The last thing the Cowboys defense should ever want to see is the New York Giants making changes. The Giants have been consistently awful over the past several meetings with Dallas and did nothing Sunday close to appearing dangerous with the football. Rather, it was another series of harmless runs, short and safe passes, conservative calls on third down and punts. Lots and lots of punts.
In the past four games against the Cowboys, Giants punter Brad Wing has punted 28 times. In 2016, Wing set the season-high mark for punts against the Cowboys when he punted to them nine times in the game at MetLife Stadium. In 2017, he set a season-high mark again against Dallas, with eight punts. All told, in the past two years (over 29 games) the have Giants placed first, second, fourth and eighth for "most punts in a game against the Dallas Cowboys."
I would want them to keep Ben McAdoo (already fired), Jerry Reese (already fired) and Eli Manning (packing) forever if I am Rod Marinelli.
The Giants have yet to score more than 20 points in the past four games against Dallas and have not scored more than 10 in the past three meetings. Just five times in the past two seasons have Marinelli's troops held an opponent under 14 points: against the 49ers and Browns, the Giants last December, Week 1 of this season against the Giants and Sunday's trip to New Jersey. The Giants are certifiably awful.
Perhaps we should try to credit the Cowboys for shutting them down, but there have been 17 games in the past 29 meetings when the Giants did not score 20 points. Marinelli didn't end the Manning era -- the Giants' consistent offensive incompetence did.
WEEKLY DATA BOX
This is a very strong day for the Cowboys defense. They can only play the team in front of them, but, unlike any other stretch of the Manning era, the Cowboys have crushed the Giants on third down the past few years -- to the tune of a 32-percent conversion rate. Thirty-eight percent on Sunday was marginally worse but still plenty effective.
There was just one explosive play by the Giants and no real strength to their attack. The Week 1 performance by the Giants was the single worst yards-per-play performance against Dallas this season and still is. In Week 1, the Giants gained a paltry 4.39 yards per snap. On Sunday, it was 4.40. The two Giants games will almost assuredly go down as the two easiest days for the defense this year.
I am sure the Cowboys would love to play Manning every week.
ELI MANNING THROW CHART
Again, we understand he doesn't have all of his weapons. Odell Beckham Jr. has not played in either contest. But it seems that the Giants' biggest issues over these past few years are based more on their decision-making than injuries. They spent the entire offseason not addressing their offensive line, and now they have paid for it with jobs. But the passing chart above shows what they can do. They can throw continuously within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and not much else.
From a Cowboys standpoint, the snap count above shows that one objective to this season is to integrate the young defensive backs into the mix. They drafted Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods this year to join 2015 draftee Byron Jones as the group to move to the future. Many of us think the best move for 2018 is likely Awuzie, Lewis and Jones as your top three corners with 2016 draftee Anthony Brown as your fourth. Woods as one safety, and then consider your options for the other safety spot. Combined, could they be the basis for a strong and young secondary? Early signs from Awuzie is that he is going to be quite a player -- but it is plenty early.
There was no David Irving in this game and you saw the defensive line struggle to make an impact because the Giants get the ball out so quickly. No sacks again, but we saw an exceptional day from the linebackers -- telling us the line was doing a fine job of keeping the linebackers clean to make tackles. Anthony Hitchens has continued his tear and Sean Lee returned to action to make a couple of plays himself.
This is normally the place in the blog where we review tape. But since the Giants have been so awful on offense and because there were no massive issues to examine -- and because we are at the time of year when considering 2018 is a big pastime -- I want to discuss the impending free agency of DeMarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence was in the headlines this week for getting vocal about holding calls and such and the frustration with the refs recently:
Why there is absolutely no way you can allow DeMarcus Lawrence to leave in the spring: Lawrence is probably the best defensive end who will be available in free agency in March. He is 25 years old and is surely having his best season at just the right time.
This has caused the somewhat cynical Cowboys fandom to be somewhat cynical about Lawrence. Here are things I have heard from some of you about Lawrence, along with my brief answers:
"He has had one good year" ... this is as false a statement as I have ever seen. More on that in a moment.
"He is finally playing for the money" ... the timing of his breakout to the end of his contract is true, but it is also common sense that a guy on a rookie contract would be better in Year 4 than when he first entered the league, right?
"We should not pay him and take the compensatory pick" ... a lot of ridiculous things are shared every day on Twitter. This is among the most ridiculous. Delete that tweet immediately.
"He gets hurt too much" ... he broke his foot in the 2014 training camp and hurt his back in the 2015 season. That sounds pretty normal for a defensive lineman, to be honest, and is nothing that has kept him from dominating when he is out there.
"He gets suspended too much" ... he was suspended once at the start of 2016. I don't love it, but I will not suggest he is a guy who has done this five times.
With all due respect to Sean Lee, I think Lawrence is the Cowboys' best defensive talent right now, and I am not sure it is close. If you allowed the NFL to pluck one player from the defense, it would be between Lawrence and Irving -- not an aging Lee. If Lawrence was on any other team, I bet many would suggest he is the guy to target in free agency. But because he is a Cowboy and maybe because some fans love to undersell what is right below their noses, I want to show some Lawrence material that has me thinking critics of his four years in Dallas are nothing short of insane.
First, here are the four-year splash totals for the Cowboys defense. This is the length of Lawrence's career:
Now, for those who don't know, a "splash play" is anything that ends a play positively for the defense. A sack; a tackle for loss; a stuff for no gain; a quarterback pressure that makes him throw the ball away; a batted ball at the line of scrimmage; a forced holding penalty; a forced fumble; a fumble recovery; an interception; or a pass defended. Plays of no gain, negative plays and takeaways are splash plays.
And nobody has generated more of these than Lawrence since he joined the team -- and it isn't close. You may tell me, "Bob, almost half of all of his splashes are in this 'contract year,'" and you would be correct. But what I highly disagree with is the premise that this is his first dominant year. His 2015 was dominant, too. He led the team that year as well. His 2014 and 2016 were the injured/suspension seasons and were a step down. But what I would like to do here is show you a dozen plays -- NOT FROM 2017 -- that will show you he was a stud before this season.
If you don't concede that he is a stud in 2017, then you really shouldn't have opinions about football.
TAPE REVIEW -- DeMarcus Lawrence -- 2014-16
This will seem obvious to many of you. But I want this to serve as something to be bookmarked for when the Cowboys fan next to you questions Lawrence. I don't mind doing this because it is good for us who recognize his play to remind ourselves that this isn't a recent trend. The Cowboys bet hard on him in the 2014 draft by trading up to get him. And, I contend, they were absolutely correct to do so, and they will be absolutely correct to extend him for the market rate. It will be very expensive, but they must keep him.
And as far as some Cowboys fans not recognizing his talents? They may be the same ones who had no idea how good DeMarcus Ware was in his prime when they said he didn't affect big games or late-game situations. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. This DeMarcus is not near the player that DeMarcus was, but this one is the best free-agent pass rusher available in 2018, and I am here to make sure everyone agrees that he needs to remain in a Cowboys uniform.
Rookie year, 2014 -- here, he steps inside a double-team block to blow up a run play to his side against the Giants. The thing with Lawrence that seems to go consistently unnoticed is that he is the best run-stopping defensive end I have seen in a Cowboys uniform in ages.
Wild-card playoff against Detroit, 2014 -- here is Lawrence coming off the edge, whipping the left tackle, getting to Matthew Stafford and ending the game right here. He wins with his hands, dances to the outside and pounces on Stafford's blindside. This is a rookie securing a playoff win.
Playoffs, 2014 -- an inside rush against the double-team and a spin to bring Aaron Rodgers down for the sack. The Cowboys couldn't get to Rodgers that day. Lawrence did. He stays active and alive on plays and his motor is his finest attribute.
Now it's 2015. Run away from him? Lawrence runs down the line from the weakside end spot better than anyone you will ever see. Greg Hardy sets the edge and Marshawn Lynch wants a cutback. There is no cutback when Lawrence is sprinting down the line to make the play from the backside. This is the movement of an outside linebacker, not a defensive end. Look at the launch into Lynch's ribs as he tries to cause a fumble. This is awesome.
Inside stunt in Washington, 2015. It's a lost season, but the guy who flies around the most is No. 90. Not only does he jump inside on the stunt, power past the guard and close in on the quarterback, but he also knocks the ball loose as Kirk Cousins is stunned by this guy who winds up in his lap so fast. This is maybe his best pass-rushing ability. Use his length and quickness to disrupt all day.
2015 -- Jets want a goal-line run in the middle, so they double the defensive tackle and hope the tight end can keep Lawrence from jumping the snap. Instead, No. 90 is in the backfield and the running back has no chance to do anything but suffer a tackle for loss. The Jets game was a masterpiece for Lawrence, who dominated against runs all day. I will show you just this one, but there were several others.
2015 -- final play against Miami. These athletic traits are uncommon for guys this size. Look at Lawrence fly to the inside and chase a quarterback to his ultimate doom. This is Lawrence in the open field. This is what you pay big bucks for in free agency. Good news: He is already in your facility.
At Buffalo, 2015 -- you can play him on either side. It doesn't matter much. Tyrod Taylor holds the ball a bit too long and steps back into the path of Lawrence, who just made the right tackle look like a traffic cone. You like classic edge rushers? Me too.
At Green Bay, 2015 -- I was told you want guys who don't let Rodgers get away. It sure looks like Lawrence just schooled right tackle Bryan Bulaga and closed Rodgers down rather easily here. This is a real seek-and-destroy mission. You may notice this is pretty much every week late in 2015, when he most certainly was not "playing for a contract." He is dominating on a team that had nothing to play for because that is what he loves to do.
This is 2016, at Cleveland -- again, don't run at Lawrence. Frontside runs to Lawrence do not go very well. Hopefully, when you look at sack totals, you realize there is a little more to the position than just that. Lawrence, even in down years, destroys run plays. Those run plays at him or ...
... run plays that go away from him. At Pittsburgh, 2016 -- if you study one play, this is the one. Watch him -- far left of the screen -- run down Le'Veon Bell and knock the ball out because he is running so hard and fast when he dives at Bell. Do not cut back when you run away from Lawrence. He will hurt you.
Again, at Pittsburgh. He dominated this victory even though you told me he was bad in 2016. This is the Steelers hoping to catch him on the end-around to Antonio Brown. No. 66, David DeCastro, is supposed to pull and get to him before Brown comes around the corner. No chance. Lawrence destroyed this play like you would expect an elite edge to do -- minus 9 yards.
Playoffs, 2016 -- you like a guy who plays well against Green Bay every time, right? Fourth quarter, huge moment, Packers are driving and in field goal range. They decided to run right at Lawrence with Ty Montgomery, lose 5 yards to drop back out of field goal range to the 38. Spoiler: Mason Crosby hit a 56-yarder, anyway. But still. Don't run at Lawrence.
Those are several huge moments from a guy who leads the team in huge defensive moments since the day he was drafted. I did not use a single play from 2017 to demonstrate that, while you or your buddy only think he has had "one big year," the truth is he has been nothing short of strong (to quite strong) since the day he arrived.
He is 25 and near the top of the NFL in sacks and negative plays right now. You have to sign him (or franchise tag him). This is not a choice. This is mandatory. He will get between $60-80 million and it will raise eyebrows.
But if you have been studying him, you know he is the best defensive player the Cowboys have drafted since Lee. Now, you keep him through his prime -- which is just starting. Simple.