The Cowboys' team that is showing up at MetLife Stadium on Monday is not the same team that led the NFL in yards per game last year. Leading receiver Amari Coorper, starting right tackle La'el Collins, starting left guard Connor Williams, and slot receiver Cedrick Wilson departed in the off-season. Perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith is out until at least December, and starting quarterback Dak Prescott will not be available because of a fractured thumb on his throwing hand.
The Cowboys rank 27th in the NFL, averaging just 4.7 yards per play. They have converted only 24% of their third downs, which is tied for worst in the NFL. They've only reached the red zone on two of their offensive drives this season, scoring touchdowns on both of them.
Yet, Dallas still managed to defeat the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl last year, the Cincinnati Bengals, in Week 2 thanks to a 50-yard field goal from Brett Maher and a strong defense. Dallas (1-1) is a game behind the Giants and Eagles, who are tied at 2-0 atop of the NFC East.
When the Cowboys have the ball…
1. The Cowboys' first drive against the Bengals featured some schemed up plays to get Cooper Rush comfortable – they used screens, jet sweeps, runs and other quick passes. As the game went on, Rush threw more downfield with touch and anticipation. He finished the game 19-of-31 for 235 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions (though the Bengals did drop one potential interception). There were some erratic throws near the line of scrimmage for Rush that should have been some his easier completions of the afternoon, but instead fell incomplete.
Rush's 2.21-second average time to throw was the lowest among quarterbacks with more than two dropbacks in Week 2, according to Pro Football Focus. His 6.7-yard average depth of target was 26th of 32 quarterbacks in Week 2.
With Michael Gallup missing the first two games due to his torn ACL suffered late last season, Noah Brown, a seventh-round pick from back in 2017, has emerged as the team's second wide receiver next to Ceedee Lamb. Brown (6-2, 225) leads Dallas with 10 receptions, 159 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. He only had five career starts before this season. The Cowboys have indicated Gallup may be able to return on Monday night.
Lamb has just nine catches for 104 yards in two games. Lamb and Brown can line up in the slot or outside. Tight end Dalton Schultz is dealing with a knee injury that may keep him out, so fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin, Jake Ferguson, would likely pick up most of Schultz's snaps.
2. The Cowboys want to be a run-first team behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The Cowboys have the fifth-highest first-half run rate in the NFL at 47%. They run the ball on 51% of their 1st-and-10 plays, which is the 11th-highest rate in the NFL. Their 4-yard average gain on all first down is second-lowest in the NFL.
Elliott has the only forced missed tackle of Cowboys running backs and 72 of his 105 yards have come after contact, according to Pro Football Focus. Tony Pollard had a 47-yard reception (that was more of a forward toss on an outside run) last week, when he showed off his breakaway speed. He has six catches on the season. Dallas has struggled creating explosive runs this season, with only three runs of 10 or more yards and no rushes of 20+ yards.
3. The Dallas offensive line has many new faces. Zack Martin returns as one of the best right guards in football. RIght tackle Terrence Steele was the team's swing tackle the last two seasons He has allowed one quarterback hit and two hurrries this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He also committed four penalties.
Tyler Biadasz returns at center, with rookie seventh-rounder Matt Farniok taking over at left guard after Tyron Smith's injury forced rookie Tyler Smith to move to left tackle. Tyler Smith was the Cowboys' first-round pick in 2022 out of Tulsa. Smith has held his own at left tackle in his first two games, allowing one sack, one hurry, and one quarterback hit, according to Pro Football Focus.
Keys for the Giants' defense
*Confuse the young left side of the Cowboys offensive line with Wink Martindale's blitz packages
* Don't let the Cowboys control the game on the ground, and put the game in Cooper Rush's hands
* Force Cowboys receivers not named Ceedee Lamb to make plays to beat you
The Giants will wear their all-white Color Rush uniforms on Monday Night Football against the Cowboys.
When the Giants have the ball…
4. The Cowboys have one of the best defenses in football. Despite playing Tom Brady and Joe Burrow in back-to-back weeks to start their season, they rank sixth in the NFL in yards and pass yards allowed per game. They are second in the league in sacks per pass attempt (12.7%) and are allowing just 18 points per game (tied for ninth in the NFL).
Micah Parson has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the NFL in his second season. He is tied for the most sacks in the NFL with four. He also has seven official quarterback hits. According to PFF, his 13 total pressures through two games is tied for second in the NFL to only Maxx Crosby's 15. Crosby has 29 more pass rushing snaps than Parsons. According to Seth Walder and ESPN Stats and Information, Micah Parsons is just the fifth player to record back-to-back games with a pass rush win rate of 50% or higher. The other four: Von Miller, Dwight Freeney, Robert Quinn, Melvin Ingram.
What makes these numbers even more impressive is who he has faced. The Cowboys have played two of the smartest quarterbacks in the league in Burrow and Brady, who also stand by capable offensive tackles: Tristan Wirfs, Donovan Smith, Jonah Williams, and La'el Collins.
Parsons will line up all over the field. According to PFF, he has lined up 59 times on the left side of the line, 40 times on the right side of the line, and 25 times as an off-ball linebacker in the middle of the line. Parsons has only played in coverage eight times this year, versus 60 snaps when he has rushed the passer.
Parsons is not alone. He has help. DeMarcus Lawrence is moving around the line more, but is off to a slow start with no sacks or pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Dorance Armstrong has two sacks and quarterback hits, while newcomer Dante Fowler has a sack and a quarterback hit. Even on early downs, Dallas will often have their two edge players standing up on either side of their two defensive tackles. On passing downs, the Cowboys will put all four of their edge rushers on the field, and often stand them up at the line to try to confuse the opposing offensive line.
Dallas does not blitz frequently (34% blitz rate – 23rd in the NFL) but they still have ninth-highest pressure rate (36%), according to Pro Football Focus. The Cowboys use stunts and twists more than any other team in the league, running them on a whopping 53% of their pass rush snaps, according to PFF. Dallas is third in the NFL with eight sacks.
Newcomer Anthony Barr joins Leighton Vander Esch as capable off-ball linebackers who will be used in blitz situations and on early downs to stop the run. Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, Quinton Bohanna and Trysten Hill split snaps at defensive tackle.
5. The Cowboys mix up their coverages. Only the Giants run Cover-1 more frequently than the Cowboys (30.9% vs. 30.8%), according to PFF. But the Cowboys also run Cover-2 at the third-highest rate in the league (24.6%). They will also mix in Cover-3 (24.6%) and Quarters (7.7%) along with other more complex coverages with different techniques used on either side of the field.
Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs are the team's two starting outside cornerbacks, while Jourdan Lewis mans the slot. Malik Hooker is their deep safety, while Donovan Wilson is playing for Jayron Kearse as the safety closer to the line of scrimmage. After leading the league in interceptions (26) and takeaways (34) last season, Dallas has only one takeaway so far in 2022 – an interception by Donovan Wilson.
Dallas has forced teams to move slowly up and down the field, and has prevented the big play. They have only allowed three plays of 20+ yards, which is tied for the lowest number in the NFL. Dallas has allowed opponents to average 4.16 yards per play in the running game, which is 13th in the NFL.
Keys for the Giants' offense
* Don't let Micah Parson wreck the game – limit his impact by identifying where he is before the snap and help when needed.
* Protect the ball through the air against a good pass rush and play-making secondary that is trying to mix-up coverages and make plays on the football
* Run the ball effectively early and often to mitigate the two previous issues
View rare photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.