This is it. We're off. It's game week and we begin with a look at how Eli Manning and company intend to pick apart aDallas Cowboys' defense that surprised a lot of people last year. There are question marks on the other side of the ball, but fellow BBV writer Chris Pflum handles here. For now, we're going to look the key matchups that should arise from Ben McAdoo's offensive unit on Sunday.
The first area you have to consider is how the Dallas defense is planning to attack. They will be without defensive end Greg Hardy and middle linebacker Rolando McClain -- both are serving four-game suspensions -- so they can't afford to simply go all-out against the Giants. Taking Hardy's place on the line will likely be second-round rookie Randy Gregory; a talented but troubled player at the collegiate level. In the preseason, we saw some of that explosiveness, though we also saw that developmental immaturity. Gregory is still raw, especially against the run. He will likely line up across from Giants' top draft pick, Ereck Flowers; whose strength seems to be in run blocking, but who still lacks the skills of an NFL left tackle in pass-protection. So, there's a nice dynamic now. Flowers and Gregory, run and pass, sack and pancake; this should be an interesting contest.
There are other areas of the Dallas pass rush to keep an eye on. Outside linebacker Kyle Wilber blitzed on 35 percent of his limited snaps last year, but looks to be getting more time in 2015 -- at least while McClain is still out. This is his first chance at starting and the team could look to utilize his pass rush skills if they don't get pressure up front. Wilber plays on the strong-side mostly, so any attempts at getting to Manning will come from that side. Marshall Newhouse, Geoff Schwartz and Weston Richburg all seem capable of keeping him at bay, but it's still something to keep an eye on.
Even with two key defenders missing, I don't predict a strong ground game from the Giants. This line is very different to the one used last year. The only two holdovers from 2014, Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, are playing new positions. It takes time for a line to gel, and it's not like there are any stud running backs on the team, either. Rashad Jennings is good, not great. Andre Williams has a lot to prove. Shane Vereen poses a larger threat in the passing game than anything else. It would take a lot for this team to put up big rushing numbers right out of the gate.
However, the difficulties should be offset by the passing game. The Dallas line shouldn't overwhelm a Giants' blocking crew that has struggled thus far, therefore there should be ample opportunity for Manning to pick on some of the weak links in the Cowboys' secondary. After losing Orlando Scandrick to injury, Dallas had to do some shuffling on the back-end to make things work. Scandrick played outside, but shifted into the slot when required, so the team re-promoted Morris Claiborne into the starting lineup and have Tyler Patmon as their nickel corner.
Claiborne has disappointed thus far in his career, and is on a short leash with first-round pick Byron Jones waiting in the wings. Odell Beckham Jr. may have made his signature catch against Brandon Carr on the other side, but if they can get him lined up against Claiborne, it will make things much easier for the Giants.
However, Patmon has played well in the preseason. New York will probably be without Victor Cruz for the season opener, so they will have to make do with either Preston Parker or Dwayne Harris in the slot. If Cruz manages to play, it's a different story, but in this scenario I give the edge to Patmon here, especially if he can force the routes inside for a thumping and a walloping from the Dallas linebackers.
When the game is said and done, it will likely come down to the Giants' ability to generate big plays. Manning has had difficulty throwing downfield this preseason. His six attempts that traveled 20 yards or more yielded not a single catch. It was plays like Beckham's famous three-finger grab that put this team in contention to win games last year. If this offense wants to keep up in Week 1, they're going to need some chunk-yardage.