This Sunday night we finally get to see what kind of a team Jason Garrett and the Jones’ have put together. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about this team, but one way or another we are going to find out the answers starting this Sunday. Will this team take advantage of a fairly easy opening schedule and get off to a fast start? If so, they had better start off with a win over their division rivals. They did last year in MetLife Stadium but then went on to drop the next game at Seattle and barely won against Tampa Bay in week 3. The promise that we all felt this team had melted away quickly as the season wore on and the injuries mounted. But, in the end, the Cowboys were still one win away from winning the always tough NFC East division. But, it wasn’t meant to be.
This year feels eerily similar despite all the changes. We open against the Giants – this time at home. Week 2 we travel to Kansas City, a team expected to be much improved and in a stadium that is a tough venue but a game on paper at least we should win. Beware that game – Andy Reid may have changed teams, but he knows these Cowboys pretty well. Many experts are throwing out predictions about what the Cowboys record will be this year. I’m not going to do that because each week is the most important game of our season. This team literally needs to take it one game at a time. First step in that process: Beat the Giants.
To do that, I hope the coaching staff goes back and looks at the tape of the Ravens – Giants game last season in week 16. This game was a playbook on how to beat the Giants. The Ravens dominated the game 33-14 and led at halftime by 17 points. And, this was pretty much the same team the Giants will put on the field this Sunday night including Jason Pierre-Paul but excluding Osi Umenyiora. JPP isn’t confirmed yet for Sunday’s game but I’m betting the farm he plays. The Ravens last year were a team that is very similar to the Cowboys on paper this year. Solid offensively with a good but not elite QB (this is Romo’s year to stab that monkey on his back), a standout running back, and talented receivers. Defensively, they have their stars and they have their role players within every unit – defensive line, linebackers, and secondary. So, how did the Ravens accomplish this blowout?
First, offensively, they came out and ran some no-huddle, up-tempo offense to start the game. This immediately put the talented defensive front of the Giants on their heels and nullified their pass rush – the one thing most teams fear when playing the Giants. It also limits the personnel changes and adjustments a defense can make. They continued to use the no-huddle at times throughtout the game but were never predictable with it. As a result, Flacco was not sacked once during the game.
Secondly, they ran the ball extremely well which set up the play action pass. WIth their weak linebacking corps, the Giants can be run on. The Cowboys may not be able to generate over 200 yards rushing like both Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice did getting over 100 yards each, but they should be able to run against this team. When Flacco did drop back, they were largely quick throws. The ball was out of his hands within 2-3 seconds giving the Giants’ front four no time to get to him. When the Giants did blitz, Flacco calmly hit the hot route left open by the blitzing linebackers.
Thirdly, when they did throw they absolutely abused Giants cornerback Corey Webster. No matter who he was covering, they seemed to target his man. Webster will be out there at cornerback again and will be a year older and slower. If the Cowboys don’t exploit that weakness, they are missing a huge opportunity. The thought of Dez Bryant or Miles Austin catching the ball instead of Torrey Smith (5 rec, 88 yds, 1 TD) and Anquan Boldin (7 rec, 93 yds) should make Bill Callahan’s mouth water! If we are able to establish any kind of a running game, look for both Dez and Miles to have big nights.
Lastly, they converted over 60% of their third downs. After the Giants started the game with a 3 and out, the Ravens put together a 14 play, 5:25 minute drive for their first score. For the game, the Ravens had scoring drives of 14, 12, 16, and 13 plays chewing up a lot of clock. The Ravens kept their offense on the field and ended up dominating the clock with nearly 40 minutes time of possession. They kept Eli sitting on the bench and got long drives for points putting the game out of reach.
In all, the Ravens offense racked up 533 yards in total offense (309 passing yards, 224 rushing) while the Giants managed only186 yards of total offense.
Defensively, the Ravens harrassed Peyton’s younger brother all night sacking him 3 times but hurrying him on almost every throw. Manning completed barely 50% of his passes and managed only 150 yards passing. One of the ways they accomplished this was using safety Ayanbadejo on timely blitzes. Monte Kiffin will likely take note of that fact and realize that Ahmad Bradshaw is no longer there. He was the primary running back for the Giants and was clearly better at picking up blitzes. This year, it will be up to a smaller David Wilson (5’9″, 205) to fill that role. With a dinged up offensive line, Manning will be vulnerable and the Cowboys should take advantage of that. DeMarcus Ware will see most of the double team action all night so the other players must show up. The key to beating Eli Manning and avoiding the salsa in your end zone is to keep him on his back or running for his life.
Secondly, the Ravens defense shut down the run. Part of this was accomplished by the fact the offense got so far out ahead that the Giants had to abandon the run. But, on the night, they only managed 67 yards rushing. This is the area that concerns me the most about the Cowboys defense right now. Our linebackers are as good as they get but the defensive line must keep the opposing O-line off of them. If our defensive lineman are getting handled, this could turn into a long night for the Cowboys. We must stop the run, force the Giants to throw, and then crush Eli when he does.
This is a very winnable game. Most Giants fans sneer through their rotted teeth and spit out the factoid, “The Giants have never lost at Cowboys Stadium!” as if that somehow guarantees them a win Sunday night. In reality, it has nothing to do with anything. But, I would counter that since both the turf and the name of the stadium have changed, it is the Giants that have never won a game at AT&T Stadium on this new turf replaced in the off season. For the overly superstitious, it’s a new ball game. By the way, the Cowboys have never lost a season opener to the Giants – not once since 1960. So, someone’s streak is going to end this week. I’m betting it is the Cowboys that break through and christen newly crowned AT&T Stadium with a win. I’m going on record to say I think the Cowboys win this one going away: Cowboys 30, Giants 17. Go Cowboys!!