Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13488843sg) Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries the ball against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas Lions Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Dallas Cowboys (7-3) vs. New York Giants (7-3)
Game time: Thursday, 3:30 p.m. CST
TV/radio: FOX / SiriusXM, 105.3 The Fan, KVMK 107.5 La Grande
What’s at stake: A win over the Giants and the Cowboys take a stranglehold of second place in the NFC East, with games against Philadelphia and Washington still on the schedule. It would also keep the Cowboys within striking distance of the Eagles and the division crown. A loss, and the Cowboys are once again facing an uphill battle in the race for a playoff berth. It certainly will not eliminate them from playoff contention, but it lessens the margin for error with six games left in the regular season.
When the Cowboys have the ball: The Cowboys have clearly established their identity on offense – pound the football with the running game and then make big plays in the passing game. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So, expect them to again use the one-two punch of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to attack New York’s 25th-ranked run defense, which is giving up 135.9 yards per game. Without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, Dallas leaned on Pollard and Elliott in the Week 3 meeting. The duo responded with 178 yards rushing on 28 carries. This time around, Prescott’s back and coming off a career performance against the Vikings. He will get his crack at New York’s middle-of-the-pack pass defense, which has just two interceptions and is giving up just over 211 yards per game.
When the Giants have the ball: The Cowboys will once again see a heavy dose of the run game from their opponent. After giving up back-to-back 200-plus yard games to Chicago and Green Bay, the Cowboys halted Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota running game in their tracks. But the Cowboys have the 26th-ranked run defense and will see an abundance of quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley Thursday afternoon. Barkley, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, had 81 yards in the first meeting with Dallas, while Jones added another 79 yards on nine carries. If the Cowboys can shut down both, then they will have an advantage against the 28th-ranked passing offense in the NFL. Darius Slayton leads the receiving corps with 413 yards on 24 catches, but he has just two touchdowns, which is tied for the team lead with injured tight end Daniel Bellinger.
Key Cowboys to watch:
OG Connor McGovern – Despite being in his fourth season on the roster, it was hard to know what McGovern would give the Cowboys once elevated to the starting lineup. Since that moment in Week 4, he has played 88% of the snaps. In those 406 plays, McGovern has been called for just one penalty, a holding on second-and-10 in overtime against Green Bay, and one sack. He has been consistent in pass-blocking situations while leading the way for a running game that has become the identity of the Cowboys’ offense.
DE Dorance Armstrong – With seven sacks 10 games into the season, Armstrong has made coaches and fans all but forget Randy Gregory, who signed with Denver in the offseason after agreeing to return to the Cowboys. Dallas definitely got the good end of that situation. Armstrong has 21 tackles, 13 of which are unassisted, and is tied for the league lead with two fumble recoveries, while Gregory has nine tackles and two sacks in just four games of action this season because of injury. Armstrong has been on the field for 338 plays, or 50.4% of the defensive snaps this season.
CB Trevon Diggs – It is hard to put up back-to-back seasons of double-digit interceptions when teams try to stay away from you when it is time to put the ball in the air. Diggs knows about that all too well after coming down with 11 picks last season. Through 10 games this season, he has just three interceptions. But the 2019 second-round pick is second in the NFL in passes defended with 13, just one back of the league lead. Diggs, who usually plays one area during a game, chose to blanket Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson wherever the star wideout lined up. He held Jefferson to just three catches for 33 yards.
WR Noah Brown – With Michael Gallup on the shelf to start 2022, Brown was able to shine. He caught five passes in each of the first three games of the season, even becoming a go-to guy for backup quarterback Cooper Rush. Since then, Brown has only averaged two catches a game for a minimal yard average. But last week, the playmaker in Brown returned, making a spectacular 35-yard catch on third and five to set the Cowboys up at the Minnesota one-yard line in the third quarter. It is Brown’s second longest grab of the season, behind a 45-yard snag he made in Week 4’s win over Washington. Expect more from Brown against a Giants pass defense that ranks 14th in the league as the Cowboys’ offense continues to lock in on their identity.
The bottom line: A win over the Giants puts the Cowboys two games clear of third place in the NFC East and one step closer to a second-straight playoff berth. With games still to play against Philadelphia and Washington, a win over the Giants could set Dallas up for a chance at a division title, as well as still being in the running for the top seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.