Eli Manning will try to get the Giants offense off to a good start for the 2013 season opening night in Dallas against the rival Cowboys.
For a second year in a row, the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys will open the season against each other under the lights. This time, however, the drama will unfold in Dallas at AT&T Stadium aka Jerry World.
Big Blue’s success or failure this season will once again revolve around the offense. Last year, they averaged 26.8 points per game, good for sixth in the NFL. Their strong offensive output was a big reason why they managed a 9-7 record, as their defense performed at a below average level (31st in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points surrendered).
New York should once again be an elite offensive team, with weapons and big play potential at virtually every skill position.
Blocking, however, could be the unit’s one major weakness.
The offensive line was shuffled multiple times in the preseason due to injury and will be missing two starters, David Baas and David Diehl, against Dallas. Also, gone are running back Ahmad Bradshaw and tight end Martellus Bennett, who are both widely regarded as excellent blockers at their respective positions.
Their replacements, David Wilson and Brandon Myers, appear to be significantly worse in this discipline. Wilson lacks experience picking up the blitz, while Myers was the worst run-blocking tight end in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Giants, however, face a Cowboys defense that contains a lot more question marks than answers. For starters, they are switching to a 4-3 "Tampa 2" style defense from a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
As if this adjustment wasn’t enough, they also have injuries at key positions. The biggest one that will impact this game is to defensive end Anthony Spencer. The 29-year-old is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery in late July that continues to sideline him. It is highly likely that he will be limited come Sunday night, if he plays at all.
All of this unrest belongs to a unit that did not perform well last season, allowing 25 points and 355 yards per game. Both totals ranked in the bottom half of the NFL. In addition, they lost more veteran players than they acquired, which figures to limit their depth.
Now that the stage is set let’s take a look at how the Big Blue offensive attack will fare against Dallas’ D, starting with each of the skill positions and ending with the quarterback centerpiece, Eli Manning.
Don’t worry, they’ll be a game prediction at the end for you to mull over as well.
The main receiving threat from the tight end position will be newcomer Brandon Myers, especially with backup Adrien Robinson unlikely to play due to a sprained foot.
Myers came out of nowhere in 2012, his fourth season in the NFL, to lead the Oakland Raiders in receiving with 806 yards on 79 catches.
The just-turned 28-year-old does not figure to put up similar numbers this season in an offense with a lot more weapons that views the tight end position as more of a compliment in the passing game. As proof, Manning has averaged 72 targets per season to his top receiving tight end over the last four years. Myers was thrown at 101 times last season.
According to FFToday.com, the Cowboys were about average covering tight ends last season. They could be a little worse this season since tight ends usually fare well against the Tampa 2. This is due to a soft spot in the intermediate-middle of the field between the linebackers and safeties, who are more concerned about protecting the deep-middle.
The Cowboys won’t be playing the Tampa 2 exclusively, but it should be their main defensive scheme.
All of these factors should lead to a productive, yet unspectacular start to Myers’ Giants tenure.
Brandon Myers: 5 receptions, 48 yards
After putting up 252 yards and a touchdown in two games against Dallas in 2011, Cruz struggled in both Big D matchups last season. He managed six receptions for 58 yards on opening night, but several key drops overshadowed these numbers. In the second game, he was a virtual no-show, with only two grabs for 23 yards.
Cruz should see his fortunes turn on Sunday night, mainly because cornerback Morris Claiborne will likely cover him. The second-year player is coming off a shaky rookie season (-4.5 Pro Football Focus rating and only one interception) and didn’t play in any preseason games due to a knee injury he suffered early in training camp. To be fair, Cruz played in all but one preseason game due to a bruised heel.
Still, this figures to be a favorable matchup for the Salsa King, as does the Tampa 2, since Cruz is a master at getting open in the middle of the field.
Nicks has 36 catches for 550 yards and four touchdowns in seven career games against Dallas. These numbers would look a lot better if they didn’t include the pedestrian eight receptions for 84 yards he managed, combined, in both meetings last year.
Nicks enters the season healthy after an injury-riddled 2012, which is fortunate since veteran Brandon Carr figures to be lined up across from him Sunday night. The six-year veteran has the size and strength at 6’0”, 206 pounds to matchup with the physical Nicks.
Expect Big Blue’s third wideout, Rueben Randle, to show up in prime-time for a few reasons. First, he will likely be matched up most of the night against the Cowboys third and fourth cornerbacks, Orlando Scandrick and rookie B.W. Webb. Both players are under six feet tall and shy of 200 pounds, making the 6’2”, 208-pound Randle an intriguing target for Manning.
Also, the Cowboys safeties are generally considered a weak spot in this defense. Randle showed big play ability in limited opportunities last season, with four of his 19 catches going for 30 yards or more. In fact, the longest catch of his rookie year, 56 yards, came against Dallas in Week 8.
Expect Randle’s height and athleticism to lead to at least one big play in the area of Will Allen and/or Barry Church.
With Louis Murphy making a cameo appearance, here is how the Giants wide receivers should perform Sunday night.
Rueben Randle – 3 receptions, 85 yards, 1 touchdown
Victor Cruz – 7 receptions, 72 yards
Hakeem Nicks – 5 catches, 49 yards, 1 touchdown
Louis Murphy – 1 catch, 9 yards
What a difference a year makes.
David Wilson’s NFL debut came against the Cowboys in Week 1 of last season and it did not go well. On his second carry of the game, Wilson fumbled, which began a long stint in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse. Wilson would not receive a handoff the rest of the night, and only carried the ball 26 times over the next 11 games.
This season, Wilson is the clear number one running back for the foreseeable future, with Andre Brown sidelined at least four weeks due to a fractured leg.
Without Brown, the depth behind Wilson is scary thin. The Giants are only carrying two other running backs, Da’Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox. Scott has been in the league for two years but has a grand total of 11 carries.
Luckily for Big Blue, Wilson should be enough to muster up a solid rushing attack. He ran well in preseason and has the speed and explosiveness to test a Cowboys run defense that allowed 125.2 yards per game last season on 4.5 yards per carry.
A limited or absent Spencer as well as defensive tackle Jay Ratliff being out due a groin injury should help Wilson’s cause. On the flip side, a healthy Sean Lee could negate some of Wilson’s success.
The fourth year veteran middle linebacker, who missed 10 games last year due to a toe injury, is formidable against the run, as witnessed by his 8.8 PFF rating when he did play in 2012.
Before diving into the predictions, note that Bear Pascoe is listed here since he is still the fill-in fullback for Henry Hynoski. It is possible, though, that Hynoski may play Sunday night.
David Wilson - 22 carries, 91 yards, 1 touchdown; 2 receptions, 15 yards
Da’Rel Scott – 5 carries, 17 yards; 1 reception, 5 yards
Bear Pascoe - 1 reception, 8 yards
The 2011 Cowboys were embarrassed by Manning, but the 2012 version managed to get some measure of revenge.
Eli eviscerated Dallas two years ago with 746 yards passing, five touchdowns and only one interception in two games. Last season his numbers plummeted with only 405 yards through the air and one touchdown. At least he managed to limit the turnovers with a repeat single interception performance.
Manning figures to split the difference on Sunday night. He won’t light up the Cowboys but he should be able to fuel an effective passing attack.
With a suspect secondary, the only chance the Cowboys have to neutralize Manning is with pressure against the Giants makeshift offensive line. Dallas, however, only managed 34 sacks last season, tied for 20th in the NFL with Detroit.
That meager total came in Rob Ryan’s attacking style defense. With the Tampa 2 less reliant on the blitz, it will be difficult for them to get a consistent pass rush against the Giants. Also, Spencer had 11 sacks last season, so not having him at full speed, or at all, should provide Manning an even cleaner pocket.
Eli Manning – 25 for 39, 291 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception
Game Prediction – In a back-and-forth battle, the Giants beat the Cowboys 27-23.