It may seem like hyperbole to call a Week 2 game a must win for an NFL team, but that’s exactly the situation the Cowboys are in against the Giants.
The Cowboys aren’t flying high after their loss at the Panthers in Week 1. In fact, there’s a lot of drama swirling around “America’s Team.” If Jason Garrett doesn’t want his season to devolve into a media circus in Week 3, his Cowboys need to earn a victory at home against the Giants.
Fortunately, New York’s not exactly a juggernaut either. They missed a golden opportunity to beat the Jaguars at home in their opener. Saquon Barkley looked really good, but he wasn’t good enough to drag the offense to a victory. In fact, these two offenses share a lot of similarities.
Both teams have excellent rushing attacks. Barkley doesn’t have the resume that Ezekiel Elliott boasts, but he’s got just loads of talent. Dallas boasts the superior offensive line, but the Giants have a much better receiving corps than the Cowboys. Each team wants to run the football to set up everything else they do on offense.
The difference in the two teams is where they stand in their cycle of competitiveness. The Giants are trying to rebuild on the fly, but having a blue chip young talent like Barkley on the roster gives them hope for the future. It’s also Pat Shurmer’s first year as the team’s head coach. He’s just now starting to make his imprint on the team.
The situation in Dallas is much different. Jason Garrett is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL. That doesn’t mean anyone outside of the Cowboys organization is convinced he’s a quality NFL coach. Their roster is also constructed to win now. That means Jerry Jones and, perhaps more importantly, the team’s fans expect the Cowboys to be a playoff team in 2018.
If this group is going to reach the postseason, they cannot afford to get off to an 0-2 start. The offense just isn’t good enough to provide them with a significant margin of error moving forward. This is a team that needs to play from in front. That applies to each individual game they’re in as well as the season standings.
To avoid playing under the most intense microscope in the NFL, Dallas has to find a way to grind out a win on Sunday. Fortunately for Garrett and company, there’s a straightforward formula to accomplish that goal. The Cowboys have to dominate the line of scrimmage to overcome New York’s advantage at the offensive skill positions.
That means you’re going to see a ton of Elliott carrying the football. Don’t be surprised if he exceeds 30 carries if things are going well. He doesn’t necessarily need to bust any big gains, but he has to keep the chains moving. Keeping the ball away from Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. should be priority one for the Cowboys.
You might even see a healthy dose of Dak Prescott running the ball in this one. The lack of talent in his receiving corps is going to force him to take on a heavier load one way or another. It may be easier for Prescott to impact the game with his legs than his arm against the Giants defense. That strategy will put the quarterback’s body at risk, but desperate times call for desperate measures from the Cowboys.
No one in the Cowboys’ organization will ever admit that this game is a must-win, but losing to the Giants could plunge the franchise into total chaos. To avoid that scenario, Dallas needs to grind out a close win on the ground. If Elliott eclipses 125 yards rushing it should be enough to deliver his team a victory. If he can’t, Dallas may be headed for despair.