Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Dec 2016

Any Given Sunday: Giants Over Cowboys

by Rivers McCown

In a lot of ways, New York's win over Dallas can be regarded as more of a statistical dead heat. The teams were even on total yardage, even on turnovers, and even in time of possession. The only difference was the part where the Cowboys let Odell Beckham take a slant pass to the house for 61 yards. Otherwise, both offenses played pretty poorly. For the 19th-ranked DVOA offense of the Giants, that makes sense. For the No. 2 offense, on the other hand, that's pretty disappointing.

How have the Giants figured Dallas out? Let's start with the obvious, glaring weakness that Dallas has on offense: they have only one receiver who can get open all the time, and that receiver met up with Janoris Jenkins and got stonewalled on Sunday.

Through Jenkins' first season with the Giants, he has been a revelation. He's been better against deeper passes that are harder to defend. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder why he was so bad with the Rams for so many years. If only there was some way we could be sure that St. Louis/Los Angeles was poorly coached over that span...


Janoris Jenkins, 2015 versus 2016

Success Rate Rk YAC Rk PYD Rk
2015 47% 61 3.6 46 12.7 51
2016 67% 2 1.4 19 14.8 6

Jenkins has especially been impressive against Dez Bryant this year. In two games this year against the Cowboys, Bryant has caught 2-of-14 passes for 14 yards, with a key fumble that helped seal this game.

The problem for the Cowboys if an opponent can seal up Bryant is that, while they have decent receivers, they don't have anyone else who can win one-on-one at ease. They can manufacture passing offense with Cole Beasley and Jason Witten underneath, but if you're looking for someone on this team to decisively win their route in the first two seconds, it's Bryant or nothing.

Many people will want to make this game into a referendum on Tony Romo versus Dak Prescott. Prescott, to be sure, did not have his best game. He stepped into pressure at times, and made some pretty poor throws. We will get further into those in a bit. But the takeaway for me was not that Prescott is a run-focused quarterback who needs to be managed like Colin Kaepernick -- it was that Dallas' receivers weren't getting open.

And in a league where everyone has a weakness this year, where we thought the Dallas offense might be the one matchup-proof unit, it turns out that might not entirely be the case.

By the DVOA


DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
DAL -25.8% -45.2% -3.7% 15.6%
NYG -53.0% -72.7% 11.3% 30.9%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
DAL -43.1% -55.9% -3.7% 9.0%
NYG -56.3% -46.7% 11.3% 1.6%

Dallas had a higher game rating before opponent adjustments. Such is life at the DVOA farm. As I said, on paper, this game was pretty much a stalemate.

And after those same adjustments, Dallas will actually go up in DVOA this week. (So will New England, so Dallas remains No. 2 overall.)

Dallas Tries To Convert A Third Down

The Cowboys came into this game with the 11th-best DVOA on third down, 5.7%. The splits showed a marked difference on third-and-long, though, where they slipped to -11.9%. So it might not be a total surprise that the Cowboys went 1-for-15 on third down when you consider the splits. Nine of the Dallas third-down failures came on third-and-7 or longer. None of those long-yardage plays succeeded.

But how about the other six third downs? What happened there?

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Third-and-3 on the opening drive. Prescott resets his feet when Bryant is coming open on his post. By the time he throws the ball, it's a poor quality throw.

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Third-and-2 in the first quarter, on the touchdown drive. Pretty basic plunge up the middle.

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Third-and-3 early in the second quarter. The throw is a slant to Bryant. Bryant falls down on the route, and Jenkins is able to pick it off. Ezekiel Elliott was not on the field.

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Third-and-6, two-minute drill. Lance Dunbar is on the field for Elliott again. Zone blitz comes, the throw goes right to Dunbar, who is instantly drilled.

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Third-and-5, start of the fourth quarter. This time the Cowboys move Bryant into the slot, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is up for the task, and the ball actually winds up behind Bryant.

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Finally, third-and-6, the slant is the right call, but Bryant fumbles on the hit.

What can we learn from these plays? The Giants clearly believe that pressure up the middle is the way you fight Dak Prescott. The Cowboys clearly believe that when it's third down, you don't necessarily need Elliott on the field. And, finally, the Cowboys are going to Bryant when the chips are down.

In this scenario, against a good defense with rushers going in on Prescott, it didn't work.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 13 Dec 2016

3 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2016, 5:47pm by PeterJMoss

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/13/2016 - 5:24pm

Would Romo be better able to throw guys open? Unless he has lost velocity, I'd guess yes. It is certain that Romo is better able to read pre-snap, and get the offense into a better play. It is also certain that Romo is better able to read coverages after the snap. It's no knock on Prescott to say that after 13 starts he can't match Romo in the mental part of the game, and that unless Romo has experienced significant physical throwing ability or mobility decline, that Romo is the better option at this point.

2
by PeterJMoss :: Tue, 12/13/2016 - 5:44pm

I think this was a rookie game for Dak. He was hesitating making his throws - I attribute that to either the interceptions or the pressure spooking him. The Giants have a good pass defense but they aren't an impenetrable force that just blankets receivers all over the field. They had given up over 250 passing yards in the past three games to Big Ben, McCown and Cutler - two of which are bad this year. And have really only shut-down one guy (Dalton) in the last 8 or so games.

3
by PeterJMoss :: Tue, 12/13/2016 - 5:47pm

Not sure what the stats say - but has Prescott been better without Dez and than with him?