Heading into Sunday night’s primetime matchup, the New York Giants look to continue its habit of taking over the Dallas Cowboys’ pristine AT&T Stadium.
When Dallas opened the new stadium to start the 2009-10 campaign, New York went on to win four-straight at the new venue, remaining unbeaten there until the Cowboys finally broke through in Week 1 of the 2013-14 season. Overall, the Giants are 5-3 at the stadium and look to add yet another opening week win in Big D.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been outstanding at AT&T Stadium, leading Big Blue to nearly 30 points per game. Manning’s counterpart, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, has suffered the same fate as his predecessor, the now-retired Tony Romo regularly experienced at the stadium, losing last season, 20-19. Prescott played unevenly in his first career regular-season start going 25-of-45 for 227 yards and no scores or turnovers, but was on the precipice of leading a game-winning drive, as he got Dallas in position to at least try a 57-yard field goal, but wideout Terrance Williams failed to get out of bounds after a reception as time expired.
Star running back Ezekiel Elliott struggled in his debut, rushing for 51 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown.
Manning was his usual stellar self in Dallas, as he threw for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score to wideout Victor Cruz, who was making his first appearance in nearly two years. It was also head coach Ben McAdoo’s debut, replacing the legendary Tom Coughlin.
The Giants have made it a habit of ruining the Cowboys’ plans, and they hope Sunday is no different. Dallas went 13-3, last season, en route to a No. 1 seed in the National Football Conference – but two of those losses were to New York.
The Cowboys have incentive, and will be coming in a little ticked off – not just because Big Blue makes them see red, but because this may be the last time Elliott plays until early November, due to his pending six-game suspension…a punishment that owner Jerry Jones and his team think is “fundamentally unfair.”
Salute Magazine takes a look at some of the key storylines to watch in this primetime battle.
What To Watch:
#1 Next man up? … It still seems likely that he’ll play, but if star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) can’t go, it’s up to the likes of wideouts Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard and rookie tight end Evan Engram to pick up the slack. Beckham is dynamic, of course, but Manning can still move the chains without him. He no longer has to be dependent on the electric receiver, as he’s essentially done the previous two seasons because the Giants’ passing game has plenty in the arsenal. Dallas’ secondary lost some talent over the offseason and has gotten considerably younger. Manning is licking his chops.
#2 Strength versus strength … The old axiom of the unstoppable force meeting an immovable object is a paradox that can’t exist, but it does aptly describe the Cowboys’ offensive line going against the Giants’ defensive line. Both units are arguably the best at what they do, which makes for a great matchup to watch. Last season, Big Blue bested the matchup in the opener by neutralizing Elliott and not allowing any creases to run. And the rematch was another fierce battle, a 10-7 Giants’ win at MetLife Stadium. New York’s defensive line was a major factor in both wins. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has had some big games against the Cowboys. But he’s not the only force on that front, as bookend Olivier Vernon and defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Jay Bromley can be trouble as well. Dallas counters with a wall up front, but there could be some concern. While Tyron Smith, Zach Martin, and Travis Frederick are All-Pro talent, and La’el Collins is a talented right tackle, newcomer left guard Jonathan Cooper is well traveled. It’ll be interesting to see if the O-line gels and clicks like it did last season.
#3 Possible weak spot? … Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese has put a lot of resources in rebuilding the defense, but it seems as if he neglects the linebacker corps every season. Should Dallas’ offensive line open up holes for Elliott and provide time for Prescott in the play-action game, future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten and slot wideouts Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer will roam the middle of the field at will. The spotlight will be on linebackers Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, and B.J. Goodson to show they aren’t a liability on such a talented and decorated defense.
#4 The Giants’ secondary is a primary concern for Dallas’ passing game … There’s a great battle for bragging rights regarding the best secondary in the NFL. And while the Denver Broncos have been the best secondary the last two seasons, cutting stalwart safety T.J. Ward is a hit. The Giants, however, are definitely in the conversation and on that short list of being the league’s best. Safety Darian Thompson may be least known, but he’s a player at free safety. His running mate, Landon Collins, is an All-Pro. And the cornerback trio of Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a formidable one. Prescott, Witten, and wideout Dez Bryant have a tough task ahead, especially if the offense turns one dimensional and can’t get the running game going.