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Week 5 Primer: Cowboys vs. Giants

This is either a get-right game or the beginning of the end for the Cowboys.

NFL: NOV 04 Cowboys at Giants Photo by Rich Graes fourthsle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are in a bad place right now. They’re 1-3 and Mike McCarthy can hardly get through a press conference without someone asking him if he’s fired his defensive coordinator yet. The rough start to the season - a season that was once filled with sky-high expectations - has made plenty of fans question if McCarthy was the right hire. But at the very least, it hasn’t made fans clamor for their old head coach to be back.

That’s because Jason Garrett’s new team, the New York Giants, are even worse. The defense is undergoing a transition in Patrick Graham’s first year as the defensive coordinator, and Garrett’s offense is dead last in the NFL in yards, points, and DVOA. Garrett’s offense has been criticized as “frustratingly predictable and vanilla,” which is shocking to absolutely nobody who watched Garrett’s offenses the last decade.

More than that, their eight turnovers - all of which have come by way of quarterback Daniel Jones - are tied with the Washington Football Team for second most in the NFL. Who’s got more turnovers? It’s actually a tie between the Eagles and Cowboys.

The NFC East is so bad that comparing it to anything would be disrespectful to the thing it could be compared to. Instead, we’ll have to settle for stating the obvious: the NFC East is really, really, really bad.

The bright side? The Giants are by far the worst of the East. If the Cowboys didn’t look so bad through their first four games, this might be comforting to most. Instead, it sets up two possible outcomes: the Cowboys beat the Giants to “get back on track,” or they lose to the Giants and send the entire fanbase into a complete and total meltdown.

But the Cowboys will definitely win; it’s not like they’ve ever lost to a winless team from New York before, right?

On a serious note, this game figures to be a point of critical mass. We know this offense can score points in bunches, but can they avoid turning the ball over? The defense hasn’t been as terrible as they’ve looked - they’re actually 24th in defensive DVOA - but it’s hard to win games when your defense looks as lost and disinterested as the Cowboys have. And the special teams have been a rollercoaster, with insanely high peaks and mind-numbingly low valleys.

For the Cowboys offense, they’re facing a Giants unit that’s already punched above their ticket. They held both the Bears and Rams to just 17 points, but have struggled against more vertical passing attacks. In Week 1, Ben Roethlisberger shook off the rust from missing nearly all of last season to throw for 229 yards and three touchdowns, while 49ers backup quarterback Nick Mullens piled up 343 yards and a touchdown against the Giants secondary.

It’s a big reason why the their pass defense’s DVOA is 24th in the league while their overall defense DVOA is 11th in the league. Their defensive front - which most frequently features Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Dalvin Tomlinson on the line of scrimmage with Blake Martinez at linebacker - has been stout against the run. But their secondary, which features veterans James Bradberry and Logan Ryan alongside several young and inexperienced defensive backs, has been torched by offenses that stretch them out.

But they haven’t faced an offense as good as the Cowboys. Dak Prescott leads the league in passing, and his receiving trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb has been a big part of the reason why; even Cedrick Wilson has been getting in on the action. The offense’s only real problem has been costly turnovers, but the good news is New York’s defense has just four takeaways on the year, the third lowest figure in the league.

Of course, takeaways has been a point of emphasis for Mike Nolan and this new defensive staff, but it hasn’t manifested on the field. Rookie Trevon Diggs has been close to a few interceptions, but Dallas still has just two takeaways all season. As mentioned, though, Daniel Jones is really bad at holding onto the ball. Like, really bad.

If there were ever a time for this Cowboys team to both cut down on their turnovers and increase their takeaways, this tilt against the Giants would be the perfect storm of opportunity. And with two of their next three games coming against the other teams in the NFC East (which, again, is really bad), this game against the winless Giants could be a spark to save the Cowboys’ season.