If the Giants defense feels under the microscope coming off a win, Patrick Graham knows it’s nothing compared to the intense scrutiny that would follow a loss to the Cowboys.
In his first game as a Giants assistant coach, Graham, who spent the previous seven seasons with the Patriots, lined up next to Jason Pierre-Paul during the national anthem before the 2016 season opener against the Cowboys.
“This ain’t the Jets,” Pierre-Paul told him.
“Yeah, it’s a little different,” replied Graham.
Pierre-Paul had six tackles and two quarterback hits that day in a 20-19 win by the Giants — their most recent triumph at AT&T Stadium, where the rivalry will be renewed on Sunday.
“I always remember that moment — he looked at me and he was so cool about it,” said Graham, now in his second season as the Giants defensive coordinator. “At the end of the game I looked at him and said, ‘This is a little different, man.’ He said, ‘I told you.’ ”
The Giants need to try something different on defense. They contributed two stops to a fourth-quarter comeback against the Saints, but the win was a statistical anomaly considering the Giants became one of three of 64 NFL winners this season with zero sacks in a game and one of two with zero quarterback hits.
“Obviously, you want to get more pressure here or there,” Graham said. “But what we try to do is mix it up. Sometimes, it looks like we’re bringing five [rushers] but we’re bringing four or we’re bringing six.”
Cause for concern doubles looking at the Saints’ 170 rushing yards last week. The Cowboys, led by a vaunted offensive line, rank No. 2 in the league with 165.8 rushing yards per game.
“You can’t afford to do that,” Graham said. “You can’t make a living doing it that way, so we’ve got to do a better job stopping the run.”
Fifteen missed tackles didn’t help. If backup quarterback Taysom Hill was a battering ram on two telegraphed touchdown runs, how can the Giants wrap up Ezekiel Elliott or a boot-legging Dak Prescott?
“I think you put extra emphasis on tackling because of the level of skills guys they have there,” Graham said. “They’re all tough to tackle.”
The Giants snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Cowboys in last season’s finale but still have not beaten Prescott since a two-game sweep during his rookie year in 2016. Graham looked down at a Cowboys depth chart and read off 11 names who pose problems.
“I’m getting text messages from all the guys I know that played here, like, ‘This is New York Giants-Dallas week,’ ” Graham said.
The subtext of the messages: Improve fast.
“Luckily for me, I have friends and mentors that are very honest with me,” Graham said, “so I get ‘Good luck,’ sometimes I get some criticism, sometimes I get some advice. The people involved with football, I’ve got a lot of people that are real honest with me, and I appreciate that about them.”