The New York Giants’ 2015 season is about to begin in roughly 24 hours from posting time, meaning now’s the time to preview the G-Men’s season opener. As usual, the opener is going to be in Dallas on Sunday Night, and Big Blue will search for their first season-opening win since 2010.
The Giants and the Cowboys both have some of the NFL’s most premier quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Tony Romo. Manning is fresh off of a well-earned $84 million dollar contract extension, and Romo returns to action after a largely successful 2014 NFL season, in which he compiled a fine 69.9% completion rate and a stellar 113.2 quarterback rating. Each quarterback has a wide array of plus options to throw to, and each quarterback is a master of 4th quarter comebacks. In addition, each quarterback is facing a defense that is thin and inexperienced in the secondary. The evenness of Manning and Romo makes it tough to say who has the advantage, so let’s consider it a draw.
The backfield has seen lots of changes over the last couple of years for these two teams, making tomorrow night’s RB matchup all the more compelling. For the Giants, they think their 3-headed monster of tough-to-bring-down Rashad Jennings, scat back Shane Vereen, and bruiser Andre Williams is the best combination of rushers since Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and D.J. Ware in 2011. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have no clear-cut starter after the departure of 2014’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray to the Eagles. Joseph Randle, Christine Michael, and veteran Darren McFadden will vie for carries in Jason Garrett’s offense. The Giants have the edge here, as their group is more sturdy. Even with Dallas’s superb offensive line, they could struggle versus Big Blue on Sunday Night.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The star power at this position is strong for both New York and Dallas. Dallas will count on superstar receiver Dez Bryant and noted Giants killer Jason Witten to move the chains, with occasional contributions from Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. The Giants, however, have the younger core. Odell Beckham Jr. never takes a game off, Rueben Randle is a dependable target, and Larry Donnell is the big tight end that Eli Manning has needed for years. The absence of Victor Cruz due to a bothersome knee injury will hurt the Giants; their depth options do not have the pedigree of those they’re replacing (Preston Parker, Dwanye Harris). Neither team will be able to contain Beckham or Bryant, making for a pretty even wide receivers competition.
Do I really have to write anything here? It is a known fact that the Cowboys have one of football’s best offensive lines, an O-Line they’ve developed themselves. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin were all first round picks now at the top of their games, and veterans Ronald Leary and Doug Free are respectable at worst. Meanwhile, the Giants have question marks everywhere with their O-Line. After Will Beatty tore his pectoral, rookie Ereck Flowers has stepped in on the blind side with mixed results. Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh are dependable, but Geoff Schwartz and Marshall Newhouse are injury-prone and inconsistent, respectively. The Cowboys have an advantage over every other NFL team up front, including a sizable one over the G-Men.
Once again, both of these teams have major questions with their front 4. The Giants are missing star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Cowboys are without Greg Hardy, who’s serving a 4-game suspension. In their stead, the teams have a big drop-off. The Giants can count on Jonathan “Big Hank” Hankins and Robert Ayers Jr., but need production from young Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn, as well as veterans Cullen Jenkins and George Selvie. Dallas needs Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden to generate pressure from the inside while Jeremy Mincey operates from the outside. Neither team is what they once were from a pass-rush perspective, and the absence of the big studs evens this matchup out.
Injuries and suspensions have rocked this position group for both teams as well. Both teams are without the leaders of their defenses, though. For the Giants it’s Jon Beason (knee), and for the Cowboys, Rolando McClain (suspension). In their place, the Giants will start undrafted rookie Uani’ Unga, while the Boys counter with young Anthony Hitchens. Neither of these teams’ linebackimg cores are outstanding, but the Cowboys have the edge here. Strong and weak side linebackers Kyle Wilber and Sean Lee are better than the Giants’ Devon Kennard and J.T. Thomas III. The Cowboys’ linebackers rarely miss tackles, making the running game a tough effort to get going.
As has been a common theme so far, injuries have decimated these team’s secondaries as well. The Giants’ shutdown corners are healthy, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara should be able to hold their own versus the Cowboys’ dangerous targets. Nickel corner Trumaine McBride is solid depth, but Jayron Hosely (the Giants’ dime CB) is not. The safety situation in New York is, if I may say, anything but safe. Big Blue will start promising but inexperienced rookie Landon Collins and career backup Cooper Taylor versus the Cowboys’ dangerous offense. Dallas is in trouble as well, though. Due to the injury of number 1 corner Orlando Scandrick, potential cap casualties Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are now starting with very limited depth. Their safeties, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are solid over the top, a big help given the lack of cornerback skill for Dallas. These secondaries are both going to get beaten brutily on Sunday Night, making the “edge” a wash.
Special Teams can make or break a game, as I’m sure all Giants fans know. But this year, the Giants’ special teams are much different than before. Josh Brown will still kick and Zak DeOssie will still snap, but Australian lefty Brad Wing will punt instead of Steve Weatherford, who was surprisingly cut. The coverage units were addressed in free agency, as Jonathan Casillas, Dwayne Harris, and Craig Dahl were brought in as special teams specialists to join Mark Herzlich and company. The Cowboys have the NFL’s most accurate kicker in Dan Bailey in addition to a solid punter in Chris Jones and snapper L.P. LaDoucer. Their coverage units have undergone changes as well. The return game could be a big difference maker, but I prefer the Giants’ Dwayne Harris over the Cowboys’ Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley.
Giants-Cowboys games are always tough to predict due to their, well, unpredictability. But if I’m forced to choose one team to win, I’ll have to pick the Cowboys at home. The Giants are facing more serious injuries now than the Cowboys, and AT&T Stadium will be rocking. It will be a close shootout, but the Cowboys will likely take round one.