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Leonard Williams says stopping run is key to beating Cowboys

Defensive end Leonard Williams, now with the Giants,

Defensive end Leonard Williams, now with the Giants, is one of the few on the roster with experience beating the Cowboys. Credit: Daniel De Mato

A player who arrives in a new NFL locker room in the middle of the season is bound to have plenty of questions.

Leonard Williams showed up with the Giants, acquired in a trade with the Jets last week, and he might have some answers. At least when it comes to his first game for Big Blue.

See, Williams has a unique knowledge and something on his resume that few others on the team can boast. He’s accomplished a feat that hardly anyone else can claim. So when he landed with the Giants, he immediately was asked about it and was able to offer a perspective that only he can provide.

Williams is the rare Giants player who has ever beaten the Cowboys.

He was part of a team that did it just last month, when the Jets toppled Dallas, 24-22, at MetLife Stadium.

‘Our only win, too,” he chuckled of his half-season with the Jets.

The Giants will take it.

Heading into Monday night’s prime-time game against Dallas, there are only four players on the roster who have ever beaten the Cowboys as a member of the Giants. One of them is backup quarterback Eli Manning, another is long-snapper Zak DeOssie and a third is wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who will not play because of a concussion. That leaves only cornerback Janoris Jenkins as an every-down player who can recall a victory over this division rival.

Those last wins came in 2016, when the Giants swept the series on their way to the playoffs. It was the rookie season for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and the Giants won a pair of one-possession games: 20-19 in the opener and 10-7 at MetLife Stadium in December.

Since then, the Cowboys have won five in a row against the Giants by a combined score of 140-78. It’s not close to the 12 in a row the Cowboys won against the Giants from 1974-80, but it’s starting to feel that way.

That leaves the bulk of the team — including some of the biggest names such as Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram and Alec Ogletree — without any sense of how to beat the Cowboys.

For some, it’s a non-issue.

“I’m not really big into rivalry games. I don’t care too much for it,” Barkley said. “I treat every team the same, I treat every game the same.”

For others, it’s a large pebble in their shoe.

“Gotta get it done,” Engram said of beating the Cowboys. “It’s tough. Being here in my third year, I’m definitely itching to get that win … It’s a feeling I don’t know yet.”

Engram at least has a sense of what the Giants-Cowboys rivalry means. His first NFL game was against them in Dallas in 2017. At that time, the Giants had won three in a row.

“There was a collective thought and a collective knowledge that we had to beat those guys,” Engram said.

That still exists, though it doesn’t seem to be as visceral as it once was.

Just a few years ago, players such as Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs would use the word “hate” to describe their feelings about the Cowboys … and mean it. These days, that fire seems to have been doused, perhaps by the lopsided results. Even when Cowboys defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence tries to stoke the flames with comments about Manning and Daniel Jones, as he did this week, it comes off as more nostalgic force of habit than actual venom.

“I tend to believe that the bulletin-board stuff, the dislike, the rivalry stuff, that’s sort of outside-the-building fan stuff,” Pat Shurmur said. “We worry and we concern ourselves with the issues of the day, which are the matchups, the tactics and playing well. The rivalry part kind of goes away and we are playing a really good Dallas Cowboys team.”

To that end, perhaps the Giants were saddened when Williams offered no secret elixir to beating Dallas.

“What we did is stop the run,” he said. “We made it tough for [Elliott] to run. If he did get a big gain, we had a lot of bodies on him, put a lot of pressure on the running back, make him hurt a little bit. Get a lot of bodies and helmets on him. We got a lot of hits on the quarterback as well, and that eventually affects the quarterbacks when they are not throwing comfortably.”

Not a lot to squeeze from that.

“We went over a little bit of the personnel with the defensive line,” Williams said. “We talked about the offensive line and the running back and the quarterback, stuff like that. They pretty much got the same thing we were getting at the Jets: Stop the run, get after the quarterback.”

The Giants have been saying that about the Cowboys for years. They’ve been unable to do it for nearly as long.

Maybe this time will be different. The Giants certainly are. Linebacker Deone Bucannon, who was acquired in late October and got to spend less than a week being called “new guy” before Williams arrived, should give the Giants more speed and ability to cover Elliott and tight end Jason Witten. Plus Jones is making his first start against the Cowboys.

When the Giants lost in the opener in Dallas, 35-17, Barkley said of the Cowboys: “They’re a great team, [but] I don’t believe they’re that much better than us.”

On Monday night, the Giants will get their latest chance to prove it.

“They got us the first time,” Barkley said on Friday. “We get a shot at them again.”

Yet again.

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