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Giants-Cowboys: Early Matchup to Watch in 2021 Season Meetings

With the 2021 NFL schedule set to come out on May 12, Nick Falato begins his look at some of the most underrated personnel matchups between the Giants and their opponents. Up first is the Dallas Cowboys.

When New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman selected Daniel Jones with the sixth selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, many draft pundits mocked the reach.

Jones was far from a certainty coming from David Cutcliffe’s quick game offense at Duke. However, Cutcliffe's tutelage was a familiar reality to the New York Giants and great quarterback play. (Cutcliffe was the coach of both Eli and Peyton Manning at the Universities of Ole Miss and Tennessee, respectively.)

Jones now has two years under his belt. He’s struggled with turnovers, specifically fumbles; he has fumbled the football 29 times in the last two seasons, which is a league-high.

However, his starting left tackles in the last two seasons have either led or finished second in the league in pressures allowed. Yes, Jones can help that with a bit quicker processing, but many pressures are immediate.

Furthermore, the quarterback has yet to be surrounded with NFL average talent. Saquon Barkley was seriously injured in week two of 2020 and played most of 2019 with a high ankle sprain.

Sterling Shepard dealt with concussion and foot injuries in the two seasons since Jones arrived at 1 MetLife Drive. Evan Engram was misused in Jason Garrett’s offense and proved to be more of a hindrance to the offense’s success rather than a dangerous weapon, which he could sparingly become.

Darius Slayton proved that he’s not a true number one wide receiver, but I certainly feel he can be a competent number two. Gettleman, head coach Joe Judge, and the Giants organization witnessed the lack of weapons last year. 

They invested in Jones by drafting Kadarius Toney and signing Kyle Rudolph to help the Y-Stick option game, adding John Ross for speed, and signing Kenny Golladay to play the true “X” role as the big-bodied outside receiver capable of winning contested catches.

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off an embarrassingly poor defensive campaign. They parted ways with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and hired former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, a disciple of Pete Carroll who runs many Cover-3 concepts. Quinn is an upgrade over Nolan for sure, but do the Cowboys have the personnel to slow down the Giants' new weapons?

They selected Alabama cornerback Travon Diggs at pick 51 last year. Diggs is a long cornerback who profiles well to contest Golladay. Dallas then drafted Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph with the 44th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Joseph’s not as long or as big as Diggs.

Diggs has 32¾” arms (89th percentile), and he’s 6-1, 205 pounds - I would imagine he would draw a lot of the assignments on Golladay, making this one of the top matchups for when these two teams meet this season.

Let's break it down further.

Trevon Diggs

The younger brother of Stefon Diggs struggled a lot early in his career. Through the first six weeks, teams were targeting him near the double-digit marker and were attempting to pick on him as a younger cornerback.

Diggs strung a couple of good games together and then spent some time away from football after suffering a foot injury. He returned to the lineup and week 15 and finished the season strong.

He allowed 45 catches on 76 targets on the season while surrendering six touchdowns and forcing 12 passes defended and three interceptions.

He gave up 650 yards, 198 yards after the catch, and allowed a 59% completion rate, which was better than Isaac Yiadom’s rate. Diggs has shown aggressive ability to tackle, but mechanics and discipline have been an issue that led to many missed tackles early in the season.

Competitive toughness isn’t in question, though--and he seems to have already endeared himself to many in that regard. He gave Giants receiver Sterling Shepard a good hit in Week 17 and also slammed Austin Mack to the deck, which prompted several Giants, including tight end Evan Engram, to pay him a visit with a message.

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Later in the game, from off-man coverage, he showed solid patience on a Darius Slayton double move; he restricted the space of Slayton and forced a pass deflected on a tough, yet catchable, football.

I would argue that Golladay would have come down with this catch had he been the target. He’s much bigger, longer, more physical, and better with concentration in tight quarters than Slayton.

Golladay was third in the league in securing contested catches in his last healthy season of 2019. He was behind Julio Jones and Allen Robinson with 41 targeted contested catches, so Matthew Stafford trusted him often, yet he finished first in the league by catching 26 of those 41 contested targets (63%).

Even in 2020, a year he mostly spent injured, he caught 10 of 13 contested-catch targets for the Lions. Golladay almost caught every tightly contested ball, according to Pro Football Focus.

Diggs is a high-cut cornerback who isn’t overly fluid with his transitions. His completion percentage against man coverage was 68%, and he was much more instinctive and in a position much more often in zone coverage. This should transition well to Dan Quinn’s scheme.

It sounds all well and good, but none of that should matter when the ball is in the air, and it’s between Golladay and Diggs, as Golladay should win that matchup if the ball is placed in a catchable position (say outside shoulder on nine) and it’s not severely underthrown.

Diggs will continue to develop, but he will have his work cut out for him against a bigger and stronger player. Getting a player like Kadarius Toney aligned against Diggs in man coverage would benefit the Giants. 

Diggs lateral quickness is no match for a player like Toney, and the Cowboys 2021 second-round pick may be a better fit against the Giants' quicker receivers.

Kelvin Joseph

Much like his college teammate Jamin Davis, Joseph was a late riser through the draft process. An LSU transfer who possesses good athletic ability yet tested poorly with his 3-Cone drill (a drill that showcases lateral movement skills and change of direction). He sat out the 2019 season because of his transfer.

In 2020, Joseph allowed a 56% completion rate by surrendering 19 catches on 34 targets for 271 yards and four touchdowns. He also intercepted four passes and knocked one away. Joseph’s coverage grades were good for college football; he ranked better against zone than he did against man coverage, which isn’t a surprise.

According to Pro Football Focus, he graded just outside the top 100 in overall coverage. I see a good athlete with a lot of upside in Kelvin Joseph, but a player who is definitely raw needs work with his eye discipline and can certainly use more reps under his belt.

Joseph isn’t very disciplined or patient at the line of scrimmage. I think players like Golladay and even Darius Slayton (if he’s outside) can give him problems at the line of scrimmage with their release packages. If they get Joseph out of position, they can quickly stack, and it could be an easy win, on that play, for the Giants.

In terms of Golladay, Joseph has one pass defended and five penalties through his time playing in college. He gets grabby and overreacts--he just needs coaching. Golladay would be able to manipulate a younger player like Joseph if Dan Quinn puts too much on his plate early.

If Joseph is just playing base Cover-3 Sky with his butt to the sideline, he’ll be in a much easier position than manning in a press alignment. Either way, Golladay against Joseph could be a fun matchup to watch for Big Blue fans.

Final Thoughts

Dan Quinn’s defenses haven’t lived up to what they were mid-decade. NFL teams are finding ways to pick apart three-deep defenses if they don’t adjust. Dallas would want to use Diggs on Golladay with their current personnel, which should still be a win for the Giants unless Diggs takes a big step forward in 2021.

As for Joseph, he needs to develop. He has movement skills but lacks experience. I wouldn’t want many early reps of Joseph versus Golladay if I’m the Cowboys, and I’m not sure I want to see him against Kadarius Toney early either.

Toney’s ability to sell his routes and explode could pose problems for Joseph, but even more for a player who is high cut and not overly quick with his transitions, like Trevon Diggs. 


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