On paper, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive front is exactly what the doctor ordered for a New York Giants team which struggled with blocking in the preseason and has question marks at both offensive tackle spots.
Dallas had only 31 quarterback sacks a season ago, 25th in the league. If you figure that pressure on the quarterback usually comes first from the defensive end spot, and that the Giants have a much-maligned duo of offensive tackles in Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse, the Cowboys don’t appear to be positioned to take advantage of that.
Greg Hardy is gone. Defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are both suspended for the first four games. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain is suspended for the first 10. Fourth-round pick Charles Tapper is out with a fracture in his back that, apparently, he has had since childhood but was not discovered until training camp.
The Cowboys will hope unknown defensive end Benson Mayowa, a fourth-year veteran with two sacks in 30 games (three starts) for the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, can provide some pass rush. Based on upside, the Cowboys gave Mayowa a three-year, $8.25 million contract in the offseason.
Odell & Co. vs. Dallas DBs
If the Giants can contain whatever there is left of the Dallas pass rush, or force Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to scheme up ways to create pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, that would put more pressure on the Dallas secondary.
The Cowboys, though, ranked fifth in the league last season in passing yards allowed and have a good secondary. Dallas has Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne at the corners and Barry Church and Byron Jones at the safeties.
Dallas should have its hands full with the Giants’ receiving corps. Last year, there were too many times when Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. was just about the only offense the Giants had. This year, Beckham is joined on the outside by exciting second-round pick Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz, rather than Rueben Randle and Preston Parker/Dwayne Harris.
Cowboys defenders are looking forward to the challenge.
“Both of those guys (Beckham & Cruz) are All-Pro guys, and this rookie that they have is a guy that definitely is going to be a star one day from what I’ve seen and everything I’ve heard,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick. “We’ve just got to go out there and focus. We’ve got to push ourselves in practice and we’ve got to practice like it’s a game and we’ve got to do things like it’s a game every day. So that when we get to Sunday the game is easy.”
Which side gets the better of this matchup could well be a determining factor on Sunday.
Can the Giants run the ball?
This is less about matching up with the Cowboys than it is about overcoming the Giants’ own shortcomings. Starting running back Rashad Jennings carried 14 times for 16 yards (1.1 yards per carry) during the preseason. Aside from one 11-yard run, the norm for Jennings seemed to be going backwards when he carried the ball in the preseason.
First and foremost, the Giants have to minimize the tempest of negative-yardage plays that plagued their running game in the preseason.
How can they do this? Well, the presence of left guard Justin Pugh, who missed much of the preseason with a bruised shoulder, should help. Game-planning to work around their weaknesses and attack what they see as Cowboy vulnerabilities, should help. That’s an element that was virtually non-existent in the preseason.
How will the Giants work around their blocking issues from the tight end spot? Will Johnson was counted on to be their primary blocker from that spot, but he is on season-ending IR. Could they perhaps use offensive linemen Will Beatty or Bobby Hart as an additional tight end on occasion?