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Giants at Dallas: When the Giants have the ball

We get our first look at the full Giant offense on Sunday

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NFL: Preseason-Chicago Bears at New York Giants
Saquon Barkley won’t be sitting and watching on Sunday.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

What kind of offense will the New York Giants muster in 2019 with former star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. now playing for the Cleveland Browns? We have seen OTAs, mandatory mini-camp, training camp and the preseason and still we really have no clue what the answer to that question is.

First, teams don’t show all of their arsenal in the preseason. Second, we didn’t see Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard in the preseason, and we barely saw Evan Engram and Eli Manning.

Sunday, when the Giants open their season against the Dallas Cowboys, is the first time we will see the Giants’ offense. Or, as whole as it is going to be until wide receiver Golden Tate finishes serving his four-game suspension.

What are we going to get? Let’s try to break down the matchup.

By the numbers

4,019 — How many passing yards Eli Manning (55,981) needs to reach 60,000 for his career. Manning is currently seventh in NFL history.

360 — That’s how many touchdown passes Manning has thrown. Only Drew Brees (520), Tom Brady (517), Philip Rivers (374) and Ben Roethlisberger (363) have more among active quarterbacks.

8Daniel Jones is sticking with No. 8 rather than switching to the No. 17 he wore at Duke. That number belonged to Kyle Lauletta before he was waived.

16 — Manning will become the first Giant to play in a 16th season with the franchise on Sunday.

6 — Dallas has played its home opener six times against the Giants since 2009, winning four of those.

90 and 55 — The numbers worn by Dallas defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Leighton VanderEsch, respectively.

Better in the trenches?

With Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers on the right side instead of Patrick Omameh/JohnGreco/Jamon Brown and Ereck Flowers/Chad Wheeler the Giants believe they have dramatically improved the right side of their offensive line. The Giants think a healthy Jon Halapio at center will bolster that spot, and they are excited to see what Nate Solder and Will Hernandez can do working together for a second season on the left side.

Of course, word that Remmers — who had offseason back surgery — did not practice on Wednesday set off an early alarm bell.

Still, this group has to be better than a group that gave up 47 sacks and, despite the presence of Saquon Barkley, was one of the league’s most inefficient teams running the ball. Doesn’t it?

It had better be, not only on Sunday against the Cowboys but all season. Eli Manning hasn’t gotten any more mobile, and if and when Daniel Jones plays no one wants to see him spend his first handful of NFL games taking a beating.

Pro Football Focus was impressed enough by the work of the starting group to place the Giants’ offensive line 17th in its preseason offensive line rankings.

The new starting five played 59 snaps as a unit this preseason, and the results were very encouraging. They combined for a pass-blocking grade of 71.9 and run-blocking grade of 76.1

DeMarcus Lawrence, star defensive end for the Cowboys, said recently that facing Manning twice a year was “a blessing to my career.”

It will be a blessing to Manning, and the Giants chances for an upset victory, if the new and hopefully improved offensive line keeps Lawrence and Co. away from him on Sunday.

Running the ball

This is really an extension of our trench talk, if you will.

Barkley is the Giants’ best player. He is a running back. The Giants are going to want to run the football. The Giants were an explosive rushing team a year ago, but not an efficient one. The Cowboys were fifth in the league in Football Outsiders DVOA against the run.

Here are a couple of numbers from Inside Edge that relate to the running game:

  • Giants RBs had 4.7 yards per carry last season -- tied for sixth best in NFL. The Cowboys allowed 3.8 yards per carry to RBs last season -- tied for fifth best in NFL.
  • Barkley (NYG) averaged 81.7 rushing yards per game last season -- fifth best of Qualified Running Backs. The Cowboys allowed an average of 75.7 rushing yards to RBs per game last season -- sixth best in NFL.

Thus, this is really a strength vs. strength matchup.

Real linebackers

The Giants have been searching for real quality NFL linebackers for more than a decade. The Cowboys have two of them. It’s one of the reasons they were so good against the run a year ago.

Leighton VanderEsch was a first-round pick (19th overall) by Dallas a year ago. All he did was make a ridiculous 140 takes, make the All-Rookie Team and get selected to the Pro Bowl.

Jaylon Smith had 121 tackles and four sacks as he stamped himself fully recovered from the devastating knee injury that turned him from a likely top five pick in 2016 to a second-rounder (34th overall).

Matchup-wise, VanderEsch and Smith might give Dallas a better chance than some teams have of matching up with Barkley and tight end Evan Engram.

Can’t the Giants ever get a player like this?

Who’s catching the ball?

Giants’ veteran wide receivers have basically taken a “no worries” attitude toward making up for the production that moved to Cleveland with the Beckham trade, and to the suspended list with the action against Golden Tate.

Darius Slayton, the rookie who is thought of as a potential field-stretching option, is unlikely to play due to his ongoing hamstring issues. There is no one in the veteran group of Sterling Shepard, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard and Cody Core who will command a double team from Dallas, or anyone else.

The Giants believe they can succeed, anyway.

“You’ve seen Tom Brady do it time and time again,” Russell Shepard said. “You’ve seen Russell Wilson do it. You’ve seen several teams have success with not the big-name guys, the expensive guys.”

We will have to see how it plays out, but the Giants’ passing attack is likely to be heavily reliant upon Barkley and tight end Evan Engram. In his third season, Engram might be the one receiver opposing defenses could be forced to double team. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Giants use him, and how the Cowboys defend him, on Sunday.

The Eli question

The Giants should have the best offensive line in front of Manning that he has been afforded for several seasons. Is it too late, with him now at age 38 and entering his 16th season, for him to take advantage of that?

Manning had an excellent summer. Baseball-style offseason training has put a little more zip on some of his throws.

Manning’s passer rating has historically been higher when targeting Beckham, which makes sense as Beckham was the best receiver.

Can he be effective without Beckham, by finding mismatches and spreading the ball around?

“I think it’s just a matter of trusting everybody to do their job. We’re not trying to get certain people in the exact right spot, we are calling good plays that guys know how to run, they know where they are going to be, they can play fast, they can react,” Manning said. “Avoid the negative plays, the bad plays, and we’ll find the opportunities to hit the big shots and the long plays when those opportunities show up. You have to be patient and wait for them and then execute when you have the right looks.”

The Giants still think Manning can execute when those opportunities arise. Sunday, we begin to find out.