GIANTS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW
This game provides us with a marquee matchup, with a pair of non-premium teams. The mid-week Over/Under of 42.0 speaks to how little faith Vegas has in these offenses, as neither of these teams boasts an elite defense. The Giants’ total does seem low. I expect it to creep up a little bit before Sunday night rolls around.
GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
The Giants’ quick-out passing attack matches up well against a Cowboys defense that prioritizes the deep ball and is comfortable giving up passes underneath. This will allow Eli Manning and the still-below-average Giants’ line to avoid the complications created by the Cowboys’ strong pass rush, while creating opportunities for Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard to post big gains on the ground after the catch.
In six matchups against the Cowboys, OBJ has topped five catches only once, and has topped 100 yards only once. Rod Marinelli has shown a tendency in the past to sell out to make sure Beckham doesn’t beat them, which makes Beckham an interesting tourney fade on the Showdown slate. Obviously, Beckham has the talent to dismantle an overmatched secondary; but ownership is certain to be high on him in this spot, and his history of “down” outings against the Cowboys is notable.
If the Cowboys do sell out to slow down Beckham, the primary beneficiaries will be Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. The two ran 41 and 38 pass routes, respectively, last week, and Shepard saw seven targets to five for Engram. From a “what is likeliest to happen” perspective, the nod obviously goes to OBJ being the best bet for a big game; but the gap is smaller than what ownership will likely imply, and Shepard (first) and Engram (second) therefore become the viable tourney pivots off Beckham on the small slate, where it’s really all about strategy if you are trying to win.
If talking about the full-weekend slate, it’s unlikely that any player on a team with a 19.5-point Vegas-implied total is going to pop off the page; but Beckham obviously retains the talent-driven upside to break the slate open. In order to be worth the roster spot, he would need to outscore the expected high ownership of Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones.
GIANTS RUN OFFENSE
Saquon Barkley wasn’t on the field quite as much as we would love in Week 1, as he played a strong (but non-elite) 77.5% of his team’s snaps. Much like Melvin Gordon, however, Barkley saw work when he was in there, rushing 18 times and seeing six targets on 29 pass routes.
The Cowboys project to be average against the run this season, and they remained attackable through the air last week with running backs, as Christian McCaffrey hauled in six receptions on nine targets, for 45 yards. In a poor game for offense, the only guy who really stands out as a better play in this game (purely from an “expectations” standpoint) is Ezekiel Elliott. Each of these guys will certainly be highly-owned on the small “slate”; but it won’t be surprising if you need both of these guys in order to win.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
It will be difficult this year to assess “run matchups” against the Cowboys using macro data, as the Cowboys are shaping up to be a unique outlier from a matchups perspective. With how uncreative the scheme and play-calling is for the Cowboys, and with how underwhelming their pass catchers are, teams are going to load the box all year against Ezekiel Elliott, daring teams to attack through the air and crashing down on the Cowboys’ weakened offensive line. While Dez Bryant was really not such an impact force as a wide receiver, he did bring huge value to the Cowboys in this way: giving the defense something to actually worry about outside the numbers.
While this will make matchups difficult for Zeke this season, it does not change his underlying volume expectations, as he will remain one of the most heavily-used running backs in the league. Although he uncharacteristically saw only 15 carries last week, he ran 34 pass routes — which was, incredibly, more routes run than any individual Cowboys wideout. The loaded boxes are no fun; but Zeke has the talent and workload to still rise to the top of the one-game slate.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
This is just sad, really. Cole Beasley is the actual number one receiver on this team, with 31 pass routes run and eight targets — compared to 29 pass routes and three targets for Allen Hurns, and 20 pass routes and one target for rookie Michael Gallup. The Cowboys are so desperate for pass catchers that they gave special teamer Deonte Thompson 20 pass routes and five targets. Beasley will soak up volume over the middle on short routes. The other three will divid up a small pie of perimeter targets.
The Cowboys’ passing “attack” wraps up with Geoff Swaim, who is a quiet candidate to be an impact player on the small slate. Swaim is no one’s idea of an actual impact player, but he ran the most pass routes on the entire team last week, and he carries some low-likelihood touchdown upside if the Cowboys go play-action near the goal line.
The NFL has really nailed things so far for us, huh? — with all these low-total games in our one-game slates? Longtime readers know that I rarely play small slates myself, as the best strategy on these slates is so completely different from what I’m best at. I’m best at finding the best plays on the weekend and figuring out how to fit them on a small number of optimized rosters. But the best way to win these small slates is to think about what “could” happen, and to then build a large number of teams that take on the sub-optimal plays that could have a big game in the right scenario. As such, the only time I play these small slates myself is when something really stands out to me as appealing — which is absolutely not the case here. But the best on-paper plays in this spot are Zeke, Saquon, and OBJ — in that order. And in order to win the small slate, you’ll probably have to fade at least one of them, and you’ll probably have to hit on someone with a smaller role who happens to pop off for a big game. It’s an ugly game to target; but that’s the way to target it.