Spagnola: Good, Old-Fashioned NFC East Football


FRISCO, Texas – There is a ton of ancillary factors juicing up this game Monday night at MetLife Stadium with Troy and Joe doing their first Cowboys-Giants Monday Night Football game in their new gig.

Start with "Coop" starting just his third NFL game in place of the recovering Dak Prescott from hand surgery, saying his stitches are scheduled to be removed on Monday.

Then there is the Giants under new head coach Brian Daboll, getting off to a 2-0 start, a first for the Giants since starting 2-0 in 2016 by beating the Cowboys and Saints.

But get this, other than that season – so in eight of the previous nine years, going back all the way back to 2013 – the Giants have started off those seasons a combined unreal 0-27. Oh-and-twenty-seven on their way to eight losing seasons under five different head coaches.

Just for kicks, the Cowboys during that stretch beat the Giants 14 of 18 times, two of those four losses in 2016, Dak's rookie season when the Cowboys only lost one other game. In fact, the Giants haven't started off a season 3-0 since 2009 when they won their first five games, but then won only three more the rest of the year.

So, this is big doings for New York, the Giants aiming to whip up an expected overflow crowd nearing 74,000 with a seven-man Ring of Honor induction, harkening back to better days of old with Joe Morris, Ottis Anderson, Leonard Marshall and them in the house being honored.

Now, there are injuries other then Dak's hovering over these proceedings, the Cowboys still unsure of tight end Dalton Schultz's availability (knee) and the Giants worried about defensive tackle Leonard Williams (knee), neither having practiced yet this week. And although Cowboys "lionbacker" Micah Parsons has been dealing with a cold/allergies, come on, they would have to put him in a cage to prevent him from walking onto the field next door to the Big Apple where he is being compared to Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

In fact, "LT" made sure Parsons will play in this game by saying this week, "I'm quite sure I'm gonna see what he's got on Monday night 'cause I will be there. I haven't analyzed it. But I will be there on Monday."

Let's not forget the potential return of Cowboys veteran receiver Michael Gallup for the first time since tearing his ACL last year in Game 16, having spent the past seven and a half months rehabilitating while inching closer to returning during his first full week of practice, Sunday's workout being the final determining factor if he plays.

Oh, and then there is that little more spice Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sprinkled on this one when saying on Thursday while talking about Cooper Rush stepping in for Dak Prescott again before he returns, "OK, wouldn't it be something if you had a dilemma as to which way you go? You do that if (Rush) gets 10 wins. Same thing that happened with Prescott. I think like that."

So there, Jerry, you'd love a quarterback controversy, eh?

"Of course, I would," ol' Jer says without hesitation. "Of course, that means he won. If he comes in here and plays as well as Prescott played (in place of Tony Romo in 2016), Rush, played that well over these next games ahead, I'd walk to New York to get that."

Darn right, he would. Might be a caravan of Cowboys fans right by his side. That would have meant the Cowboys won multiple games in Dak's absence. Fun times.

And for a little more sauce on this one, it's an NFC East game, and we know all about the emotion in these division games, these two teams fixin' to play for the 120th time, and the last thing the 1-1 Cowboys want is to fall behind the Giants by two games in just the month of September, something the Giants would love nothing better.

Pretty delicious stuff.

But when it comes to actually playing this game, breaking down offenses and defenses, blitz schemes of the Giants, the young offensive line of the Cowboys, the Giants fifth in rushing offense but 31st in passing and the Cowboys the defending takeaway champs from 2021 and second in sacks per play but dead last in third-down conversions, this one is coming down to some good old-fashioned, head-knocking football, the kind played by Lee Roy Jordan and Andy Robustelli, Alex Webster and Don Perkins.

"It will start with us running and stopping the run," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said, breaking this game down to its simplest of terms.

No kidding. Five yards and a cloud of tire rubber bits. For both of them. Brace for it.

First of all, running the football. The Cowboys realize the easiest way to protect Rush, by the way starting back-to-back games for the first time since his college days at Central Michigan in 2016, is to make the Giants defense run conscious.

"We're better off when we're running the ball," said veteran Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin.

"I think we definitely took steps forward," said Ezekiel Elliott, knowing the Cowboys against Cincinnati ran for 107 yards, much better than just the 71 against Tampa Bay. "I think we established it."

That right there will slow down the Giants pass rush, and the Cowboys know from new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's days at Baltimore how much he likes to blitz, especially on third down.

"They do a lot of different things on third down," Martin says. "A lot of exotic stuff."

Plus, third down conversions have been the Cowboys' Achilles' heel on offense, converting just six of 25 opportunities, a meager 24 percent, and even worse, two of eight when it's third and at least six yards.

Conversely, it's no secret the Giants want to run the football. Running back Saquan Barkley after two games leads the league with 236 yards rushing, an impressive 6.1 yards a carry. Barkley, once again healthy, already has carried the ball 39 times, racking up 164 yards on just 18 carries in the opener against Tennessee.

"It's all about being patient and staying in our gaps," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said of the Cowboys run defense.

Plus, the Giants have struggled to throw the ball, ranking 31st in passing offense, quarterback Daniel Jones throwing for 188 yards and 176 in the first two games. So, if the Cowboys want to unleash their potent pass rush, their eight sacks in two game ranking second per pass attempt in the NFL, they must gang up on Barkley.

As for the defense's two-game track record stopping the run, not so good in the opener, Tampa Bay running for 152 yards, too many, and Cincinnati 89, much better and more like it.

"It really starts with Saquan," McCarthy says.

So there you have it, maybe the key to beating the Giants sounds quite football elementary, somewhat old-school, right? But not as easy to execute if the Cowboys want to win a third game with Rush starting in place of the injured Dak over the past 14 games, going back to Rush's win over Minnesota last year.

Yep, no matter all this other stuff – injuries, drama, records. Focus on the run Monday night, if the Cowboys can and the Giants can't.

Certainly, the Cowboys will be, if they know what's good for them.

Related Content