Monday Night Football Week 9 Preview: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

Fresh off a 31–26 defeat in Detroit last week, the New York Giants (2–6) come back home for a Monday night showdown with the Dallas Cowboys (4–3). Sure, anything can happen in a divisional game, but the Giants have dropped five straight versus the Cowboys and 11 of the last 15. And don’t let that 4–3 record fool you, Dallas is the best team in the NFC East and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up making the NFC Championship game. For the Giants, this season is about trying to improve each week and just staying as competitive as possible. So instead of five keys to winning the like most of these previews go (that’ll come into play next week when the Giants take on the Jets), here are five players I’m going to keep my eye on Monday night and what I hope to see from each of them:

1. Daniel Jones — Will he be able to protect the ball?

Let’s start with the obvious one. This season is all about Danny Dimes growing, learning, and improving, and while the rookie has had occasional “wow” moments, the areas of needed development are readily apparent. The most apparent flaw is haphazard ball security — Jones’ 15 combined interceptions and fumbles this season are tied for the second most in the league coming into Week 9 and only behind noted turnover artist Jameis Winston.

I have no doubt that head coach Pat Shurmur is preaching ball discipline with Jones this week after the QB’s poor decision to throw the ball backward resulted in a scoop and score in the five-point loss against the Lions last week. Will the young signal caller make a priority of hanging onto the ball? If he does, will that require him to reign in his big-play ability? With Michael Bennett now in Dallas and partnered up with all-pro pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence, Jones is going to have all he can handle if he wants to cut down on the turnovers.

2. Saquon Barkley — Can he continue to torch the Cowboys?

In three games against Dallas for his career, running back Saquon Barkley has 257 yards on 39 rushing attempts to go along with 132 receiving yards on 22 catches. In other words, Barkley puts numbers on the board when facing off against Dallas. Can he keep that trend up this week? Despite Dallas’ reputed linebacker core, “America’s Team” hasn’t exactly been beating up running backs this season — opposing rush attempts are going for 4.2 yards per attempt, 15th in the league coming into this week, and Football Outsiders has them ranked just 17th in run defense DVOA.

Even if I’m not feeling too confident in the Giants’ chances of winning this game, Barkley having a big night will make Jones’ life easier, and positive play from the quarterback spot is the name of the game for the rest of this season.

Side note of something else I want to see: Will you please run with a little more efficiency on a play-by-play basis Saquon? Please?

3. Darius Slayton — Will he continue to make the most of Sterling Shepard’s absence?

Originally, this bullet was going to cover Sterling Shepard, as the fourth year wideout was reportedly cleared from concussion protocol on Friday after missing the last three weeks, and I wanted to see how he would mesh with his new QB. However, Shepard then went back into the protocol on Sunday afternoon after reportedly experiencing concussion-like symptoms again Saturday night. It’s all very confusing and a situation that’s worth monitoring.

But with Shepard out, that means rookie Darius Slayton will most likely get the start again. The fifth-round pick has played well thus far, and continuing to build that chemistry with Jones will be a big plus for a team that needs more size and vertical speed at the wide receiver position. The returns on Slayton have been promising, but he’s still got a way to go before he establishes himself as a trustworthy option, so more in-game experience will only do him some good. The Cowboys’ safeties have also struggled this season, and you know Jones will want to air the ball out — that’s a good recipe for Slayton to have some big moments on Monday night.

4. Julian Love — Will he get an opportunity?

Love has played a total of three defensive snaps so far this season. Considering that the Giants have not been shy to let the young guys get some in-game experience, they might not think Love is ready to play, which wouldn’t be surprising considering that they’re trying to convert him to safety after he played cornerback throughout college. On the one hand, guys can get plenty of experience through practice reps. If you throw him off the deep end and have him play through his mistakes, that can knock his confidence, ingrain bad habits, and hurt other player’s development if they’re forced to compensate for sub-par play at other positions.

On the other hand, three snaps in eight games? Come on, there’s plenty of room for Love to play a larger role when the guy ahead of him is a washed up Antoine Bethea. Love was as skilled a coverage technician as you can find coming out of college (32 pass break ups in his last two seasons at Notre Dame), and the move to safety will only help compensate for his lack of top-end speed. I want to see the fourth-round rookie get just a few meaningful reps this week to see how he handles himself. And I have a feeling it might happen after Bethea looked every bit a 37-year-old against Detroit last week.

5. Leonard Williams — Can he provide early returns?

Newly acquired defensive lineman Leonard Williams will be suiting up for his first game with Big Blue after coming over in the first-ever trade between the Giants and the New York Jets. Giving up third- and fifth-round picks for an impending free agent who has struggled to generate sacks over the past three seasons might not have been the move for a team in the early stages of a rebuilding phase, but that’s another story. Williams is a Giant now and there are high expectations for him around the building. How will he look in his first showing for his new team?

The Giants came into Week 9 tied for 10th in the league with 22 sacks. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher has drawn up some exotic blitz packages that make all 11 defenders potential blitzers on any given play, and the results have come so far despite relatively pedestrian QB hurry and knockdown rates. Williams will bring a little more consistency to the pass rush with his knack for getting to opposing passers, even if he has struggled to turn frequent pressure into sacks. Also, playing alongside resurgent linebacker Markus Golden (5.5 sacks on 13 hits in 2019) instead of…whomever the Jets have rushing the passer these days, will probably help Williams see fewer double teams than he did with Gang Green. The highly touted Cowboys offensive line will be a good test to determine if the (slight) change of scenery is what Williams needs to recapture his 2016 pro bowl form.

Shurmur seems confident that Jones will be the “X-factor” that the Giants need to stop this losing streak against their bitter rivals. Maybe so, but it’s probably going to be another loss or two before Jones becomes a streak-busting difference maker. In the meantime, hopefully Jones doesn’t start seeing ghosts out there.

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