Giants-Cowboys: Is there a path to victory for the Giants?

Very few people believe that the New York Giants will defeat the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

The Giants are 10-point underdogs, per DraftKings Sportsbook. None of the Big Blue View staffers who picked the game, including me, are picking the Giants to win. Ninety-five percent of those who have posted picks at Tallysight believe the Cowboys will win the game. FiveThirtyEight gives the Giants only a 17 percent chance of victory. ESPN gives the Giants just a 12.2 percent chance.

So … there is a chance the Giants can make it an unhappy Thanksgiving for Jerry Jones, the Cowboys and their fans. It just isn’t a very good chance.

Then again, the Giants have already done far more than anyone expected over the season’s first 10 games. They are 7-3 and in the middle of the playoff race in the NFC, and would be in the playoffs if they began today. They boast victories over the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravensboth with records identical to the 7-3 one sported by the Cowboys.

Even as the Giants continued to pile up victories over the first eight games, no one believed they were “really” all that. Even I am admittedly not a full believer in the 2022 Giants, at least not when it comes to them being a true championship contender. Here is part of my ‘5 questions’ with Dave Halprin over at Blogging The Boys this week:

BTB: The general narrative is the Giants’ record is not really indicative of the team, that some of their stats suggest they should be more of a middle of the pack team. Do you believe that? And if not, what is the counter-argument?

BBV: Well, let me start with the counter-argument. That is the Bill Parcells “you are what your record says you are” argument. It’s not a fluke that the Giants have won seven games. They earned those victories — and they do have wins over the Tennessee Titans (+2).

So, they have beaten some good teams. I get the “are they really that good” argument. They are only +1 in point differential, and it would seem impossible to be 7-3 with that being the case. Thing is, the Giants are very good when they can play a certain style of game. They have a very narrow path to winning, and they have largely been able to stick to the script. That includes running the ball well with Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones. Being efficient offensively and defensively on third down and in the red zone, and they have mostly done those things well all year. Controlling the pace of games, and keeping the score down … Playing mistake free, and capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes late in games.

How can the Giants pull an upset of the Cowboys on Thursday?

They have to play the game on their terms. They have to be able to follow the formula that has allowed them to win seven of the 10 times they have gone to the post this season.

Can they do that? Considering the way they played Sunday against the Detroit Lionstheir worst performance of the season, and the under-manned nature of an injury-ravaged roster, the odds are quite obviously not in their favour.

Let’s look at some of the keys to victory.

Turnovers

The Giants did not really give themselves a chance on Sunday against Detroit, losing the turnover battle, 3-0. Head coach Brian Daboll dropped a pair of telling stats this week in the wake of that first.

First, Daboll said that teams committing three more turnovers in games than their opponents are 1-18 this season.

Daboll also dropped this:

“Those turnovers (are detrimental). We’ve had – in our three losses – six turnovers, and (they’re) directly related to 24 points. Conversely, in the seven wins, we’ve had five turnovers, and those led to six points. So, turnovers are huge; they always are.”

Even fully healthy, the Giants are neither as explosive offensive nor as dominant defensively as the Cowboys are capable of being. They simply have to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes — turnovers, penalties, assignment errors, etc. They don’t have the talent to play through those things. Especially now.

Makeshift offensive line’s performance

The Giants will have yet another iteration on Thursday of what has become a revolving-door offensive line.

Evan Neal (knee), Joshua Ezeudu (neck), Jon Feliciano (neck) and Shane Lemieux (toe) did not make the trip to Arlington, Tx. Ben Bredeson remains on injured reserve. Tire Phillips, who has been filling in for Neal at right tackle, is questionable with a neck injury.

The Giants could be starting their fourth left guard, third right tackle and second center of the season on Thursday. The offensive line could be:

LT — Andrew Thomas
LG — Jack Anderson (first start of 2022)
C — Nick Gates (first start of 2022)
RG — Mark Glowinski
RT — Matt Peart (first start of 2022)

In this configuration, the backups would be:

Phillips, Devery Hamilton (just added to the 53-man roster), Korey Cunningham (practice squad elevation.

Can that group hold up against a Dallas defense that allows the fewest points in the league (16.7), has the most sacks (42), the most quarterback pressures (112) and the highest pressure percentage (30.2)?

“They’re very athletic, they’ve created a bunch of them [negative plays], they get after the quarterback. Again, I think it’s more about the situation and they force them. They’re really good in those situations and, unfortunately, they’re really good on early downs, too,” Daboll said. “Being able to produce positive plays is going to be a key thing for us. We get into those situations, they’ve done it to everybody – they did it to us the first game, they did it last week. Theyve done it to everybody. They have dynamic players, and they get after the passer.”

Running the football

The Giants absolutely cannot have a repeat of the season-worst 15-carry, 22-yard performance Saquon Barkley had against the Lions. They have no chance if they can’t find a way to create some running lanes for Barkley, which would allow them to control the pace of the game and limit the Cowboys’ opportunities to turn their fearsome pass rush loose.

Daniel Jones has thrown the ball 30 or more times in four games this season. The Giants have lost three of those games. The way the Giants are built, relying on a heavy dose of the passing attack has not been a winning formula.

The Giants have been using jumbo tight end packages in recent weeks featuring as many as eight offensive linemen. They were handicapped vs. Detroit when injuries pushed those extra offensive linemen being used as tight ends into every-down duty.

One thing that might work in the Giants’ favor is that the Dallas defense is not nearly as staunch against the run as the pass. The Cowboys are 27th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.7) and 26th in rushing yards allowed per game (135.9).

Can this makeshift configuration on the Giants’ offensive line work together well enough to allow Barkley, Daniel Jones and anyone else the Giants use in the run game to have success?

Can the secondary hold up?

No offense to these players, but the Giants are down to the backups for the backups in the secondary.

No. 1 cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is out this week and probably longer with a sprained MCL. Starting cornerback Aaron Robinson is on IR. Robinson’s replacement, Fabian Moreau, has done an excellent job. Unfortunately, he is out Thursday with an oblique injury.

The Giants are down to Nick McCloud, Cor’Dale Flott and Rodarius Williams at outside cornerback, with Darnay Holmes in the slot.

McCloud (124 defensive snaps) has done well in limited defensive duty, but can he hold up playing every down? Flott, a third-round pick, has played 82 snaps over four games while missing time with a calf injury. Williams, on IR the first half of the season while recovering from a 2021 torn ACL, played 27 snaps vs. Detroit in its first action in more than a year.

At safety, the Giants are of course missing Xavier McKinney, out with a hand injury suffered in Cabo during the bye week. Jason Pinnock, who played 60 snaps over the past two games in place of McKinney, suffered a jaw injury on Thursday and it is questionable.

Can they hold up against a Dallas passing attack that has quarterback Dak Prescott behind center, and players like CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown and tight end Dalton Schultz to throw to?

Dallas put 40 points on the 8-2 Minnesota Vikings in a beatdown on Sunday. If the Giants’ secondary isn’t competitive against the Cowboys, the game won’t be, either.

A little help from the pass rush, please

Wink Martindale loves the blitz, and his “pressure breaks pipes” philosophy has led him to be perhaps the most aggressive, creative defensive coordinator in the league when it comes to designing pressure packages.

The Giants have blitzed 41.0 percent of the time so far this season, more than any other team in the league. That likely doesn’t even count the four-man zone blitzes the Giants have used in an effort to confusing opposing offensive lines.

Problem is, with backups to the backups playing cornerback and the team’s best safety not available Martindale might have to dial back those secondary-stressing pressure packages.

Even with all of Martindale’s creativity, the Giants are just 23rd in the league with 20 sacks and 12th in the league with a pressure rate of 23.0 percent.

The Giants are likely going to have to lean on their down linemen and edge defenders to win more on their own.

Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is playing at an All-Pro level with 5.0 sacks and 17 quarterback hits. No other Giant, though, has more than 2.0 sacks or seven quarterback hits. This would be a great time for rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux (1.0 sacks, just three quarterback hits) to have a breakout game, or for someone from the group of Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines and Tomon Fox to have a big game.

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