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Giants vs. Cowboys: 5 storylines to follow in Week 5

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The Giants are entering a crucial part of the schedule this weekend, as they will travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in their first division game of the season.

Sunday's battle represents the first of five NFC East contests within the next six weeks for the Giants, who will also face Tampa Bay during this stretch.

Here are five storylines to follow ahead of Sunday's game.

Finding the end zone

The Giants' offense has struggled to punch the ball into the end zone. Over the last two games, all of the team's scoring have come from the foot of Graham Gano, who kicked three field goals in each contest. The Giants did not score a touchdown in consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 8 and 15, 1998, and have gone 21 straight offensive possessions without finding the end zone.

Part of the offensive hardships can be put on the tough defenses the Giants have had to face off against to start the season. The Steelers, Bears, 49ers and Rams each rank within the Top 7 in points allowed this year, while the Rams (12th) were the only opponent not ranking within the Top 8 in yards allowed.

Dallas is last in the NFL in points allowed as their opponents are averaging 36.5 points per game through the first quarter of the season. The Cowboys also rank 30th in yards allowed after surrendering an average of 430.5 yards per game. On the flip side, the Giants rank last in points (11.75 per game) and 31st in total offense (278 yards per game).

"I think just as a team, we have to keep improving in all three phases right now," head coach Joe Judge said Wednesday. "We saw some progress from our offense. There was definitely some more balance last week. This game plan will be different from the Rams game plan. We're playing against a different team. Their defense is very capable. They have a lot of athletes.

"One thing about this team is they have a ton of talent, they have a lot of speed, they have explosive players. We have to do a good job of really counting for those guys and giving our skill players a chance to get to the ball and make plays with it in their hands. Our offensive line has to do a good job. They're making progress for us right there. We have to carry over some of the things we did last week and continue making progress."

Establish the run game

It is no secret the Giants struggled in the run game through the first three games of the season. However, the tide seemed to turn a bit against the Rams in Week 4, as the Giants rushed for a season-high 136 yards with Daniel Jones and Wayne Gallman each taking six carries for 45 yards to lead the team. The recently-signed Devonta Freeman handled 11 carries for 33 yards and four receptions for 35 and could continue his upward trend as the primary back.

The Cleveland Browns rushed for 307 yards against the Cowboys last week, with four different players gaining 40+ yards on the ground. The Dallas defense also allowed at least 113 rushing yards in each of their first three games, ranking 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed.

Consistency on the o-line

The offensive line has had some trouble protecting Daniel Jones. He's been sacked at least twice in every game, and after the Rams took him down five times last week, his 14 sacks are tied for the third-most in the league.

One thing that has been missing from the Giants' offense this season is the presence of explosive plays. Last season, Jones and Darius Slayton seemed to connect on at least one big play a game. This year, Jones has thrown 20+ yards downfield on only 5.4 percent of his passes, which according to Pro Football Focus is the lowest in the league. With more time in the pocket, Jones can allow his receivers to get further downfield.

The Cowboys enter this game with just eight sacks on the season, four of which came in their Week 3 loss against the Seahawks. While DeMarcus Lawrence has yet to register a sack, he is still a force on the edge who the O-line will have to keep an eye on. Dallas' best pass rusher this season has been Aldon Smith, who has recorded half of the team's sacks. In addition, Dallas' defense has forced only two turnovers on the year.

"I did see an improved unit this week," Judge said about his O-line following last week's loss to the Rams. "I think these guys are getting better overall. You play a team like the Rams, who have an outstanding pass rush. You just can't lose your mind when they make plays. You have to move on to the next play and keep pushing forward to be productive.

"That being said, we have to eliminate some of the easy plays we made for them early in the game. When it came down the stretch, I liked the way the offensive line really played and stood in there. I thought they held up for the most part against a very stout rush."

Containing Dak Prescott

The Cowboys finished the first quarter of the season as the league's top passing offense, with Dak Prescott throwing for a whopping 1,631 yards. This equates to more than 407 passing yards per game and would put him on pace for over 6,500 on the season. The current NFL record is 5,477 passing yards by Peyton Manning (2013).

Prescott has thrown for at least 445 yards in each of the last three weeks. In two games against the Giants last season, Prescott completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 662 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. In eight career games against Big Blue, the young Cowboys QB is 6-2 with 2,201 yards, 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also owns a 61.3 completion percentage.

The Giants' defense has played well this season, especially against the pass. 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 343 yards in Week 3, but other than that, the Giants' defense has limited Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky and Rams QB Jared Goff to less than 230 passing yards each. The Giants rank sixth in passing yards allowed, surrendering an average of 221.5 yards per game.

"This is definitely a challenging opponent. This offense is very explosive," Judge said of the Cowboys. "The quarterback does a great job extending plays. He's very accurate, he has a big arm, has the ability to stick the ball into tight windows."

Slowing down Zeke

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has not quite looked like his typical self this season. Through the first four games, the two-time All-Pro running back has rushed the ball 70 times for 273 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, adding 23 receptions for 159 yards and a score. Over the last two weeks, Elliott has totaled just 26 carries for 88 yards and a score, and has yet to top the 100-yards rushing mark this season.

In the last meeting between the two teams, Elliott ran for 139 yards on 23 tries, averaging over 6.0 yards per carry. In fact, other than his very first game against the Giants, which happened to be his NFL debut, Elliott has never averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in a game against the Giants.

The Giants rank 10th in the league in rushing yards allowed at 427 and 11th in rushing touchdowns allowed (four). After allowing 141 and 135 rushing yards, respectively, in the first two weeks, the run defense has buckled down and allowed just 151 combined rushing to the 49ers and Rams. This is especially impressive when considering the fact that the 49ers went into the Week 3 matchup averaging 152.5 rushing yards per game, while the Rams were averaging 170.3 yards on the ground.

View rare photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

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