The Dallas Cowboys are playing another relevant Week 17 football game. How do you like them apples? Speaking of apples, the Cowboys will head to the Big Apple (actually, not really - they play in Jersey) to play the New York Giants. This makes the eighth time over the last ten seasons that the Cowboys have not been eliminated heading into the regular-season finale. That’s actually a pretty nice feat.
Since 2014, the Cowboys have been on an every-other-year schedule in making the postseason. Since they came up short of the playoffs last year, that means they’d need to get in this season if they were to keep that pattern going. Will they pull it off? Here are five things to watch when the Cowboys play the Giants in this stave-off-elimination game.
1. This Giants defense is not terrible
If you go up and down their roster, this Giants defense doesn’t have any one guy that’s outstanding, but collectively, this is a very good group. New York spent a lot of money in free agency this offseason, and they’ve actually made some wise investments this go round. Free agent corner James Bradberry signed a three-year, $43.5 million deal and linebacker Blake Martinez was signed to a three-year deal for $31.8 million. Combine that with some solid interior defensive linemen: Leonard Williams (traded from Jets and then franchised tagged this offseason), Dexter Lawrence (first-round pick 2019), and Dalvin Tomlinson (second-round pick 2017), and the team has a pretty good group of defenders.
Believe it or not, the Giants defense is actually in the top 10 in fewest points allowed. During their four-game win streak, no team scored more than 20 points against them. And even during their recent three-game skid, no one scored more than 27 points. The Giants have had seven games this season where they’ve allowed less than 100 yards rushing and five games where they’ve allowed less than 200 yards passing. The Cowboys need to have their offense clicking or this one will make us nervous.
2. Gotta get it done in the red zone
One of the things that has plagued both these offenses this season is their lack of efficiency in the red zone. The Cowboys convert at a rate of 52%, which ranks them fourth-worst in the league. The Giants are even more inept as they convert at a rate of 45%, which is second to last.
We can’t take it for granted that this is going to be a game script where the Cowboys offense unloads for another 30+ point performance. Every trip in the red zone is precious and the Cowboys need to capitalize on their opportunities. Last week, we saw drives that started 1st-and-10 inside the Eagles ten-yard line fall short at the goal line to where they had to settle for field goals. It’s not enough to drive down the field. This team has to finish of the drive so that when Greg Zuerlein trots on the field, it’s for extra points.
3. Be in full control by halftime
Remember when Jason Garrett’s Cowboys were always off to slow starts? Whether it led to exciting fourth-quarter comebacks or disappointing last minute let downs, it sorta was a regular thing for this team to dig itself into a hole, only to slowing grind their way out later.
Well, that same sluggish start has trickled over to Garrett’s new team as the Giants are really struggling early in games as of late. Over their last four games, New York has yet to score more than a field goal in the first half, and sometimes they’re completely goosed. In fact, the Giants have been outscored 51-6 in the first half over the last month of football. That is not going to win you a lot of football games.
Now, the Cowboys have a little bit of dilly dally in them as they have yet to score an opening drive touchdown all year, but they’ve been able to get things going rather quickly and surprisingly, they’ve been pretty consistent with their scoring throughout the game.
One thing that is nice about the Cowboys three-game winning streak is they've been surprising consistent throughout the entire game. Over the last three games, they are averaging 18 points in both the first and second half. That's balance. pic.twitter.com/PFGNQTzNaR— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 31, 2020
The Cowboys need to keep that going and it would be great if they could start the second half of Sunday with the Giants in a big hole.
4. Don’t cut it close
A tough Giants defense, red zone troubles, and the inability to take control by halftime all paint a picture of a second half that could come down to the wire. The last time these two squared off, the Giants actually jumped out to a two-touchdown lead aided by a 46-yard interception return from linebacker Kyler Fackrell. The Cowboys fought back and eventually took an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the Giants scored the next 11 points to go up by three points late in the game. The Cowboys responded with two straight drives that resulted in the game-tying and then game-winning field goal, but why did they have to cut it so close?
The Cowboys can’t afford to play with fire on this one. In close games, all it takes is one bad call, one wrong bounce, or something fluky to show up that determines the outcome of the game. Or in this case, the outcome of the season.
5. Now, we sit and wait...
Even if the Cowboys win, the celebration will have to wait as the attention will then turn to the Sunday night matchup between Washington and Philadelphia. After officially eliminating the Eagle from the playoffs last week, the Cowboys now need their help in beating Washington if Dallas is going win the NFC East and earn a home playoff game next weekend.
Strangely, the Cowboys were in a similar situation last year. After the Eagles were the victors in a crucial Week 16 game, the Cowboys still had a slim shot to get in, but it required them to beat the Redskins as well as needing the Giants to come through with an upset over the Eagles in the regular-season finale. The Cowboys did their part with a 47-16 win, but the Eagles took care of business themselves and doubled up the Giants 34-17.
Last year, nobody had much faith in the Giants helping Cowboys fans out, but this year there’s a legit chance. Washington is only favored by a point, and is struggling offensively as they’ve haven’t scored more than 15 points in each of the last two games. The Eagles are still rolling with their Jalen Hurts’ experiment and are coming off of three straight 400+ yard games (they only reached that mark once under Carson Wentz in their previous 12 games). No one knows how this one will turn out.
One last thing we wanted to acknowledge is that Cowboys fans may be getting their last look at the defensive backs the team drafted in 2017 NFL draft.
The last game the 2017 draft class DB's play in a Cowboys uniform may very well be this Sunday in East Rutherford. Coincidentally, all 3 of these guys: Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, & Xavier Woods all have something else in common - they've each gotten a pick in MetLife Stadium pic.twitter.com/NtXVhthO6B— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 31, 2020