It was seven short weeks ago when the Cowboys took down the defending Super Bowl champs in their season opener, giving fans a sense that the ‘Boys were finally ready to turn the corner. Fast-forward to Week 8 and the only thing that’s certain in Dallas is that the Cowboys’ 2012 outlook is still uncertain. With back-to-back road matchups against Atlanta and Philadelphia on tap, this Sunday’s matchup with the Giants looks about as close to a Week 8 “must-win” as you can get.
Will Rob Ryan continue to play Cover 2 against the Giants?
Twice this week, I re-watched the season opener—a game in which the Cowboys allowed only 17 points to an offense now ranked as the second-most efficient in the NFL. The Giants have thrived on the back of their passing game, ranked first in the league with 7.6 net yards-per-attempt. In Week 1, though, Ryan’s defense was able to stifle Eli Manning and the Giants’ talented wide outs by playing Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man-Under—both coverages with two deep safeties that almost dare an offense to run the ball.
Actually, I counted the Cowboys as playing some form of Cover 2 on all but 12 of their 51 defensive snaps (76.5 percent). When the Cowboys played Cover 2, they allowed just 4.63 yards per play. When they blitzed or played Cover 3, they allowed 9.17 yards per play. It’s crucial for the Cowboys to keep two safeties deep on the majority of snaps so they don’t allow big plays, even if it means giving up some ground in the running game.
Will the Cowboys get pressure on Eli Manning?
Ryan was able to play a lot of safe defenses in Week 1 because the Cowboys were able to get solid pressure on Manning without blitzing often. Manning struggles when he’s pressured like every other quarterback, but he thrives against the blitz because he often releases the ball before the extra rushers reach him. Excessive blitzes won’t help Dallas, so look for stunts and twists from the linemen and outside linebackers in an effort to generate pressure without blitzing.
Will Jason Garrett try to establish the run?
There are games in which maintaining some form of offensive balance is beneficial. This isn’t one of them. The Cowboys need to attack the Giants’ 29th-ranked pass defense through the air early and often. There are mismatches across the board in the passing game; Dallas has to like Dez Bryant on either Corey Webster or Prince Amukamara.
Remember, the Cowboys have won 64 percent of their games since 2008 when they’ve passed the ball often—on at least 57 percent of snaps—through the first three quarters. When they’ve passed it less than that, they’ve won only 42 percent of their games. Rushing efficiency will help as always, but hopefully Jason Garrett knows this game is going to be won through the air.