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Cowboys look to reverse Thanksgiving trend against the Giants

The annual holiday game has not been kind to the Cowboys in recent years. But this time, the team looks ready and able to set things right.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
One thing they can’t overlook is Saquon Barkley.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys always look forward to the annual Thanksgiving Day game. It has become a tradition for the NFL and always draws a big audience for the networks. This year, they line up against their division rival the New York Giants, and both have 7-3 records and a lot to play for as both have an excellent chance to get into the playoffs. Getting a division win would just improve those odds.

But lately, this game has not been kind to the Cowboys.

This is something that Dallas is definitely looking to correct. This year might be a good opportunity to do so, as they just showed how they could get things fixed with the way they rebounded from the loss to the Green Bay Packers by absolutely obliterating the Minnesota Vikings, who were 8-1 going into that butt whompin’.

An additional element to this is the short week and how that changes preparation. After doing this for decades, you would think the Cowboys would have things pretty much figured out. That recent trend argues against that.

Those are intangibles coming into the game that might affect the outcome. Additionally, the Giants are coming off their own frustrating loss to the Detroit Lions. They would love to have their own bounce-back in front of the national audience.

There is no way to really predict how the teams will respond to those things. So we are left examining the more tangible aspects of this matchup. Those paint a very favorable picture for Dallas.

After the five-game stretch with Cooper Rush at quarterback and the defense doing the heavy lifting to go 4-1, the Cowboys are starting to climb the offensive rankings. In particular, they have now reached seventh in the league in points scored per game. The Giants have had issues putting points on the board, sitting at 21st. That seems a nearly ideal situation for Dallas. The formula that worked so well on Sunday was to get a lead and have the defense stifle, or more accurately put, terrorize a team that was forced to throw the ball in an attempt to make up ground.

We discussed this idea and more on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network wherever you get your podcasts! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

Points are greatly affected by the performance of the quarterbacks, and this is a clear advantage for the Cowboys. Since coming back from his injury, Dak Prescott has been formidable, leading the team to 24, 49, 28, and 40 points over those four games. He has not had a huge amount of touchdown passes, with only eight on the season, but the team has scored more via the running game as Prescott repeatedly leads them down close. Additionally, Prescott has only been sacked seven times. That is partly a tribute to his protection, but many sacks are caused by quarterbacks with bad decisions or poor pocket awareness. Prescott is doing very well in both aspects, and his elusiveness was demonstrated last game when he literally bounced off a would be tackler to get a yard and avoid a sack. One other significant development from the big win four days ago was that Prescott found a bunch of different receivers, reducing a big worry about the lack of viable targets in the offense.

His counterpoint, Daniel Jones, is not having as good a season. He has only one more TD pass than Prescott despite having played in twice as many games. He is protecting the ball well, with only four picks, the same number as Prescott. But he has been sacked a whopping 30 times. That does not bode well for him this game. He faces the league leader in team sacks, and you know the Dallas pass rushers are looking at the tape of him and licking their chops. Further, the receiving corps for the Giants is just not good at all. Their leading receiver, Darius Slayton, has only 413 yards this season. For comparison, CeeDee Lamb has 751, and Noah Brown has chipped in 384 for the Cowboys.

Prior to Sunday, the big worry about the Cowboys’ defense was stopping the run, but with the way the offense staked them to a lead, they nullified Dalvin Cook. This week, they face another challenge in Saquon Barkley, who is second in the league in yards per game. It is going to be important for Dallas to again play complementary ball. The best way to have the defense dominate is to give them a big lead. That didn’t work so well in the loss to the Packers, but they certainly capitalized on it against the Vikings. Repeating that would be very helpful on Thursday. However, Jones is the second leading rusher for the Giants, and mobile quarterbacks like that have presented some problems for Dallas this season.

Meanwhile, the running game has come alive for the Cowboys as Kellen Moore looks to have found a winning formula for using both Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott. They each had 15 carries in the game. Pollard had multiple big runs, while Elliott was the short-yardage banger, getting both the rushing touchdowns in the game. One of those came after Pollard failed to score twice when the team had first and goal from the two, with Elliott punching it in with one of his typical strong runs. And Pollard was on the field for a lot more offensive plays than Elliott, 39 to 21. Part of that may have been having Elliott on something of a pitch count after he had missed two games due to injury. Hopefully, Moore will be very cognizant of how effective it was in the passing game, as Pollard exploded for 109 receiving yards, including touchdown catch and runs of 68 and 30, the former being the longest play from scrimmage all season for Dallas. They have combined for 1,186 yards rushing, compared to Barkley’s 953.

Special teams favor the Cowboys, thanks to the reliability of Brett Maher and the ever-present threat of KaVontae Turpin. But New York’s Graham Gano is no slouch, with a nearly identical percentage of made field goals. They have not had anything of note in the return game, so that advantage remains with Dallas and their so far excellent coverage on kickoffs and punts.

On paper, this should be a win for the Cowboys. We have seen that go awry before. The thing Dallas must avoid is letting the score stay close, or letting the Giants get out to a lead. Either would let New York go to their best weapon, Barkley, and control the flow of the game. If the Cowboys can keep that from happening, and don’t get sloppy with the ball, they should be able to come out of the game at 8-3. They just have to buck that trend and make this a truly Happy Thanksgiving for all their fans.

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