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Film Study: A look at Mike McCarthy's Cowboys

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The Giants are traveling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. The teams have a combined record of 1-7, with the only win coming from Dallas in a comeback effort against the Falcons after an unlikely onside kick recovery.

When the Giants Have The Ball…

* The Cowboys' have struggled keeping their opponents of the scoreboard this year. Here are some basic production numbers from their defense in 2020:

36.5 Points allowed: most in the NFL

430.5 yards allowed per game: third-most in the NFL

172.5 rushing yards allowed per game: second-most in NFL

258 passing yards allowed per game: 10th-most in the NFL

The team's per play statistics are slightly better, ranking at 22nd overall (6.0 yards per play), 22nd against the pass (7.42 yards per pass play) and 26th against the run (4.93 yards per run play). It mimics the advanced defensive DVOA metric, which represents defensive efficiency. It ranks the Cowboys' defense 24th in the NFL.

* The Cowboys' issues on defense begin on first down, where they are allowing 6.74 yards per play (27th in the NFL) and have been unable to slow down opponents on the ground or through the air. They are allowing 6.12 yards per carry on first down, which is worst in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have a 131.3 quarterback rating on first down, which is the highest in the league. Teams are running the ball 62% of the time against the Cowboys on first down, which is the highest rate in the NFL. The Browns gained 307 rushing yards against Dallas last week.

* The Cowboys' other situational numbers on defense are better, ranking 21st on third down (46.6% conversion rate) and being tied for 21st in red zone touchdown percentage (64.7%).

* The Cowboys' defense is dealing with two injuries at linebacker. Leighton Vander Esch only played 23 defensive snaps before breaking his collar bone in Week 1. Sean Lee started the season on IR, reportedly still recovering from a sports hernia. Joe Thomas is replacing Vander Esch at middle linebacker, while the third linebacker on the field is a product of the situation.

* After the season-ending injury to Gerald McCoy during training camp, the Cowboys are using a rotation of four defensive tackles: nose tackles Dontari Peo and Antwaun Woods, and 3-technique linemen Trysten Hill and Tyrone Crawford. Hill has the athleticism to penetrate into the backfield. Crawford has also played 57 of his snaps at defensive end, where he splits time with DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorrance Armstrong and newcomers Everson Griffen and Alson Smith. The Cowboys run a multiple front, rotating between odd- and even-man looks, and changing whether their edge players are in a two- or three-point stances.

* The Cowboys have eight sacks, which is tied for 18th in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, they are applying pressure on 29% of their opponent's pass plays, which ranks 19th-best in the NFL. Dallas' 19.5% blitz rate is fifth-lowest in the NFL, and their 9.4% stunt percentage is the third-lowest in the NFL. They prefer to try to get to the quarterback with four men rushing straight-up.

* Aldon Smith is playing his first competitive football since 2015. Now 31 years old, Smith has been a menace rushing the passer. He is big and strong at 6-4 and 258 pounds and has managed four sacks, five quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries, according to PFF. He is primarily used as a stand-up rusher and has spent 140 of his 220 snaps lined up over the left tackle. He will also get moved to the opposite side and will also occasionally get lined up over a guard.

* DeMarcus Lawrence has only the sixth-most pass rushing snaps on the Cowboys, fewer than Tyrone Crawford, Everson Griffen, Dontari Poe, and Trysten Hill. Despite not having as many opportunities, according to PFF, he has a 16.9% pass rush win rate, which is second on the team to Aldon Smith's 17.7%. Lawrence has no sacks, only one quarterback hit and eight hurries. Griffen only has one sack, one quarterback hit, and eight hurries.

* Much like the Giants, the Cowboys are also installing a new scheme with Mike Nolan taking over for former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

* The Dallas defense has allowed frequent big plays defending the run. They've allowed 19 runs of 10 or more yards which is tied for 29th in the league. They have allowed five runs of 20 or more yards, which is tied for 30th in the NFL. The Cowboys' defense held their first two opponents to under four yards per carry and didn't allow a single run of more than 20 yards. They allowed 117 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry against the Seahawks before falling apart against the Browns.

* Jaylon Smith leads the Cowboys in tackles with 39 but he only has one tackle for loss, no sacks, no quarterback hits, and two passes defended. Fellow linebacker Joe Thomas is second on the team with 31 tackles.

* The Cowboys have allowed an opponent quarterback rating of 114.3 this year, which is the third-highest in the league. They have also had issues with big plays through the air. Their 15 passes of 20+ yards allowed is tied for 25th in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 139.2 when attempting passes 21 or more yards, which is third-highest in the NFL. They are 11-22 on such throws for 422 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. All but one catch for 52 yards has come in the middle or left side of the field.

* The Cowboys are playing without two of their top cornerbacks, Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown. Rookie Trevon Diggs has seen as lot of action, allowing 20 receptions on 31 targets for 277 yards and two touchdowns, but he has come close to a number of pass deflections and interceptions. Daryl Worley is the other outside cornerback and Jourdan Lewis is playing the nickel spot. Former Giant Darian Thompson and 2019 sixth-round pick Donovan Wilson rotate alongside Xavier Woods as the starting safeties.

* The Cowboys mix up their coverage with a wide split of different coverage types, according to PFF:

Cover 1: 21%

Cover 2: 6.4%

Cover 6 11.5%

Cover 3: 32%

Quarters: 16.2%

When The Cowboys Have The Ball…

* As much as the Cowboys' defense has struggled, the offense has excelled. Here are their basic rankings through four weeks:

509.5 Yards per game: first in the NFL (the second-place Packers average only 445)

407.8 Passing yards per game: first in the NFL

4.2 rush yards per play: 15th in the NFL

Some of the Cowboys' raw numbers are skewed upward because they have been in so many catch-up situations late in games. Their offensive DVOA, which takes situations into account, ranks them as the 12th-best offense in the NFL.

* The Cowboys' biggest problem on offense this year has been giveaways. They are tied with the Eagles for the most turnovers in the NFL, and have the league's worst turnover ratio at -7. Dak Prescott has three interceptions and three lost fumbles. Ezekiel Elliot has two lost fumbles, and Dalton Schultz has also lost a fumble.

* Dak Prescott has completed 68.2% of his passes, and is averaging 422.5 passing yards per game. He has nine touchdowns to only three interceptions and is averaging 8.41 yards per attempt. He also has three fumbles and a number of passes into contested areas that could have been intercepted by defenders.

* The Cowboys' offense has not been balanced, but it is mostly due to game flow. Their 31.4% run rate is last in the NFL, but in first halves, the Cowboys are running the ball 38.5% of the time, which is tied for 24th in the NFL.

* The Cowboys success on offense begins to first downs. They average 6.78 yards per first down, which is fifth-best in the NFL. Most of their damage on first down has been done through the air, averaging 8.51 yard per attempt and completing 72.3% of their passes. They are averaging 4.3 yards per carry on first down.

* On third downs, the Cowboys are converting 45.1% of the time, which is tied for 12th in the NFL. They are one of the best teams in the NFL converting third-and-4 or fewer yards, with a 92.3% success rate. They struggle when put into third-and more than six yards, converting just 13% of their opportunities, which is tied for 29th in the NFL. The Cowboys are scoring touchdowns on 71.4% of their red zone appearances, which is tied for seventh in the NFL.

* Part of the Cowboys' struggles on third down has to do with the struggles of their offensive line. Since last year, they have lost their starting center in Travis Frederick (retirement), his replacement Joe Looney (knee), starting right tackle La'el Collins (hip), and starting left tackle Tyron Smith (neck) might also be out for the season. They are expected to start this group on Sunday: LT Brandon Knight, LG Connor Williams, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin, RT Terence Steele

In one game, they did move Zack Martin out to right tackle after Steele struggled in pass protection. If they choose to go that route, Connor McGovern, a 2019 third-round pick, would likely slide in at right guard.

Brandon Knight has played well when he has been called upon, allowing only 7 pressures in 165 pass blocking snaps. Steele has allowed 13 pressures, including three sacks and three quarterback hits in 142 pass blocking snaps. Williams is a mobile left guard, but can sometimes struggle against power. Prescott is being pressured on 24.2% of his dropbacks, which is the sixth-lowest rate in the league. Against the blitz, Prescott has a 107.74 quarterback rating, which is ranked 13th in the NFL.

* Ezekiel Elliott is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry. He is only running it an average of 15 times per gain, mostly because the Cowboys have been dealing with large deficits in the second half of their games. He has been heavily involved in the passing game, catching 23 passes for 159 yards. He has three drops and three fumbles so far this season.

  • The Cowboys have one of the best trios of wide receivers in the NFL. Amari Cooper is the team's best route runner, and is third in the NFL in receiving yards (401) and second in receptions (37). Ceedee Lamb was their first-round pick in the 2020 draft. They try to get him the ball in space and often use him on jet sweeps. He operates mostly in the slot and has caught a couple of deep skinny posts in the middle of the defense this year. Michael Gallup has quietly emerged as one of the league's top deep threats. He is averaging 21.2 yards per catch, which is fourth-best in the NFL. He is excellent at winning contested catches near the sideline.

* The Cowboys lost Blake Jarwin to a knee injury earlier season. His replacement has been Dalton Schultz, their 2018 fourth-round pick. He has been effective with 18 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns.

* The Cowboys lead the NFL with 510 yards after the catch and lead the NFL in plays of 10 or more yards (86) and 20 yards or more (23). They have completed 22 passes of more than 20 yards, which also leads the NFL. On passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air, Prescott has a 89.9 quarterback rating.

*The Cowboys run play-action 27% of the time, which is just above league average. They have run more 3x1 formations than any team in the NFL. They use shifts or motion 53% of the time, which is the 14th-highest rate in the NFL.

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

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