FRISCO, Texas – It's Friday, so it's time to get down to brass tacks.
My two Friday pieces typically breakdown exactly what I'm looking for in this matchup, so we're starting that up again today. This is a famously even matchup, with Cowboys-Giants almost always coming down to the wire.
In such a hard-fought matchup, these are the two aspects of the game I think will say the most about the outcome. These are the two keys that I think will help each side secure a victory.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
The strength of the New York Giants' squad is their defense. If you figure out how to successfully move the ball on them and finish drives, you have a chance to win. They make it difficult to run the ball on and the secondary does a nice job of choking off your options in the passing game.
Where the Giants are especially dangerous defensively is their ability to play in the red zone. As they line up today, this is basically the same group that lined up in 2016. During that season, they ranked first in the league in preventing successful red zone plays of four or more yards. Opponents were only successful 33 percent of the time in executing those plays. Just to give you an idea, the league average was right at 45 percent -- so the Giants were well ahead of the curve. To make matters worse for opposing offenses, the Giants only allowed a touchdown 39 percent of the time.
The previous two times these clubs met, the Giants held the Cowboys to 1-of-3 in the red zone on Opening Day and followed that up with a shutout later in the year at MetLife Stadium. For the Cowboys to win this game, they're going to need to crack this mastery of the Giants' red zone defense.
This will be on Scott Linehan for the play selection and the unit to execute the call. The Cowboys do not lack the weapons to be successful. Running the ball with Ezekiel Elliott or Dak Prescott has proven to be a successful combination. Throwing the ball to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten or Cole Beasley is never a bad option either. However the Cowboys choose to proceed, the red zone will be the key.
New York Giants Win If:
In 2016, the Cowboys were the best in the league playing run defense. This year will be a different look with new starters at defensive tackle, middle linebacker and safety. It would be hard to improve on that ranking but at first glance, it appears that those additions have a shot to make the unit even better in that area.
Stephen Paea, Jaylon Smith and Jeff Heath are all physical players that are not afraid to stick their nose in the action. The Giants were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to rushing the ball last year. Only 39 percent of the time did they rush the ball for four or more yards a carry, and they only had 30 rushes of 10-plus yards for the season.
The Giants return with their offensive line intact with new attentions at running back and tight end. But they still have their issues running the ball, no matter if Paul Perkins or Shane Vereen is in the game. Rookie draft pick Wayne Gallman has yet to make that jump to where the coaches want to play him consistently, so it has been a struggle.
When the Giants struggle to run the ball well on first down, it hurts them on other downs, as well. They were near the bottom of the league in second-down conversions and even worse on third down attempts. For the Giants to win this game, they're going to need to gain some traction in their running game. They can't expect to be one dimensional and believe they're going to have any success.
As an organization, they even went as far as to add a fullback to the roster and showed a willingness to play in "21" or "22" personnel. It appears that they realize their short comings running the ball and are taking steps to be better at it.