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Cowboys vs. Giants: Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr. present unique challenges for Dallas defense

Looking at the G-Men’s offensive personnel.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys got off to a rocky start, falling to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers by a score of 16-8 to start the 2018 campaign. While the defense played mostly well in week one, Newton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner were able to find ways to hurt Dallas — specifically with the read-option and designed quarterback runs.

Dallas lost contain on Newton, something that you certainly do not want to do against one of the more dangerous players across the league. Sean Lee and Co. often lost track of where the ball was, allowing Cam to get to the outside and pick up crucial yardage to keep drives alive. Then there was Christian McCaffrey, who accounted for 95 yards on 16 touches, though the second-year back lost a fumble deep in Cowboys territory.

This week, the Cowboys encounter another difficult challenge: game-planning to stop one of the most dynamic players in the National Football League and a rookie running back with a unique skill-set designed to hurt defenses in more than one facet of the game.

What does the Giants’ offensive personnel look like as the G-Men come to Dallas for a week-two clash in AT&T Stadium?

The Quarterback

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas opened the season against a quarterback that can hurt them with his strong arm and dual-threat ability, as Cam Newton hurt the Cowboys more often than not with his feet. This week, though, the Cowboys do not really have to prepare to defend the quarterback run with Eli Manning in town.

Many assumed that with a new regime in charge the Giants would look for Manning’s predecessor early in the draft. It turns out that Pat Shurmur and Co. have decided to roll with Eli, as the team waited until the fourth round to select a signal-caller.

A season ago, Manning threw for 3,468 yards on a 61.6% completion percentage to go with a 19-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio during a Giants season that saw numerous injuries, controversy, and a head-coaching change take place.

Through one week in 2018, the veteran signal caller has stats of 224 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception, and a 62.2% completion percentage. The Cowboys limited Manning to 448 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, and a 3.96 AY/A in two games last season.

New York added offensive tackle Nate Solder from the Patriots, selected Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft, and moved former first-round bust Ereck Flowers from the left side of the line to right tackle in an effort to give their longtime face of the franchise more protection to get the ball to their plethora of weapons.

The Weapons

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the question marks surrounding the Giants, the talent at the skill positions in New York is not one of them. Featuring a wide receivers corps that includes one of the elite at his position, defenses have their hands full when defending the G-Men.

The Giants passed on a quarterback class that featured the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, and instead selected one of the elite running back prospects to enter the NFL Draft in quite some time in Saquon Barkley out of Penn State. Barkley, 6-foot and 233-pounds, had one of the more impressive combine performances recorded, posting these eye-opening numbers:

The former Penn State Nittany Lions star made his official NFL debut against a tough Jaguars defense last Sunday, carrying the rock 18 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Most of the rookie’s yardage came on this explosive score:

Barkley potentially gives the Giants an extra dimension to their offense to keep defenses honest. Containing Barkley from bouncing to the outside is critical, as the second overall selection is dangerous when he sees daylight.

Elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram are waiting to make secondaries look foolish as the trio is among the best at getting open and making their opposition pay. We all know what OBJ can do. The former LSU Tigers star is among the best at his position across the league and has made quite a few plays against the Cowboys, averaging five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in his meetings versus America’s Team. After missing both meetings last season, he will be surely be hungry to make a statement on Sunday Night Football. Shepard, meanwhile, isn’t so bad himself. The Oklahoma Sooners product has totaled 15 catches, 142 yards, and a touchdown in four games versus the Cowboys in his young career.

Engram is a unique talent at the tight end position. The 2017 first-rounder is almost a wide receiver playing tight end as he glides down the field. Engram recorded 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns while averaging over 11 yards per reception during his debut season in the NFL. The Jags gave up two catches for 18 yards on five targets in week one.

One of the reasons why the Cowboys opted to bring in Kris Richard was to help their young, revamped secondary take this next step as this defense develops together. Well, Richard certainly has a challenge on his hands in preparing his guys for this group of weapons.

The Big Uglies

New York added some new pieces to its offensive line in Nate Solder and rookie Will Hernandez, but questions still remain concerning the G-Men’s front five. The biggest concern for Giants fan has to be Ereck Flowers. The ninth overall pick of the 2015 draft has done anything but live up to his draft slot.

In an effort to perhaps revive Flowers’ career, the Giants moved him to right tackle. Surely things would improve — even a tad — right? Yeah, about that ...

Solder was protecting Tom Brady’s blindside a season ago, so the Giants are banking on him to be a reliable wall of protection for Eli Manning; however, the free agent acquisition appeared to have struggled in his first game with his new team. How much does that have to do with Solder and how much does that have to do with the Jaguars defense?

Will Hernandez is a lineman that many Cowboys fans had on their short list of prospects that they wanted Dallas to look at it due to the need at offensive guard. The UTEP native has the potential to grow into a quality interior offensive lineman, but he — like Connor Williams, for instance — is still adjusting to and learning the NFL game.

While the Giants have made some moves to improve its offensive line, they are still a weakness to exploit. When you add that to the fact that DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off an impressive outing against the Panthers, Taco Charlton showed signs of life, Maliek Collins recorded a sack, you should have a defensive line that is hungry to get out there on Sunday evening in prime time.

Stat to Know: 48.72% Red Zone TD Percentage

The Giants converted less than half (48.7%) of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns in 2017, which amounted to 26th across the entire league last season. If the Giants are able to hit big plays to get inside the 20, it will be critical for this defense to make a stand — either by forcing a turnover (like the McCaffrey fumble last week) or holding New York to a field goal attempt.

Bottom Line:

The bottom line is that the Cowboys’ defense should dominate the line of scrimmage. If the Cowboys are successful in making the most of their advantage in the trenches, the Giants will become one-dimensional and rely on Eli to make things happen. Getting after Manning and forcing quick throws is crucial, as we all know it is pretty difficult to cover OBJ and Co. for more than a few seconds. This is the path the Cowboys need to take in order to get their first win of the 2018 season.

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