The preseason is officially over and the Dallas Cowboys can now focus on official business.
While there still might be a roster move or so to make, the coaching staff and the players have already shifted the attention to the New York Giants.
The Giants are facing a slew of injuries, but rest assured, they will be well prepared. They will not use any injury as an excuse, and they will be looking to continue their mastery over Dallas in Jerry Jones' palatial stadium. They are led by Eli Manning, a stout defensive front and several key skill position players.
You can easily expect a highly competitive affair, plenty of drama and a typical NFC East rivalry game that will probably come down to late-game execution and which team is able to make a few more plays.
These teams are no stranger to each other, and as a result, the battles between them are usually tests of will and turn on perseverance instead of schemes, strategy or trickery.
However, there will be several battles within the battle that will determine the outcome of this game.
Let's dissect four key matchups.
DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer vs. Will Beatty and Justin Pugh
DeMarcus Ware is healthy and ready for a huge 2013 season. Anthony Spencer vows to be ready for the opener despite getting a knee scope early in training camp.
And going on the assumption that these two players will be healthy and ready to go, Ware and Spencer must make an impact in this game.
The Cowboys switched to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme, and in the process, converted Ware and Spencer to defensive ends. They must get New York's offensive tackles, Beatty and Pugh, to play on their heels and put sustained pressure on Manning. They also must set the edge on running plays to the outside.
Failure to do so will allow Manning the time he needs to execute in play-action, go through all his progressions and ultimately carve up the middle of the field. The bottom line is that the more time you give a Super Bowl MVP to find his target, he will eventually hurt you.
Spencer needs to give Pugh his "welcome to the NFL" moment, and the Dallas Cowboys need to take advantage of an offensive line that is in a state of flux.
Cowboys Offensive Line vs. Giants Defensive Front
It's hard to isolate one specific matchup between these two groups, since the Giants front four can hurt you in so many ways. Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Jason Pierre-Paul, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers give New York a lot of depth to work with and a lot for the Cowboys to plan for.
The Giants will look to rotate their defensive linemen and give the Cowboys different looks with twists and stunts aimed at confusing center Travis Frederick and attacking the guards. Dallas' game plan will be to establish the running game and keep Tony Romo upright, giving him time to utilize his weapons.
This won't be an easy task for this offensive line. If Ronald Leary is able to play in this game, it will help the Cowboys match the strength that Joseph, Rogers and Patterson pose along the interior of the line.
Tuck will be a tough matchup for Jermy Parnell or Doug Free, and even an almost healthy Pierre-Paul will be a handful for Tyron Smith, who is assigned with protecting Romo's blind side.
The battle in the trenches will be the battle to watch.
Dez Bryant vs. Giants Secondary
The Cowboys must get receiver Dez Bryant the ball whether the Giants double him, play him one-on-one or blanket him with lot of zone and Cover 2. Should additional attention paid to Bryant open up opportunities for other Cowboy skill players, Romo will not hesitate to take what the defense gives him.
But it all starts with Dallas making the commitment to getting Bryant the ball.
The Giants will probably use cornerback Prince Amukamara against Bryant since he matches up well physically, but I also expect New York to give the wideout multiple looks as well. Ryan Mundy will be forced to play more of a deep center field to take away big plays, but running shorter routes in front of Mundy might force to come up tighter to the line of scrimmage. That could later make him vulnerable to a deep throw.
Big games require big plays from the biggest playmakers, and that is the role Bryant will play for this team all season.
That needs to start in Week 1. It's that simple.
Rueben Randle vs. Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb
But what about Manning's third option? Yes, that's right, New York's second-year receiver Rueben Randle versus the Cowboys' nickel corners could be a dark-horse matchup.
Remember how Steve Smith and Mario Manningham carved up this team in the past? Well the Giants have done a great job in recent years of retooling their passing offense, bringing in new prospects to replace departed veterans, and not experiencing a drop-off in performance. Randle appears to be the next standout receiver in line.
Scandrick is a good corner, but although he is usually in good position, he has trouble closing out plays. The Cowboys are going light with four cornerbacks on this year's roster, so that leaves Webb as the only other option behind Scandrick.
You think the Giants will go with four-wide receiver sets?
You bet. Mr. Webb, meet Mr. Manning.
A number of other matchups could affect the outcome of this matchup. But knowing how competitive games are between these two teams, the focal points of this season-opening tilt should be the same as always: solid protection, establishing the run, ball security and making plays in the passing game.
For the Giants, they will be looking to avenge the loss in last season's opener and take their first steps towards hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next February in their own backyard.
For the Cowboys, coming out victorious could set them on a path they were unable to complete last season.
This matchup simply comes down to which team wants it more.
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