"It all begins now, in the division, in Dallas, on Sunday night," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "It doesn’t get much more exciting than this. The players are really obviously focused and excited.They understand the competition, the ability level of the Dallas team, an outstanding football team when we go there."
Dallas leads the all-time series 57-42-2, but the Giants have won the last four games played in AT&T Stadium, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.
The Giants are 18-22-1 in Sunday night games, including a 9-11-1 mark on the road. When facing the Cowboys in prime time, the Giants are 7-11 overall but have gone 0-5 when opening the season against their NFC East rivals.
The Competitive Edge
Quarterback: Both Eli Manning and Tony Romo are Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Manning, however, is a two-time Super Bowl MVP who has shown that he can remain calm even under the most intense pressure, while Romo tends to become more easily rattled.
Running Backs: New Giants starting running back David Wilson is electric, but the injury to Andre Brown really hurts their depth. Meanwhile the Cowboys have a one-two punch of DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, who last year combined for 738 of the Cowboys 1,265 rushing yards.
Tight Ends: In this game, there's All-Pro Jason Witten, who last year had 18 receptions for 167 yards the last time these two teams met in Dallas, and then there's everyone else not named Jason Witten.
Offensive Line: Both lines have been tweaked due to injury, but give the Giants the slight edge if they stick with the same configuration of left tackle Will Beatty, left guard James Brewer, center Kevin Boothe, right guard Chris Snee and right tackle Justin Pugh that held up well in the preseason finale against the Patriots.
Defensive Line: The Giants front four is its strength, and if they have Jason Pierre-Paul available, it will make them that more dangerous. Dallas, meanwhile might be missing defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), one of its best pass rushers, and will be without interior lineman Jay Ratliff, who's on PUP.
Linebackers: Keith Rivers is the best of the Giants' otherwise unproven group that consists of Spencer Paysinger and former Cowboy Dan Connor. Dallas, meanwhile has a stout middle linebacker in Sean Lee who could create headaches for the Giants running game.
Defensive Backs: The only real concern for the Giants defensive backs is the play of Corey Webster, who spent the latter part of the summer dealing with groin and knee issues. Give the Giants defensive secondary the edge as Dallas' two corners, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, are trying to adjust to Kiffin's Cover 2 scheme.
Special Teams: The Giants kicking tandem of Steve Weatherford and Josh Brown, both of whom have big legs, give them the edge over Dallas' Chris Jones and Dan Bailey.
Giants Offense vs. Dallas Defense
The Giants' starting offense is far from being a finished product, but there was some progress made each week of the preseason.
First, the Giants shook up their offense line, a move made necessary due to the injuries to center David Baas and right tackle David Diehl.
Rookie Justin Pugh, the Giants' first round pick, is the new starting right tackle, and it will be his job to lose. However, Pugh could find himself with a big challenge if the Cowboys decide to move All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware across from him, a move that would make sense from the Cowboys perspective.
Meanwhile James Brewer moved into the lineup at left guard, with starting left guard Kevin Boothe moving to center. Brewer looked well at guard against New England in the preseason, that being the first time he played the position for the Giants. However, can Brewer hold up for an entire game?
That offensive line configuration seemed to play well, and while Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin wouldn't confirm that he was sticking with that configuration, Coughlin tends not to fix something unless it's broken.
Quarterback Eli Manning should have both of his top receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, in the lineup. The addition of Rueben Randle, who will enter this game as the third receiver, is big because it helps take away some of the double teams that Nicks and Cruz might otherwise have drawn.
The Giants receivers should be able to have success against the Cowboys' cornerbacks, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, who are trying to adjust to Kiffin's Cover 2 scheme.
Manning will also have a new tight end in Brandon Myers. While not the best blocking tight end, Myers looked like he was finally starting to become comfortable in the Giants' passing offense as the preseason progressed.
In their running game, the Giants have a bit of a problem. They lost Andre Brown, their number two back, for at least eight weeks, and they could be without their starting fullback, Henry Hynoski, who continues to work his way back into the lineup following major knee surgery.
Bear Pascoe, a tight end, has filled in admirably at fullback, but Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is one tough customer against the run. Meanwhile, the Giants appear content heading into this game with Da'Rel Scott, who at the start of training camp, looked to be on his way off the team, as the change of pace back to Wilson.
There are some other factors favoring the Giants' offense. First, Dallas is transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and the transition remains a work in progress.
Defensive end Anthony Spencer doesn't look as though he'll be able to play as he continues to recover from the knee surgery he had in late July. His absence is huge for a defense that likes to get after the passer.
Also missing on the Dallas defense is interior lineman Jay Ratliff, who in the past has always been a load up front to handle. Ratliff is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a hamstring issue.
Giants Defense vs. Dallas Offense
The Giants defense has long relied on the turnover—New York has forced at least one turnover in 43 of its last 48 games, including playoffs. However, safety Stevie Brown, who last year led the Giants with eight interceptions, is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Still, priority number one for the Giants will be to make sure that tight end Jason Witten does not roam free underneath as he did the last time these two teams met. In that game, the Giants linebackers employed a very loose coverage which Witten and quarterback Tony Romo exploited, and they very nearly made the Giants pay.
This time around, look for the Giants to play Witten much tighter, either with safety Antrel Rolle or linebacker Keith Rivers, their most athletic linebacker.
Another interesting thing to watch will be how the Dallas receivers line up against the Giants corners. both Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are a handful each to cover, so this year, Giants' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell decided to flip his cornerbacks around in order to draw the most ideal match ups. Look for Prince Amukamara to get Bryant while Corey Webster will probably draw Austin.
One of the Giants' top goals, of course, will be to limit the rushing yards. The Giants put a big empathizes on improving its defense interior, so look for four defensive tackles to be dressed for this game to allow defensive coordinator Perry Fewell flexibility in mixing and matching his personnel to keep running back DeMarco Murray under wraps.
Finally, if the Giants can consistently collapse the pocket, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is usually good for a mistake or two when under pressure.
The Giants' kicking game is about as solid as it comes, as big-legged kicker Josh Brown has shown the ability to consistently get touchbacks.
On the other end, punter Steve Weatherford did a lot of punting this summer thanks to the offense's struggles in the red zone.
Weatherford works hard to keep himself in optimal shape, but he didn't have a strong night of kicking in the preseason finale against the Patriots. The good news is that he's had plenty of time to rest up for the opening night game and should be ready to go.
The Giants have a new kickoff returner in rookie Michael Cox, who replaces David Wilson in the role. Cox has shown that he has good vision and breakaway speed and has done a nice job holding onto the ball.
At punt returner, Jayron Hosley sprained an ankle and probably won't be asked to carry out those duties this weekend. Instead, third receiver Rueben Randle will likely get the call.
Overall, the Giants should have the advantage on special teams, though it remains to be seen if linebacker Kyle Bosworth, who was picked up by the Cowboys off waivers from the Giants, is able to make a difference in limiting the Giant's return yardage.
What They're Saying
“We don’t talk about it. It’s a brand new football team that we have. We feel strongly about our football team this year and what we’ve done to get better since last season and so the better team will win on Sunday.”
--Dallas Quarterback Tony Romo on the Giants' being 4-0 in the Cowboys' current home venue
"When he’s at his best, he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks in the league. He makes you miss. He extends the play with his legs. He’s a good quarterback all-around, so you’ve got to respect him."
-- Giants Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul of Tony Romo
Giants' Wednesday Injury Report Analysis
Did not practice: Center David Baas (knee), tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot).
Diehl, who is sporting a smaller, lightweight wrap, is still about four weeks away from being cleared to return from his surgery. Robinson appears to be sidelined indefinitely, and Baas continues to be a week-by-week situation.
Limited: receiver Victor Cruz (heel), fullback Henry Hynoski (knee), defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back).
Cruz told reporters on Wednesday that he hasn’t yet been cleared medically by the team doctors to play Sunday but that he expected that clearance to come barring a totally unforeseen circumstance. Cruz has reportedly been getting an increase in his practice reps and has not had any setbacks.
Pierre-Paul, who insists that the decision as to whether he plays is his alone, made it clear that when he returns, he wants to do so as a full time defensive end, not just a sitautional pass rusher. Head coach Tom Coughlin told the media that he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen from Pierre-Paul.
“He’s had a few practices and he’s done well with what we’ve asked him to do,” Coughlin said. “He’d like more (and) we’re going to try to accommodate him.
Moore, the dynamic rookie who had a breakout showing in the first preseason game, has been sidelined ever since with a bruised shoulder. The team and Moore have both said that he continues to get “close,” but at this point, it’s all a matter of semantics as Moore has now missed about a month’s worth of games and has not taken part in a full practice since that first preseason game.
“Well, it’s not easy,” Coughlin said of Moore’s attempts to keep up with what’s being taught in the classroom. “He’s been in every meeting, every jog-through, done all of these types of things, but there isn’t any question he’s missed a lot of time.”
Moore will likely be one of the inactive Giants.
Hynoski has had his eye on being ready for opening day since suffering his knee injury in late May during a non-contact OTA drill. While he took a limited number of reps, last week Coughlin had said that coming back from injuries “take a while,” leaving one to conclude that there was a very strong possibility that, if Hynoski was not able to take his full practice workload, the team might hold him out of action another week.
Full participation: Cornerback Jayron Hosley
Hosley should be able to play on Sunday.
This Week's Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office.)
Who will win this week's Giants-Dallas game?
The Cowboys are 9-0 in games in which their projected starting running back, DeMarco Murray, has rushed for 18 or more rushing attempts.
Giants’ defensive end Justin Tuck is just half a sack away from reaching 50 for his career.
Cowboys’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware has 111 sacks since entering in 2005, most in NFL. He has 4.5 sacks in his last three games against the Giants.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning has won six of his past eight starts vs. Dallas.
Cowboys’ linebacker Sean Lee has 32 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble in his last three games against the Giants.
Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has 21 catches for 317 yards (105.7 per game) and two touchdowns in his last three games against the Cowboys.
Giants’ defensive tackle Linval Joseph has three sacks in his past two games vs. Dallas.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor at InsideFootball.com. All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.