New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
As the New York Giants begin their 2012 campaign tonight at the Meadowlands, the team has several questions it must begin to answer.
Sure, Big Blue is coming off a Super Bowl championship that gave fans flashbacks of 2007. However, it's important to remember this team finished the regular season with a 9-7 record a year ago, and was six inches away from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo completing a touchdown pass to Miles Austin in Week 14 that would have effectively ended Big Blue's season.
Tonight is the beginning of a team-oriented vendetta against all the rigorous detractors that call last year a fluke. While the Giants certainly did catch a few breaks in 2011, this is an immensely talented roster that is on the precipice of a dynasty. With that, tonight's game against the divisional rival Dallas Cowboys will go a long way in determining Big Blue's repeat chances.
Let's take a look at a few of Dallas' biggest weapons, and how the Giants will go about shutting them down.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Tony Romo is the Dallas Cowboys' biggest threat heading into tonight's matchup.
Last season, in a Week 14 loss to the Giants, Romo threw for 321 yards, four touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 141.3. The guy basically put the team on his back and had them winning by double digits with under five minutes to play. A porous Dallas secondary allowed Big Blue to make a miraculous comeback.
However, Tony Romo proved to be Dallas' best player that night, and should do so tonight as well.
Against a thin Giants secondary, Romo will look to take advantage of mismatches that will inevitably be present in three and four wide receiver sets, and especially against nickel packages. For the Giants to offset these matchups, getting a consistent pass rush will be key.
The Cowboys offensive line is revamped. The only player on the unit returning to his 2011 position is center Phil Costa. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora should be able to take advantage of the lack of experience and continuity within this group, and we should see Tony Romo scrambling for his life all night long.
Dallas Cowboys receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have caused Big Blue a lot of problems over the years.
While the Giants have had the Cowboys' number recently, Dallas' dynamic receiving duo has been a consistent big-play threat for Tony Romo and the offense. Although the potential absence of Jason Witten will be detrimental to Bryant and Austin's production tonight, the Giants are going to have their hands full.
Tonight, Michael Coe will get his first career start alongside Corey Webster at cornerback. Coe will be lined up against one of Dallas' top receivers for the duration of the game. While Coe is a physical corner with average speed, he is going to have trouble keeping up with Dallas' receivers tonight.
However, the Giants can minimize those mismatches by rushing the passer. Tony Romo will not be able to find open receivers downfield if he is on his back the entire night. If the Giants can get a consistent pass rush without having to blitz, the Cowboys could be in for a long game.
Dallas Cowboys' LB DeMarcus Ware.
If you're looking to find the best pass-rusher in the NFL from 2011, you might not have to look too much further than DeMarcus Ware. Not only did Ware post 19.5 sacks last season, but he did so with marginal talent alongside him on the defensive line (save Jay Ratliff).
To minimize Ware's impact on this game, the Giants are starting Sean Locklear at left tackle. Locklear was brought in to back up Will Beatty, not replace him. Beatty has been injured throughout the preseason, and is not yet back to full speed. His presence tonight may be sorely missed.
The absence of Jay Ratliff will allow the Giants to double-team Ware for a majority of the night. With that, it's essential that Big Blue's running backs know exactly where Ware lines up on every play, so that he never gets a clean shot on franchise quarterback Eli Manning for the duration of the game.
Containing DeMarcus Ware will more than likely determine whether the Giants have success on offense in tonight's contest. If Eli Manning gets enough time to throw the ball, he can be lethal. It will be interesting to see how the team's blocking schemes account for Ware.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr.
In 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles learned the hard way that putting talented players in the defensive backfield does not guarantee success.
The Dallas Cowboys seem to be taking the same approach this season by pairing free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr with first-round draft pick Maurice Claiborne at cornerback.
While the Cowboys might take some time to get their feet under them in the secondary this season, Eli Manning and the rest of the offense must remain cognizant of the immense talent that each of Dallas' cornerbacks possesses. Although this group is inexperienced and lack continuity, Carr and Claiborne are athletic enough to change the game with one play.
For the Giants to ensure maximum success on offense tonight, they must attack Maurice Claiborne early and often. He's a rookie going up against some extremely talented wide receivers, so getting into his head early will enable the Giants to attack him more as the game progresses.
It will be a fun, exciting atmosphere tonight as the NFL opens up perhaps one of its most competitive seasons ever. Although this Week 1 billing has been built up to have Super Bowl-like implications, it's just one step in a long journey for both teams. Regardless of tonight's result, these will be two of the more talked about squads in the league for the entire season.