There is the game. Then, there is the game within the game.
When the New York Giants travel to Arlington, Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night (September 8), several individual matchups are sure to come to the forefront. Many of these battles will have a direct impact on the game’s outcome.
The following three matchups project to be the season-opening contest’s best:
DeMarcus Ware vs. Will Beatty
In February, the Giants paid Will Beatty elite left tackle money for matchups like this one.
New York believes its second-round investment from 2009 has finally blossomed into one of the league’s best blind-side protectors. With Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware lined up across him on Sept. 8, Beatty will be put to the test early.
No player has sacked the quarterback more times than Ware since 2005 (111.0). As an outside linebacker in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense, Ware flourished. He has recorded a double-digit sack total in each of his last seven Pro Bowl seasons. Even when fighting injury, Ware has always found a way to produce.
The Ware that Beatty will face on Sunday will be fully healthy—and firing out of his new defensive end position in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s fresh 4-3 scheme.
Recent Hall of Fame inductee Warren Sapp visualizes a 25-sack season for Ware (via ESPN Dallas/Fort Worth), which would shatter Michael Strahan’s current single-season record of 22.5.
Ware will need a hot start to reach Sapp’s prediction, and the Giants hope Beatty can prevent that. If he does keep Ware away from Manning, New York will neutralize the Cowboys’ biggest defensive threat. But, with the potential to single-handedly overtake the game, Ware and his battle with Beatty will be crucial to keep an eye on.
Key to victory: Send help Beatty's way in the form of big tight ends and chipping backs.
David Wilson vs. Sean Lee
David Wilson was projected to be the Giants’ starting running back anyway, but after Andre Brown’s injury, the second-year back’s role is certain to increase—possibly to an every-down rate. Wilson, who was a 2013 breakout candidate to begin with, will be the focal point of New York’s offense starting Sunday.
Wilson’s prime competition will be linebacker Sean Lee, who, along with Ware, was named to NFL.com’s projected 2013 All-Pro team (via the Dallas Morning News). Lee wrapped up a six-year deal worth $42 million in August. The 27-year-old Penn State product now mans the center of Dallas’ D.
Lee missed 10 games last year after landing on Dallas’ injured reserve list due to a toe injury. His first regular-season game back will be spent chasing Wilson around the field, a tall order for the Cowboys ‘backer looking to bounce back.
If Lee can slow down Wilson, the Giants can quickly become one-dimensional offensively. The Giants cannot afford to have Lee effectively shadow Wilson for the entire game. Even if Wilson struggles to find room to run most of the night, breaking a long one, like the 84-yard run he had against the Jets, could be the difference.
Key to victory: Find ways to get David Wilson the ball in space if you want to see a backflip.
Travis Frederick vs. Linval Joseph
The Cowboys’ first-round draft pick, Travis Frederick of Wisconsin, has settled into Dallas’ starting center role this preseason. Owner/GM Jerry Jones took some heat for trading back and drafting the center 31st overall back in April, but quarterback Tony Romo insists the Cowboys got a “good one” in Frederick (via NFL.com).
We will see how well Frederick can perform with Linval Joseph in his grill all night.
Joseph is a rising member of the Giants’ defense, and his on-field attitude is comparable to that of a rodeo bull. This is not a typical head-to-head matchup—luckily for Frederick—as very few men can handle a man of Joseph's 323-pound size and strength consistently in one-on-one situations.
If Joseph can draw enough attention from right guard Doug Free, in addition to tying up Frederick, things should really open up on the strong side of New York's defense. Unless the Cowboys keep an extra tight end in line to protect the edge, Justin Tuck will have to beat only Jermey Parnell, Dallas’ weak point at right tackle, to reach Romo.
Joseph’s efforts will be key to the Giants' pass rush, which will, in turn, be key to a New York victory. If he can plug the inside gaps and consistently demand double-teams, the Giants will harass Romo all night.
If Frederick shows veteran polish in his first NFL start, holding up Joseph on his own, it could be a long night for the Giants’ sack-starved rushers.
Key to victory: Let Joseph greet the rookie, Frederick, with a warm welcome to the NFL.
Bonus: Kevin Gilbride vs. Josh Brown
Okay, so there will not be an actual showdown between offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and kicker Josh Brown on the field—and, hopefully, the same can be said for Buddy Ryan-style sideline outbursts. But there is definitely an indirect conflict involving these two men. And it revolves around the red-zone offense.
Or the green zone, as head coach Tom Coughlin likes to call it.
The Giants took two of their three red-zone trips into the end zone against the Patriots, which was much improved compared to their eight unsuccessful trips in the previous three preseason matches. In all four exhibitions, Brown made 15 of 17 field-goal attempts (88.2 percent).
Key to victory: Limit Brown’s role on Sunday to kickoffs and extra-point attempts.