It is actually more important to contain QB Dak Prescott than RB Ezekiel Elliott.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I realize Dak Prescott is a good runner, especially in the red zone, but it is not something the Cowboys will build their offense around. Even though the Giants have allowed two big quarterback runs the past couple of weeks, the Cowboys will be pounding the ball with Ezekiel Elliott again and again with reckless abandon. If the Giants cannot stop him, it won’t matter how much Dak Prescott runs it because the Cowboys won’t have to put him at risk by using him on those types of plays. Stopping Ezekiel Elliott should be objective one, two and three for the Giants defense.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Nothing kills a defense like a quarterback converting a third down with his legs, either by running the ball for a first down or buying time and finding an open receiver at the sticks. And Dak Prescott can do all of those things. However, this team is built for Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas wants to run it and eat the clock. The NFL’s leading rusher since 2016 is the best at doing that.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - The Cowboys are very similar to the Jaguars with respect to having quarterbacks and a workhorse running back. Dak Prescott and Blake Bortles are both dangerous with their legs, but they’re not necessarily always looking to run. Instead, they’re both looking to extend plays. If you don’t contain Ezekiel Elliott or in Jacksonville’s case, Leonard Fournette, then it becomes that much easier for Prescott and Bortles to pick up yards on the ground and it becomes more and more a guessing game as to who is the bigger threat to do damage in the rushing attack. That’s why slowing down Elliott has to be priority number one. Whether it’s Prescott’s rushing yards or passing yards you’re worried about makes no difference. Regardless, you still need to contain Elliott. His ability to set the tone on the ground, milk the clock and keep the Cowboys in manageable third downs puts Prescott in a comfort zone.
If Saquon Barkley outrushes Ezekiel Elliott, the Giants will defeat the Cowboys.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - This might be a better indicator than anything other than turnover margin as to whether the Giants beat the Cowboys on Sunday night. This doesn’t mean that Barkley must outrush Elliott for the Giants to win but if he does, that means a lot is going right for the Giants. The Cowboys have struggled to score when they are unable to run the ball with Elliott and get into favorable down and distances. If Barkley is scoring on big plays or getting consistent yards, it should also open things up for the Giants wide receivers if the Cowboys have to dedicate more players to stopping the run. Their secondary is young and talented, but unlikely to hold up in the scenario.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - This isn’t to say the Giants are totally dependent on the rookie running back. If you haven’t heard, they have plenty of other weapons to get the job done. This has more to do from the Cowboys’ standpoint. If the Giants limit Elliott, they will have taken Dallas out of its game.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Saquon Barkley (106 yards) outrushed Leonard Fournette (41 yards) and T.J. Yeldon (51 yards) combined (92 yards) in Week 1, and yet the Giants still lost to the Jaguars. That alone is why that statement is fiction. Barkley could outrush Elliott on Sunday but how big of a disparity will there be between the two runners? He could outrush him by a yard. In the big picture of things, would that make a huge difference? The substance of that stat matters, and on top of that, how the rest of the offense performs will also be just as important.
Tight end Evan Engram is the X-factor in the matchup with Dallas.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I’m going to go with Odell Beckham Jr. Since Beckham’s famous “catch” game against the Cowboys in his rookie year, he hasn’t gone over 100 yards in a game against Dallas. He has only one touchdown on 13 catches in four games for 246 yards, an average of just over 60 per game. It’s a fair question to ask how significant this statistic is since the Giants have a new offense, and the Cowboys have a new defensive backs coach and scheme in the defensive backfield since Beckham last faced them back in 2016. It is fair to say that the Giants need Beckham to make a lot of plays in this game if the Giants want to light up the scoreboard. He had 15 targets last week to get his 11 catches, and Pat Shurmur indicated at his Wednesday press conference that he didn’t think that was too many. He wants Beckham to be a focal point of this offense, and the Giants will do everything they can to get him the ball to make big plays. He needs to be efficient and explosive, and there isn’t anything that would make anyone think he won’t be.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley are all factors. An X-factor gives you that extra variable, which is Evan Engram’s job description. If he gets going, he could unlock this offense. The Giants had to deal with Jason Witten, one of the best tight ends ever to play the game, for years. Maybe Engram can start giving Dallas and its fans the same kind of headache.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Evan Engram puts a lot of pressure on both linebackers and safeties, but unlike most teams in the NFL, the Cowboys have one of the most versatile linebackers who can actually defend a tight end in coverage, and that’s Sean Lee.Although Engram’s production could go a long way in taking pressure off of Odell Beckham and the rushing attack, given Lee’s presence on the field, I’m not so sure he’ll serve as that big of an x-factor. I think Sterling Shepard fits that label in the matchup with Dallas because the Cowboys have a young secondary and if he gets going, it will only make things more challenging for them to choose between how much attention they give Beckham versus Shepard.
These five players could make a key impact in Sunday's matchup
It will be a high-scoring game on Sunday night.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I know Dan Salomone believes this will be a high-scoring game, but I don’t buy it. Both of these teams are very familiar with each other and division games tend towards slugfests more than high scoring affairs. I think the Cowboys defense is much improved and a better unit than the Cowboys offense at this stage of the season. The Giants defense, with their strong line, should be able to slow down Ezekiel Elliott enough to make scoring a struggle for the Cowboys. I think whichever team gets to 24 points will win the ball game. The other probably won’t score 20. One big play for either offense, or a defensive or special teams score, might make all the difference.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - The first person I saw at work on Monday morning was Schmeelk, and I told him exactly this statement. It will be a high-scoring game. Heading into the last two seasons, all we’ve talked about are the Giants’ weapons. Yet, they haven’t scored 30 points since Jan. 3, 2016, a drought of 34 games, including postseason. It just feels like a powder keg ready to explode. Things can get crazy with the Giants and Cowboys, especially in primetime. I think it ignites this time. They will be playing in perfect conditions indoors, there are stars on both sidelines, and neither side can afford to start 0-2.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - I’m going with the clean Fiction sweep this week. The Giants and Cowboys both held their Week 1 opponents to 20 points or less and both of their offenses failed to reach 20 points, so there’s some similarities between the teams in what they’re trying to clean up heading into this Sunday night. In their last four meetings, just one team managed to score more than 20 points. That was the Cowboys when they put 30 on the board at MetLife Stadium in Week 14 last season. I think both teams have underrated defenses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another grind-it-out type of game that ends up in the low 20s.