Cowboys host the Giants for a pivotal NFC East matchup on Sunday
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will meet inside AT&T Stadium on Sunday evening for a Week 5 NFL matchup between a pair of struggling division rivals. Dallas leads the all-time series 68-46-2. The Cowboys also have won each of the last six games against the Giants dating back to 2016.
One of the more intriguing storylines heading into Sunday's game focuses on Giants' offensive coordinator Jason Garrett returning to Dallas to face his former team. But for Garrett and first-year head coach Joe Judge, the focus is squarely on getting their first victory of the season. The Giants dropped to 0-4 with last week's 17-9 loss to the Rams and now sit alone at the bottom of the NFC East. While a promising defensive effort and kicker Graham Gano were enough to keep the Giants competitive against the Rams last Sunday, Garrett's offense continued to struggle mightily, failing to find the end zone for the second game in a row.
Through four games, the Giants are ranked dead last in the NFL in scoring offense (11.8 ppg) and tied for last in total offense (278.0 ypg). They have faced four of the stingiest defenses in the league in matchups against the Steelers, Bears, 49ers, and Rams. Will a trip to Dallas to face arguably the most generous defense in the NFL help cure what ails them?
The Cowboys find themselves 1-3 on the young season following last Sunday's 49-38 loss to the Browns. The good news is that they are still well within striking distance of the division-leading Eagles, who currently sit atop the woeful NFC East with a record of just 1-2-1. Slow starts and turnovers have been an issue for Dallas. However, a Cowboys' offense that is averaging 31.5 points per game and an NFL-best 509.5 yards per game is the least of their concerns. The real problem for America's Team lies on the other side of the football, where Dallas ranks last in the NFL in scoring defense (36.5 ppg) and 30th in total defense (430.5 ypg).
Head coach Mike McCarthy and DC Mike Nolan are now charged with finding answers for the historically bad Dallas defense, whose effort was called into question after surrendering 508 yards to the Browns. They could find a temporary solution on Sunday against a Giants' offense that hasn't scored a touchdown in 21 consecutive offensive possessions.
New York at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Cowboys -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dak Prescott and Dallas' high-powered passing attack
Despite the Cowboys' shortcomings overall, Prescott has put up insane numbers to lead the NFL's top-ranked passing offense. Through four games, he has thrown for a ridiculous 1,690 yards — 133 more than Kurt Warner's previous record through Week 4 — and is currently on pace to smash the NFL's single-season record for passing yards, currently held by Peyton Manning (5,477 yards in 2013).
Prescott has benefited from the Cowboys turning extremely pass-happy in a bid to overcome double-digit deficits over the last three weeks. Nevertheless, it doesn't diminish his efforts in becoming the first player in NFL history to pass for 450 yards or more in three consecutive games, especially when you take into consideration that he has been playing behind a beat-up offensive line that seems to reshuffle weekly due to injuries (this week will be no different). A top-flight Dallas receiving corps deserves credit as well. Amari Cooper headlines that group and ranks third in the NFL with 401 receiving yards.
Prescott's track record against the Giants has been stellar as well. Over his last three games against them, Prescott has thrown 11 touchdown passes with just one interception, while averaging 349 passing yards per game. The Giants have been solid against the pass so far this season. They currently rank sixth in the league in passing yards allowed, surrendering 221.5 yards per game. But they have yet to face a passing attack of this caliber, and the Giants will most definitely have their work cut out for them against Dak and Co. on Sunday.
2. Can the Giants establish the run game?
It will be paramount for the Giants to get something going on the ground to keep the clock rolling and the Cowboys offense off the field. The problem is — running the football has been a real challenge for this offense. That was the case even prior to losing elite running back Saquon Barkley to a season-ending knee injury. The Giants are averaging just 73.5 rushing yards per game (31st in the NFL) with just one rushing touchdown in four games. The struggle is further magnified by the fact that quarterback Daniel Jones is currently the team's leading rusher with 137 yards.
Fortunately, hope is not completely lost for the New York rushing attack on Sunday. The Giants will be matched up against a Dallas defense that ranks 31st in the league against the run, allowing 172.5 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys are also coming off a game against the Browns in which they got absolutely torched on the ground to the tune of 307 rushing yards and three scores. A combination of Wayne Gallman, Devonta Freeman, and Jones isn't quite as potent as what the Browns' backfield brought to the table. But the Giants' collective efforts did garner a season-high 136 rushing yards against a stout Rams' defensive front last week. And that should give them a little momentum heading into Sunday's favorable matchup against a struggling Dallas run defense.
3. Ezekiel Elliott
If someone told you before the start of the season that the Cowboys would have the top-ranked offense in the NFL after four games, you would have assumed that Elliott would have been a big factor. But that hasn't been the case, as the Cowboys' star running back has yet to top 100 rushing yards in a game while averaging a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. He's also been plagued by costly fumbles. To be fair, Elliott's opportunities have been somewhat limited as the Cowboys have been forced to abandon the run game over the last three weeks. An injury-depleted offensive line hasn't helped his cause either, one that will be without seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for the rest of this season. Smith will soon undergo surgery on his neck, the latest blow to an offensive line that was already down two starters — right tackle La'el Collins (out for the year because of hip surgery) and center Joe Looney (knee injury).
Elliott should be more of a factor on Sunday, so long as the Cowboys don't fall behind on the scoreboard early again, which isn't likely. That being said, the G-Men are going to make him earn every yard. The Giants rank 10th in the NFL against the run at 106.8 rushing yards allowed per game and are giving up just 3.6 yards per carry, which ranks fourth-best in the league. They also haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 1.
The Giants might have a shot at the upset if they can win the turnover battle. The Cowboys are tied for the league in turnovers with nine and rank last in the NFL in turnover margin at -7. However, that will be a tall order for a New York offense that has committed eight turnovers of its own. There's also the matter of the Giants' offense being terrible in general. Jones has struggled to find his way behind an offensive line that has already given up 14 sacks (third-most in the NFL) and 28 quarterback hits. And up until last week, the run game has been almost non-existent. All of which factors into the Giants failing to score a single touchdown in their last two games.
The touchdown drought should come to an end on Sunday against a Dallas defense that has been plenty terrible in its own right. Regardless, this might be the first game all season in which the Cowboys don't have to worry about staging a comeback. The Giants are solid defensively, but not solid enough to keep Dallas out of the end zone. Meanwhile, the Giants anemic offense is simply not equipped to keep up on the scoreboard, even against a bad Dallas defense.
Prediction: Cowboys 31, Giants 20
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.