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Cowboys scouting report: Breaking down the Giants offensive scheme

When the Cowboys face the Giants in Week 1, here’s what to expect from Daniel Jones and company on the New York offense.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are so close to kicking off the 2023 season on the road against the New York Giants. The Cowboys are hoping to once again roll out a fearsome defense, coordinated by Dan Quinn and headlined by Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs, Jayron Kearse, and newcomer Stephon Gilmore, among others.

The Cowboys have finished second in defensive DVOA each of the last two years, a testament to the impact Quinn has had in Dallas. Last year, when facing a Giants offense led by head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, the Dallas defense limited them to 16 points and 20 points, respectively. But New York has spent the offseason upgrading their offense, so what can the Cowboys expect from that side of the ball?

Daboll is the head coach, but Kafka calls the plays. Daboll is a coach who bounced around both the NFL and college football, earning him varied experiences from a scheme standpoint. As the offensive coordinator in Buffalo, Daboll combined all of those experiences to create an offense that best fit his new quarterback, Josh Allen.

For a player of Allen’s talents, that meant a whole lot of passing to get him in a rhythm early; in Daboll’s four years in Buffalo, his team was third in early down pass rate. It also meant lots of play-action, lots of deep shots, and frequently taking advantage of Allen’s athleticism by getting him moving, either on designed rollouts or quarterback runs. The result was impressive enough to get Daboll a head coaching job.

Kafka, on the other hand, comes from the Andy Reid School of Offense. The Northwestern grad played for Reid’s Eagles back in the day and later spent five years as a coach for the Chiefs, rising from a quality control coach to quarterbacks coach to pass game coordinator. That’s when Daboll hired him to be his offensive coordinator, where he debuted last season.

The Andy Reid offense is firmly rooted in the West Coast, but it’s evolved over the years to incorporate some elements of the spread and Air Raid offenses from college football. Philosophically speaking, that meant Kafka came to the Giants with a lot of commonalities with what Daboll had just had success with in Buffalo.

But the duo weren’t calling plays for Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. Instead it was Daniel Jones, the sixth overall pick in 2019 who had largely failed to live up to expectations, so much so that the Giants declined his fifth-year option before the season. Jones went on to have the best year of his career and earn a four-year extension from the team this past offseason.

Daboll and Kafka did that by using many of the same tricks they’d seen work in their previous stops. Jones set a career high for pass attempts and had the third-highest play-action rate of any quarterback. He also had the second most scrambles of any quarterback, doing so nearly as many times in 2022 as he did in the first three years of his career combined.

However, Daboll and Kafka also built much of their offense last year around masking several of Jones’ deficiencies. No other full-time starting quarterback had fewer pass attempts over 20 yards, and as a result Jones had the lowest rate of big time throws. However, Jones’ turnover-worthy play rate remained similar to his numbers from the previous two years. And despite the Giants throwing it more than they had in recent years, they still finished 15th in early down pass rate.

So what does this all mean? Put very simply, the Giants built their offense around not putting the ball in Jones’ hands too much. They used spread out formations to create light boxes that gave them favorable matchups in the run game and balanced that with quick hitters in the passing game. On top of it, they seemingly tasked Jones with opting to scramble before taking a deep shot.

So now the franchise has committed to Jones long-term, and they’ve brought in receivers and tight ends - Parris Campbell, rookie Jalin Hyatt, and Darren Waller - who suggest they’re looking to stretch the field vertically more than they did a year ago. It would seem that the Giants brain-trust took 2022 as evidence that they could win with Jones (provided he plays within the rather tight confines of their carefully crafted scheme) but now want to figure out his limits and how high he can go.

Drawing the Dallas defense in Week 1 is less than ideal for such an experiment. Jones was sacked eight times and pressured on 52% of his dropbacks in two games against the Cowboys last year, completing just over half of his attempts in those matchups. Dallas has also been one of the best at taking away big plays since Quinn showed up, making them a tough first opponent for Jones and this offense.

Simply put, the Cowboys showed last year that they were equipped to stop the scheme that Daboll and Kafka devised for Jones and company. If the Giants really are trying to open up more of their playbook this year, Week 1 may not be the best time to try it. The Giants offense has some new weapons that they didn’t have last year, but this is still a tough matchup for them.

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