Giants-Cowboys, Week 12 preview: Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones, Giants offense

The New York Giants travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys on a short week in front of a national audience. Big Blue has the honor of playing the afternoon game on Thanksgiving, and the short week could not have come at a worse time for New York.

The Giants are coming off a Week 11 31-18 loss to the Detroit Lions, where they suffered several key injuries on both sides of the football. Dallas just traveled to Minnesota and beat the now 8-2 Vikings by 37 points. Week 11 could not have gone differently for the two franchises.

However, star pass rusher Micah Parsons injured his knee and ankle and is questionable for Thursday. Parsons had nine pressures against Minnesota and has 49 total on the season to go along with 10 sacks. New York’s day would be much easier without the second-year star defensive player on the opposite side of the football.

This is the second matchup between the two teams; Dallas who defeated the Giants, 23-16, on Monday Night Football in Week 3. Parsons recorded six pressures and two quarterback hits in that game.

Star defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence added seven pressures and three sacks as Daniel Jones was sacked five times. Jones moved the football with his legs to a tune of 79 yards, and the Giants’ offensive philosophy shifted the next week against Chicago.

Implementing Jones’ rushing ability became a stronger focal point for the Giants over the next few weeks. It’s plausible that the impetus for that shift was Dallas’ ability to exploit the Giants’ pass protection by successfully sending only four rushers. Jones was frequently under duress and had the highest pressure rate – by far – through the first quarter of the season; he’s currently fourth behind Justin Fields, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill.

In the following two weeks after the loss to Dallas against Chicago and Green Bay, the Giants only took 12 true pass sets; all the other passes were RPOs, move-the-pocket, play-action, or play-action bootlegs.

New York has only taken more than 20 true pass sets in three games: Dallas, Seattle, and Detroit – their three losses. That makes sense; when you are losing games, you tend to throw more.

The Giants have a tall task against the excellent Dallas defense. New York’s recipe for success has been to play mistake-free football while leaning on Saquon Barkley and possessing the ball.

The Giants failed to live up to these principles twice over the last three games and lost both times.

Against Dallas in Week 3, the Giants played turnover-free football until the final offensive play, where Daniel Jones threw an interception to Trevon Diggs after David Sills slipped out of his break on second-and-15 with 1:17 left in a one -score game.

A drop by Kenny Golladay at the end of the first half, trailing 6-3, on fourth-and-2 at Dallas’ 47-yard line, did not help, but Barkley’s 36-yard rushing touchdown put the Giants in the lead in the middle of the third quarter. Backup quarterback Cooper Rush led two long Dallas touchdown drives, and the Giants failed to match him, resulting in Big Blue’s first loss.

New York has struggled to play on the road against the Cowboys in recent years. The last time the Giants beat the Cowboys in Jerry World was 2016, when New York squeaked out a 21-19 victory.

Defensive stats

Dan Quinn has his defensive unit in nickel personnel 76.7% of the time, which ranks fifth-most in the NFL. They are in dime the fifth most as well, at a 19.5 percent rate, meaning the Cowboys are not afraid to use lighter personal packages.

Strong safeties Jayron Kearse and Israel Mukuamu act as BIG-defensive backs in lighter personnel. Kearse missed the last matchup against the Giants and is a critical part of Dallas’s success. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he is one of the versatile weapons on the back end that allow defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to do so much in lighter personnel packages.

The Cowboys have allowed a league-low 23 explosive plays total – six rushes and 17 passes. Dallas’ defense is one of the best units in the league by many metrics. They allow a league-low 16.7 points per game, a league-low 174.3 passing yards per game, and are eighth-best in yards allowed, with an average of 310.6 yards per game.

Dallas’ defense allows 136.1 rushing yards per game, ranking them 26th in the NFL. Barkley rushed for 81 yards, with Jones rushing for 79; in total, Dallas surrendered 167 yards on the ground against New York.

Dallas leads the league in sacks with 42; the next closest are the Patriots with 36 – the Giants have 20. Stopping this pass rush – with or without Micah Parsons – will be an issue for the Giants.

Quinn’s defense runs the sixth most Cover-3 at 42.3 percent, with a 24.8 percent man coverage rate. Dallas will be in a lot of middle-of-the-field closed type of defenses. Against the Giants in Week 3, Dallas ran Cover 3 62.7 percent of the time and Cover 1 19.4 percent of the time. Their Cover 3 rate against the Giants was the highest of the season.

Dallas wants to remove Barkley and the rushing threat, forcing the Giants batted wide receiver corps to create separation against a talented young secondary.

What do the Giants do?

If it worked, the Giants would feed Saquon Barkley 35 times, as they did in their Week 10 victory over Houston. However, that is not always a winning philosophy. The Giants have struggled to create explosive plays through the air all season, and they just arguably lost their most exciting receiver, Wan’Dale Robinson, to a torn ACL.

Establishing a rhythm through the traditional passing attack has not come easily for the Giants. The success they enjoyed before the Seattle game, working the play-action bootleg, has not been as available, but it will be imperative for the Giants to use Jones’ mobility and get the football out of his hands quickly to mitigate the rush of Dallas .

Two weeks ago, running back Aaron Jones of the Packers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook had 72 yards on 11 carries last week, so the Giants need to fix their rushing attack and find a way to block slanting defensive linemen.

Dallas has quick defensive linemen capable of crossing the face of the Giants’ interior offensive line. Opposite the dangerous Parsons and Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr. are very capable rotational rushers for Dallas. Rookie Sam Williams and interior players like Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore are also quick off the ball. The defense is quick and instinctive.

Wide receiver Darius Slayton is the clear-cut top target for the Giants, but he likely has a date with cornerback Trevon Diggs, who has three interceptions, and nine passes defended this season. Diggs is a point guard, but can be baited by double moves.

Opposite Diggs is Anthony Brown, along with DaRon Bland, who played the slot last week with Jordan Lewis out with a Lisfranc injury.

Dallas has a lot of athletic ability at the second level with players like Jabrill Cox and Parsons, along with Leighton Vander Esch. Eye Candy and counter runs may be a way to get these defenders out of position. Establishing the run is crucial to victory for the Giants because Big Blue has to slow down Dallas’ pass rush.

New York will likely keep six or seven men in protection on longer developing concepts. An element of the game the Giants could exploit would be Saquon Barkley as a receiver. His highest yardage total was against Dallas, with four catches for 45 yards. He has become a vital part of pass protection, but slip screens to Barkley to get him in space make a tone of sense. He only has three catches over the last two games.

final thoughts

The Giants face a tall task on a short week after a rough out against the Detroit Lions. There are no teams better at pressing the quarterback than the Cowboys, and the Giants’ offensive line just allowed 31 pressures to a Detroit Lions team that struggles to generate pressure.

Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll must dive deep into their bag of creativity if Dallas shuts down Saquon Barkley. Leveraging Jones’ rushing ability must be a part of the game plan, but at that same time, not allowing Dallas’ defense to tee off on Jones in the pocket must also be a point of emphasis.

The Cowboys recorded 35 pressures against the Giants in Week 3; that was their second most on the season behind Dallas’ beatdown of the Rams in Week 5. Saquon Barkley should expect a lot of work on Thursday.

Protecting the football and seizing opportunities through tight throwing windows could be the path to victory for the Giants’ offense. Still, that is easier said than done with a secondary that does an excellent job baiting routes and an overwhelming pass rush. Enjoy your turkey, ladies and gentleman, and let’s see what this offensive coaching staff devises in the biggest game of the season.

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