most likely to be re-signed even though Freeman will likely get more snaps).
Wide Receivers: This position has turned into a disaster. Teams have either figured out Darius Slayton or he is going through a sophomore slump. The injury-prone Sterling Shepard is hurt once again and one must wonder if its not just best to move on. Golden Tate is nearing the end. Oddly, the Giants decided to keep only four receivers, two of whom now are waiver-wire pick-ups. There is a good chance that the ONLY player who will be back next year who is currently on the 53-man roster is Slayton. As we move into November and December, I would expect the coaching staff to consider promoting Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, or Derrick Dillon to the active roster to receive a few looks. Again, is there a worse group of wide receivers in the NFL? Maybe one or two teams are in the conversation, but that’s it. Guy to watch: Darius Slayton.
Tight Ends: Evan Engram is proving that he is another 1st-round disappointment and one wonders if he is long for the team. I would say trade him before the deadline, but would there even be a market for him? The other guys on this team are complementary pieces. This is a very weak unit and again may be one of the worst in the NFL. Guy to watch: Kaden Smith.
Offensive Line: Andrew Thomas is taking his lumps and is coming off of his worst performance. He needs to rebound this week. The Giants desperately need him to develop into a Pro Bowl-type tackle in a year or two. The Giants can get by with Will Hernandez, but they need more than that from him as well. As Sy’56 has pointed out, his problems have revolved around lateral agility. I don’t know how Nick Gates is going to pan out, but you can see why the coaches like him. To get into with Aaron Donald like he did last week was an eye-opener. Gates is still green as grass at the position so expect continued growing pains. The major head-scratcher is the continuing decline of 30-year old Kevin Zeitler. I think we’re all at a loss explaining that. If that continues, I would not be surprised to see Shane Lemieux start stealing some snaps like Matt Peart is doing now at right tackle. Speaking of Peart, it’s pretty clear that the coaching staff is grooming him to move in at right tackle soon. Peart is being provided with the luxury that Thomas wasn’t given, and that is to more slowly transition him into a starting spot. Personally, I’m still optimistic about this group. I expected and wrote about the growing pains we are all seeing. Playing a string of really good defenses hasn’t helped. I think the unit will continue to improve as the year progresses. Keep in mind however that with the limitations the Giants have at running back, tight end, and wide receiver, I’m not sure how much this will translate to improved productivity on the field. Guys to watch: Andrew Thomas, Will Hernandez, Nick Gates, Kevin Zeitler, Matt Peart.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE
Defensive Line: I think the defensive line started off a bit more slowly than hoped against the run but has been improving. As Sy’56 has pointed out, if the Giants had better pass-rushing edge rushers, the unit would look even better. Dexter Lawrence is coming off a strong game and Leonard Williams has played well. Dalvin Tomlinson is another big body and Austin Johnson was a real difference maker against the Rams. Guys to watch: Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson (Giants have contract decisions to make on both).
Linebackers: I told you guys that Blake Martinez was the victim of bad press. He’s arguably been the team MVP. I think many of us expect to see Tae Crowder start stealing snaps from Devante Downs. Outside, the new coaching staff obviously has favored Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines over Markus Golden. (Ximines is hurt so we’ll probably see more of Golden this week). While Carter has improved, no one is scaring the other team in the pass rush department and this is hurting the entire defense. I would not be shocked if we start seeing Cam Brown receive more snaps. Kyler Fackrell has a role on this defense as a situational player. Stating the obvious, on a team with many, many needs, pass-rushing edge rusher remains an offseason priority. Guys to watch: Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Tae Crowder.
Defensive Backs: If Blake Martinez hasn’t been the MVP, then it’s been the other priority free agent the team signed in the offseason, James Bradberry. Nevertheless, the Giants continue to be haunted by the unexpected disaster that was Deandre Baker and Sam Beal sitting out due to COVID. That has left the team scrambling at the other outside cornerback position where Corey Ballentine and Isaac Yiadom have struggled. The team appears to be holding auditions at the spot now with Ryan Lewis and Madre Harper next on call. Darnay Holmes is learning on the job at slot corner. Inside, the loss of Xavier McKinney was another unexpected disappointment. Jabrill Peppers is proving he is more athlete than player. Does he have a future on this team? Julian Love appears to be the classic ‘tweener who may not have a true home at either corner or safety. Logan Ryan provides veteran leadership. Will he want to re-sign here next year? Guys to watch: Darnay Holmes, Madre Harper, Julian Love.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
If the Giants continue to struggle this much on offense, do not be surprised to see some fake punts and/or field goals soon.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett on playing young quarterbacks: “Quarterbacks play best when they’re in a really good environment. That’s younger quarterbacks and that’s older quarterbacks. What everyone’s trying to do in an organization is create a good environment for their quarterback and give them a good supporting cast. Typically, it’s a strong offensive line, it’s playmakers outside, it’s a good run game. I think those things help that quarterback transition more smoothly. If he’s in a situation where he’s carrying too much of a burden early on because the team is young and in their rebuilding stage, sometimes it’s a little bit harder for that guy to transition. I think that’s probably a common denominator for a lot of guys. Sometimes quarterbacks have to take their lumps because they’re really in the ground floor of the rebuilding process. The best ones I’ve been around have come out the other end of those experiences. Sometimes the transition happens smoother because the team is further along in their cycle of rebuilding, and that quarterback comes into that environment and is that much better.”
THE FINAL WORD
I don’t expect the Giants to win this game, but they can. What will be fascinating to watch is Cowboys weakness (defense) versus Giants weakness (offense) and Cowboys strength (offense) against Giants strength (defense). Throw in Jason Garrett’s knowledge of his former team and this one could get a bit crazy.
One final note on Jones, I keep seeing comments such as “Jones was playing better last year than he is this year!” Again, I don’t think fans understand what the loss of Saquon Barkley did to this team. His loss means the surrounding talent around Jones is much, much worse than it was last year (even factoring in Barkley’s injury last year). This offense is now incapable of getting big chunks of yardage on a consistent basis. Everything comes in small chunks now because the surrounding skill position players can’t provide more than that. The closest similarity I can point to is the Giants offense in the mid-1990s when the team’s best offensive player was fullback Charles Way.