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3 uneven matchups in the Cowboys vs. Giants game: Saquon Barkley could be in for a long day

Watch out for these three mismatches when the Cowboys meet the Giants on Sunday.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Cowboys-Giants rivalry has been a relatively one-sided affair for some time now. With New York finishing last in the NFC East in three of the last five seasons, it has been a while since the Giants’ matchup was projected to be close. Well, in week three of the 2022 season, New York is the favorite against Dallas.

Walking into New York on Monday night as the underdog means the Cowboys must take this matchup more seriously than they have in the past. If they come out flat or fail to take advantage of key opportunities, they will lose this game. So with that said, what are a few mismatches that Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff must focus on?

3 uneven matchups in the Cowboys vs. Giants game

The Giants' rushing attack vs. the Cowboys' defensive line

Ranked as the 16th best line when pass blocking, the Giants' front five will give Daniel Jones enough time to throw. That will be a relatively even matchup against an explosive Dallas pass rush. New York’s offensive line knows how to maintain a clean pocket, but they do not know how to give Barkley room to run.

Coming in as the 32nd ranked offense line by PFF run-blocking grade, there has been no front five worse this season at clearing out space for their RB than the Giants. In fact, out of the 176 starting offensive linemen in the NFL, the Giants have two of the lowest seven graded linemen by PFF run-blocking grade. New York’s first-round pick, Evan Neal, is the lowest graded player across the entire league in this category.

And this is affecting Saquon Barkley. While he is off to a solid start, last game he only rushed for 3.4 yards per carry against a below-average Carolina run defense. And if you exclude his 68-yard run against Tennessee, he would have posted a mediocre 4.2 yards per attempt.

It is not as if the Cowboys' run defense is their specialty. But they are currently ninth by rushing EPA per play allowed, and their success rate allowed on runs of 38% is top-13 in the league. They are not perfect, but against the Giants’ offensive line, they should be able to contain Barkley barring an explosive run.

Sterling Shepard vs. Trevon Diggs

There is no team investing more money in their wide receiver corps than the New York Giants. But despite all of the cash they have thrown at the position, their top four pass catchers by targets this season are:

  • Sterling Shepard ($10.3 mil per year)
  • Richie James ($1 mil per year)
  • Saquon Barkley (RB)
  • David Sills ($825 thousand per year)

The point is that, despite the massive investment into the position, New York is still without a true WR1. They have refused to involve Kadarius Toney in the offense, and Kenny Golladay has been on a steep decline since he set foot in New York.

As a result, Diggs will likely line up against Shepard for most of the game. And after a week where Diggs was dealing with Tee Higgins and Ja’Maar Chase, this week should be a cakewalk for the third-year CB.

Because, despite being the target leader on the Giants' offense, he is still an average receiver. Out of the 165 WRs who qualify through two weeks, Shepard ranks as the 85th player by his PFF receiving grade. Here is where he falls among the rest of the league by various statistics:

  • Completion percentage when targeted: 94th (66.7%)
  • Yards after the catch per reception: 73rd (4.9)
  • Yards per route run: 49th (1.84)
  • First downs: 107th (2nd)

This is the worst WR1 the Cowboys have faced this year, and they will not see a weaker receiver rotation until they play the Bears on October 30th. Diggs and the secondary should have no problems shutting down the passing attack, which currently ranks 27th per PFF.

Combine this with the previous uneven matchup, and you should notice that the Dallas defense will not have a problem slowing the Giants' offense. New York sits as the 32nd-ranked offense per PFF, and the Dallas defense should be able to set up Cooper Rush in favorable situations.

The Giants defensive line vs. Matt Farniok

It is commonly thought that an offensive line is only as good as the worst lineman. While this is not entirely true, there is credibility to teams going after one member of the front five because they see them as the weak link. And for the Dallas Cowboys in week three, that player is Matt Farniok.

Out of the 176 linemen that have played more than 43 snaps in 2022, Matt Farniok is the fifth lowest graded player according to PFF. If the Giants are looking to exploit vulnerabilities in the Cowboys’ front five, they will start with Farniok.

The daunting aspect of this is that New York has the weapons to do so. Oshane Ximines, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams are all off to an impressive start this season. Through two weeks, those three have combined for 16 QB pressures, 10 QB hurries, and seven “stops” against the run. Additionally, Ximines and Lawrence have yet to miss a tackle in run defense. However, the health of Williams mean he might not play.

To make matters worse, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari could both be making their season debuts on Monday night. That would give the Giants incredible flexibility to send the kitchen sink at Farniok and disrupt the entire left side of the offensive line. If Dallas wants to avoid this, the running game and designed rollouts need to go to the right. Otherwise, the dropoff from the other four linemen to Farniok will become even more apparent.

Maybe Jason Peters gets involved in this game, and Tyler Smith or Peters replaces Farniok. But for now, let’s assume that Farniok sees one more week of action.

McCarthy deserves proper credit for the win last week. He relied on the strengths of the team and let Rush play game manager for most of the matchup. If McCarthy can replicate that coaching performance against the Giants, this is a significantly easier game to win. But if not, a rare Giants win over the Cowboys could be on the horizon.

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