Turkey, football, and a nice nap. That’s what many of us have on our agenda Thursday as the Dallas Cowboys finish off their divisional series with the New York Giants. Both teams are tied with a 7-3 record as this becomes a pivotal game for anyone hoping to catch the first-place Philadelphia Eagles.
The Giants have got the dubs all year, but have currently lost two of their last three games, including a 31-18 loss to the lowly Detroit Lions. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are riding high after annihilating the formerly 8-1 Minnesota Vikings. As Dallas looks to keep a good thing going, here are five things to watch for when the Cowboys host the Giants on Thanksgiving.
1. Ground control
New York doesn’t do a lot of things right on offense. They are 21st in points scored and they are bottom five in passing yards this season. However, one thing they are good at is running the ball. Led by Saquon Barkley (ranked second in rushing behind Derrick Henry), the Giants have the fourth-most rushing yards this season. Barkley is their big playmaker, but they also get over 40 yards a game from their quarterback Daniel Jones.
We know run defense is the Cowboys' kryptonite, and you better believe the Giants are going to attack this every way they can. The Giants are good at pulling their blockers and are creative at getting their runners in space. Jones loves the read-option keep and if they catch the Cowboys cheating inside, he’ll bounce it outside and take off. And if they get into a groove, they’ll use veteran backup Matt Brieda to help carry the workload.
The Giants churned out 167 rushing yards the last time these two teams met in Week 3, and they have the resources to make this a long day on the Cowboys' defense. Dallas must stay disciplined, fight through blocks, and avoid getting caught over-pursuing, or else the G-men will spit out some big gains on the ground.
2. Nowhere to go
A ground attack from the Giants is a foregone conclusion not because it will be a stronger matchup of strength, but because they really have no other option. New York’s wide receiver group is under major construction. They lost their longest-tenured WR Sterling Shepard to an ACL injury early in the season, and they just their rookie WR Wan’Dale Robinson for the year to an ACL injury as well.
Complicating matters more is that overpriced free agent acquisition Kenny Golladay continues to be invisible as he’s averaging less than 10 yards a game, and they traded away their most talented receiver Kadarius Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs a couple of weeks ago. That leaves Darius Slayton (413 yards on the year) and Richie James (239 yards) as the team’s only viable WRs and James is listed as questionable with a knee injury. So, the question is, who will be catching passes for the Giants when they do throw the ball?
3. Running right back at you!
Yes, it’s true. The Cowboys' defense gives up 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. That’s the sixth-worst in the league. But do you know who is even worse than that? You’re right. It’s the New York Giants. The boys in blue surrender 5.3 yards per carry which is second-worst in the NFL.
When Dallas faced the Giants earlier in the year, they ran for 176 yards with a good dose of both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The Cowboys should lean on the strength of their offensive line and use that athleticism to get into the second level. The Giants' defense can be pretty decent in other areas, so it would make the most sense to just keep it simple and go run heavy.
4. Pollard, the pass catcher
Watching Tony Pollard lead the team in receiving yards was certainly fun, but it was also enlightening. We have been pleading for the team to use him more as a receiver, and this was the first time we really got to see it happen. Was this just a result of what the Vikings' defense was giving them, or could it open Pandora’s box and unleash Pollard more in the passing game?
Kellen Moore did a fantastic job spacing out the targets last week, and hopefully, in the process, it showcased just how potent that type of usage can be. Plus, Pollard himself said he has been waiting for this all year.
5. Bring out the bad Jones
In 2019, the Giants made Daniel Jones the sixth-overall pick of the draft hoping he would be their franchise quarterback. But after three years of lackluster performances, his future in New York is in doubt. After throwing 21 TDs to 17 INTs over the previous two seasons, the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option this past offseason. Oddly enough, Jones is putting together the best season of his short career. His interception rate is the lowest of his career and his efficiency is much better as he has a career-high in completion percentage and yards per attempt.
As good as he’s been, Jones still reminds us that he can still be that guy who just can’t keep it together at times. In the Giants' seven wins, Jones has eight interceptions to just one pick, but in their three losses, he’s thrown three picks and just one touchdown. He had a two-pick game last week against the Detroit Lions. Sometimes, he can get a little rattled and will make some questionable throws.
The Cowboys' defense already has a pick against Jones this year and should be able to snag some more when their pass rushers get up in his grill. Bring out the erratic Jones we’ve grown to love, and the Cowboys should see favorable results this afternoon.
What will you be watching for today?