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Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 16, 2018
There were significant positives that came out of last week’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Giants played a very competitive game against a team that is widely regarded as a Super Bowl contender. Indeed, they had a real shot to steal a victory had a play here or there broken their way. It’s something to build on.
But in the end, sports really is a no-excuse business. You either win or you lose. And win-loss column doesn’t care about the whys and buts. In all the years I’ve followed football, one quote by Phil Simms has always stuck with me: “The difference between 8-8 and 12-4 is winning the close ball games.” If the Giants expect to be winners again anytime soon, they need to start winning close football games.
And they need to start beating teams in their own division. Stating the obvious, the Giants have been losers four of the last five years because they’ve been worse than most of the other teams in the NFL. But what has really fueled their poor W-L record has been their now annually poor performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and to a certain extent, the Washington Redskins. And aside from the glaring exception of 2017, these other NFC East teams haven’t been league powerhouses. The Giants keep losing to NFC East teams that are eminently beatable.
The 2018 Dallas Cowboys have the appearance of a typical, mediocre team, with just enough talent to be able to beat anyone in the league, but most likely a franchise that will be hovering around the 8-8 mark. Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant are all gone. There never really was much of a true mystique around that older team because it never won anything. But those guys were dangerous and had a history of being a pain in the ass for the Giants. Those thorns are gone. It’s well past time for the Giants to stop the bleeding and start beating this team again.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Wayne Gallman (knee – probable)
- WR Sterling Shepard (back – probable)
- LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
- LB Tae Davis (hamstring – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
In my opinion, the strength of the Dallas Cowboys is an extremely well-coached defense, led by smart, instinctive linebacker Sean Lee. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has proven to be one of the best in the NFL. This unit doesn’t give up a lot of big plays and they make opposing offenses work for everything they get. The Cowboys were 8th in defense in 2017 and they’ve started this year off at the #5 position.
Marinelli will play the Giants like he has every year. Have his guys protect against the big play and dare New York to drive the field without making the drive-ending mistake. Wouldn’t you? Once again, the offensive line appears to be the Achilles’ heel for the Giants. They were soundly out-played by an impressive Jacksonville front. So the burning question is are the Giants really that bad up front again? Or did they look worse than they really are because of the quality of their opposition? Punching bag Ereck Flowers will get no respite this weekend as defensive end Demarcus Lawrence has developed into one of the NFL’s most disruptive players (14.5 sacks in 2017).
We can talk X’s and O’x until we are blue in the face, but the real story here is the New York Football Giants have to start playing games where they score more than 20 points per game. If you can’t score 20, 24, 27 points in a contest, you aren’t going to win many games. In a league that makes it easier each year for offense to succeed, the Giants scoreboard impotency has reached the point of absurdity. This is a team that has Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard! Get the ball into the end zone! No excuses.
So what did we learn from last week? Beckham and Barkley are the best players on this team and two of the best in the NFL. They should touch the ball as much as possible. Engram and Shepard can make big plays, but they have to be far more consistent. Money players don’t keep dropping the ball in key situations. And Eli Manning may still be under too much pass pressure, but he has to hit those open receivers for touchdowns when the play is there.
Pat Shurmur is an X’s and O’s guy, much more so than Ben McAdoo. Work to isolate Beckham and Barkley in one-on-one match-ups in the passing game. With Beckham, you can do that by playing him in the slot. Linebackers in this league (and many safeties) can’t cover Barkley. And as last week showed, keep pounding the ball with Barkley in the running game because when you do, good things happen. In a tight game, don’t sit him for Jonathan Stewart. That’s dumb.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The defense played well enough to win last week. But there were a few troubling issues: (1) the inability to rush the passer (1 sack and not enough pressure), (2) the Jaguars ran the ball too effectively early, (3) a quarterback hurt them again with his feet, and (4) Janoris Jenkins gave up a couple of big plays. But in the end, the Jaguars were held to 13 points. That should have been enough to win.
The defensive game plan is almost identical this week. The strength of the Cowboys’ offense is a ground game centered around running back Ezekiel Elliott. Stop Elliott and you cause problems for Dallas. Quarterback Dak Prescott struggles too much when called upon to move the ball with his arm. But like Blake Bortles last week, he can hurt you with his feet. So the Giants defenders must be very disciplined and treat him almost like a college quarterback.
The good news for the Giants is that Jason Witten has retired and Dez Bryant was let go. Dallas’ top center Travis Frederick is out with an illness. The Cowboys have had issues at left guard. So the weapons and line are not as strong as they once were. Pesky shrimp Cole Beasley is now Dallas’ most dangerous receiving target. This is a team the Giants should be able to shut down as long as Beasley doesn’t eat up nickel corner B.W. Webb, which is possible.
Gang up on Elliott, look out for misdirection with the ball in the hands of the quarterback, and don’t let Beasley consistently hurt you out of the slot, and you should be in good shape.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Knock on wood, but so far the kicking game has been good enough for the Giants. But I felt Shumur made a curious decision in going for the blocked punt last week and not setting up a return with Odell Beckham. Instead, Kaelin Clay muffed the punt. He has now fumbled the ball on four of 45 punt returns (or once in every 11 times he touches the ball). Maybe it’s time to bring Phil McConkey out of retirement.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Dallas’ offense: “They’re going to give (Ezekiel Elliott) a bunch of touches, they’re going to find some really creative ways to get him going. They’re going to stretch it hard and cut the ball back, they’re going to give you some gap scheme with some pullers, they’re going to get big personnel on the field, they’re going to run the ball down the field at you. You’re going to get a little bit of everything. They do a nice job with that. Then after that, the boots, the play passes, the taking a shot down the field, some movement stuff to get completions, and try to get you in some one-on-ones on the perimeter and throw the ball down the field.”
THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants are the better team. I wouldn’t trade their roster for ours. This is a game the Giants can and should win. And if the Giants have any hopes of making the playoffs this year, this is a game the team must win. Dallas is well-coached and has a very solid defense and running game. Those three factors mean they can beat any team. But they don’t have enough weapons and they shouldn’t score more than 17 points on the Giants. On the other hand, if the Giants can’t score more than 20 points with Beckham and Barkley on their team, then they have the wrong coaches and/or quarterback. In my mind, this game is on our coaches and Eli Manning. No excuses.