Pat’s Preview: Giants (0-0) at Dallas (0-0)

The preseason dress rehearsals are over and it’s time for the curtain to rise on Act I of what is the Giants 2013 NFL season.

What better way to start the new year than under the lights on Sunday night, on the road, against the Dallas Cowboys, who are 0-4 against the Giants in their new building, but who on the other hand, have never lost to the Giants on opening day?

One of those streaks is about to end on Sunday night in what should be a riveting prime time match-up.

This week’s game is the 102nd regular season meeting between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys lead the series, 57-42-2. The two teams have met once in the postseason, when the Giants defeated the Cowboys, 21-17, in a 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff Game. In their last meeting, the Giants defeated the Cowboys, 29-24, in Week 8 of the 2012 season in AT&T Stadium.

Center David Baas (knee), tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) are out.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back), fullback Henry Hynoski (knee), and defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) are questionable. The big question involves Pierre-Paul, who will be a game time decision. Pierre-Paul’s status will depend on how he comes through the 3.5-hour plane ride to Dallas and how he feels when he wakes up on Sunday morning.

Moore probably won’t play this week, as he would probably need to take his full practice reps for an entire week before getting out on the field given all the time he’s missed with his shoulder contusion.

As for Hynoski, he was still holding out hope that he’d be cleared to play on Sunday, though as late as Friday, he didn’t sound too sure that he would get the green light for this week. Hynoski was limited in practice all week, which based on history usually means he’s not going to be active on game day.

Receiver Victor Cruz (heel) and cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle) are probable. Both are expected to play.

Cowboys’ defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) didn’t practice all week and was listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll play on Sunday.

No Spencer and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff probably bodes well for the Giants’ reconfigured offensive line that was unveiled in the preseason finale and which is likely to start against Dallas. That line consists of left tackle Will Beatty, left guard James Brewer, center Kevin Boothe, right guard Chris Snee and right tackle Justin Pugh.

Key #1. Thwart the home run ball.
The Giants cannot afford to be beaten deep down the field, and for this reason, it would not be surprising if they are in their sub packages a lot, which would of course mean very few snaps for middle linebacker Dan Connor and probably many snaps for nickel linebacker Jacquian Williams.

Meanwhile, the Giants probably would like to have Prince Amukamara lined up against Dez Bryant as often as possible, though it’s doubtful that New York will flip their starting cornerbacks around to make sure they get this match-up 100% of the time.

As for Miles Austin, the Cowboys’ other receiving threat, Corey Webster will probably draw that assignment, which isn’t an easy one for a cornerback who had some late-summer knee and groin issues.

While Webster didn’t appear on the Giants’ injury report this week, be surprising if the Giants have a safety providing coverage of Miles as well if there are any remaining traces of Webster’s preseason knee and groin issues.

Key #2. Stop the run.
The Giants put a big emphasis on overhauling their run defense, which last year allowed 129.1 rushing yards per game. Newcomers like Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers should all help in this regard by creating congestion between the tackles and forcing Cowboys starting running back DeMarco Murray to the outside where if the Giants defensive ends contain, the Cowboys running game should be kept under wraps.

Speaking of Murray, whose 6.24 rushing yards per carry against the Giants is his second best average against any opponent, Dallas is 9-0 in games when he has 18 or more rushing attempts.

Key #3. Hit tight end Jason Witten
A big reason Cowboys tight end Jason Witten managed to accumulate 167 yards on 18 receptions—an NFL record for tight ends–last time these two teams met in Dallas was because he was allowed to freely release into his patterns.

If the Giants are determined to stop Witten from having a repeat performance, they have to make it more difficult for him to come off the line of scrimmage and find a spot in the coverage where Romo can get him the ball.

Key #4. Keep DeMarcus Ware out of Eli Manning’s grill.
The Cowboys defensive front might be missing starters Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer, but one man who will be there is all-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who has 4.5 sacks in his last three games against the Giants.

While Ware lined up exclusively across from the left tackle this summer in the Cowboys’ new 4-3 defensive alignment, it would not be surprising if defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin tries to exploit a potential mismatch against rookie Justin Pugh, who is getting his first regular season start at right tackle.

As a starter this preseason, Pugh has held up well in solo blocks, showing good technique in establishing a base and keeping his pad level low.

Key #5. Don’t Let Romo Make Plays with his Legs
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo isn’t afraid to make plays with his legs when he has to, as evident by his 508 rushing yards on 188 career carries. Of those carries, Romo has run 21 times for 53 yards against the Giants, his second highest total against any opponent. He also has a career-high three rushing touchdowns to go along with that, so it’s imperative that the Giants find a way to keep Romo in the pocket.

One can’t help but think that the Giants coaching staff might be holding its break this weekend as far as its pass blocking in the backfield goes. David Wilson has gotten better at it, but he’s not quite at a level where former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was.

Behind Wilson, there is Da’Rel Scott, who up until André Brown broke his leg, didn’t even look as though he was going to make the team; and rookie Michael Cox, who still has ways to go with his pass protection.

If that’s not enough to cause worry, the team might not have fullback Henry Hynoski this week as he continues his comeback from knee surgery.

So what do the Giants do? They’ll try Wilson but it also wouldn’t be surprising if they ask Bear Pascoe, their best blocking tight end at the moment who has filled in at fullback, to stand in the backfield on obvious passing downs.

If the Giants win Sunday night, they will join the Green Bay Packers (53) as the only teams to win 50 or more road openers. Dallas (33-30, .623) has the highest winning percentage in road openers. Green Bay (53-37-2, .596) is second.



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