In the Week 3 edition of "Monday Night Football," two old NFC East rivals do battle for the first time this season. The New York Giants, shockingly one of the last remaining undefeated teams in the league, host the Dallas Cowboys, who are coming off a surprising victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
Both teams have reinforcements arriving Monday night, with important players like Michael Gallup and Kayvon Thibodeaux returning to the fold. Dallas is hoping to get Dak Prescott back some time in the next few weeks, but in the meantime will continue rolling with Cooper Rush under center. New York has moved into the Brian Daboll era with early success, and will look to keep the good times rolling against a team that it has struggled to defeat in recent seasons.
Can the Giants stay unbeaten, or will the Cowboys pull off the upset on the road? We'll find out soon enough. Before we break down the matchup, here's how you can watch the game.
How to watch
- When: Monday, Sept. 26 | 8:15 p.m. ET
- Where: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ)
- TV: ABC/ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
- Follow: CBS Sports App
- Odds: Giants -1; O/U 39
When the Cowboys have the ball
The Dallas offense looked far more competent last week than it did against the Buccaneers in Week 1, though that's not saying much. Cooper Rush is now 2-0 filling in for Dak Prescott over the past two seasons, but as we wrote last week, as the surface-level numbers and perfect record would have you believe. Here's an excerpt:
Dallas has scored exactly 20 points in each of Rush's two starts, for example, and that is typically not good enough to win in 2022 -- even when you have a good defense, like the Cowboys have over these last two seasons. Dallas was the NFL's No. 7 scoring defense a year ago, and still allowed 21.1 points per game. The average team scored 22.9 per contest. If you only manage 20, more often than not, you are going to lose. (The Cowboys scored 30.2 points per game in Prescott's starts this year and last, including the season-opening stinker against Tampa Bay this year.) It's a testament to Dan Quinn's defense that the Cowboys have been able to come away with two victories in Rush's starts by holding their opponents to just 16 (Vikings) and 17 (Bengals) points.
The Cowboys' 1.90 points per drive average in Rush's starts would have seen the team drop from the league's No. 1 scoring offense a year ago to No. 12, and the share of the team's drives that ended in a punt would have dropped from 35% under Prescott (1% better than league average, 13th in the NFL), to 43% under Rush (30th in the NFL), according to TruMedia. Rush has also been off-target on 20% of his throws, per TruMedia's tracking. That would be the worst mark among all quarterbacks if Rush had thrown enough passes to qualify, while Prescott's 10% mark ranks 11th-best out of 32 such passers. Rush has also taken sacks at a higher rate than Prescott (19% of pressured dropbacks vs. 15%) despite being pressured less often (25% of dropbacks vs. 31%)...
Rush has also been the beneficiary of several incredibly lucky bounces. A key pass on his game-winning drive Sunday was deflected as he threw it, only it managed to travel about 15 yards downfield and fall into the hands of Brown. He nearly had a tight end screen intended for Dalton Schultz last season get intercepted, but the ball instead bounced off of three players and resulted in a seven-yard gain. And the biggest play of his game-winning drive a year ago saw Amari Cooper make a ridiculous circus catch on a horrifically under-thrown deep ball...
Then there's the turnover issue. Rush has officially lost one fumble and thrown just one interception in his two starts, but he has tried to give the ball away several times more. He was lucky not to be pick-sixed twice against the Bengals on Sunday, and he could have been intercepted as many as four or five times against Minnesota last season. This level of interception luck is not particularly sustainable, especially considering his track record of off-target throws.
Rush will need to be better against the Giants than he was against the Bengals last Sunday, or he's going to turn the ball over a couple times. You can't keep flirting with disaster and getting away with it.
The Giants are expected to have rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux on the field for the first time in his career Monday night, and if he's healthy he should pose a challenge for Cowboys offensive line that actually held up fairly well against Cincinnati last week. The Giants will likely try to get him matched up with rookie Tyler Smith fairly often, but Smith has actually out-performed Terence Steele so far this season; New York might be better off having Thibodeaux rush off the right side of the Dallas offensive line. (Azeez Ojulari is also expected to play, and could similarly take advantage of the Steele matchup.) The interior duo of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence can cause problems as well, but the Cowboys are stronger up the middle (where Zack Martin still plays) than at tackle at the moment.
Getting Michael Gallup back in the fold, even for a limited number of snaps, should help the Cowboys create a bit more room to operate in the passing game. They have given defenses almost no reason to respect their aerial attack down the field so far this season, and Gallup is the best vertical threat on the roster. His presence should open things up underneath for CeeDee Lamb, and for Dalton Schultz if he suits up. The New York defensive backfield provides several areas for an accurate quarterback to attack, and if Rush can deliver on time and on target, Dallas can move the ball with success.
Still, with Prescott out, the Cowboys are likely to at least try to lean on their run game. That's a dicey proposition if they continue to rely on Ezekiel Elliott as their primary ball-carrier -- which seems likely. Tony Pollard has consistently out-performed Elliott for three-plus seasons now, and is by far the more explosive player. The only people who have yet to realize it are the Cowboys' coaching staff and front office.
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When the Giants have the ball
The focus here has to be on how the Giants can prevent Micah Parsons from wrecking their entire offense the way he has done to Dallas' opponents in each of the first two weeks of the season.
Parsons is tied for third in the NFL with 13 pressures -- and he hasn't played his third game of the season yet. He's generated pressure on an outrageous 22% of his pass-rush snaps, easily the best mark among 113 players who have rushed the passer at least 50 times. The distance between him and second-place is equal to the distance between second and 24th. It's also taken him an average of just 2.01 seconds to get to the quarterback on the plays where he's gotten pressure, best among all players with seven pressures or more.
Dan Quinn moves him all over the formation to isolate the best possible matchup, so one shouldn't expect him to just rush right at Andrew Thomas over and over again, for example. He'll see plenty of snaps rushing against Evan Neal on the opposite side, and also against New York's interior linemen. How that group accounts for the threat of Parsons (and whether it is still able to block the other rushers like Demarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, Sam Williams, and Osa Odighizuwa) will be a significant determinant in whether the Giants are able to find offensive success. Let Parsons and Co. get into Daniel Jones' face, and he is liable to put the ball up for grabs. Even without Jayron Kearse at safety, the Dallas secondary attacks the ball when it's in the air, and has the ability to make turnovers happen.
Knowing all that, it makes sense for Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and the rest of the coaching staff to attempt to minimize Jones' role in the offense, as they have through the first two weeks of the season. They did a better job of doing so in Week 1 than Week 2, largely thanks to Saquon Barkley's huge day running the ball. The Cowboys were gashed by Leonard Fournette on the ground in Week 1, and can be vulnerable to power runs, especially to the perimeter. If Barkley can find the type of success he did in the opener, that will allow the Giants to play they want to play offensively. If they have to put the game on Jones' shoulders, they seem likely to struggle -- especially considering the state of their wide receiver corps, which looks like it'll be without Kadarius Toney and has seen Kenny Golladay tumble down the depth chart. Sterling Shepard is the most reliable of the remaining wideouts, and will need to take advantage of Jourdan Lewis in man coverage if the Giants are going to find ways to move the ball through the air.
Prediction: Giants 17, Cowboys 14