Previewing Dallas Cowboys' Week 1 Matchup with New York Giants

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist ISeptember 6, 2017

Previewing Dallas Cowboys' Week 1 Matchup with New York Giants

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    Dallas Cowboys fans, it's finally here. The football season is back.

    After the Cowboys' heartbreaking loss in the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers last season, the team is back in action after a long eight-month offseason. In Week 1, Dallas will take on its stiffest competition for the NFC East, the New York Giants, in a heavyweight showdown in Texas. 

    Opening-day games can be spectacular and unpredictable, but rarely are they as important as this one.

    In 2016, the Cowboys lost both contests to the Giants but were still able to win the division at 13-3. Dallas having the toughest schedule in the league in 2017 means the team can't drop both games this year, though. 

    The first Sunday of the season typically provides a lot of bad football as teams become accustomed to their own personnel and get back into shape. However, there will be no time to knock off the rust in the Cowboys' opener; it's going to be a showdown from the opening kickoff.

    Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

    Date: September 10, 2017

    Station: Sunday Night Football, NBC 

    Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas 

Injury Report

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    Dallas Cowboys

    OL Chaz Green (minor ankle sprain): likely to play on Sunday

    DE Tyrone Crawford (ankle sprain): likely to play on Sunday 

    CB Jourdan Lewis (hamstring): unlikely to play on Sunday 

    CB Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring): likely to play on Sunday

    WR Ryan Switzer (hamstring): questionable to play on Sunday 

    FS Xavier Woods (hamstring): questionable to play on Sunday

                 

    New York Giants

    WR Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle sprain): questionable to play on Sunday 

    LB Keenan Robinson (concussion): questionable to play on Sunday 

    CB Eli Apple (ankle sprain): questionable to play on Sunday 

    WR Brandon Marshall (shoulder): questionable to play on Sunday 

    DT Jay Bromley (knee): questionable to play on Sunday

    CB Michael Hunter (concussion): questionable to play on Sunday

    WR Tavarres King (ankle): questionable to play on Sunday 

Matchup to Watch

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    Cole Beasley vs. Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie

    In the two games in 2016, Cole Beasley saw 19 targets against the Giants but was only able to haul in 12 of them for 106 yards.

    However, he could have performed at a much higher level if it wasn't for two dropped passes, one of which might have scored him a touchdown. Beasley got open multiple times in those two contests, but he just wasn't able to do much with a big workload.

    With Dez Bryant occupying Janoris Jenkins on the outside, Beasley might be Dak Prescott's most targeted receiver again in Week 1. If Beasley can continue to move the chains on third down (his specialty), then the Cowboys' offense should be able to be leaps and bounds better than it was last season. 

    But, if Rodgers-Cromartie can keep Beasley in check and Jenkins continues to dominate Bryant, Dallas' passing attack could be grounded.

    If Beasley is stopped or contained, the Cowboys could be in serious trouble.

X-Factors

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    Cowboys: RT La'el Collins 

    La'el Collins' first start at right tackle in the NFL will be a challenging one. Not only will it occur in a heated divisional contest, but he will also face off against two of the best edge-rushers in the NFL; Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. 

    Last year, right tackle Doug Free was a weak spot for the Cowboys and was routinely beaten by Pierre-Paul and Vernon. That pressure from Prescott's right side caused him to struggle with his pocket presence in the two games against the Giants.

    Collins likely won't pitch a shutout, but if he can limit Pierre-Paul and Vernon's effectiveness, he could be the difference in this game. 

                    

    Giants: LT Ereck Flowers

    Over the past two seasons, no one has struggled more on the offensive line than Ereck Flowers. Since 2015, he's led the league in pressures allowed (128), according to Pro Football Focus. The next closest (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Donovan Smith) was at just 111. 

    The Cowboys don't have a great pass rush, but their best defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence, will likely see a lot of Flowers on Sunday.

    Dallas' best pass-rusher should be a handful for Flowers, and the winner of this matchup could determine the game.

Latest News and Rumors

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    Per Roy White III of 105.3 The Fan, Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones declined to announce who will start at left guard on Sunday night.

    However, Jones also appeared to suggest in the same interview that Chaz Green is a little ahead of Jonathan Cooper right now, per USA Today. It seems fairly obvious Green will be given the opportunity to start if he is healthy after he missed practice last week due to a "minor" ankle sprain. 

    Why has Dallas chosen to give the job to Green after Cooper has stayed healthy this offseason and performed well? Upside.

    Green is a 25-year-old with the ability to play four different positions on the offensive line. Not only is he an athletic player like Cooper, but he also has the power and the versatility to be useful in both man and zone schemes. 

    The Cowboys value that ability to flip between zone-blocking schemes and man-blocking concepts within the same drive. It's part of what makes Dallas' rushing attack one of the best in the NFL. Cooper is primarily just a zone-blocker and doesn't play with a ton of power. When Green is healthy, he's significantly better in both areas.  

    Green has missed a ton of time in his NFL career so far with injuries, but the Cowboys are willing to bet he's able to overcome them at some point.

    Expect Green to get the start on Sunday night against the Giants provided he can get over his ankle injury, but don't be shocked when Cooper ends up back in the lineup at some point this season. 

Fantasy Spotlight

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    Fantasy Spotlight: Wide Receiver Dez Bryant

    DraftKings Price: $7,500 (seventh-ranked WR) 

    FanDuel Price: $7,800 (seventh-ranked WR)

    In two games against the Giants in 2016, Dez Bryant saw 14 targets and was only able to catch two for a combined 18 yards. In the second matchup of the season, cornerback Janoris Jenkins allowed just one catch, created two turnovers (one fumble and one interception) and forced five incomplete passes, according to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus

    Jenkins primarily followed Bryant around the field, and it worked. His quickness allowed him to jump all underneath routes while the safeties covered up anything deep. But he's also physical enough to reroute Bryant on slants and goes, forcing him to beat press coverage. 

    With Jenkins having so much success against Bryant last year, expect him to be matched up with him all over the field with occasional safety help over the top. It's also worth mentioning the Cowboys scored just 26 points in two games against the Giants last season. It's unlikely they are significantly better than that on Sunday. 

    If possible, fade Bryant in the first week of the season as this might be his toughest matchup of the season. As always, he provides touchdown potential, but it's just not likely he can live up to his price tag this week.

    Expect a modest performance out of the gate. 

Final Predictions

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    Before it was announced Ezekiel Elliott can play in this game, I was going to pick the Giants to win this one 24-17. However, his presence on the field is so impactful; he is the heart and soul of the Cowboys offense, and the team is built around his ability to run the ball.

    If he's not on the field, Dak Prescott isn't as good (his passer rating is 20.1 points lower when Elliott isn't on the field, according to NFL Research) and the defense has to be out on the field longer because the offense isn't controlling the ball.

    There's also a drop in the number of defenders in the box, and the rushing game just isn't the same—Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden struggled mightily against seven- and eight-man boxes in 2016. 

    Elliott played in 15 games in 2016, and the Cowboys won 13 of those. The two losses came against the Giants, so don't expect this to be a cakewalk for Dallas by any means just because he will be on the field.

    It will help the Cowboys' odds, but the bigger story might be the health of Odell Beckham Jr., which probably won't be determined until right before kickoff. Nevertheless, getting Elliott back on the field for the Cowboys is massive. 

    Elliott's presence might be just enough to push the Cowboys over the top in Week 1. Dallas wants revenge on their biggest division rival, and I think they will get it Sunday in a tight game that likely goes down to the final possession of the game. 

    Prediction: 24-21, Cowboys