Forget the past 13 games. It is officially a new week, which means that we have another opportunity for the offense to get rolling again, another week for the defensive line to play together at full health and build on their success from last week, and most importantly, an opportunity to advance to 4-0 in the division.
As 10.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, the expectation is that the Dallas Cowboys will win this game. But as we learned last week, the Dallas season has evolved past just winning football games. The hope is that they return to true NFC contender status, so what will it take for that to happen?
The Cowboys offense
Dak Prescott’s performance last week was utterly unwarranted. Now, obviously he hasn’t been playing well lately, but last week was bad in an entirely different way.
Going into the matchup against Washington, Dak’s struggles were primarily contained to defenses that rank in the top half of the NFL. Prescott’s performance against the Football Team was the first time he fell flat this year against a bottom half defense; take a look:
- Horrible game against Denver (7th ranked defense since week eight)
- Great game against Atlanta (23rd ranked defense since week eight)
- Awful game against Kansas City (4th ranked defense since week eight)
- Decent game against Las Vegas (31st ranked defense since week eight)
- Bad game against New Orleans (11th ranked defense since week eight)
- Horrible game against Washington (29th ranked defense)
Struggling against top-half defenses is one thing, but it is now scary that Prescott is flailing against poor defenses.
Well, let’s hope the trend ends quickly because the Cowboys get another favorable matchup on offense. The New York Giants are ranked 21st in the NFL by EPA per play allowed since Week 8. This is another matchup Dak should thrive in, but should and will are becoming entirely different notions.
The offense around Dak needs to give him some help because the other ten guys were doing very little to assist Prescott last Sunday.
.@dallascowboys @dak I hear that people think he might be in a slump. He isn’t getting great help; and on some incompletions his receivers are running one route and he is throwing another. This has to get cleaned up and get the receivers some new gloves for Xmas #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/OF5ugp1V4F— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) December 15, 2021
Now that we’ve addressed the doom and gloom of the situation, here is some good news. Ezekiel Elliott and hopefully Tony Pollard should be back in action against a bottom-five run defense. Helping Prescott by consistently picking up four to five yards on the ground when called upon will take the load off Dak.
Especially on early downs, the Giants are horrible against the run. The same Giants team let Zeke and Pollard run for 185 yards at 5.3 yards per attempt in their last meeting.
Dak is not going to face a heavy blitz either. Against accurate pocket passers, the Giants don’t like to blitz.
But hopefully, we see Dak and Kellen Moore revert back to the quick passes, RPO reads, and screens (not on third down) that were successful at the beginning of the year. Even if the Giants aren’t going to send pressure, being hesitant and waiting for the play to develop has not worked for the Cowboys. They shouldn’t play into what the opposing defense hopes they will do; play to your strengths.
This is the sixth-worst defense in the pass rush and the 12th worst defense in coverage. Last week there were no excuses for a bad game, but this week would be an utter collapse if they fail on offense.
Running Zeke and Pollard against a poor rush defense should open up the field a little for Prescott. Furthermore, against a team that won’t send a blitz, paired with a bad pass rush, the offensive line shouldn’t struggle to give Dak time.
With that being said, the Cowboys need to use the route running and yards after catch ability from their elite receivers with quick passes instead of holding the ball in the pocket. The Dallas offense is running out of time to get things clicking, so hopefully, this is the game they start to do so.
The Cowboys defense
The defense has evolved to the point where there isn’t much to be concerned with. Whether it be Mike Glennon, Daniel Jones, or Jake Fromm, is there any doubt the Cowboys’ defense will contain the Giants’ offense?
Of every quarterback with more than 80 plays run this year, Daniel Jones ranks as the 28th quarterback according to EPA per play, and Mike Glennon falls as the 37th. In other words, it doesn’t matter who the signal-caller is for the Giants, the Cowboys will shut them down.
If you need any additional evidence that Jones and Glennon don’t prove to be a real threat, the two quarterbacks average an 80.8 passer rating in a clean pocket, well below average, but that passer rating drops to 58.8 when they are under pressure. And a clean pocket is not an option with Micah Parsons, Randy Gregory, Demarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, and Osa Odighizuwa coming after the quarterback.
It is beautiful when the Cowboys don’t need to blitz, and yet they will be in the backfield every snap.
It is also worth noting that this game will likely be the healthiest Cowboys defense we’ve seen all year. With the addition of possibly Donovan Wilson, paired with the newly returned players getting healthier, it should be even more fun to watch.
The @dallascowboys made the following transactions on Wednesday:— Dallas Cowboys Public Relations (@DallasCowboysPR) December 15, 2021
Designated for Return from Reserve/Injured:
- S Donovan Wilson
Signed to Practice Squad:
- DT Justin Hamilton
Waived from Practice Squad:
- DB Deante Burton
The only question mark in this game is the Giants rushing game. Saquon Barkley is a player that defenses must respect, but even Giants fans will admit that Barkley hasn’t looked the same this year. Regardless, the New York run game still falls 17th in the NFL by EPA and 11th in rushing success during the second half. However, even if the Giants are middle of the pack by rushing success, the Cowboys will shut it down quickly.
Look at how well Dallas has contained the league’s best running backs:
- Austin Ekeler: 9 attempts, 54 yards, 0 TDs
- Miles Sanders: 2 attempts, 27 yards, 0 TDs
- Dalvin Cook: 18 attempts, 78 yards, 0 TDs
- Josh Jacobs: 22 attempts, 87 yards, 1 TD
- Antonio Gibson: 10 attempts, 36 yards, 0 TDs
The Cowboys have put up a brick wall against a few of the league’s best rushing offenses just a year after they couldn’t stop anybody. You can expect more of the same against the Giants.
The key to defensive success for the Cowboys is just for every player to show up and do their job. Hopefully, the offense gains some semblance of life, taking away the Giants’ option to run the ball. But even if New York does run, it won’t be successful.
After that, Mike Glennon or Daniel Jones will have to deal with a backfield full of Cowboys defenders running full speed at the quarterback. Even with a clean pocket they haven’t been successful, so it is safe to assume they won’t excel with Gregory, Lawrence, and Parsons in their face.
Coaching and special teams
We will set aside Dan Quinn in the coaching discussion because Quinn will have the defense ready to play no matter what. Keep up what you are doing Coach Quinn, Cowboys Nation is thankful for you.
For Mike McCarthy, there has been a complete lack of aggression across the board. Going into the bye week, fans were upset because of clock management issues and excessive penalties, but Dallas was hyper-aggressive. Since the bye week, clock management has been perfect, and outside of the Raiders game, the penalties have decreased as well. But since the Atlanta game, the Cowboys have attempted one fourth-down conversion.
We should all want an aggressive coach, even if there are errors by way of penalties and clock management. The faith in the offense to pick up a needed first down in fourth and short situations has not been there, but we need it again.
Kellen Moore has been similarly disappointing lately. Maybe, just maybe, he is saving his creativity for January. But outside runs, quick passes, creative conversions on third down, and the highly efficient offense that could move down the entire field in two minutes have disappeared. The Giants’ defense is poor, but Kellen Moore has been equally disappointing lately. One has to give, so let’s just hope we see the resurgence of the play-caller everyone thought would be ripe for a head coaching position.
As for special teams, there is little to discuss anymore. John Fassel has been excellent ever since people were calling for his job early in the year. Brian Anger, both kick and punt returning have been perfect, and even Greg Zuerlein has looked solid lately.
The only thing we need to see at this point is Zuerlein consistently hit his kicks, thus allowing us to have faith in our kicker come January. Special teams likely will not decide this contest, but having a kicker we can somewhat trust would be valuable in the postseason.
With the division essentially over, barring one of the greatest collapses in NFL history, these last four games allow the Cowboys to play pressure-free football. It is the perfect time for such a stretch, given the level of improvement our offense needs before the postseason.
A matchup in New Jersey against a team the Cowboys dismantled 44-20 in week five is a great opportunity for a “get-right game.” Forty-four points would be superb, 30 points would be ideal, but even if we see some semblance of life from the offense, every Cowboys fan can start to feel better. This is the perfect game to get back on track.
Likelihood of the Cowboys winning: 61.5%
Final Score: Dallas Cowboys 29, New York Giants 21