The Dallas Cowboys defense has been on fire the past few weeks and they will look to continue that momentum against the New York Giants this week. While much of this week has been about the sudden release of Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys are betting on their younger linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox to be able to pick up the slack with veterans Leighton Vander Esch and the returning Keanu Neal. The issue is that the Giants have four players that they can use to attack a linebacking group that at times has had problems covering tight ends and running backs, one of the main on-the-field reasons Smith was released.
The combination of tight ends Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph, wide receiver Kadarius Toney, and the always dangerous Saquon Barkley will surely be used to attack the Achilles heel of this Cowboys defense in the linebacker's ability to defend against the pass. We’ve seen in the past that Vander Esch can do it but that he isn’t always consistent. Neal is returning from testing positive for COVID and is still getting his cardio back so we aren’t going to know how well he’ll be able to play this week. Then you have Parsons who had trouble in coverage in the season opener against the Buccaneers when Rob Gronkowski went off for 90 yards and two touchdowns. And Cox would just now be getting real time on the defense if he plays more this week. Both rookies have the ability to cover ground quickly and cover the Giants tight ends and running backs, but they are still rookies and can easily be tricked with play-action passes or other formation disguises.
We’ve all seen Jason Garrett’s offensive scheme, he’s prone to protecting his quarterback Daniel Jones by giving him the easier reads with quick passes in the middle of the field and on the outside to get him in a rhythm. Last week, though, Garrett was more aggressive pushing the ball downfield, that could cause the Cowboys to keep their safeties deeper this week. If that is the case, then that means a lot of crossing routes and slants that the Cowboys linebackers are going to have to be dealing with. Garrett’s going to be looking to create enough traffic in the middle of the field to confuse or freeze the Cowboys linebackers long enough to make plays. The Cowboys safeties will most likely be there to help the linebackers, but this is an area that could cause the Cowboys some headaches this week, especially if the Giants are able to get Barkley going early in the running game.
The release of Jaylon Smith shows that the Cowboys recognize this weakness and are trying to shore it up now but we will have to see if they can do it this week. Let’s hope that they do.