If there is a secret to beating the Cowboys, the Giants know it.
They were, after all, the only team to beat Dallas at full strength in the regular season a year ago. And they did it twice.
Which is why as they head into this year’s opener, the Giants’ defense is confident it can continue to own a team no one else in the league seemed to be able to slow down in 2016. The Cowboys scored 26 points combined in two losses against the Giants. In only two of their 13 regular-season wins did they score less than 26 in a game.
Have the Giants devised the blueprint for victory over their fiercest NFC East rival?
“I would say so,” All-Pro safety Landon Collins told Newsday. “Yeah.”
It may not be copyrighted for their exclusive use, either. Several Giants players have spoken about the keys to stifling an offense that boasts the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year at quarterback in Dak Prescott, a future Hall of Famer at tight end in Jason Witten, a perennial Pro Bowl receiver in Dez Bryant, and (perhaps, pending the outcome of his appeal of a six-game suspension) an explosive running back in Ezekiel Elliott.
Step One: Stop the run.
“All you need is a real good defensive front,” Collins said. “You need a real good nose guard like 98 [Damon Harrison] and just play ball from there. Make things happen. You set the edge and make sure they don’t get outside you.”
The Giants did that last year. In those two games, Elliott was held to a combined 158 yards on 44 carries (3.6 average). In the 13 other regular-season games Elliott played, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and the Cowboys were 13-0.
“That’s the approach every single week,” defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “You stop the run, you really heighten your chances of defeating that ballclub. With a ballclub like Dallas where their offensive line and the run game is the strength of their team, if you stop the run you can really help yourself.”
Step Two: Contain Bryant.
That task likely will fall to Janoris Jenkins, who was locked on Bryant last year and limited him to two catches for 18 yards in the two games. In an offseason radio interview, Jenkins outlined his approach to covering Bryant.
“When you look at film and you break down your opponents and the receivers that you’re facing, you notice what they like to do,” Jenkins said. “Take away the slant and the dig, and when they get in 21 personnel and Dez is inside the numbers, you take away the corner post. He doesn’t have nothing else.”
Step Three: Make Prescott try to beat you.
That’s the most important one. While Prescott won a lot of accolades and honors in his rookie year, the Giants believe he can be the weak link. Even the Giants offensive players know that.
“The goal is to go out there and not make it as close, get a lead, and let our defense get after their offense,” guard Justin Pugh said. “Kind of make them one-dimensional, see if they can drop back and throw it.”
Last year they could not. Prescott threw just four regular-season picks. Two of them came in the second game against the Giants.
“We should have had three the first game,” Collins lamented. “Make him throw it. Make him try to read the defense. Make him throw it into tight coverages and tight windows. We gotta get it like that . . . We’ll see what he does. We got more film on him now so we know what his reads are.”
Follow those instructions and the Giants should be 1-0 come Sunday night, right?
“We definitely had the blueprint last year, obviously,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “But that doesn’t mean the exact same thing is going to work or we can expect the exact same results. We have to come out with a clean slate. We know they’re going to want to beat us.”
True. The Cowboys will have some wrinkles. They’ll adapt their gameplan. They’ll alter their approach.
But they are still the Cowboys.
“We know them,” Collins said. “We play them twice a year. We know their background.”
“They have a great offensive line, some great running backs, some great receivers and a great quarterback,” Kennard said. “They have good players all across the board. I don’t see why they would do a ton of things to change.”
With the Giants returning most of their defensive players this year as well, they obviously feel there may not be much change to the outcome of these games either.