There is growing excitement over the Dallas Cowboys defense after helping the team blast off to an impressive 3-1 start. Despite the quick turnaround only a season removed from disaster, Sunday’s outcome could validate or stunt the progress.
With only two battles left until the bye week, a home letdown to a mediocre New York Giants squad would take ample wind out of the Cowboys sails. Lowering the NFC East record to 1-1 would remove Dallas’ lead among division records. And losing two of the first four conference games in a stout NFC would also be costly.
The explosive Cowboys offense should put up significant points on almost any foe. As usual, a big part of winning this contest will fall on the shoulders of the upstart defense. There are a few key areas Dallas must focus on to disarm the Giants’ offense.
Dallas Cowboys: Keeping Saquon Barkley under wraps
Saquon Barkley is a special back, though he has yet to take off this season. His paltry 3.6 yards per rush average has produced rushing totals of 26, 57, 51, and 52 yards. Defenses have clearly kept his running in check. However, the last two weeks he also caught 43 and 74 yards receiving.
The Giants have come to the realization that if his ground game isn’t making a big dent, they will incorporate more passing into his mix. This would be an ideal game to have rookie Micah Parsons key on Barkley from his linebacker spot. Play the run and if he releases, match elite speed for speed defending his routes.
If Barkley pairs a solid rushing performance (75+ yards) with receiving success, the Cowboys’ defense will be in for a long day. The result would add teeth to play-action fakes and embolden an athletic quarterback to scramble when he sees daylight.
Dallas Cowboys: Gap integrity to contain Daniel Jones
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has two more total yards rushing than Barkley, with 25 fewer attempts. His 7.0 yards per rush average on 27 attempts is a significant threat. Playing sound defense only to see the passer scramble for six yards on third down and five is deflating.
Jones runs a passing offense that struggles to consistently create early separation. He’s well-schooled to be on the lookout for a crease to scamper through. This is where gap integrity while rushing the passer becomes critical. Rushers in the middle especially need to be aware that deviating too far out of their lane to win a pass rush can also open up an easy scramble window.
Dallas Cowboys: Pressure often and unconventionally
Jones has a history of being careless with the football when under duress. Over his career, he has 32 fumbles and 23 interceptions. Compared to a career 39 touchdown passes, his upside-down ball security ratio (0.7 TD : 1 INT/FBL) is awful.
While gap rush integrity and keying on Barkley were highlighted above, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn should also dial-up unconventional ways to pressure Jones. Bring the secondary into the mix with safety or timely corner blitzes. Switch the Barkley key off to another defender like Keanu Neal and have Parsons crash inside.
The main ingredient in all three of these keys is controlled aggression. Play highly aggressive in the scheme and press the issue, yet also remain strong in assignment integrity. New York has a few capable receivers, but if Trevon Diggs travels with and limits Kenny Golladay (6’4, 213), the rest are manageable with Jones under fire.