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Scouting NFC East: Cowboys looking to keep Giants down in 2021

The New York Giants are a potential roadblock for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East after going 1-1 against Jason Garrett’s new team in 2020.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) in action during an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

DALLAS — The NFC East has a long, storied history dating back to 1970. When the division first began, there were five teams. 

In 2002, the NFL realigned, breaking the division into four teams. Gone were the Arizona Cardinals leaving only the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington Football Team, and the New York Giants. 

The remaining foursome make for some of the most bitter rivalries in the league, as perhaps no division has a quartet of squads that have had the legacy of hatred for one another as the NFC East.

The NFC East is also arguably the most successful division, combining for 13 Super Bowl wins. The division is the only one in the NFL where each team has won at least one Super Bowl. The competitiveness and pride of these four teams is fierce and, as has been noted, there has not been repeat division champions since the 2001-2004 Eagles. Since then, the teams have alternated their claim on the East title.

The Football Team won the NFC East last year, and the Cowboys are aiming to be their biggest threats to repeat. However, the Giants should not be underestimated in their quest to end the longest drought among the four teams and win their first division title since 2011.

After years of failure, 2021 has the potential to be different for the Giants. Last season, though they went through a rough start, they found themselves playing better football as the season wore on under first year head coach Joe Judge. The arrival of Judge from the New England Patriots might have been met with skepticism, but Judge did a solid job in his first season with the Giants. 

A 6-10 record isn’t something to brag about, yet there was improvement from the Giants after a 0-5 start and a 1-7 first half of the season. The team went 5-3 during the back half of the year and beat the Cowboys to give themselves a chance at winning the division before Washington claimed the East in Week 17. That finish can instill confidence in a team, especially with a new coach tasked with trying to change the culture.

However, in the current state of the NFL, the Giants will go only as far as their quarterback takes them. This is a big season for third-year QB Daniel Jones. The offense didn’t have the necessary firepower after star running back Saquon Barkley was lost for the season in Week 2 last year and it limited some of what the Giants wanted to do.

Jones also missed two games last season, so it wasn’t the year for the Giants to click under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

The Giants have their offensive band back together with Barkley healthy again, and the team upgraded their wide receiver room with the additions of Kenny Golladay in free agency and Kadarius Toney in the first-round of the draft. 

Pair those offensive weapons with WRs Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and tight end Evan Engram, and the Giants have the look of a team that could break out offensively if Jones significantly improves. That is a leap that many prognosticators are predicting for Jones.

The biggest snag on offense for the Giants could once again be on the offensive line. New York didn’t do much to significantly upgrade a questionable unit and released arguably their best player at the position in guard Kevin Zeitler. The line is a big-time question mark for the Giants heading into the season.

Defensively, the Giants have a strong core that could be one of the better units in the NFC. It’s a defense that finished in the top 10 in rushing defense last season and boasts a D-line that includes first-round picks Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Danny Shelton, as well three third-round selections in recent drafts. 

To boost the pass rush, the Giants also picked edge rusher Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia in the second-round to improve on the defense’s sack output of 40, good for 13th in the league in 2020.

New York also sports one of the best secondaries in the league and it only got better as the Giants signed Adoree’ Jackson to start opposite James Bradberry, who was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last season. 

Combining those two should give New York one of the best CB tandems in the league and they pair with a trio of versatile secondary pieces in Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, and last year’s second-round selection Xavier McKinney. You’d be hard pressed to find another secondary that can compete with that level of talent.

The linebacking corps is considered the weakness of the defense, but, with the rest of the talent surrounding them, the Giants have the look of a top-notch group. 

Most experts think that Washington or Dallas will win the NFC East in 2021, but the Giants wouldn’t be a surprising champion if they took down the division. The pieces are there for the Giants to make a run. The remaining question is whether or not Jones will become the QB that the team needs to get over the hump in the East.

Do you think the Cowboys will be able to keep Jason Garrett’s squad at bay in 2021? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.