When the New York Giants meet the Dallas Cowboys the games always seem to be nail-biting affairs that come down to the final moments. Only one of the last 10 Giants-Cowboys games has, in fact, been decided by more than a touchdown.
So, what will be the keys in the season-opener on Sunday night? Here are five things to watch.
The Giants Offense Without Odell
We don’t know for sure that Odell Beckham Jr. won’t play Sunday night, but the Giants — and the fan base — have to be ready for that.
What is difficult in trying to predict what the Giants offense could look like without him on Sunday is that we don’t really know what it looks like WITH him. We haven’t really seen the revamped offense yet. We don’t know exactly how the new pieces — Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, fullback Shane Smith, new starting running back Paul Perkins — will be utilized. Or, how well they will mesh.
We just know Beckham is the game-breaker, the spectacular one, the player defenses have to double team and plan their defense around. If Beckham isn’t there to command all of that attention, and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, can the Giants be functional on offense? Can Marshall, Shepard, Engram and anyone else get open? Will the Cowboys, with no need to double Beckham, be free to send extra pass rushers? Will the Giants be able to handle them if that’s the case?
The Giants were the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL last season. There has been a lot of chatter about how good this group should be, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is already fielding questions about whether it is the best he’s ever coached. The Giants held the Cowboys to a combined 26 points in two victories over Dallas last season.
What I’m getting at is this — the expectation is that the Giants will be fielding a championship-caliber defense. If that’s the case, this is the kind of game — national stage vs. a high-powered offense, key division rival, Giant offense possibly without its best player — where championship defenses prove their mettle.
Let’s see if the Giants can.
Dez vs. Jackrabbit
Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins held Dez Bryant to two receptions in 14 targets for 18 yards last season, and Jackrabbit forced a fumble on one of those catches. Can he do that again?
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said “I know it does” when asked if last year’s lack of production vs. the Giants bothers Bryant.
“Dez is a passionate guy. I know it’s definitely motivated him coming into this game. He’s excited for it, he’s ready for his matchup,” Prescott said. “I’m sure (Giants cornerback) Janoris (Jenkins) is the same way.”
“When Dez is open and Dez has a chance and there’s one-on-one situations, give a guy like Dez Bryant a chance and it’s on him to go make that catch and I know he’s excited about those opportunities heading into Sunday,” Prescott said.
Bryant has been a great player for a long time. Sooner or later he will make some plays against Jenkins. Let’s see if Sunday is when that happens.
B.J. Goodson’s Debut
For months, we have been talking about the fact that the biggest change to the Giants defense will be the presence of second-year man B.J. Goodson as the starting middle linebacker. Well, the time to find out if Goodson, a 2016 fourth-round pick, can handle the job is here.
Calling signals for a defense as successful as the Giants were last season is heady stuff for a guy who played 13 defensive snaps in 2016. Especially since Goodson will probably be playing all three downs with Keenan Robinson (concussion) still not cleared for contact.
“I’m really pleased with what he’s done. It’s not just what he’s doing on the field and controlling like they all do. I watch the little things on the side and how he relates to his teammates and how he has really taken upon the extra added responsibility of being the leader of that group,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “Now, there are some leaders in there – JC (Jonathan Casillas) and Snacks (Damon Harrison). But, he takes control of the huddle and I think he is gaining a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates throughout this whole offseason.”
The offseason, though, is over. Now we see how all of that translates when it matters.
Is The Blocking Better?
This is another thing we have talked about ... and talked about .. and talked about. And, probably something we will continue to talk about. We have dissected Ereck Flowers several ways. We have talked about the impressive work of right tackle Bobby Hart during the preseason. There are, it seems, daily arguments over who should start at right guard.
We begin to see for real Sunday night whether the Giants’ decision to stick with the status quo on the offensive line pays off or proves to be a powder-keg that explodes in their face. On top of that, let’s see if tight end Rhett Ellison, fullback Shane Smith and the additions of big receivers Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram can help the blocking.