When the New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys this coming Sunday night, running back Shane Vereen will be the ultimate key.
The New York Giants have a very strong receiving group while the Dallas Cowboys have a secondary with more questions than answers. The Giants should have no issue with the Cowboys secondary. That being said, the Giants have a few questions that need to be answered as well.
The biggest question that the Giants have for that matchup is whether or not Odell Beckham Jr. will play. He’s currently listed as questionable and has not practiced, but he’s still hopeful that he can play.
Beckham is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and if he’s able to play he should be able to feast on the Cowboys secondary. But if he can’t a major weapon for the Giants will be lost.
Additionally, Evan Engram is playing his first NFL game, and while he is amazingly talented, one has to wonder if the first game nerves will get to him. Brandon Marshall is seeing his first regular season game with Eli Manning throwing passes to him.
Although it’s unlikely that all of the above concerns play out in the worst possible manner, it’s by no means impossible. Additionally, the Cowboys have always had a good pass rush.
Combined with the Giants offensive line concerns, that could force Eli Manning to get the ball out too quickly to take advantage of the weak secondary.
It also gives Dallas the ability to drop extra defenders into a zone scheme. It isn’t a given that the Giants will be able to feast on the Dallas secondary, as they can scheme to hide their weakness back there.
That’s where Shane Vereen comes into play. Vereen is a pass catching specialist out of the backfield, having collected more receiving yards and touchdowns than rushing in his career. Since joining the Giants before the 2015 season, he even has more targets in the passing game than he does carries (100 targets and 94 carries).
This could present a major matchup problem for Dallas. Their main concern will need to be taking away the deep pass against a strong Giants wide receiving/tight end corps. This means a lot of cover two or cover two man with the safeties over the top and the corners either in zones at a medium distance or covering wide receivers in man with help over the top.
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Ultimately, this creates the need for a linebacker to cover Vereen, which has not been a great strategy in the past. He’s simply too fast and too good of a route runner to be covered by a linebacker.
The natural solution would be to put a safety on Vereen, but as was mentioned earlier, the safeties are going to be occupied taking away the deep ball. This could lead to a big game for Vereen.
If the secondary takes the receivers away, through scheme or surprising play, it creates a lot of check down options. Vereen is the lead guy on check down plays.
The Cowboys won’t be able to defend everyone that the Giants can throw at them. It comes down to who they decide to take way. Vereen doesn’t get the same attention as the wide receivers, which can lead to him being forgotten.
If it happens, that’s when he’ll steal the game.
This isn’t to say he will definitely be needed in a massive role. It’s entirely possible that the wide receivers are able to control the game against a weaker defensive backfield. If that happens, the Giants should be very happy.
But if the secondary steps up to the challenge of taking on the great receivers on the Giants, it’s up to Vereen to step up and take control as the pass catcher out of the backfield. He has the talent and could be the ultimate X factor in this important divisional game.