The Giants take on the Cowboys for the second time this season. Dallas has a strong grip on first place in the NFC East with a 9-4 record and three-game lead on the second-place Eagles and Washington Football Team with only four games to play.
Let's focus on recent developments that makes this Cowboys team look different than the one that Giants played in Week 5.
When the Cowboys have the ball…
The Cowboys' overall ranking offensively are still terrific: 409.1 avg. yards (2nd), 5.96 yards per play (4th); in the NFL), 128.5 rush avg., (6th), 4.56 avg. carry (9th), 280.6 passing avg. (4th), 40 % third-down conversion (tied for 15th), 55.3% red zone touchdowns (24th), 29.2 avg. points (2nd).
Overall, the Cowboys have not been as productive as their total yardage numbers might indicate, especially in recent weeks. In their last four games, they have averaged just 24 points per game and 353 yards. The Cowboys have only thrown for more than 231 yards in one of those games and their four-game rate on third down has been just 29 percent (17-of-69).
The Cowboys' offensive line will look different than it did then. Left tackle Tyron Smith re-injured his ankle last week against Washington and it unlikely to start Sunday. If history is any indication, second-year undrafted free agent Terence Steele will play left tackle, with La'el Collins remaining at right tackle. Steele has started three games at left tackle this season and has allowed two sacks, four quarterback hits and eight hurries. Despite playing more than 2.5 times as many snaps at right tackle, Steele has only allowed three quarterback hits and 15 hurries from his more natural position on the right side, according to Pro Football Focus. Former third-round pick Connor McGovern has moved into the starting lineup at left guard in place of Connor Williams. Since the move, McGovern has allowed a sack, two quarterback hits, and 10 hurries. Tyler Biadasz remains the starting center, with perennial All-Pro Zach Martin at right guard.
The Cowboys are not healthy in the backfield. Tony Pollard missed last week's game with a foot injury and there is no firm indication he will be ready to play. He brings an explosive element as both a runner and a passer, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per catch. Ezekiel Elliott suffered a right knee bruise in Week 4 that he has been playing through it since – he has not topped 100 rushing yards in a game since Week 5 against the Giants, and hasn't run for more than 50 yards or averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry since the Week 9 loss to the Broncos.
Dak Prescott is having another strong year, throwing for 3,381 yards on a 68% completion percentage with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But since returning from an Oct. 17 calf injury, he has only completed 63% of his passes, his per game pass yard average has dropped from 302 to 261, his quarterback rating is just 82.8 and he has eight touchdowns to six interceptions. Prescott has had a passer rating below 60 in two of his last four games and has only had a passer rating over 80 twice in his last six games.
Last week was the first game CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and MIchael Gallup played a full game together this season. Gallup is the group's primary deep threat and adept at making contested catches down the sideline. Cooper is a terrific route runner than can win in every area of the field while Lamb can do a little of everything as the team's most dangerous receiver with the ball in his hands. Lamb leads the team in catches (64) receiving yards (890) and is tied with Cooper for the team lead in touchdowns receptions with six.
According to Next Gen stats, in his last four games, Prescott is only completing 38% of his passes with two TDs and four INTs on throws that travel 10+ yards in the air.
Keys for the Giants' offense…
1. Prevent explosive plays from the Cowboys' receivers and force long drives.
2. Attack the left side of the Cowboys' offensive line.
3. Force Dallas to kick field goals in the red zone
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their NFC East matchup against the Cowboys.
When the Giants have the ball…
The Cowboys defense is ranked between 20th and 24th in most yardage categories, but they are playing their best football of the year, allowing only 19 points per game over their past five games.
Dallas has relied on their aggressive defense to make big plays. Their 27 takeaways (league-leading 20 INTs) rank second in the NFL (They also have eight takeaways over the past two games). Over their past five games, they have 13 takeaways and 15 sacks.
Micah Parsons has emerged as one of the NFL's best defensive players. He leads all rookies and is seventh overall with 12 sacks. Pro Football Focus has him tracked for the tenth best pass rush win rate in the NFL (23.1%). Parsons has 9.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits over his last six games. He will line up all over the field, including as a straight edge rusher over either offensive tackle. Since the return of the Cowboys impressive edge rusher tandem of Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, Parsons has lined up more as a stand-up inside linebacker who can cover or blitz inside (This helps dictate opponents' pass protection).
The unit is as healthy as it has been all season. Randy Gregory injured his calf on Nov. 7, but returned last week and tallied a pass defended, an interception, and the game-clinching sack/forced fumble. Gregory will line up almost exclusively over the opponent's left tackle. DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and returned in Week 13 against the Saints. He had a sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits last week against Washington.
Dallas' defense has evolved throughout the season into one of the heaviest man-to-man schemes in the NFL. They play some form of "Cover 1" (man-to-man with one high safety) nearly 35% of their defensive snaps, which leads the league.
The Cowboys have had their top three cornerbacks on the field for all 13 games this season. Trevon Diggs will follow the opponent's top wide receiver and has a league-leading 9 interceptions to go with seventeen passes defended. According to PFF, he has allowed 51 catches this year for a team-high 911 yards and five touchdowns. He has also been flagged for nine penalties. Anthony Brown is the team's other outside cornerback with Jourdan Lewis manning the nickel cornerback spot. Jayron Kearse (in the box) and Damontae Kazee as their primary safeties.
Dallas owns the 12th-highest blitz rate in the NFL (27.5%). No team uses more stunts than the Cowboys, deploying them on 38% of their passs rushes. They have generated a 35.4% pressure rate (eight) and the 14th-best sack rate. These elements have helped the Cowboys to the best third-down defense in the NFL, allowing conversions at only 30.9 percent.
Keys for the Giants' offense…
1. Don't let the Cowboys' front wreck the game
2. Slow down the Dallas pass rush with screens and a run game
3. Protect the football throwing down the field
View photos of the Dallas Cowboys likely starters ahead of the Week 15 matchup against the Giants at the MetLife Stadium.