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Cowboys scouting report: Breaking down the Giants defensive scheme

The Giants defense has been interesting to say the least this season.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Cowboys played the Giants, it was a resounding success for Dallas. They won 40-0 on the road and pretty much eviscerated a Giants team that aimed to take the next step after a surprise playoff run a year ago.

While the Cowboys won big in that game, it wasn’t necessarily an endorsement of their offense, which made its debut with Mike McCarthy calling plays. The offense played well enough, totaling 265 yards and three rushing touchdowns, but it was clear that they were at least somewhat effected by the rain. The score was inflated by a pick-six and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.

That didn’t offer a very good picture of how this offense stacked up against the Giants defense, which we broke down in detail at the time. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has a tried and true scheme: blitz the ever-loving life out of you, and use a ton of press man coverage behind it.

The problem for Martindale last year was that Dak Prescott is known to be pretty close to invincible against the blitz. Martindale didn’t seem to care, as he called plenty of blitzes anyway. Unsurprisingly, Prescott dissected the defense in the one game he played against this team last year.

Martindale seemingly learned his lesson this year, though. While the Giants are blitzing on 43.1% of all dropbacks, second most in the NFL, he toned it down a ton to start the season. Prescott was blitzed on just 29.2% of his dropbacks in Week 1. While that’s still one of the higher single-game blitz rates Prescott has seen this year, it was uncharacteristically low for Martindale and this defense.

It didn’t matter much, as Prescott still managed to move the ball effectively against the more conservative defensive approach. That’s been a consistent issue for this defense, which ranks 14th in pressure rate and 31st in sacks despite the high blitz rate.

Not only has the pass rush been largely ineffective - especially after trading interior defensive lineman Leonard Williams at the trade deadline - but the secondary has struggled to hold up behind them. Veteran corner Adoree’ Jackson has been especially vulnerable, giving up the 10th highest passer rating when targeted among all corners.

It’s not just Jackson, though. First-round rookie Deonte Banks has been targeted 60 times - only three other corners have more targets this year - and given up the ninth most yards in the NFL. To his credit, Banks is only allowing a 55% catch rate, but he’s been burned pretty bad whenever he does allow a reception.

Then there’s Cordale Flott, the Giants’ top slot corner. Flott was inactive the first three weeks of the season, so he didn’t have to go up against CeeDee Lamb, but Flott has struggled since getting onto the field. Specifically when playing in the slot, Flott is allowing a 62.9% catch rate and a 92.7 passer rating. The best receiver he’s faced (with at least two targets against) this year has been Gabe Davis of the Bills. If he draws Lamb this week, who has been on a tear as of late, things could get pretty ugly.

All in all, this Giants defense is struggling to get off the field. Only one team has fewer sacks, only two teams have fewer takeaways, and the Giants are currently 26th in defensive DVOA. Some of that can be attributed to an offense that’s been abysmal and just keeps getting worse, but Martindale’s crew has struggled mightily even against poor competition.

This week, they’ll be facing an offense that’s found its groove as of late. In the last two weeks, Dallas is third in EPA/play and fourth in offensive success rate. Dak Prescott, who has dominated this franchise consistently throughout his career, is third in EPA/play among starting quarterbacks over that span as well, and he actually leads the league in success rate.

That makes for a pretty lopsided matchup this Sunday, as a seemingly unstoppable force prepares to meet a very movable object. It’s one of the reasons why the Cowboys are favored by a whopping 17 points this week. A coach as seasoned as Martindale is sure to come up with some creative game plans, but this still represents a tough task for the Giants defense.

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