Giants visit Cowboys for Sunday’s season opener: 3 keys to the matchup

The beauty of a new football season is that everyone starts with the same status. No matter how good "experts" think the Dallas Cowboys can be or how bad the New York Giants look, both enter Sunday afternoon’s season opener in Arlington, Texas, with zero wins and zero losses.

But while last year’s results won’t have any bearing on the outcome this weekend, recent history shows the once-competitive Giants-Cowboys rivalry has been lopsided for years. Dating back to the start of 2013, Big Blue has dropped nine of the last 12 meetings between the storied franchises. Dallas hasn’t controlled the G-Men so thoroughly since it won nine of 11 from 1991 to 1996.

Read on for three keys to Sunday’s game as the Giants aim to snap a four-game slide against the Boys and win their first Week 1 game since 2016.

Trench warfare

The Giants have been rebuilt to maximize the talents of running back Saquon Barkley, by far the team’s most talented player. Even behind a lackluster offensive line as a rookie in 2018, he picked up five yards per carry. If all goes as planned, he should find running lanes wider with the offseason additions of right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Mike Remmers (a limited participant in Thursday’s practice) plus the return of center Jon Halapio.

But Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, finally back with the team after a lengthy holdout, is capable of matching Barkley step for step. He’s a workhorse who averages 100 yards per game over his three-year career and has posted two of the three 300-plus carry seasons since 2016. 

The modern NFL may be a passing league, but the winner Sunday could be determined by the legs of one of these talented rushers.

Sack Dak

Over his first two seasons, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott established himself as a dual threat who can keep defenses off balance thanks to his accurate throws and ability to scamper across the line of scrimmage three or four times a game for notable gains. He also largely avoided taking too many sacks.

Last year was a different story. The 56 sacks he absorbed were nearly double his previous high of 32, and his per-carry yardage fell from 5.6 over his first two years to 4.1 in Year 3 over more attempts than usual.

The Giants had mixed results in that regard, failing to sack Prescott in their first meeting but bringing him down four times in a narrow 36-35 loss in the season finale at MetLife Stadium. The main contributor, Olivier Vernon, has since been traded to the Cleveland Browns, so it will be up to the likes of outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter and rookie defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, among others, to work together in pressuring the opposing passer.

Share the wealth

The Giants are six months removed from shipping mercurial superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland, but this weekend marks the first time anyone will be able to read what this passing attack looks like in a post-OBJ world.

Not that Eli Manning, entering his 15th consecutive Week 1 start, will complain. Even at his best, when he was leading the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl titles, the quarterback was often at his best when spreading the ball around to various targets. Other than Beckham, the only wideout or tight end to earn multiple Pro Bowl selections while playing with Manning was Jeremy Shockey (2005 and ’06). 

With free-agent addition Golden Tate suspended through Week 4, expect Manning to look the way of a number of options. Receiver Sterling Shepard ostensibly is the top target, but tight end Evan Engram and wideouts Cody Latimer and Benny Fowler will get looks. One of them has to step up in light of the fact that the Cowboys shouldn’t be throwing much double coverage anyone’s way.

Scott’s prediction

Cowboys 24, Giants 17