Week one of the NFL regular season was, as usual, an anxiety reliever for us football fans. All the waiting has come to an end, so now we can just enjoy the ride and focus on football itself.
So, continuing my weekly preview of Giants games, here is what awaits next Sunday.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys—Sept. 20 (Sunday Night Football)
This game is the debut of Dallas' monstrous new stadium, with the world’s largest scoreboard. The Dallas organization made an interesting choice to have their biggest rival, the Giants, as the stadium’s opening match.
Giants-Cowboys games have always been marked by an intense horse race down the stretch, with the game usually being decided in the end. I don’t see any reason why this game should be any different.
The Cowboys had a great start to the season, beating Tampa Bay 34-21. In this game, Tony Romo had a career-high 353 passing yards and threw for three touchdowns, showing that he can play very well without the presence of Terrell Owens.
An important factor for this is that his replacements, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton, are two very talented pass catchers. The two combined for 221 receiving yards against Tampa Bay.
The Dallas defense, anchored by DeMarcus Ware, showed its usual strength, pressuring Buccaneers QB Byron Leftwich throughout the entire game.
The Giants also started off the season with a win over the division rival Redskins. Big Blue's high-powered defense, led by Osi Umenyiora, showed glances of what promises to be a painful year for opposing quarterbacks.
The offense, in particular the young group of receivers, made a strong argument too. While being downgraded for their inexperience all preseason long, this group showed they CAN make plays, but they will need even more production to win this one.
Quarterback Eli Manning also put a ghost behind him, displaying precision and confidence without Plaxico Burress. Eli is looking more like Peyton every day, making crucial audibles and adjustments on every play, including the one which generated the TD.
Addressing the “X’s and O’s,” in order to win this tough game, the Giants will have to start by stuffing the Cowboys offense. This starts with Task One: Kill the running game.
This is something that, in my opinion, will happen naturally, as the Giants have an incredible D-line and a very competent group of linebackers. Also, the Cowboys have the tendency to put the game more in Romo’s hands.
Make no mistake, though, the Marion Barber-Felix Jones combination can be deadly. If the Giants fail to stop them, this game will turn into an old Texas shootout, i.e. the type of game the Cowboys like to play.
So, stopping the running game will fall on the D-line, especially Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, who played so well shutting down Clinton Portis. Achieving this leads to Task Two: Keep Tony Romo under pressure.
As previously stated, Romo had a career game against the Bucs and gained momentum to face the Giants. This task is the key to winning this game. The pressure applied in the trenches, or the lack thereof, will determine the outcome of the game.
The Giants' defensive line is packed with great talent and must be able to wreak havoc in the trenches, keeping Romo under pressure all game.
Umenyiora and Justin Tuck must get their presences felt early and often, breathing down Romo’s neck and hitting him as many times as they can. Giving Romo different looks is also important, as this will keep the pressure coming from places he won’t expect.
If Romo has time, he will burn any defense, but he doesn’t function properly under pressure. History shows that he has the tendency to choke down the stretch when pressured. Nevertheless, the Giants MUST be extremely careful, and aggressive, with this guy.
Reverting to the offensive side of the ball, we reach Task Three: Let it fly early. In the first game against the Cowboys last season, Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw had a rush feast, gaining 200 yards on the ground.
However, in the second game, the Giants were never able to establish much of a running game, and with the passing game malfunctioning, the offense was stuck. The Giants cannot, by any means, make the same mistake.
I expect the Cowboys D to apply the same strategy, sending blitzes and stuffing the run. Against the Redskins, the G-Men came out spreading the ball around and keeping things balanced. This should be repeated. Let the young guns fly.
If the passing game is established early, the Dallas defense will have to stay honest, and this will allow Jacobs and Bradshaw to run down their throats and put this game away.
Moreover, Manning will face his first really difficult test. Eli’s play early on will determine whether the Giants will have a chance to win this game or not. If he starts like he did last Sunday, calm and precise (and I expect nothing other than that), the Giants have a good chance to win.
Opportunities must be capitalized on. This is Task Four: Make the most of the opportunities.
Last game, the Giants settled for a field goal from inside the 10-yard line after they failed to convert a 3rd-and-1.
On the next drive, they once again missed an opportunity from inside the Redskins’ 10-yard line, missing a 4th-and-1 and turning the ball over.
That meant 11 missed points on two drives and blowing the opportunity to put the game away in the first half. This type of thing cannot happen against the Cowboys, as they have a much more talented offense, and we need all the points we can score.
The probable outcome is going to be a very tight match, played fiercely until the end. The battle for the trenches is going to be brutal, but I think the Giants are a little better positioned to win it on both sides of the ball.
It is a wide open game, and both teams badly want to win. These are usually the ingredients for a great football game.
Although there are other important matchups, details, and other game-changing issues to be covered, I believe that the tasks presented here reflect the key factors for Big Blue to come back from Dallas with a win.
And I don’t know about you, but I desperately want to spoil Jerry Jones' party by winning the first regular season game ever played in the new Cowboys Stadium...