Cowboys must win in trenches against Giants

Ben Stockwell explains what Dallas must do to win Sunday's critical NFC East matchup.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/John Cordes)

(AP Photo/John Cordes)

Cowboys must win in trenches against Giants

The Cowboys entered this season boosted by their 2014 performance, adding some impact signings with hopes of going deeper in the playoffs in 2015. Injuries to key offensive personnel, however, have derailed a 2-0 start, and with Tony Romo still not ready to return, the Cowboys are trying to stay in the hunt for the NFC division.

If the Cowboys can stay within reaching distance of the Eagles and Giants before Romo’s return, they could be a team to build momentum late in the season; however, games like this Sunday’s in New York are crucial if they are to be in contention when their quarterback returns.

The loss of Dez Bryant and their inability to adequately replace DeMarco Murray piles the pressure on their offensive line and defense to do the heavy lifting. On offense, the less new starter Matt Cassel has to do to engineer a victory, the better. The Cowboys will look to their fearsome offensive line, led by Tyron Smith (92.5) and Zack Martin (91.4) to clear a path for Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden in order to shorten the game and keep the Giants’ offense on the sideline. Back in Week 1, the offensive line was solid in the ground, game but nothing more than that, and will look to repeat their effort from a year ago in New York when they paved the way for DeMarco Murray to gain 71 of his 121 rushing yards before contact in 31-28 victory.

Regardless of the success of their running game, the threat to the Cowboys is the connection between Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.—the Giants’ offensive duo has the ability to undo all of Dallas’ good work in the blink of an eye. If the Cowboys are to ride their ground game to victory, they need to put the Giants into obvious passing situations and exploit the clear advantage that their defensive ends boast over the Giants’ offensive tackles. Back in Week 1, the Cowboys found a path through rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers to Manning; with Greg Hardy finding form very quickly after his return from suspension in Week 5 (two sacks, three hits), they will look to go above and beyond that again this Sunday.

The Cowboys’ pass rush isn’t a one-man show, however, and the Giants will be tested all across their front, particularly in sub packages when Dallas can let loose DeMarcus Lawrence (12 pressures) and Tyrone Crawford (16 pressures), as well as the returning Randy Gregory (one hit, three hurries) who impressed in Week 1 before succumbing to injury. The Cowboys’ pass rush will be attempting to force Eli Manning to throw an interception under pressure for the first time this season, with all of Manning’s interceptions so far in 2015 coming with no pressure.

After this crunch game, the Cowboys face off with the Seahawks and Eagles, so this is the start of a crucial stretch for Dallas if they are to contend for the division when Romo returns. The formula is there for them to win if key players can produce their best, but the margin for error—with the losses at their offensive skill positions—is extremely narrow. If they can’t find a way to win this weekend, they will need help from the Giants and Eagles in the coming weeks to stay in contention for Romo’s return.

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

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