Sep 092016
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (September 13, 2015)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 11, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Tom Coughlin is no longer head coach of the New York Giants because his teams stopped beating relatively weak NFC East opponents from 2012 to 2015. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins either owned the Giants the past four years or won the key late-season game that decided the division.

  • Giants vs. Cowboys since 2012: 2-6
  • Giants vs. Eagles since 2012: 2-6
  • Giants vs. Redskins since 2012: 6-2 (but the two losses flipped each team’s season)

The Giants have also lost five regular-season openers in a row, including three games to Dallas.

The Cowboys are without Tony Romo and starting two very talented but green-as-grass rookies at quarterback and running back. The Eagles are rebuilding. The Redskins could go in either direction. The NFC is very much up for grabs. The Giants have the only established starter at quarterback and perhaps the NFL’s best wideout. The Giants spent about $200 million to revitalize what had been the NFL’s worst defense in 2015. The big unknown is how will this team respond to new leadership in Ben McAdoo?

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • DT Robert Thomas (illness) – out
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (ribs) – probable
  • S Darian Thompson (shoulder) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The New York Giants offense was out of sync all preseason. The main scapegoat by fans was the offensive line. The Giants were unable to run the ball and pass protection could be labeled as inconsistent at best. Publicly, coaches and players appeared unfazed. We’re about to find out of the complaints by fans and pundits were valid or not.

Based on recent years and the 2016 preseason, the Giants appear to be a finesse offense predicated on the passing game, and the Eli Manning-to-Odell Beckham combination in particular. When these two are “on”, the Giants offense performs at a high level. When they struggle, the Giants offense sputters. Have the Giants added reliable and consistent offensive threats to complement these two? Coaches and players rave about Sterling Shepard but he had little impact in the preseason – either by accident or by design. Can Victor Cruz ever regain his old form, and if so, how long will it take? A healthy and productive Victor Cruz combined with Beckham and Shepard completely changes the make-up of this offense. The Dallas Cowboys secondary would have major issues facing these three if they are on the top of their game.

The temptation for balance and forcing the running game to produce may be there for McAdoo. My gut tells me we’re going to see a much different run-pass ratio with McAdoo than we saw under Coughlin. I think McAdoo is going to spread the Cowboys out and pass, pass, pass – not only using the top three wide receivers as main targets but also running back Shane Vereen and tight end Will Tye. I expect the Giants will be in the no huddle for much of the game.

The Cowboys are not a strong pass rushing team and both of their starting defensive ends are suspended for this game. DT Tyrone Crawford and LB Sean Lee remain Dallas’ best front-seven defenders. The rest of the front-seven is just meh, but extremely well-coached under Rod Marinelli. I wouldn’t play it conservatively. Be aggressive and attack. Try to blow the Cowboys out early and put more pressure on the rookie quarterback.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
One would strong think that the Cowboys are going to rely on their superb offensive line and top-pick running back – Ezekiel Elliott – to take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback. I expect to see a heavy dose of the Cowboys running game with the Cowboys wanting to test out Jonathan Casillas’ ribs and Jason Pierre-Paul’s hand in particular. That said, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys take a deep shot or two early to all-world Dez Bryant simply to put the Giants on notice.

The Giants are going to very quickly learn whether or not the additions of DE Olivier Vernon and DT Damon Harrison are going to transform this defense. The battles between the Cowboys interior trio of LG La’el Collins, OC Travis Frederick and RG Zack Martin against defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison may be worthy of the price of admission alone. It’s going to be a war. Left tackle Tyron Smith is one of the best in the business, but he struggled with Vernon against Miami last year. That will be an interesting battle to watch. The Giants need JPP to dominate RT Doug Free.

Expect a shot or two early then run, run, run. Not just with Elliott but physical ex-Redskin running back Alfred Morris. The Giants must keep the Cowboys from methodically moving the chains. Turn 1st-and-10 into 2nd-and-8 and then 3rd-and-6. Old school football. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was extremely impressive in the preseason, but he’s still new to the pro game. The Cowboys will try to keep it simple for him by having him focus on his first option. The Giants must switch up their coverages to confuse Prescott and force the rookie to look for his second and third options. Prescott is mobile so containment will be important. He’s also a big guy so the Giants will need to bring the lumber and wrap up. Cowboys may spice things up with some read-option plays too.

We all know the threats in the passing game: WR Dez Bryant and the ageless TE Jason Witten. It’s Witten who has killed New York and there will be pressure on safety Landon Collins and the linebackers to limit his damage. Collins could also be a major factor in run defense.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Place kicker Randy Bullock replaces Josh Brown for at least one game. He is the man on the spot. Dwayne Harris and the Giants special teams were a major factor in the Giants victory over Dallas in the Meadowlands last year.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on how WR Victor Cruz will be used: “There’s no dipping your toe in the water now. We’re going. We’re going down there to win a ballgame. There’s no dipping your toe in. We’re full bore, ready to go.”

THE FINAL WORD:
There isn’t much film to work with on Dak Prescott so that can be problematic for any defense. Ezekiel Elliott looks like the real deal too. That said, Steve Spagnuolo and the defense are facing a rookie quarterback instead of Tony Romo. And Elliott may have issues with blitz assignments (one reason we actually may see more of Morris than many expect). Dez Byrant is damn good but so are the Giants corners. The keys defensively are obvious. Stop the run. Cover Witten. Confuse the rookie quarterback. Offensively, the Giants match up well with the Cowboys as long as McAdoo doesn’t play it too conservatively. I expect the Giants to win this game as long as the team is mentally and emotionally ready to play. Enter Ben McAdoo and his first real test.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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