Seven months ago, the New York Giants walked off the field at Lucus Oil Stadium as World Champions. On Wednesday night, they will embark on their journey to “build the bridge” against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.
Last year, the Giants and Cowboys shared a Week 13 shootout and a win-or-go-home season finale. New York took both contests on its way to Super Bowl XLVI, but in the grand scheme of things, these were only two games amidst 50-plus years of heated rivalry.
These two teams have a hatred for each other so deep-seated that it breeds some of the NFL’s most entertaining trash talk every year. If you haven’t read it yet, take a look at Steven Goldstein’s article from last month on the rivalry’s most outlandish quotes.
But now, it’s finally time for these two teams to pipe down and prove it on the field. The Giants and Cowboys will both be hungry for a victory as they add another chapter to their storied rivalry.
However, when the final whistle blows, one team will be 1-0 and the other will be 0-1. If the Giants want to capture a coveted Week 1 win, there are five key factors that they will have to focus on.
The game plan when facing the Cowboys should always start with shutting down their biggest game-changer, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
Ware is one of the league’s most revered pass rushers. He has 99.5 career sacks—19.5 of which came last season—and the Giants have had a particularly difficult time bottling him up in the past.
Ware can line up and rush the passer from almost anywhere, but he likes to come from the right side, which is out of a right-handed quarterback’s field of vision. And with Will Beatty sidelined, first-year Giant Sean Locklear will be assigned the duty of protecting Eli Manning’s blind side.
Locklear doesn’t have a chance against Ware in an all-game one-on-one match-up, so expect to see big-bodied tight ends Martellus Bennett and Bear Pascoe stay in-line and provide some assistance.
If the Giants allow Ware to get consistent penetration, he’ll likely bring Manning down more than once—or at the very least, hurry him into a few rushed decisions.
In the two games against the Cowboys last year, quarterback Tony Romo dropped back to pass 68 times. That will allow plenty of opportunities for the Giants’ vicious pass rush to get after him.
Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora all rested insignificant injuries during the team’s final preseason game. Now, all three playmakers are healthy (which is rare) and ready to make an impact on Wednesday night.
Pierre-Paul had looks to improve on an already stellar 16.5 sack, All-Pro performance in 2011. The third-year defensive end can do that by getting off to a hot start against the Cowboys, a team that he single-handedly dominated a season ago.
Veterans Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora also want to prove their worth to the defense early on. Tuck wants to bounce back from a distraction-filled 2011 season, and Umenyiora may be in his final year as a Giant.
Throw Mathias Kiwanuka, a specialty pass rusher in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s NASCAR package, and Adawale Ojomo, a surprisingly talented undrafted free agent, into the mix and the Giants may have too much heat for the Cowboys to handle.
The Giants’ Week 13 shootout with the Cowboys was one of the most exciting games of the year, but it was also one of the sloppiest.
The game was marked by turnovers, undisciplined mistakes and blown coverages. Although the Giants ultimately took the game by a score of 37-34, there were many plays that, had the ball bounced a different way, could have drastically changed the outcome of the game.
On Wednesday night, the Giants need to control the pace of the game, something they didn’t do in that Week 13 match-up. If they fail to do so, things may start to unravel very quickly.
In order to control the tempo, the Giants will need to get a strong run-blocking performance from the offensive line. If New York has a successful game on the ground, they will likely dominate the time of possession and have a better chance at attaining a check in the win column for Week 1.
Last year, Manning and the Giants receiving corps gashed the Cowboys’ secondary for 746 yards in two games. Determined to avoid a repeat performance, the Cowboy’s acquired former Chief Brandon Carr through free agency and LSU standout Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick of the 2011 draft.
The Cowboys hope that the additions of Carr and Claiborne will make for one of the NFL’s most dominant cornerback tandems. Their first test of the season will be no cakewalk—New York starting wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz combined for over 2,700 yards last season.
Earlier this summer, Carr displayed confidence when he promised that we wouldn’t see any salsa dancing in the season opener. However, if the Giants want to emerge victorious, they will have to be even more confident than Carr.
The Carr/Claiborne combination is still new to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s complicated system. Manning needs to test not only the two corners’ ability, but also their understanding of the scheme. He needs to have confidence that his receivers will win the one-on-one match-ups.
If Nicks and Cruz can fight through man coverage and consistently find holes in zone coverage, the Cowboys defense will be demoralized and the Giants will move the ball down the field at will.
Sometimes the preseason isn’t enough time to shake off all the rust. The first week of the regular season is usually marked with just as many mistakes.
For some, the pressure of playing in the first game of the season in front of a national audience may be enough to cause a couple mental errors, especially the first-year players, who may have a case of the rookie jitters.
In order to win this game—or any game for that matter—the Giants need to win the turnover battle and commit fewer penalties. Both of these factors will have a heavy influence on the game.
The Giants have a leg up in this department, considering the fact that Tom Coughlin wants to see a disciplined performance out of his team before seemingly anything else. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are known to have issues with discipline—their top receiver, Dez Bryant, was given a list of off-the-field rules last week.
Ultimately, I think the same poise that the Giants showed last year in the postseason will carry on into Week 1 against Dallas.