Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 8, 2019
I’ve been struggling all week with the way to frame this football game. And I think the reasons for my trouble is I am not sure how to frame the 2019 New York Giants. Your individual perspective will influence your expectations about this game, this team, and this season.
For many fans, this is a time to be excited. They still believe in Eli Manning, especially since it looks like he will have a competent offensive line in front of him. The Giants arguably have the most exciting player in the NFL on their roster in Saquon Barkley. A young defense should improve as the season progresses. The Giants seem to be more of a “team” and because of that, more fun to support and root for. In terms of this specific game, the Giants usually play the Cowboys tough in Dallas. The Cowboys don’t score a lot of points and the Giants are poised to shock everyone if a few things fall their way. After all, if you can’t get excited for the season opener, then why the hell are you a fan?
Others will look at this match-up as two teams in very different places. The Cowboys are coming off a division championship and a 10-6 season with the expectations that they will seriously compete for an NFL Championship. They have an experienced and proven coaching staff, a physical grind-you-down offense, one of the best defenses in football, and annually-strong special teams. On the other hand, the Giants have finished last in the NFC East the past two years with an 8-24 record. The pre-2018 roster has been all but completely purged and the team is clearly still in the midst of a mammoth roster rebuild. The coaching staff is unproven, a potentially messy quarterback transition is brewing, and the defense is green and lacks the ability to rush the passer. The Cowboys have won the last four Giants-Cowboys games and 10 of the last 13.
So should fans be optimistic or pessimistic about this game, this team, and this season? It depends on you.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Darius Slayton (hamstring – out)
- TE Garrett Dickerson (quad – out)
- RT Mike Remmers (illness/back – probable)
- CB Antonio Hamilton (adductor – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
“(Dallas’) speed and quickness,” said Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula. “They’re built for speed. They’ve always been. They get to the ball fast. They fly around, and because they get to the ball so quickly, they’ve created a lot of turnovers. Their scheme allows them to play really, really fast and they’ve drafted guys within that scheme that can be very disruptive.”
“They’re a very active defense, and they’re active at all three levels,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur. “The defensive line moves around quite a bit, so blocking moving is going to be important. Their linebackers do a good job of running downhill, but more impressively, sideline-to-sideline. Then in the secondary, when they play man, they can match up really well. They obviously do a good job when they play most of their three deep zone. It presents a challenge. There are good players at every level. We just have to go out and try to out-execute them.”
Dallas is exceptionally well-coached on the defensive side of the football under Rod Marinelli. On top of that, the Cowboys have some of the best defensive players in football. Led by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (10.5 sacks, 39 QB pressures), their defensive line is still underrated and disruptive. The starting trio of linebackers of Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee are arguably the best in football. Byron Jones is one of the best corners in the League. Overall, the Cowboys play smart defense, usually forcing the opponent to make a mistake before they do.
While Giants can create match-up problems with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram against any linebacker or safety, the Giants really don’t have any wide receiver who will scare defenses deep, especially fast defenses like the Dallas Cowboys. The way to beat a fast, quick defense is not to try to run away from them, but to run right at them. The Giants are going to have to matriculate the ball down the football field with a heavy dose of Barkley behind a hopefully much-improved offensive line, short- and intermediate-passing, and an occasional deep shot to Barkley and Engram. To keep the chains moving, the Giants need to limit penalties, stay out of bad down-and-distance situations, and obviously convert on 3rd down. The Cowboys will focus their attention on Barkley and Engram, and dare Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, and Bennie Fowler to beat them. Barkley can’t get cute and try to break the big play on every run. He has to take what is there and get those 3, 4, and 5 yard runs. With the Dallas defense focused on Barkley from the get-go, if Shurmur wants to cross the Cowboys up early, Eli Manning must connect on those short passes. Incompletions will lead to 2nd- and 3rd-and-long.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The national media spends so much time fellating the Cowboys that you don’t need me to cover too deeply what the Giants are up against. After holding out all summer, Ezekiel Elliott is now the highest-paid running back in football history and is raring to go against the Giants. He operates behind a somewhat overrated, but still very physical offensive line. Elliott has already led the league twice in rushing (to put that in perspective, the last time a Giant did that was in 1951). And he is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield (led the Cowboys in receptions with 77). Giant-killer Cole Beasley is gone, but super-Giant killer Jason Witten is somehow back to torment us. Amari Cooper highlights the receiving corps. The divisive figure for fans is quarterback Dak Prescott. Some people love him, others think he is overrated. But the guy is built like a tank, is hard to tackle, keeps plays and drives alive with his feet, and can make clutch plays in tough situations.
The Cowboys are a run-heavy team. Despite all of the changes on the Giants’ defense during the past two years, this team still needs to prove it can be a good run defense. The results in the preseason were mixed. Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, Dexter Lawrence, Alec Ogletree, Tae Davis, Lorenzo Carter, and Markus Golden have to hold the point-of-attack. Because that line and Elliott are going to punch them in the mouth. The Cowboys want 2nd-and-5 and 3rd-and-1 situations. They want to wear you down and then break you in the 4th quarter. The good news for the Giants? This ground-control attack is not conducive to a lot of scoring. The bad news? It tends to win football games, especially when combined with good defense and special teams.
And when the Giants do get into those 3rd-down situations, be it 3rd-and-7 or 3rd-and-2, they need to get off of the football field. This – along with and hand-in-hand with the team’s inability to cover the middle of the football field – is what has killed New York’s defense for the bulk of the past decade. Who will get to the quarterback? Will they even contain Prescott within the pocket? Will the tight ends run wide open over the middle? Ogletree, Davis, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea will all be under the spot light. And Elliott is a MAJOR threat out of the backfield. It also appears that Antonio Hamilton and Deandre Baker will split time opposite of Janoris Jenkins. Both Hamilton and Baker will be tested.
As for the pass rush, we’ll just have to wait and see. Even the coach doesn’t know. “I think initially it’s going to be a group effort,” said Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher. “I can’t tell you 100 percent as we sit here today who’s going to be the sack leader, the disruptive player. To me, I kind of like that, because there is a little bit of unknown for people that are prepping for us. There’s a lot of guys that have something to go play and prove and establish themselves. I think it’s going to be exciting for me as I watch it from my position to see how it unfolds.”
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
For better or worse, the starting strong safety will be returning punts for the Giants on Sunday. Cody Latimer will be the kick returner. The Giants have a lot of defensive backs and linebackers on the roster… that should translate to solid special teams coverage.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on his team: “They’ve come together as a team. Now we’ll galvanize ourselves as we go through the season. I’m looking forward to this group, as you go through the ups and downs of a season, because I think it’s a really good group and I think they care about one another. I’m looking forward to watching them work.”
THE FINAL WORD:
My heart says “Screw the Cowboys! We can beat the media darlings!” My head says these two teams are in vastly different places right now. The Giants may have a respectable year, but their first win is not likely to be on opening day. If the Giants do lose, Eli Manning will immediately be feeling the heat.