The 2016 NFL season finally begins for real on Sunday afternoon for the New York Giants, when they travel to Texas to face the NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys. Let’s check out five things to watch Sunday as the Giants try to get the season started on the right foot.
It’s all about Dak
Unless you have been living under some sort of self-imposed TV, news, social media blackout for the past few weeks you know that the Cowboys will be quarterbacked Sunday by rookie Dak Prescott, subbing for the one-again injured Tony Romo.
The Giants have gone out of their way to complement Prescott this week.
“Dak is a winner. He’s won everywhere he’s been. He has taken advantage of his opportunities in the preseason and it’ll be a challenge for us,” coach Ben McAdoo said early in the week. “We’re going to have our hands full. He’s a good player.”
Prescott, a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State had a terrific preseason and may one day be a great NFL quarterback. You know, though, that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been cooking up ways this week to make Prescott look like what he is — a rookie playing in his first NFL game.
If the Giants can do that, they have a good shot at winning. If they allow Prescott to get comfortable and gain confidence, that task becomes more difficult.
“With this team that we’re playing, it’s not all about bringing people. If we don’t stop them from running the football first, we’ll never get to the other stuff,” defensive coordiantor Steve Spagnuolo said on Thursday. “We know people are talking about confuse the rookie quarterback. Well, the confusion in the rookie quarterback is more when you can get him behind schedule. If they’re ahead of schedule and all he has to do is hand it off and run his play-action passes, there isn’t going to be anything we can do to confuse that. It’s going to be on us up front, on the second level, to keep them from dictating the game by running the ball.”
Giants’ defensive line vs. Cowboys’ offensive line
The Giants weren’t very good across the defensive front last season, and they paid more than a king’s ransom in the offseason to try to correct that. The defensive front of Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Johnathan Hankins, joined at times by Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Kerry Wynn, was dominant during the preseason.
That revamped group, upon which the Giants have rested their hopes of rebuilding a broken defense, gets perhaps the biggest test it can get on Sunday afternoon. The Dallas offensive line — left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard La’el Collins, center Travis Frederick, right guard Zack Martin, right tackle Doug Free — is perhaps the best in the game.
“It doesn’t matter to me who’s playing for them at the skill positions,” McAdoo said this week. “They’re always going to lean on that offensive line. It’s one of the best in the league, if not the best. They’ll take their shots down the field, but they’re going to lean on that line.”
Giants’ wide receivers vs. Dallas corners
It’s not a news flash that with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., most of the Giants big offensive plays will come in the passing game. For the Giants, the game will mark the return of Victor Cruz for the first time since Week 6 of the 2014 season, and the debut of exciting second-round pick Sterling Shepard.
The Dallas secondary — cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and safeties Bryon Jones and Barry Church — is among the best in the league. Dave Halprin of SB Nation’s Blogging The Boys believes Jones is on the verge of becoming a star.
Like the Giants’ defensive line vs. the Cowboys’ offensive line, this is another strength-on-strength matchup.
Can Dallas generate a pass rush?
Strength-on-strength? This is more like weakness-on-weakness, in which both teams might be happy with a stalemate.
We know that the biggest question mark on the Giants’ offense has been their edge blocking from the offensive tackles and the tight end/fullback spot. The Cowboys will be without their of their top defensive ends. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are serving league-imposed suspensions. Fourth-round pick Charles Tapper has a back injury.
Dallas will be hoping to generate a pass rush with Benson Mayowa (two sacks in three seasons) and David Irving (a half-sack in 12 games as a rookie in 2015) getting the bulk of the snaps at defensive end.
If ever there was a week when the Giants “should” be able to work around the deficiencies of Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse this would appear to be it.
Can Giants finally win an opener?
The Giants haven’t won a season-opening game since 2010. That means opening-week success is foreign to most of the guys on the roster. The only players who have won season-openers as members of the Giants are Eli Manning, Zak DeOssie, Will Beatty, Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Justin Pugh, entering his fourth season with the Giants, is one of those players who has never won a season-opener.
“It’s huge,” the guard told Newsday on Wednesday. “We haven’t gotten out to a hot start and that’s huge for us. Getting off to a hot start really will set the tone. I think it really would be huge for us going into the season.”
Three of those five losses have come to the Cowboys and four of the five have been NFC East division games.
The Giants once again find themselves opening in Dallas in a key division game. Can they finally come out on the winning side?