In case you hadn't noticed, the Dallas Cowboys are remaking themselves to be better than the New York Giants. Jerry Jones has all but directly said so in his repeated praise of the defending Super Bowl champions this offseason. Sure, the Eagles kicked our tails in 2011 as well, and maybe even more so than New York; but the proof is in the pudding. Two Super Bowls within the division in a five-year span and both Lombardi's sit in New
York Jersey. They are the target. We're hours away from testing Jerry's abilities to color within the bulls-eye lines.
If you've turned on a television in the last 48 hours, you are well aware that the Giants have beaten the Cowboys five out of the last six contests. Without context, that's enough to make someone think that there's no chance for Dallas; the blowout is coming.
Looking closer, you'll only see two blowouts and one of them was the Cowboys victory. These teams are just as close as you remember them being the last three years; no matter how things get painted nationally.
We know the difference between winning and losing lies in the details; the small things that happen in a game. The Cowboys' O-Line sucks; well, so does the Giants'. The Giants have a great receiving duo; well, so do the Cowboys. Shouldn't we take a little deeper look before kickoff?
Follow the jump for some thoughts and advanced stat keys (thanks to Football Outsiders 2012 Almanac, Pro Football Focus) to help Dallas come out on top.
Variance is Football Outsiders metric that measures consistency across a season. How likely are you to know how a team will perform based on previous results?
While neither team resides on either end of the spectrum (SSDD or WTF happens next!?!?), there was a noticeable difference. Dallas was the more consistent of the two, with an 11.9 variance percentage; 13th most consistent in the league. The Giants ranked 20th, with 15.0%. There's no surprise then that they put it all together for their playoff run. The point is, that you can't necessarily make the leap that they will be that same team moving forward.
While we're all aware of what's new with the Cowboys, all may not be up to speed with the Giants. Gone are Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs; both now in San Francisco. They are replaced by Reuben Randle and David Wilson. They reshuffled their offensive line positions, but start five of last year's top six linemen.
The defense lost rotation DE Dave Tollefson (replaced by Adrien Tracy) and starting DT Chris Canty is on the PUP list; replaced by Rocky Bernard. Backup DT Marvin Austin is ruled out due to his back. That's three big blows to the vaunted eight-player rotation that has harassed Tony Romo relentlessly. Shaun Rogers was brought in to help; he's on the IR as well. Will the remaining studs have to log more snaps? Will they tire? Will the performance suffer with the backups?
The Giants waved goodbye to CB Aaron Ross, letting him leave via free agency. The plan was that they wouldn't miss him, but read below to see why they just might.
Whatever You Do Rob, Don't Send The House On Third Down
The book on Eli Manning, before he went from Top 20 quarterback to elite status in one season (tongue planted firmly in cheek), was to pressure the kid. That book needs to be part of a 1970's burning exercise. According to Football Outsiders, Eli Manning averaged 12.3 passing yards per play when a team sent a "big blitz" (two or more extra rushers) at him.
Remember the last couple seasons, watching Keith Brooking run full speed into the LOS and get nowhere? It would have been funny if it wasn't our team.
The Cowboys conversely don't blitz often under Rob Ryan; a stark contrast to the public image. Ryan is creative in who he rushes and from where, but he doesn't like sending the house. Ryan likes having max players in coverage, and that needs to be the case against the "new" Eli Manning.
On third downs, the critical down to get off the field, Dallas rushed only three 22 percent of the time; allowing only 4.6 yards per play and scoring a 78% Success Rate (keeping the offense from gaining a first down on third or fourth). Overall though, Dallas ranked 29th in defensive DVOA on third down; meaning that game situations forced Dallas to stray from what they did best.
With no Jay Ratliff on Wednesday night, it will be key to see if there is any departure from this strategy for the Ryan defense.
Attacking the Giants Defense
The current Giants cornerbacks might be the worst in the league. Gone is Aaron Ross, who joined Laurent Robinson in Jacksonville, which wasn't that much of a loss. Injured is savior Terrell Thomas, who was put on IR this year. Last year's first round pick, CB Prince Amukamara is out. They were bad last year and are without their top two. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant versus Corey Webster and Michael Coe? The ’11 Giants D struggled the most against 21 personnel, which we’ll see a lot of with the addition of FB Lawrence Vickers. Dallas will be running plenty of max protect to keep the Giants DL group off of Romo, but both Cowboys wideouts can win one-on-one and double-teams enough to keep the points coming.
Corey Webster was the man... back in 2008. The long time Giants starter regains the title due to injuries; although he hasn't inspired much joy out of Giants fans. His cumulative PFF pass coverage grades (which admittedly aren't the greatest measures for cornerbacks) from 2008 to 2011: +21.5, +3.9, -4.1, +3.1. Starter snaps each year so sample size is not an issue.
Still, last year, New York had Webster assigned to the opposition's number one receiver 60% of the time. Expect Garrett (we hope) to identify this matchup and then strategize where he can expect the safety coverage to roll whenever he expands the offensive sets and puts a receiver in the slot.
Michael Coe has played for three different teams in three seasons, and has logged all of 100 snaps; 56 last year with the Giants depleted secondary. Entering the offseason, NY planned for him to be their fifth corner. There's really nothing to be gleaned from looking at his advanced statistics.
Expect rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley to see the field plenty during the game. The Giants run a 4-3, but lined up in a 4-2-5 on 59% of their plays in 2011. The Giants ranked tops in the league with 5 DB sets and had at least 5 on the field a whopping 70% of the time.
Hosley's recovering from an ankle injury but showed that he has big play ability with a 77 yard pick-six during the preseason. The Giants employed a big nickel plenty in 2011, when backup safety Deon Grant saw over 1,100 snaps between spot start duty. That role was to be taken over by Tyler Sash, but he's suspended the first four games of the season. Antrelle Rolle is bad in coverage and should be targeted whenever he is in coverage.
Of course the problem here lies in the fact that the Giants pass rush creates enough pressure that the moving parts in the back don't need to cover for very long.
- The '11 Giants passed on first down 57% of the time; second most in the league.
- New York will not abandon the run if trailing in the second half (run on 33% of snaps, 9th in league) or quit throwing to sit on a lead (48%, 6th).
- You will rarely see Eli without a last line of protection; they went empty back on only 3% of their offensive snaps.
- Unless there is a tremendous shift in philosophy, don't expect to see Martellus Bennett much. The Giants run two-tight end sets on only 17% of their offensive snaps.
- The Giants most common offensive personnel grouping is the '11' group. One back, one tight end, three receivers; called 44% of the time and averaging 7 yards per play.
- The Giants were horrible at play-action passes; their DVOA (a metric that measures how well you did on each play compared to the league average in the same scenario against the same opponent) was 62.4% worse when they used the run-fake.
- The Giants knocked down 22 passes at the line of scrimmage, good for second in the league.