Okay Cowboy fans, it’s here at last. The wait is over. At approximately 7:30 pm CST tonight, we finally get to see how good this team really is. The preseason really did not tell us much. With all the training camp injuries, we really have not seen the full complement of starters on offense and defense together until now.
Our starting offensive line practiced together for the first time last Saturday. That’s not good for continuity and learning to play as a unit, but there is little question from what I’ve seen individually so far that this unit will be better – not great by any means, but better. Good enough to open some holes for the running game and keep Romo from getting killed. This is one area where I don’t think the Cowboys are getting enough credit from the pundits. They expect the offensive line to be completely overmatched by the Giants vaunted pass rush – which I understand – but there is really no evidence yet to support the assumption. I think they’ll be better than people expect.
We finally will also get to see Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the field with Romo again. At the time of this writing, Jason Witten is making the trip to New York but his status is “doubtful”. My guess is he’ll suit up but will only play a handful of downs if he gets in at all. But, John Phillips has proven to be an adequate backup even if he isn’t quite the perennial pro bowler or Romo’s favorite target. He’ll get the job done which will allow the rest of the team to exploit the Giants’ weaknesses.
DeMarco Murray is back and at full strength. He was doing some damage against the G-men last year before going down with a broken ankle and Felix Jones completed that game with 106 yards and a 6.6 yards per carry average. I expect the Cowboys to be able to run the ball on the Giants despite most fans and experts saying that they’ll get shut down. From what I’ve seen from the Giants front seven – with few changes in that group from last year – is a relentless and effective pass rush, but not necessarily a group of run stuffers. The Giants defense was 19th against the run last year giving up 121 yards per game on average (the Cowboys were 7th with an average of only 99 yards per game). If Murray drops 120+ on the Giants Wednesday night, it would go a long way toward earning the ‘W’ and would be one of the best ways to quiet the pass rush.
On defense, DeMarcus Ware will be back at full strength – and facing a newcomer in Sean Locklear. Back as well is a stronger and more motivated Anthony Spencer with Sean Lee in the middle and a combination of Dan Connor and Bruce Carter at the other LB spot. This group has yet to see much action together in a real game. Jay Ratliff has been ruled out and that will no doubt hurt, but Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore have proven to be more than serviceable. Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman, and Jason Hatcher are ready to rotate at DE and this group has proven to be pretty good together in preseason. I do not expect the Giants to generate much of a running game with the front seven we can put on the field and keep fresh with capable substitutions.
Everyone knows our secondary has been completely changed – with Carr, Claiborne, and Church (the “C” Monsters) joining Sensabaugh. Eli Manning and his talented receivers will likely get their yards, but between a better pass rush and more capable secondary, I would not expect another 400 yard game like Manning put on us in game 1 last year. We don’t have to shut this group down. We just have to limit the damage. My one concern is the idea of allowing New York to put Victor Cruz in the slot and trying to cover him with our nickel corner, Orlando Scandrick. That is a bit of a mismatch in my opinion and the Cowboys would be smart to move their best defenders around to cover the Giants’ best receivers. I’m betting that Rob Ryan has that figured out. They will no doubt catch us in the wrong defense a time or two but we have to make it harder for them.
I also expect the Giants to go after Mo Claiborne all night long. I hope I’m wrong, but let me be the first to say that I think he is going to struggle. He’s immensely
talented and will eventually be great, but this first game against an opponent this good is going to make him look very much like a rookie. If I were Ryan, I would give lots of safety help as often as possible. It also wouldn’t hurt if we generated some significant pressure on Eli Manning.
My major concerns outside of personnel and injuries for this game are the weather, the replacement refs, and the Cowboys sudden penchant for yellow flags. It could very well be raining tomorrow night which will create some slick conditions but I think that favors the team with the better running game – and that’s the Cowboys. The replacement refs have proven to be a joke in the preseason. Expect more of the same tomorrow night. We just have to hope and pray that the inevitable blown calls end up helping us instead of hurting us. Unfortunately, we’re playing one of the luckiest teams in the NFL. They always seem to get the right bounces (for example, Patrick Crayton’s dropped pass in 2007, Tyree’s miracle catch in the 2007 Super Bowl, and last year’s sideline grab by Mario Manningham). The bigger the game, the more miraculous the Giants’ bounces. Then, there is the Cowboys preseason performance where they simply could not get out of their own way with stupid or untimely penalties. Let’s hope that is just a function of replacement refs and rookie players and that it goes away in the regular season.
Bottom line is this – despite all the predictions to the contrary, this is a very winnable game for the Cowboys. The new season is full of promise. It will come down to who wants it more. The Cowboys had better approach this like it is their Super Bowl, because it very well might be. If they lose – or God forbid get blown out Wednesday night – their young season will be tarnished already. That simply cannot happen. I think we’ll know very early on if this is truly going to be more of the same or something special. Go Cowboys! Cowboys 28 Giants 24.
Side Note: I went back and re-read my article last year after the first loss to the Giants. Perhaps it was repressed memories, but I had forgotten what an awful start the Cowboys got out to in that game. Here’s a link to my article if you want a quick review. Avoid this kind of a start and I think the Cowboys could win going away.