Last week the Dallas Cowboys had their backs against the wall as they played host to their division rivals from the nation’s capital. Dallas played like a desperate, wounded animal. They put a whooping on Washington Thursday night and then watched as the rest of the NFC East lost. This week they travel to another division rival, and they must play with the same desperation if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Their opponent, the New York Giants, are nearing the end of a miserable season that has seen them lose several quality starters to injury. The highly publicized benching of Eli Manning pushed the normally conservative Giants ownership to dump both their head coach, Ben McAdoo and their general manager, Jerry Reese in the middle of the season. Dallas need look no further than when Jason Garrett took over as interim head coach in the 2010 season. Garrett took a floundering 1-7 team to play a 6-2 Giants team in a game where no one gave them a chance. The Cowboys played inspired football that game as the shakeup at the top re-energized the entire squad. Dallas stopped the bleeding for ten days but they have to understand that they can easily lose this game if they do not come off their mini-bye with focus and purpose in all three phases of the game.

With that in mind, let’s look at how these teams compare by position. Today we will check out the offensive units with a comparison of the defenses and special teams coming next.

Quarterback

Eli Manning has a well-known football lineage. The Manning family is NFL royalty and Eli has been successful as the Giants’ starter since taking over as a rookie during the 2004 season. He is as close to Giants royalty as any of the Giants greats from the 1980s. The debacle of his benching has been a rallying point for the New York locker room.  More importantly, Geno Smith and Davis Webb don’t have the experience or talent that Manning brings to the Giants backfield.  He is a two-time Super Bowl champion and is unflappable in the nation’s biggest media market. Opinions vary greatly on whether Eli is a great quarterback or a solid quarterback with a couple of great playoff runs. Wherever you fall in this discussion, there is no doubt that the Giants are better with Manning than either of his backups.

Dak Prescott has made it clear over the past three games that he still has a lot of growing to do to handle the increased responsibilities put on him by the team. Ezekiel Elliott’s absence has really added a ton of pressure on Prescott to carry the load on offense. Prescott has been challenged all season by defenses selling out to take away both his run game and his 2016 security blanket (Cole Beasley). He continuously found ways to be productive at a high level earlier in the season, but Elliott’s absence has drastically shrunk the field. His performance in the second half of the Washington game was encouraging. It is vital that Prescott picks up his game if Dallas is going to win with Zeke still suspended.

Prescott & Manning are at opposite ends of their career. Manning has the experience, while Prescott has movement ability that allows him to avoid pressure and even pick up big yards with his legs. With Eli coming off of a benching, this is a very slight…

Advantage: Cowboys

Running back

Ezekiel Elliott won’t be walking out of the tunnel when Dallas faces New York this weekend. As scary as that has been for the Cowboys, the running back cupboard is far from bare. Alfred Morris has been excellent, averaging five yards per carry and showing the NFL that he can still carry the load. His back up, Rod Smith, has also been a pleasant addition as he has followed up a strong preseason with hard running, good pass blocking and solid receiving.  Morris and Smith are not on the same level as Zeke. That is not up for debate. They are both solid to good NFL running backs. Morris is hitting his stride and getting into a rhythm with his regular workload. Rod Smith is showing he deserves a long look as the primary back up to Elliott in 2018.

The Giants backfield is a convoluted mess. The coaches have struggled to define roles for Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa. Paul Perkins has missed several games. Wayne Gallman has looked the best of this group but he is not getting many touches. All of this adds up to very little production and the 28th ranked offense by yards allowed and 31st by points scored. Some of this can be contributed to the struggles of the Giants offensive line in opening holes. The offensive line’s struggles in pass protection have also lessened the ability of the backs to get out in routes. Even without Elliott playing, this is a big…

Advantage: Cowboys

Wide Receiver

Sterling Shepherd is basically the ‘last man standing” from a receiving corps thought to be the best in the NFL preseason. You know by now that the Giants lost Odell Beckham, Jr and Brandon Marshall for the season early, and have been scrambling to replace their projected production. They have struggled to find adequate receivers, but Roger Lewis has begun to show some signs of productivity over the past few weeks.

Dez Bryant hasn’t had the numbers everyone expected for him. He and Prescott have been struggling to get on the same page. Terrance Williams is a solid player and can make a spectacular play for the team every now and then. Cole Beasley has been hot and cold (mostly cold) this season. Some of the struggles of these Cowboys’ receivers can be attributed to the accuracy issues of their quarterback. Even with all of the issues in Dallas, this a massive…

Advantage: Cowboys

Tight End

Jason Witten is no longer threatening defenses down the middle of the field, nor is he a dominate point-of-attack run blocker. He will probably be an effective outlet receiver at age 45, but he can no longer get down the seam. Dallas has resorted to trying multiple tight end sets to make holes for the running game and to assist the offensive line when it struggles. This group has been struggling to secure its assignments in the running game and they also don’t provide much in the way of downfield threats in the passing game.

The Giants tight end group got a high-octane boost in the 2017 draft. Rookie Evan Engram has been very good as a receiver, and his production has helped to compensate for the injuries in the wide receiver group. Engram has six touchdowns and is a true threat in the passing game whether he is in-line, split out wide or in the slot. Rhett Ellison is primarily a blocking backup and he has spent most of the season stuck on the line of scrimmage trying to help the offensive line in pass protection. The Cowboys have a future Hall of Famer at tight end but this is not a career comparison. In 2017 the Giants have a gamechanger at this position which makes this…

Advantage: Giants 

Offensive Line

The Giants offensive line has been a dumpster fire for the past two-plus seasons. That is despite having talented players Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh up front. This is the greatest failure of the recently fired general manager, Jerry Reese. He was never able to find quality offensive linemen and that undermined the Giants’ ability to have offensive consistency. Worse than having very little talent, there is not much on the team in the way of quality developmental depth

The Cowboys early season line struggles seemed to settle down, only to have injuries to various starters crop up. The run blocking has remained consistent, but the pass blocking has suffered greatly. Prescott has been antsy and erratic with the number of hits he’s taken through four games of Elliott’s suspension. This no longer looks like the best offensive line in the league. It is, however, still a good group that can be a difference maker for the Dallas offense. The story of the Cowboys’ 2017 offensive line will be defined by back injuries at tackle and indecision at left guard. Even with all the uncertainty around health, this is still an…

Advantage: Cowboys

Be on the lookout for the defense and special teams preview coming soon.

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