The regular season is finally here, and with that comes the New York Giants. The Cowboys will kick off their regular season with a common opening day opponent in the New York Giants. The Cowboys are familiar with the Giants, but will have some new tendencies to keep an eye on.
In 2018, the Eli Manning led Giants offense ranked 17th in yards per game, 11th in passing yards, 24th in rushing offense, and 16th in points per game. From 2018 to 2019, the offense has seen some dramatic changes. The most obvious is the departure of Odell Beckham Jr., who was traded to the Cleveland Browns over the offseason. With the departure of OBJ, the Giants will have to make up for 77 receptions, 1,052 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. In his place, the Giants will be trotting out Sterling Shepard, Bennie Fowler, and Cody Latimer as the teams starting receivers against the Cowboys. Shepard, the most notable wideout, did not play at all this preseason and was limited throughout training camp with a dislocated thumb. Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer while not being household names, have chances to be productive this year with the Giants short passing game tendencies.
When turning to the tape, it’s easy to see the Giants game plan on offense. They are going to load up to run the football with Saquon Barkley, and use the quick passing game through “mesh” to get their receivers open underneath. Mesh is used when two receivers cross each other underneath to complicate the defense in the middle of the field.
Here's the mesh play i meant to post earlier. You'll see this a ton on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/DHQcNYl4Gn— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 4, 2019
As you can see above, the Giants run Bennie Fowler (#18 slot) and Rhett Ellison (#85) as their two mesh players. the Bengals linebackers are forced to sit in the middle of the field to read the routes, which causes some confusion on which defender carries which receiver. Fowler has plenty of separation as the ball leaves Manning’s hand, but the Bengals linebacker does an excellent job of closing on the play for a minimal gain. Even when these plays don’t hit for big, the Giants will continually run different combinations of mesh for easy, underneath completions.
With the Giants heavy-use of mesh, you can look for the Cowboys linebackers and safeties to stuff the stat sheet with eye-popping tackle numbers this Sunday, as a majority of the Giants offense will be quick, underneath passes.
Cowboys fans are very familiar with Eli Manning, and thankfully, he’ll be suiting up as the Giants starter when the Cowboys take the field this Sunday. Manning, had a solid preseason, but still struggles with his accuracy, poise in the pocket, and arm strength down the field. The first play of the game from Manning in the Giants dress rehearsal game shows just that. Here he has all the time in the world, and an open receiver crossing the middle of the field off of the slant. What happens next is one of the many reason the Giants drafted Daniel Jones in this year’s draft.
First play of the game for Eli. Has his man wide open on the slant and throws it below his knees. There's no reason for Daniel Jones (I did not like him pre-draft) to start for them. pic.twitter.com/SgjzJLrciP— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 4, 2019
This is an absolute “gimmie” in today’s NFL, and while the ball was catchable, Manning delivers an inaccurate ball to a receiver running full speed across the middle of the field. This should be a free 15-20 yard gain for the offense, but due to the inaccurate pass it’s an incomplete pass and puts the Giants offense in a second and long situation.
One of the Cowboys’ biggest strengths on defense is how tight they cover in the secondary. The tighter the coverage, the more perfect the quarterback needs to be. Anyone who has watched Eli Manning over the last few years knows he’s a far from perfect quarterback, meaning we should see a lot of inaccurate passes, and possibly a few turnovers by an upgraded Cowboys defense.
Believe it or not, the Giants offensive line may be the strength of their offense in 2019. With Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, Kevin Zeitler, and Mike Remmers, the Giants finally have an above average offensive line that can keep Eli Manning upright, and open up running lanes for Saquon Barkley. With that being said, the OL still showed some struggles when dealing with quicker pass rushers throughout the preseason.
In the Giants dress rehearsal game, starting left tackle Nate Solder had his fair share of struggles with Bengals pass rusher Carl Lawson. Lawson was able to beat Solder on multiple occasions using speed, power, and technique. Bengals’ DL Geno Atkins gave the interior of the offensive line some fits in the first half as well using his quickness to power to disrupt the pocket for Eli Manning.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and Dorance Armstrong should still get plenty of opportunities to win against the Giants tackles, and Maliek Collins could be in for a disruptive day from the interior.
The one big weapon the Giants do have at receiver is Evan Engram, their starting tight end. Engram will likely be Manning’s go-to receiver even as a tight end. In Pat Shurmur’s offense, Engram plays detached from the offensive line on a majority of his snaps, and will lineup in the slot, more so than in a traditional tight end formation. Engram has size, ball skills, and is a very athletic tight end at the catch-point and in the open field. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cowboys defense Engram, because in the past Byron Jones would likely man those duties, but with so much talent in the secondary, Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard may decide to play it straight up and focus more on Barkley and the running game, than Engram and the passing game.
Speaking of the Giants running game, Saquon Barkley did not see the field this preseason, and there’s a reason for that. Barkley is one of the top running backs in the league, and the Giants offense is built around him. Expect the Giants to use Barkley’s athleticism in the passing game, setting up screens, and designed passing plays to get him the football in space. The Giants will also use Barkley in the misdirection, and outside running game to get Barkley in one-on-one opportunities with the Cowboys linebackers and defensive backs in space. Barkley is electric in the open field. If Dallas does not bring their A+ tackling game, he could takeover the game on his own.
.@Giants v @dallascowboys @saquon will get a lot of passes thrown to him in isolation packages; specifically 3 X 1 looks. He caught 18 passes v #Cowboys in 2 games last year. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/3E2U1eLazT— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 2, 2019
The Cowboys did a decent job of containing Barkley in their first two matchups holding him to just 28 carries for 137 yards and one touchdown. In order to control Saquon Barkley; Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and Antwaun Woods will need to show up in a big way come Sunday.
The Giants do not present any crazy formations or exotic looks. Similar to the Cowboys offense from 2014-2018, they line up and try and beat you one-on-one with their skill players in the open field. With OBJ now in Cleveland, the Cowboys defensive game plan should be to contain Saquon Barkley on the ground, and don’t let Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard eat them alive in the middle of the field.