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Film Study

Film Study: Giants vs. Cowboys Scouting Report

EVAN-ENGRAM

The Giants play the Cowboys this week with a chance to go to the playoffs at stake. If the Giants beat Dallas, and Philadelphia beats Washington on Sunday night, the Giants will be the fourth seed in the NFC and host a wild-card playoff game.

The Cowboys enter the game on a three-game winning streak because they've at least temporarily solved their turnover issues from earlier in the year. Heading into Week 14, Dallas was -13 in turnover ratio. In their current three game winning streak, they are +9 in turnover ratio and have outscored their opponents by 51 points.

When Dallas has the ball…

Here are some of Dallas' basic rankings on offense:

376 yards per game: 12th in the NFL

5.46 yards per play: 20th in the NFL

112 rushing yards per game: 17th in the NFL

4.17 yards per rush play: 22nd in the NFL

264.1 pass yards per game: 7th in the NFL

6.69 yards per pass play: 22nd in the NFL

41% third-down conversions: 17th in the NFL

* The Cowboys' offense has settled in after injuries at the quarterback position and a constant game of musical chairs on the offensive line plagued them in mid-season. Dalton has started six straight games with a 4-2 record, and has achieved at least an 84 quarterback rating each time. He has 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions and completed 67% of his passes during this stretch.

* Dalton is getting the ball out of his hand quickly. Only three quarterbacks with at least 50 dropbacks during those six games have a shorter average time to throw than Dalton's 2.37 seconds: Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Dalton does not have the biggest arm and is content to use shorter throws, but he will take shots down the field if the defense plays over-aggressive man defense with little safety help. He is smart, accurate, and mobile enough in the pocket to avoid the rush.

* The Cowboys' offensive line only has one starter remaining (Connor Williams) from last season's group. Perennial All-Pro center Travis Frederick retired in the off-season, starting tackles Tyron Smith and La'el Collins had season-ending surgery, and All-Pro guard Zack Martin (calf) hasn't played since Nov. 26th.

* The Cowboys have started the same offensive line the past four weeks. They line up left to right: Brandon Knight, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Connor McGovern and Terence Steele. In the past four weeks, Dalton's ability to get the ball out quickly, a steady running game, and playing with a lead has allowed the group to hold opponents to a 30% pressure rate, which is 12th-best in the NFL. Eachh of those linemen - except for Connor Williams - has allowed 11-13 pressures over the last four weeks. None of them are dominant one-on-one pass protectors. 

* After missing Week 15 with a calf injury, Ezekiel Elliott had his best game of the year against Philadelphia last week, gaining 105 yards on 5.5 yards per carry (both season highs). He also forced a season-high 11 missed tackles. Elliott has struggled handling the football this season, with seven drops on 64 targets in the passing game and six fumbles. Elliott has evolved into more of a power back who is excellent at grinding out tough yards, but he only has three runs of 20+ yards.

* Tony Pollard has emerged with a big role in Mike McCarthy's and Kellen Moore's offense as something closer to a true timeshare with Elliott rather than as a change-of-pace back. A former receiver at Memphis, Pollard has caught 25 passes for 174 yards this year and is a threat to make a big play at any time. Pollard has four 20+ yard runs on only 96 attempts this year. Pollard is tied for 10th in the league (with Lamar Jackson) in missed tackles forced per rushing attempt. He is fifth in the league in yards after contact per rushing attempt.

* Dallas is one of the most balanced run/pass teams in the league, with a league average 41% of their plays called being runs in first halves this season. They are a heavy pass team on first-and-10, throwing it 54% of the time, which is the 9th-highest rate in the league.

* The Cowboys' greatest strength is at wide receiver. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ceedee Lamb have remained productive despite the team starting four different quarterbacks this season. All three players have at least 55 catches, 790 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Cooper is still their top target and best route runner, with 86 catches for 1073 yards and five touchdowns. Ceedee Lamb has operated out of the slot and has 69 catches for 892 yards. He has excellent physical tools to make difficult contested catches and make plays with the ball in his hand. Michael Gallup is the team's big-play threat with 55 catches for 794 yards while averaging 14.4 yards per catch. In 1-on-1 matchups, Dalton will put a deep ball up down the sideline and give him a chance to fight for it. The Cowboys use "11" personnel 71% of the time, and will rotate in receivers Cedric Wilson and Noah Brown throughout the game. Wilson has been used as a passer on trick plays this season.

* The Cowboys have 48 completions of 20 or more yards, just one more than the NFL average. On passes that travel 20+ yards in the air, Dalton is only 8-of-29 for 283 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

* Tight end Dalton Schultz has emerged as a reliable target after the injury to starter Blake jarwin. He has 56 catches for 545 yards and four touchdowns this season. The Cowboys use "12" personnel 21% of the time with Blake Bell or Sean McKeon taking the snaps as the second tight end.

* The Cowboys have struggled immensely in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on only 52% of their trips, which is the 3rd-worst rank in the NFL. It is the reason they only rank 16th in points scored per game (25.1) despite ranking higher in total yards per game.

Keys for the Giants' offense

  1. Get pressure on Dalton quickly up the middle

2. Prevent big plays in the passing game

3. Force Dallas into turnovers

When the Giants have the ball…

The Cowboys' defense has been one of the worst units in football this season. Here are some of their basic rankings:

390 yards allowed per game: 26th in the NFL

5.85 yards per play allowed: 25th in the NFL

161.1 rush yards allowed per game: Worst in NFL

5.01 yards allowed per rush play: 2nd worst in NFL

228.7 pass yards allowed per game: 11th in the NFL

7.03 pass yards allowed per play: 21st in the NFL

49% third-down conversion rate allowed: 29t in the NFL

61.1% red zone touchdown rate allowed: 15th in the NFL

30 points allowed per game: 3rd worst in the NFL

* Dallas' three game winning streak has been helped by their ability to take away the ball. Over the past three game, they have six fumble recoveries and four interceptions that have led to 42 of their 108 points.

* The Cowboys' issues begin with their inability to stop the run consistently. No team allows more rushing yards per game. The Cowboys have allowed 17 runs of 20+ yards and 62 runs of 10+ yards, second-most in the NFL in both categories. They have poor gap integrity that often leads to huge holes that opposing running backs can run through. Jaylon Smith leads the team in tackles with 144, while Leighton Vander Esch has 60 tackles in 10 games, but is dealing with an ankle injury. Antwaun Woods is the team's best run-stuffing defensive tackle before he was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 16.

* The strength of the Cowboys' defense is their pass rush. Dallas' 29 sacks is tied for 19th-most in the NFL and their 32% pressure rate is just above league average. Randy Gregory has played only nine games but he has 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 14 quarterback hurries playing right end. DeMarcus Lawrence only has 5.5 sacks, but is playing well and primarily lines up over the opponent's right tackle. Aldon Smith leads the Cowboys with 51 total pressures, and uses a combination of long arms and strength.

* Dallas is not a heavy blitz team, sending extra pressure only 19% of the time, which is the fourth-lowest rate in the league. When they blitz, opposing quarterbacks have a 115 passer rating, which is the second-best in the league. Dallas does not run as many stunts as they used to, utilizing them just 13% of the time, which is the 25th-highest rate in the league.

* The Cowboys are dealing with injuries at the safety position. Xavier Woods has a rib injury and missed last week's game. Former Giant Darian Thompson and his fellow safety Donovan Wilson are both recovering from concussions. CJ Goodwin is the next safety up in their rotation. Wilson is a hard-hitting strong safety, while Thompson and Woods play more free safety.

* The Cowboys give four cornerbacks significant snaps: Jourdan Lewis, Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie. Lewis has emerged as the team's slot cornerback, with Anthony Browns spending some time there and on theoutside. Diggs, who missed four games with a foot injury has returned as a primary outside cornerback the last two games. He is very adept at tracking the football in the air but has let players get behind him this year. Awuzie has missed eight games this season with a hamstring injury, but played the last five games on the outside.

* Dallas' secondary has allowed 48 plays of 20+ yards this year. Opposing quarterbacks have a 104.6 passer rating on passes that travel at least 20 yards in the air. The Cowboys have blown some coverages resulting in free runners in the secondary. They struggle defending the pass on first and second down, allowing quarterback ratings of 108 and 110 on those downs.

Keys for the Giants' offense

1. Run the ball consistently and create explosive plays in the run game

2. Protect the quarterback by avoiding obvious passing situations

3. Do not turn over the football

Special Teams

* Cowboys special team coordinator John Fassel is extremely creative and aggressive with punt and field goal fakes, if the right situations arise. CeeDee Lamb is a dangerous punt returner and Tony Pollard is an explosive kick returner. Pollard's longest kickoff return is 67 yards and Lamb has a 27-yard long punt return. Field goal kicker Greg Zuerlein has a big leg, having made a kick from 59 yards this year.

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

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