Previewing New York Giants' Week 1 Matchup with Dallas Cowboys

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 7, 2017

Previewing New York Giants' Week 1 Matchup with Dallas Cowboys

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    If the NFL was looking for a game tucked amid a bunch of juicy side stories to open the Sunday night slate, they've gotten their wish in Week 1's New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

    On the Cowboys side, all eyes had been focused on Ezekiel Elliott and whether his appeal of a six-game league-imposed ban would be lifted in time for the game. The ban was upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson, but the decision didn't come down in time to keep the running back out of Sunday's game.

    On the Giants side, questions continue to swirl about Odell Beckham Jr. and his bum ankle. The star receiver appears to be inching closer to making a return, but after giving everyone a glimmer of hope Wednesday that maybe he was over the hump when he warmed up with his teammates, he ended up not practicing.

    Tucked within those story lines is the fact that the winner of this game will get a critical leg up on the loser since it's a division game and counts twice in the standings.

    Last year New York swept the Cowboys in the regular-season series for the first time since 2011, the Giants' last Super Bowl season.

    Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

    Date: September 10, 2017

    Station: Sunday Night Football, NBC 

    Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas 

Injury Report (as of Wednesday, Sept. 6)

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    New York Giants

    • WR Odell Beckham (ankle): did not practice 
    • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion): did not practice 
    • CB Eli Apple (ankle): full participation in practice
    • DT Jay Bromley (knee): full participation in practice
    • CB Michael Hunter (concussion): full participation in practice
    • WR Tavarres King (ankle): full participation in practice
    • FB/TE Shane Smith (quad): full participation in practice 

    Dallas Cowboys

    • LB Anthony Hitchens (ankle): did not practice 
    • CB Jourdan Lewis (hamstring): limited participation in practice 
    • CB Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring): full participation in practice
    • DE Taco Charlton (shoulder): full participation in practice 
    • DE Tyrone Crawford (ankle): full participation in practice 
    • G Chaz Green (ankle): full participation in practice 
    • TE James Hanna (hamstring): full participation in practice
    • FB Keith Smith (knee): full participation in practice
    • S Xavier Woods (hamstring): full participation in practice

Matchup to Watch

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Giants CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Cowboys WR Cole Beasley 

    Last year, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the team's primary slot cornerback with 214 snaps in the slot, had a decent but not spectacular showing.

    Per Pro Football Focus, Rodgers-Cromartie was targeted 39 times, allowing 26 catches for 273 yards, 186 after the catch for a 95.4 NFL Rating.

    One slot receiver he had trouble with was Cole Beasley of the Cowboys. In both games last year, Beasley caught 12 of 19 pass targets for 106 yards. He also had a key drop in the first meeting on a pass that might have been a touchdown had he found the handle.

    They might not seem like big numbers, but the key takeaway here is that Beasley quite often found himself getting open when working from the slot. 

    If, as expected, Janoris Jenkins draws Dez Bryant in coverage and Eli Apple draws Terrance Williams, don't be surprised if Dak Prescott goes to Beasley more often if Bryant and Williams are covered too tightly.

X-Factor

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Giants MLB B.J. Goodson

    While the fantasy football community is going gaga over the Cowboys "big three"—quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Dez Bryant—there's an oldie but goodie on the roster who, over the course of his career, is averaging 10.20 yards per reception and has caught 71.9 percent of the pass targets thrown his way when facing the Giants defense.

    That would be tight end Jason Witten, perhaps the biggest thorn in the Giants side in the last decade. He has been like a fine wine against the Giants—with age he's gotten better. Sort of.

    Last year, the Giants defense held the 35-year-old to 13 receptions (out of 21 pass targets for 82 yards and no touchdowns). Those numbers are significant for two reasons.

    First, in the two games played, Witten's average yards per catch were the lowest in games against the Giants since 2013. Second, and more importantly, last year marked the first time since 2012 that he did not score a touchdown against Big Blue. 

    One theory for Witten's quiet 2016 season against New York was the presence of linebacker Keenan Robinson, the Giants' best cover linebacker last year.

    However, Robinson, who is still trying to work his way through the league's concussion protocol, doesn't look as though he's going to play Sunday.

    That means second-year man B.J. Goodson is likely to team up with fellow linebacker Jonathan Casillas in coverage packages that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is hoping will stop the Cowboys from getting beyond the second level.

    Goodson obviously wouldn't divulge what his role in the game plan is, but he did have a message for people who might be squeamish about him in coverage.

    "It's something I've always been comfortable with," he said. "I'm not sure where the naysayers get that I couldn't do it from, but it's something I've done in college."

    Per Pro Football Focus, Goodson wasn't tested much in coverage in the preseason, but when he was, he delivered the goods. The young linebacker played in 47 coverage snaps over the preseason (out of 90 snaps) and was targeted three times, allowing two completions for six yards, a 70.1 NFL rating.

    And what about the run, where he'll have to defend against Elliott on those runs up the middle?

    Glad you asked. Goodson finished fourth on the team this preseason in tackles (12), and tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss (two) with defensive end Kerry Wynn.

    "He moves around like a football player," head coach Ben McAdoo said of Goodson. "I talked to him today and I told him he looks like he's born for the position, but most importantly, he's earned it. First, second and third down, he's out there, he takes ownership of the defense."

    For a team that is going to need to stop the Cowboys from going too deep beyond the line of scrimmage, if Goodson can deliver the goods as he did in the preseason and help keep Witten and Elliott bottled up, he'll give his team a chance to win.

Latest News and Rumors

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Irvin Predicts Elliott, Cowboys Will Run Over the Giants

    As previously mentioned, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is playing Sunday night. According to Michael Irvin, the former Dallas receiver and Hall of Famer, the Giants might as well not even bother getting on the plane.

    All @Giants fans u will see this Sunday fr @EzekielElliott w @dallascowboys. Get ready ready he will be mad 😡!❤️⭐️🏈 pic.twitter.com/edzENSltql

    — Michael Irvin (@michaelirvin88) September 6, 2017

    Eh, not so fast there, Michael. Last year the Giants, in the regular-season opener, held Elliott to a career low 51 rushing yards in the regular season, including a long of eight yards on a touchdown run.

    In the rematch at the Meadowlands, Elliott rushed for 107 yards with a long of 15, his third-lowest run of last year. But he never saw the end zone.

    Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who was part of that defensive effort to stuff Elliott, also had some advice to Irvin about counting his chickens before they hatch.

    Nothing but respect for u boss man but cool off dude...Sunday not here yet. Let his play speak for itself https://t.co/B60QOdsBb3

    — Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) September 6, 2017

    If this plot line sounds vaguely familiar, it's because counting chickens before they hatch seems to be a practice the Cowboys deploy when it comes to games with the Giants.

    Who could forget how prior to the 2007 NFC Divisional title the Cowboys received before kickoff a pair of complementary tickets to the following week's championship game against Green Bay?

    We all know what happened that year. What we don't know is why the Cowboys management decided to take such a bold stepunless it was to give the team an opportunity to watch what turned out to be a game for all the ages, from the stands.

    Apparently when it comes to his old ball club, Irvin's obectivity flies out the window.  

                    

    Beckham Likely a Game-time Decision

    At this point, McAdoo might want to consider bringing a taped message to his press briefings for every time he gets a question regarding Beckham's status.

    "We are just going to take it day by day. If he is cleared medically to play in the game, we will play him. If not, we won't."

    That's not very reassuring for the scores of Giants fans who are looking for any sort of clue as to whether Beckhamwhom Dr. David Chao, aka the ProFootballDoc on Twitter, speculated has a high ankle sprainwill be in the lineup.

    Like it or not, McAdoo is telling people the truth, even if at times he comes across as surly in his tone. Beckham is not going to test his ankle until just before game time. If he passes the test, he'll be on the active list. If he doesn't, he won't.

    And if there is any doubt as to whether McAdoo might push Beckham out there before he is ready to play, the head coach did put that theory to rest. 

    "If it is safe for the player to play and he is not going to do further harm to himself physically, then we would think about playing him," McAdoo said. "I have never put a player out there who would do further damage to himself physically."

Fantasy Spotlight

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    William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

    Start 'em: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

    Although Elliott is facing a stingy Giants run defense, we figure he's going to get a heavy workload in this game. And the more opportunities he does get, we figure the better the chance he might break loose on one or two of them.

                

    Sit 'em: WR Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

    The Giants probably won’t know if Beckham is going to play until just before the team submits its inactive list. Play it safe if you can and go with another receiver for Week 1 just until Beckham's status is clarified.

Prediction

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    If the Giants and their fans believe this team can advance to the Super Bowl, then they should fear no one, not even Ezekiel Elliott.

    This Giants defense, which returns most of its starters intact from last year, is all too familiar with Elliott. In addition, Spagnuolo has had a whole offseason to study tape on how he is used, and you can bet that the crafty defensive coordinator has a trick or two up his sleeve.

    There has been much hand-writing about whether Giants receiver Beckham plays, but I think the key for a Giants win will be the offensive line.

    Quarterback Eli Manning finally has top-level targets such as receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram. He also has a brand-new running game led by starter Paul Perkins who, along with Beckham and Sterling Shepard, give the Giants a much better skill-position group than last year.

    What Manning doesn't have is an upgraded offensive line, though the members will dispute that and say their year of experience playing together makes them better.

    Therein lies the challenge for the Giants. If the line finally jells and manages to hold its own against a Cowboys front that is missing three linemen—and I think it will—the Giants, who have a three-game winning streak against Dallas dating back to Oct. 25, 2015, will make it four in a row. 

    Prediction: Giants 28, Cowboys 24 

                         

    Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.