The first few weeks of an NFL season are always the hardest to predict. Each roster in the league turns over 30-40% every offseason, and coaching staffs are constantly in flux. Even teams with relatively insignificant changes to the “who” is playing, will make major changes to the “how” they play, adjusting schemes, formation tendencies, etc.
So as we attempt to tell the story for the Cowboys upcoming Week 1 tilt against the New York Giants, we will look back on statistics from the 2022 season, knowing and acknowledging that some pieces of data are relatively stable year to year, and others are much more susceptible to major swings year to year, based on things like luck, quality of opponent, etc.
Consistency and Explosiveness on the Ground
The Giants defense in 2022 was one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, they finished 30th in EPA per rush allowed, and 24th in rushing success rate allowed on the season, this despite having Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams as their defensive tackles. Meanwhile, Cowboys running back Tony Pollard finished ninth among runners (min. 150 carries) in EPA per rush in 2022 despite running behind an offensive line that was constantly influx.
The Cowboys on the other hand, were the fourth best rushing defense in the league last year by EPA per rush, and third in rushing success rate allowed, despite missing Leighton Vander Esch for a stretch, and acquiring Jonathan Hankins over half way through the season, and then added a first-round pick at defensive tackle this year. The Giants in 2022 were top-five in rush attempts per game, leaning on running back Saquon Barkley heavily, despite the fact that his success rate on the year was fifth worst among runners with 150 or more carries.
In 2022, the Giants defense was the second worst in the league at keeping teams out of the red zone, allowing a total of 63 red zone trips across the season, but they were fifth best in the league at keeping teams from scoring touchdowns once they were in the red zone (bend but don’t break isn’t exactly what you think of with a Wink Martindale defense, but here we are!) The Cowboys offense, on the other hand, was the best in the league at scoring touchdowns on trips to the red zone (scoring on 71.4% of their trips inside the 20).
The Cowboys defense did a much better job at keeping teams out of the red zone than the Giants, finishing 11th best in the league, allowing only 50 total trips. They were still very good at keeping opponents from scoring, allowing touchdowns on only 50% of their opponents red zone trips. The Giants offense scored on 63% of their 49 red zone trips last year, good for seventh and 20th in the league.
Dak Prescott versus the Wink Martindale defense
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has consistently been one of the most aggressive play callers in the league, and that held true in 2022, when the Giants brought extra pass rushers more often than any team in the league. But as the great Mina Kimes pointed out, Dak Prescott is very good against the blitz, one of the best in the league in fact, ranking third in the NFL in Total QBR when blitzed over the last three seasons.
These stats tell the story very clearly going into Week 1. The Cowboys are a very bad matchup for the Giants, and unless bad injuries or bad turnover luck strikes the Cowboys in the game, they should win, relatively easily.