The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys have played each other to open the regular season in five times since 2012 (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017). The last four of those matches have taken place in Dallas, and all five of the match-ups have been in prime time.
It makes sense from the NFL’s perspective — not only do the Giants and Cowboys have two of the largest and most dedicated fan bases, but they have a long and fierce rivalry. Not to mention the fact that the games generally tend to be excellent.
Wednesday, the Cowboys’ head coach, Jason Garrett, had a conference call with the New York media in advance of the teams’ latest showdown.
As so often happens, the Cowboys were at the epicenter of one of the biggest stories of the preseason when the NFL announced the six-game suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. That suspension has turned into a mess, with Elliott not only filing an appeal but also taking the NFL to federal court.
His appeal failed and the suspension was upheld. But thanks to the timing he is being allowed to play in the season-opening game against the Giants. While the rest of Elliott’s season is still up in the air (pending the federal judge’s decision regarding a temporary restraining order), the Cowboys at least know they have him for Week 1. About his star running back being available, Garrett said:
“Well, really, the approach that we’ve tried to take all along is just to focus on us and don’t worry about all the stuff outside of our football team and for Zeke to prepare like he was playing in the game and get the other guys ready as well. And just go to work and not get too caught up in what people are saying outside of our building and just prepare to play the Giants and that’s what we’ve done. So, really, things haven’t really changed that much.”
The uncertainty surrounding the Cowboys’ best player, Garrett insists, hasn’t been disruptive to their team. Instead, he says, they’ve tried to treat it as one of those things that happen in football.
“Actually, it hasn’t been crazy at all,” Garret said. “I think everyone is just focused on controlling what we can control. Often times, things happen outside of football that we have no control over and I think coaches and players and football teams are conditioned just to focus on the things that are most important and the things that are in their control. And we try to instill that in our football team and that’s really what we try to do each and every day. And that’s where our focus is. A lot of potential distractions on our team last year, I think the best thing we did was just lock in on each day and our preparation to go play our best on Sunday. It’s no different right now.”
But while the Cowboys have been given some measure of certainty regarding their star player, the Giants have anything but that with Odell Beckham Jr.
The Giants’ uncertainty translates into some uncertainty for their opponents as well. They will have to prepare for both the possibility that they will have to defend one of the best offensive players in the league, as well as what the Giants might have to do to make up for Beckham’s absence.
“Obviously, he’s a great player,” Garrett said, “he’s one of the best players in the league. So, you prepare for him to play and I know he’s a competitor and he wants to do anything that he can do get out there. So, you prepare for him, but as it works in the NFL every week, if a starting player isn’t available, typically teams put in a backup guy who is ready to go too. So, we’re prepared for the Giants, he’s part of it. They have a lot of weapons on offense. So, if he’s able to go, we understand those challenges, if he’s not able to go, they have a lot of good players there. So, we recognize those challenges as well.”
Garrett doesn’t just have Beckham to worry about, he has the Giants’ dominant defense to deal with. That defense held them to two of their worst offensive performances of the season, allowing just 588 total yards and 26 points in the two games combined. It’s a defense that Garrett obviously respects.
“Well, they have a lot of really good players on their defense,” he said. “They have a lot of good defensive linemen, they have good linebackers, they have good guys in the secondary, guys that can cover, make a lot of plays. They have an outstanding scheme. [Giants defensive coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo does a fantastic job, the players believe in the system. So, they were obviously one of the best defenses in the league last year, in so many different categories. Again – I keep saying this, but it’s true – we recognize the challenges and we’re going to work hard this week and prepare as best we can to go play our best football.”
The Giants’ defensive performances lead the way to both of their wins, with plays by the New York secondary ending both games. Garrett, a former quarterback and offensive coordinator, wouldn’t admit to being frustrated that his team’s long-time rivals swept them. Instead, he insisted, their focus has been inward.
“Yeah, again, our focus is on ourselves and doing what we need to do each day to play our best football,” Garrett said. “And that’s really where our attention always is. And I think our team understands why that’s important and why it’s critical for us to keep our focus right there. We obviously have great respect for the Giant organization, for the Giants team. We had some great games against them through the years and again, we recognize the challenges. We’re going to practice as well as we can practice this week and go try and play our best ballgame.”