Eye On the Cowboys: Scouting Report

Eye-On-the-Cowboys

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Dallas Cowboys, familiar foes, will provide the opposition when the Giants conclude their 2018 season Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium. The Giants will be looking to break a three-game losing streak to their NFC East rivals, who won the teams’ first meeting this season, 20-13, on Sept. 16. Losses to Tennessee and Indianapolis the last two weeks have left the Giants with a 5-10 record. The Cowboys have won six of their last seven games and, at 9-6, have clinched the division title and the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. Dallas leads the regular-season series that began in 1960, 65-45-2.

What is the Cowboys’ biggest strength?

Ezekiel Elliott, who accounts for 44 percent of their offense, more than any other player in the NFL. The third-year running back has been dominant, leading the league with 1,434 rushing yards, 304 carries and runs of 15-plus yards (26). Elliott has run for more than 100 yards in an NFL-leading seven games this season (but just 78 against the Giants in September). And he is hardly a one-dimensional player. Elliott also leads the Cowboys in targets (95) and receptions (77, or 18 more than any player who has been with the team all season). Elliott also tops the league with 2,001 yards from scrimmage (133.4 a game).

Which player is key to the Cowboys’ offense?

Despite the preceding paragraph, a case can be made that it is currently wide receiver Amari Cooper, acquired in a trade with the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 22. Cooper has added another dimension to the Cowboys’ offense and given quarterback Dak Prescott a big-time receiver to target. Prescott has completed 72.1 percent of his passes since Cooper put on a Cowboys uniform. In the eight games since his arrival, Cooper, the fourth overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, has averaged 14.5 yards on 48 catches and scored six touchdowns. During that time, the Cowboys have converted 46 percent of their third-down opportunities, the fourth-best figure in the league over that span. Before he was acquired, their percentage was 31.9, which placed Dallas 29th.

What is the strength of the Cowboys’ offense?

The running game, as it has been since Elliott’s arrival. But the Giants might see several changes this week. Because Dallas can’t improve its playoff seeding, Elliott could be inactive, as he was in the season finale in his 2016 rookie season in Philadelphia (Prescott played just two series in that game). The Cowboys’ No. 2 back is Rod Smith, who last December scored on an 81-yard reception and 15-yard run to help Dallas pull away for a 30-10 victory against the Giants in MetLife. And the Cowboys’ offensive line is banged up. Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick has missed the entire season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the body's nervous system in response to illness (he hopes to return in 2019). Zach Martin, one of the league’s best guards, has a knee injury, and left tackle Tyron Smith missed two games with a neck injury. Both players are Pro Bowlers, and the Cowboys might rest one or both of them this week.

View the Dallas Cowboys' key personnel ahead of their Week 17 meeting with the New York Giants.

Which player is key to the Cowboys’ defense?

End DeMarcus Lawrence, who leads the team with 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits. The Pro Bowler is capable of wrecking a game by himself. In the first meeting, he had 1.0 sacks, two tackles for loss, and two hits on the quarterback. Lawrence, who seldom leaves the field, has also intercepted a pass and forced and recovered a fumble.

What is the strength of the Cowboys’ defense?

Sean Lee is no longer the dominant player on the Dallas defense (he was a healthy scratch in last week’s victory vs. Tampa Bay). The young, physical and fast unit is led by other linebackers, rookie first-round draft choice Leighton Vander Esch and second-year pro Jaylon Smith. The two players have similar skill sets and are long, rangy, sideline-to-sideline stoppers. Vander Esch, who has essentially replaced Lee in the defense, was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in November. He usually lines up on the strong side and is fourth in the NFL with 129 tackles (99 solo). Smith, the middle linebacker, is not far behind at 116 (77 solo) and he has 4.0 sacks and last week scored a touchdown on a 69-yard fumble return. That’s 245 combined tackles for two players the Giants might have to face for many years.

Which player is key to the Cowboys’ special teams?

Last summer, kicker Brett Maher – a 29-year-old, first year-kicker who previously played in Canada - so impressed the Cowboys that they released Dan Bailey, their career field goal leader. Maher has not disappointed. On Tuesday, he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time after kicking two field goals, including a 59-yarder, against Tampa Bay. Maher kicked a 62-yarder on Dec. 9 vs. Philadelphia, giving him the two longest field goals in franchise history. He has made 29 of 35 attempts, including six of seven from 50-plus yards.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

The Cowboys strive to control the clock with their rushing attack, which reduces the pressure on Prescott and keeps their defense fresh. The Giants’ straightest path to victory is likely to beat them at their own game and hog the ball themselves, which will force Dallas’ D to stay on the field.

Statistics you should know:

*The Cowboys rank 30th in red zone offense this season, scoring touchdowns on 49 percent of their possessions inside the 20-yard line (21 of 46). Only Jacksonville and San Francisco are behind them.

*Dallas is the only NFL team that has not given up 30 points in a game this season. The Cowboys have a 21-game streak without allowing 30 points, dating to Nov. 19, 2017. Tennessee’s 28 points are the most surrendered by Dallas this year.

*Since the start of his 2016 rookie season, Elliott has rushed for more than 100 yards in an NFL-best 19 games – six more than Jordan Howard of Chicago, who is No. 2 during that span.

*Cooper has played eight games for the Dallas – and has twice been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. He received the award following his Thanksgiving Day performance vs Washington (eight receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns) and two weeks later vs. Philadelphia (10 catches for 217 yards and three scores).

Photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

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