Time for the Dallas Cowboys to move on and set things right (we certainly hope). After that disappointing season-opening loss, the issue at hand is just what the Cowboys need to do in order to get a very important win over the New York Giants. After that pile of something that landed on the field in Charlotte, there are lots of areas for improvement. Here are some game-plans and other strategies for the Giants game.
Tom Ryle: In order to win against the Giants, I believe they have to come up with a plan to pass beyond or around the box when they stack it up to stop Ezekiel Elliott. It doesn’t matter exactly how they do - it can be short or long, out to the edges or across the middle. The important thing is that they have to show they can still move the ball through the air, which is another way of saying they need to establish that Dak Prescott can beat them with his arm. This should include putting Zeke into the pass pattern at times, so he can still be a threat even when they are not handing him the ball. They also need to use some RPO’s and read-options, which would add the threat of Dak keeping it himself and going to the sidelines on a run if the G-men crash the line to stuff Elliott. If they don’t show a way to get the offense going besides just handing the ball to Elliott, New York is just going to sit on him all day, like the Panthers did.
David Howman: I think the NYG defense will give us fits early on. James Bettcher is one of the best defensive minds in the game right now and he’ll use a ton of different fronts to confuse our offensive line and Dak, but mostly to mask weakness because the defense just lacks talent at too many places. The Cowboys need to go sideline-to-sideline early to stretch this defense and circumvent their blitz packages. That means screens, quick slants, zone stretch runs, some pitches for Zeke, and preferably more option stuff for Dak. Once that happens, more deep passes are going to open up wide, as well as big run opportunities for Zeke.
Michael Strawn: The offensive line needs to improve - dramatically. Tyron Smith did his best Chaz Green imitation through much of the Carolina game, Connor Williams looked overmatched at times and La’el Collins faded badly as the game wore on. When you look at the tight ends, wide receivers and much of the secondary, you see very little pedigree; it’s almost all mid-round draft picks, low-level free agents and scrub pickups. But the offensive line is where the team has invested top draft picks and second contracts. The offensive line is supposed to be the identity of this team. If the offensive line can’t play better this team has no chance of winning.
One Cool Customer: In the ground game, Football Outsiders define ‘success’ as gaining 40% of the necessary yardage on first down, 60% on second down and 100% on third and fourth downs). Ezekiel Elliott has had spectacular success rates in his two seasons with the Cowboys, ranking No. 2 in the league in both years with a 57% success rate in each year.
But after Week 1, 2018, he’s rated 34th with a success rate of just 27% (per Football Outsiders), which means only four of his 15 runs were successful. More disturbingly, only two of his 8 runs on 1st-and-10 generated more than four yards.
A key part of the Cowboys’ offensive gameplan is getting into manageable second and third down situations, and that didn’t work at all on Sunday. There’s been a lot of discussion about third-down performance during and after the game against the Panthers. But next Sunday against the Giants, keep an eye on first downs; what happens on first down will ultimately determine what happens on third down.
Dave Halprin: Dak Prescott has to trust his line and he has to trust his arm. Too often in the Panthers game he felt pressure when it really wasn’t there, or he decided to move out of the pocket when staying put, or just gently sliding to one side or the other, would have done the trick. He needs to settle down in the passing game, get quickly through his progressions instead of locking in on players, and then get the ball out. He’s holding the ball too long on a lot of plays and not trusting what he sees. The Cowboys need to feed him some early slant patterns to Cole Beasley and some RPO’s that are very quick-hitters to get him going. They also need to force him to take a shot or two downfield to open things up. Even if overthrows the pattern on purpose or throws it out of bounds becasue the player is covered, they need to show they will at least attempt it. If they can get Dak working, then the run game will eventually open for Ezekiel Elliott.