Adoree’ Jackson knows he’s in for a tough night when the New York Giants face the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1. Jackson will be tasked with keeping Cowboys’ wide receiver CeeDee Lamb under wraps at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, September 10.
Their matchup will likely be played out in the slot, an area Jackson has transitioned into this offseason. The veteran cornerback thrives on the perimeter, but he’ll be required to deal with the demands of playing inside in nickel packages this season.
Jackson told reporters he’s ready for his battle with Lamb, even though he isn’t about to make it personal, per the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy: “Not just receivers like him — but across the league — you take those matchups personally. It’s not like basketball where you play someone four times. It’s all about taking this series personal because you never know when it’ll be your last snap. Every matchup … you take personal and want to go out there and showcase and display your best.”
He sounds up for the fight, but Jackson’s new remit faces a stern test from one of the Giants’ most frequent tormentors. Lamb has dominated Big Blue, but Jackson insisted his move to the slot wasn’t made with the Cowboys’ playmaker in mind: “I don’t think [the change] was for this game in particular but just about the long haul. It was more of a trajectory of what we want to do throughout the season.”
Even if his switch isn’t player-specific, Jackson has all the motivation he needs to make amends after getting beat by Lamb last season.
Giants’ Slot Corner Must Fare Better in Rematch
Jackson didn’t fare too well when the Cowboys won 23-16 at MetLife Stadium in Week 3 last season. He gave up this touchdown against Lamb.
CEEDEE LAMB ONE-HANDED FOR THE LEAD 😱 @_CeeDeeThree
📺: #DALvsNYG on ESPN/ABC
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/D62zaILv7u pic.twitter.com/p8ZJTYNkyv
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2022
The score was just one example of the considerable damage Lamb had inflicted upon the Giants, per Dunleavy: “Lamb compiled 37 catches for 494 yards in his first six career games in this rivalry.”
There’s a good chance Lamb can boost those numbers further given his greater experience from the slot. Dunleavy cited Pro Football Focus statistics revealing “Lamb played 52.5 percent of his snaps out of the slot — compared to just 8.8 percent for Jackson — last season.”
Those numbers appear to put the Giants at a decided disadvantage whenever Lamb lines up inside in the opening week. Jackson’s a capable cover man, though, so defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale will trust the 27-year-old to handle the responsibility of keeping the Cowboys’ best wideout quiet.
Martindale’s other answer to Lamb will be to blitz the source of No. 88’s supply. The Giants’ play-caller loves to design and send pressure, but as CBS Sports SportsLine’s Jacob Gibbs detailed, Lamb was Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott’s go-to target against the blitz.
The Giants blitzed 43% of the time defensively in 2022. The next-highest rate was 37%.
Check out who Dak Prescott targeted when blitzed in 2022 ⤵️
CeeDee Lamb’s target per route run rate vs blitz (36%) ranked second in the NFL behind only Amon-Ra St. Brown (37%). pic.twitter.com/ao0PyKnfY8
— Jacob Gibbs (@jagibbs_23) September 5, 2023
Lamb helps the Dallas offense beat the blitz, but Jackson gives the Giants a better chance of shutting down this outlet. The bigger concern might be the Cowboys targeting rookie corners on the outside.
Rookie’s Emergence Led to Position Switch
Jackson is shifting to the inside in sub packages largely because of the emergence of rookie Tre Hawkins III. The Giants’ sixth-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft has converted breakout performances this offseason into a starting role on the outside.
Hawkins’ status was made evident on the pre-Week 1 depth chart, per Dan Duggan of The Athletic.
Changes to the Giants’ Week 1 “unofficial” depth chart compared to the preseason finale:
• WLB: Micah McFadden > Darrian Beavers
• CB: Tre Hawkins > Adoree’ Jackson
• Slot CB: Adoree’ Jackson > Darnay Holmes
• KR: Eric Gray > Gary Brightwell
— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 5, 2023
The changes mean the Giants are prepared to roll with two rookies covering on the outside. Hawkins will be joined by Deonte Banks, the team’s top draft pick this year.
Fielding this much inexperience at key positions is a major risk on two fronts. First, because defenses lean on nickel sets more often during the NFL’s pass-heavy modern era, so Hawkins and Banks will be exposed to challenging matchups several times each week.
Most of those matchups are likely to be one-on-one in nature thanks to Martindale’s propensity for blitzing. He’ll expect his cornerbacks to cope on islands in single coverage behind the pressure.
Risk aside, Jackson expressed his confidence about how Hawkins will hold up, based on how the first-year pro quickly moved up the ranks this offseason, per Giants.com managing editor Dan Salomone: “Man, this guy keeps showing up.”
Adoree’ Jackson noticed Tre Hawkins III running with the threes, then with the twos, and said, “Man, this guy keeps showing up.” When he got his opportunity with the ones, Jackson could tell Hawkins was serious about his business.
— Dan Salomone (@Dan_Salomone) September 4, 2023
Martindale needs Hawkins to handle playing on the edge, because Jackson can be an equalizer from the slot. It’s where many of the game’s most dynamic threats line up, threats like Philadelphia Eagles’ tight end Dallas Goedert and Washington Commanders’ wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
Like Lamb, Goedert and Dotson will get two chances apiece to dissect the Giants in NFC East matchups. Jackson has a vital role to play in ensuring the Giants still have an advantage in those games.
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