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Pregame Shuffle: Cowboys vs Giants (Week 12)

The Cowboys have a lot to be thankful for right now,

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Cowboys are coming off a complete dismantling of the Vikings and turning things around in a hurry for their Thanksgiving matchup against a very banged-up Giants team. These two teams have already met this year, and the Cowboys notched a 23-16 win in New Jersey with Cooper Rush under center.

But Dak Prescott is back now, and the Cowboys haven’t lost to the Giants with Prescott on the field since 2016. The Cowboys have also become a much better team since their quarterback has returned, putting up two 40 burgers through four games and averaging 35 points per game over that stretch.

The Giants, meanwhile, have come back down to Earth a little bit. While Dallas handed them their first loss of the year, the Giants still jumped out to a 6-1 record. But they’ve gone 1-2 since then, with the lone victory being a narrow win over the miserable Texans. Injuries have started to mount for this team, and the luck that helped them earn close wins over some genuinely good teams seems to have run out as well.

On the injury front, it’s a long list. The Giants lost receiver Sterling Shepard to a torn ACL in the closing minutes of their loss to the Cowboys. Just this past week, rookie receiver Wan’Dale Robinson also tore his ACL, a crushing blow to an already thin receiving corps. Rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger, who’s become a core piece of the offense, has already been ruled out this week with an eye injury.

Things aren’t looking much better on defense either. Edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, cornerback Aaron Robinson, and safeties Xavier McKinney and Tony Jefferson are on the injured reserve. Adoree’ Jackson, who has easily been the best corner for this Giants defense, sprained his MCL on Sunday and has been ruled out as well.

On top of all of that is the list of other players that are dealing with injuries in practice right now. The injury report has an additional seven players listed on there. It’s safe to say that the Giants will not be at full strength this Thursday, while the Cowboys’ biggest health issue at the moment is an illness that seems to be going around the defensive line room.

Injuries aside, the Giants got off to such a hot start with what can best be described as grit. First-year head coach Brian Daboll has been willing to take risks all year to improve the Giants’ odds of winning, and it’s paid off more often than not. That’s how a team that currently ranks 21st in total DVOA can hold a record of 7-3.

Offensively, the Giants have largely thrived off of a return to form from running back Saquon Barkley. He’s just 47 yards shy of crossing the 1,000 yard mark on the ground and also leads the team in receptions. But Barkley has been bottled up in each of the Giants’ last two losses. Against Seattle, Barkley had 53 yards on 20 carries, and this past Sunday against a pretty bad Lions defense he managed just 22 yards on 15 carries.

Those two performances graded out as Barkley’s worst since he faced the Cowboys. And while it may not seem like it, the Dallas run defense has made improvements lately and is now ranked 10th in run defense DVOA. If the defense can contain Barkley again, it’ll force Daniel Jones into more passing situations. Last time these teams met, Jones was sacked five times, threw an interception, and barely completed more than half of his passes. That will be the not-so-secret formula for the Cowboys defensively: make Jones beat you.

As for the Giants defense, it will be an interesting chess match to watch. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is notorious for his love of the blitz, and the Giants lead the league in blitz rate at 41%. However, the Giants are only 10th in pressure rate and 23rd in sacks.

Further complicating things is the matter that Prescott routinely annihilates blitzing defenses; he’s completing nearly 74% of his passes with a passer rating of 100.1 when facing a blitz this year. It’s to the point where Prescott is one of the least blitzed quarterbacks in the NFL. The problem for New York, though, is that they’re already struggling to generate pressure and over 55% of the pressures they do have are coming by way of the blitz.

Complicating things further is the fact that the Giants registered just six pressures against the Cowboys earlier this year, their lowest amount in any game this year, and all six of them came on a blitz. So does Martindale avoid the blitz and likely give Prescott all day to throw against an ailing secondary, or blitz a quarterback who’s nails against the blitz? It’s a difficult spot to be in, especially on a short week.

The Cowboys and Giants enter this game with identical records, but the two teams couldn’t be more different. The Giants seem to be losing steam, and mounting injuries are only exacerbating the problem. Meanwhile, the Cowboys appear to be hitting their stride just in time for a playoff push. Crazy things can happen when teams play on such a short week, but the Cowboys have much more to be thankful for this week than their divisional counterpart.

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