Week 14 brings a rematch of the season opener as the Cowboys travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants, the team responsible for the Cowboys only loss on the year. Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of their offensive personnel.
The leader of the Giants offense is two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning. 2015 was a career year for Eli with career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, completions and QB rating. Of course that statistical success was not backed up in the win column as the Giants only went 6-10 last season. Eli is a very streaky quarterback, capable of carving a defense up one game while looking like a bumbling mess the next. He makes up for immobility with a quick release and a knack for getting the ball out right before taking big hits from defenders. He is able to make all the throws although his accuracy is inconsistent from game to game or even series to series.
Through 12 games in 2016 Manning has put up 3,097 passing yards, 22 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 63.1%. These numbers put him on pace for a nearly identical statistical season as what he posted in 2014 and 2015, and at this point you generally know what you’re getting with this quarterback. He is a player who looks elite at times, while at others he looks like he may end up getting benched. He is a quarterback the Cowboys most definitely have respect for, but there should also be confidence that they can at least contain him, if not force him into mistakes and turnovers.
Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends
Behind Eli in the backfield is 31-year-old journeyman running back Rashad Jennings, a solid veteran who runs tough between the tackles but he is hardly a game-breaker, having never topped 900 yards or six touchdowns in a season. So far in 2016 Jennings has only 414 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while averaging just 3.4 YPC. Fifth-round rookie Paul Perkins out of UCLA is Jennings’ backup, although he too averages only 3.7 YPC and has only 185 rushing yards on the season.
Arguably the biggest threat the Giants have at running back is receiving back extraordinaire Shane Vereen. Vereen has not played since September when he suffered a torn triceps, but he is expected to return against the Cowboys. He is not a traditional running back with a career high of only 391 rushing yards, but he is one of the best receiving backs in the league with over 400 yards receiving each of the last three seasons. Through only three games this season Vereen has 147 rushing yards, averaging 4.7 YPC, to go along with 75 receiving yards. He could cause the Cowboys defense serious problems if matched up one-on-one against a linebacker not named Sean Lee or if allowed to leak out of the backfield while the secondary is preoccupied with the Giants receivers. Eli has shown a propensity for checking down this year, and Jennings actually had six catches for 34 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers last week, but with Vereen back expect those receptions to go to him as he is much more dangerous as a receiver.
All in all, the Giants’ running game is one of the worst in the league and should not be much of a threat. They are second to last in the league in rushing yards per game and third to last in average yards per rush. Their running game did not do much in the first match-up, but they did find success late in the game running the draw to their backs out of the shotgun in spread formations. The Cowboys defense must not allow such a simplistic play to have repeated success against them this time, especially when considering how bad the Giants traditional running game is.
Of course the Giants’ passing game is a different story as they have three very dangerous receivers, led by the best overall player on the Giants roster, Odell Beckham Jr. Despite being listed at only 5-11 Beckham has outstanding hands, speed, jump ball ability, and runs excellent routes. He is clearly a top five receiver in the league, and some may even argue that he is the best. So far in 2016 he leads the team in receptions (75), yards (1,015), and touchdowns (8), which is in line with what he has produced over his first two seasons, and puts him on pace to make his third Pro Bowl in as many seasons. The good news is that the Cowboys have generally done a good job with Beckham since he has entered the league, holding him to less than 75 yards four out of the five times they’ve met.
The starter opposite Beckham is rookie second-round pick Sterling Shepard out of Oklahoma. Shepard is having a very good first season with 497 yards and four touchdowns. He displays excellent hands, route running, and quickness, but at this point in his career he is more of a threat as a shifty, slot type of receiver as opposed to an outside receiver who can beat 1-on-1 coverage with strength, size, speed and physicality. Behind the starters is the oft-injured Victor Cruz, a player who used to be a thorn in the side of the Cowboys, but after several injury-plagued seasons he is not quite the player he used to be. So far he has only one touchdown, but he does have 462 receiving yards for an impressive average of 17.1 YPC. Expect to see a heavy dose of Cruz as well as rookie Roger Lewis as the Giants spread the field with 3- and 4-WR formations more than almost any team in the league. At tight end the Giants have two functional pass catchers in Larry Donnell and Will Tye, with Tye being Eli’s preferred target so far this season with 33 receptions for 281 yards to just 15 and 92 for Donnell, respectively. Neither of these two are significant threats, but with the Cowboys defensive game plan likely to center on the Giants receivers it’s important that they don’t forget these two as they can make plays over the middle.
The biggest liability on the Giants offense may be their line. Despite investing two first-round picks and a second-round pick on the line since 2013 the Giants still struggle to protect Eli and open up holes for their running backs. Starting left tackle and 2015 top 10 pick Ereck Flowers did not impress as a rookie and has continued to struggle so far in 2016. This is not surprising considering that most viewed Flowers as a better fit on the right side or even inside at guard leading up to the draft.
Left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg have developed into very good linemen, especially Richburg who is one of the better centers in the league, but that hasn’t been enough to make up for Flowers, right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse who are all liabilities. Pugh has been out for about a month with a sprained MCL but it seems that he will play this Sunday, if he isn’t able to go expect Newhouse to shift to left guard and Bobby Hart to play right tackle. On the season the Giants have only allowed 16 sacks, good for third fewest in the league, but that is mostly due to Eli’s ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly and his willingness to throw it away to avoid sacks and hits, often times doing so indiscriminately.
Where The Cowboys Can Take Advantage:
- Mediocre pass-protecting line that struggles mightily to block in the running game
- One of the worst overall running games in the league
- Eli’s immobility and propensity for turnovers when pressured
- Lack of elite talent at running back and tight end
- Over-reliance on the passing game, and Beckham specifically
What The Cowboys Must Fear:
- Deep group of receivers, including one of the best at the position in the league in Beckham, this could be an issue considering the injuries and poor play of the secondary as of late
- The short passing game and Eli’s ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly could extend drives and keep the defense on the field
- Allowing Eli to get comfortable in the pocket