Sometimes, a preview/game plan story can write itself. I feel like these first few paragraphs are insanely obvious, but let's do it anyway. The facts are easy to see:
1) This is the opening of the new stadium. And not just any stadium. Many are suggesting by their actions (The Today Show is here!) that this is not merely another stadium opening. This is the Death Star. This is Jerry World. This is $1.2 billion dollars of excess when there is not much excess in our economy. This is "bigger in Texas". This is the Dallas Cowboys.
2) And, this is the New York Giants. The bile and venom from both sides is never in short supply. I cannot speak for past generations, but in the here and now, the current 45 men on each side of the field are enemies. They don't like eachother. And they wish to do eachother harm and humiliation at every opportunity. And imagine how much joy it would bring the Giants to ruin the party on Sunday night.
3) This is a key divisional game. In the balance of power in this difficult division, there is no doubt that this is one of the 3 or 4 most important games of the season. This game could very well decide if the Cowboys go to the playoffs or not. There are too many tie-breaking implications to ignore. Too much damage can be done by losing this game at home to them.
4) Jerry has invested a lot into this evening. I know this is not important to us, but to Wade Phillips and his staff, they have heard Jerry go on and on about September 20th for months. They know that he wants them to pull out all the stops, and they also know that he will be as irate as ever if they lose. He is unveiling his new "Blue Star" at mid field. He is debuting the new "Ring of Honor". The whole world will be watching. This is his $1.2 billion dollar night. Don't underestimate the pressure that this could put on your heroes.
But, we all know that new stadiums, big video boards, or cheerleaders do not decide NFL wars. The players and coaches do. So while there will be plenty of hoopla surrounding the events of this weekend, let's cut through it all and look at the keys to this game:
There is a lot to visit about here. The bottom line is this game (as all Giants and Cowboys games) will be decided at the point of attack. Can the Cowboys win the line of scrimmage? Most think that will be quite difficult on offense. The reasons are easy to understand. Despite playing twice a year every year, all anyone can remember from a Cowboys perspective is that playoff game on Jan 13, 2008. The Cowboys had a bye week and a #1 seed, and the Giants were a 9-7 Wildcard. But, those same Giants whipped the Cowboys at the line of scrimmage, many times causing all manner of chaos on the Cowboys running game by making Tony Romo run for his life.
Not to bring back bad memories, but here is what the Giants 4 man rush did against the Cowboys Offensive Line in that game, causing Romo to try to improvise:
As the game went on, then the Giants dialed up blitzes, and now the Cowboys were forced to keep Barber and Witten in to block in key plays - and Romo was still getting hit hard.
So, on the game's final play, instead of Jason Witten running a route for the winning score, they chose to keep him in to block, so Romo could fire a prayer at Terry Glenn - a play that still makes me crazy. If Witten is your #1 target, you have to figure out how to protect without using him. Once again, in 2009, the "12" allows this. Martellus in to protect, Witten in route. Or, just the opposite.
If it wasn't for the pass rush giving Romo no time, below is what Jason Garrett would have wanted to do. Four weeks earlier, in the same scenario, Romo found Witten in the end zone from the same spot in the field. But, the Lions couldn't get to Romo - the Giants could. And that is why the Giants give the Cowboys fits.
1) - Keep the pocket protected. The Giants edge rush can destroy a game plan. This game, like so many, will be decided by the ability of the Cowboys tackles to protect the edge. Osi versus Flo, Colombo versus Tuck/Kiwanuka will be vital. Expect plenty of 6 and 7 man protection schemes. The Giants are so dominant in their front that they can get you with 4, 5, 6, or 7. And if they get you with 4, your game plan is completely screwed up.
2) - Crank up that diesel. The last time the Cowboys ran the ball for over 100 yards against the Giants, they won 45-35 in Week 1 in 2007. Of course, that was also the last time they passed for 300 yards. That night they rolled up 478 yards of total offense. But besides that, the last time the Cowboys offense got to 400 yards against the Giants? The Monday Night Classic at Giants stadium in 2003 where Quincy Carter and Bill Parcells enjoyed a 35-32 win. They must run the ball. Barber and Jones must get something going to keep Romo out of 3rd and longs.
3) - Test the secondary. With the Cowboys weapons on offense, and the Giants injuries deep in the secondary (Phillips, Johnson - the two starting safeties are gimpy, Ross the CB is out) I think it is important to stretch that defense early and often. This of course goes back to #1 with pass protection, but there should be players running free. Tony Romo can carve the Giants up. He has. In his last 4 starts against the Giants, his passer rating is 128.5, 123.1, 64.7 (the playoff game), and 113.8. Those numbers have been good enough to go 3-1, with 11 TDs and 3 INTs.
4) - Garrett unveils his secrets - I believe that Jason Garrett was intentionally vanilla in Tampa. In "12" the Cowboys always passed. In "21" the Cowboys always ran. The showed the Wildcat, but didn't do anything with it. I believe this has all been a plan to ambush new Giants DC Bill Sheridan. This early in the season, there is not enough film to give you a total picture of your opponent. Teams will intentionally try to leave bait for the opposition. If the Giants expect one thing, look for Garrett to wait for just the right time and try to spring a shocker for a TD. Let's see what happens in this chess match.
Defense is not as confusing. But, it is going to be a huge challenge. The Giants want to run the ball and then keep running the ball. They want to protect Eli Manning. He was sacked last time he came to Dallas 8 times. Chris Snee told us yesterday on the radio that his OL was flat-out embarrassed with that showing. They seem quite determined to make sure it doesn't happen again.
As we said yesterday, the questions around the league about the Giants really revolve around the ability for them to make vertical plays in the passing game. There is no question they can complete passes of the short and intermediate variety to Steve Smith or Kevin Boss. But, what will they do to keep the Cowboys safeties honest? If we knew the answer to that, people would be more comfortable projecting the Giants to the Super Bowl. But they have to figure it out, and the Cowboys have to be prepared for those attempts.
1) - Get to Eli. The Cowboys have sacked Eli 20 times in the last 4 meetings. They have shown that he is as affected by pressure as any QB in the pro game. Last December, his QB rating of 43.9 was horrible. That was the first meeting with the Cowboys without Plaxico. But, it also featured Greg Ellis getting to Eli for 2.5 sacks that night, and Chris Canty (who will not play for the Giants - the first missed game of his career) adding another sack. DeMarcus Ware will have protection slid his direction all night - despite that he had 4 sacks last year against the Giants. He will also be chipped by a RB on a routine basis to help out LT David Diehl. Will the opposite side LB Anthony Spencer show that he is up to this prime time test? It is time for him to demonstrate he is worthy.
2) - Plug the holes in the Rushing Defense. The rush defense is obviously the biggest concern coming out of Tampa Bay. Were the Cowboys that bad? If so, shouldn't Snee, O'Hara, and Seubert be licking their chops against the interior triangle of the Cowboys 3-4? I need to see more out of Spears and Olshansky at the point of attack, and I also need a better game out of Bradie James and Keith Brooking. Brandon Jacobs will bring his sledge hammer, so let's hope the defense is tired of being questioned after the Bucs ran for 175.
3) - Figure out the 2nd Corner. I have said plenty here on this topic, but I think it is time to demand a bit more out of Mike Jenkins. He looks lost on certain busted coverages, and that needs to stop. If it doesn't, give the job to the less shiny Orlando Scandrick and be done with it. Like Spencer, Jenkins needs to put up now. The Giants are going to take shots to Manningham or Hixon, and the corners better know what coverage they are in. It only takes one bust to lose a game.
4) - Keep rolling DL depth. The Cowboys are nowhere near the Giants in this category, but there was some healthy buzz about the play of Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen last week when they replaced Olshansky and Marcus Spears. Let's see more of these guys and keep all of your interior linemen as fresh and ready as possible.
I think the Cowboys will win this game, but as always, I expect the outcome to be in doubt until the final gun. If you have been around this series for 5 minutes, you know to expect the unexpected. This is going to be a wonderful night of football.
Cowboys 24, Giants 21
(Once again, thanks to DCFanatic for the video! and visit him at DCfanatic.com)
Two Bonus Videos from DC Fanatic:
Anatomy of a Play - Romo to Roy, Week 1
Romo Mic'd in Week 1