The Cowboys typically have two skill players lined up in their backfield: Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Giants are leaving little doubt which of them they’d rather see with the football the majority of the time on Sunday.
“We’ve really got to focus on stopping Zeke, making sure that we're playing our gap assignments, making sure we close the air out of their running game,” Giants safety and defensive co-captain Landon Collins said on Wednesday. “If we do that, put the ball into Dak's hands, I think we have a better shot at winning.”
It’s a bit similar to the defensive gameplan they had a week ago when they focused on stopping Leonard Fournette and Jacksonville’s running game and tried to get Blake Bortles to make mistakes.
“It starts with the run for them,” Pat Shurmur said of the Cowboys. “Certainly they’ve got an outstanding running back.”
Shurmur also disputed the idea that the Cowboys’ offensive line is not playing to the level it had in recent years. In Sunday’s opener against the Panthers the Cowboys ran for 94 yards on 22 carries. Elliott had 69 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
“I don’t know about the narrative about their o-line, but they look pretty good blocking to me, especially in the first week,” Shurmur said. “They’ve got an outstanding run game.”
Prescott does give the Cowboys another option in the run game.
“When you have the threat of the quarterback as a runner, that adds another element to it because the so-called zone read game shows up and they don’t worry about him running with the football,” Shurmur said. “They’ve got really good concepts in the passing game and if they do drop back to pass and we don’t corral the quarterback, that’s when he gets outside of the pocket and I call them 60-yard check downs.”
A week after Bortles gashed the Giants for a 41-yard run, that could be more of a concern to them than Prescott’s passing game. The Cowboys are without some of the targets who have tortured the Giants in recent years, including Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. Prescott completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards in the opener. None of his completions were for more than 20 yards. Twenty-six other quarterbacks threw for more yards than Prescott did in Week 1.
“He’s got a strong arm and if he sees somebody open he can get the ball down the field,” Shurmur said.
But having Prescott chucking it all around AT&T Stadium may be the best thing the Giants could hope to see on Sunday.
Notes & Quotes: LB Olivier Vernon was expected to return to practice on Wednesday – Shurmur said earlier in the day that he’d be “out there running around” – but he did not participate in the workout. Instead he rode a stationary bike and worked with trainers (which is actually more than he’d done during a practice since he suffered a high ankle sprain in practice on Aug. 26). “He’s making good progress,” Shurmur said. “He’s going to do more this week than he did last week and we’re hopeful that he’ll be back soon” … WR Sterling Shepard (back) was limited, as was RB Wayne Gallman (knee) and LB Tae Davis (hamstring).