NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (1-0) at Dallas (1-0)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The eyes of the NFL world will be fixed upon the state of Texas on Sunday night, as the Dallas Cowboys play the first regular-season game in their palatial new stadium with a prime-time showdown against one of their fiercest rivals, the New York Giants.
While the extravagant state-of-the-art 80,000-seat venue, understatedly named as Cowboys Stadium, will be the centerpiece of this marquee Week 2 matchup, the game itself could deliver its share of pomp and circumstance as well. This made-for-TV clash features the two teams that claimed the top seed in the NFC Playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and each made their 2009 debuts with impressive and convincing victories last weekend. The Cowboys opened the post- Terrell Owens era by outgunning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a 34-21 count, while the reigning NFC East champion Giants began defense of their division title with a 23-17 besting of the visiting Washington Redskins.
Dallas hardly missed a beat without the services of the supremely-talented but mentally-draining Owens, who shuffled his tired act off to Buffalo after being unceremoniously released in the offseason, as its wide receiver contingent of Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin all hauled in long touchdown passes against the Bucs as part of a milestone performance from quarterback Tony Romo. The star quarterback shredded a makeshift Tampa secondary for a career-best 353 passing yards in directing a Cowboys offense that looked unstoppable at times versus its overmatched foe.
New York also answered a few lingering questions with its strong showing against the fellow division-member Redskins. In his first real test since signing a landmark six-year contract extension over the summer, quarterback Eli Manning completed 20-of-29 throws for 256 yards while working with an unproven corps of receivers that no longer includes controversial standout Plaxico Burress, while a defense that saw highly-regarded coordinator Steve Spagnuolo depart for the head coaching job of the St. Louis Rams at last season's end was back to its disruptive old self in its initial game under new architect Bill Sheridan.
The Giants limited Washington to a modest 272 total yards and forced a pair of turnovers, highlighted by a 37-yard sack and fumble return touchdown from Osi Umenyiora in the two-time Pro Bowl end's first regular-season action since missing all of 2008 due to a torn meniscus in his left knee.
New York will be invading Cowboys Stadium, constructed at a cost of $1.15 billion and which features the world's largest high-definition television screen across its playing field, with the goal of delivering better results than the team managed at Dallas' former digs over the past few years. The Giants lost four of their final six non-playoff tilts at the old Texas Stadium, including setbacks in each of the past two seasons.
The Cowboys lead the all-time regular season series with the Giants by a 55-36-2 count, including a conventional home-and-home split last season. Dallas was a 35-14 loser when they visited Giants Stadium in Week 9 of last year, but exacted revenge with a 20-8 primetime win at Texas Stadium in Week 15. The Giants last won a regular season game at Texas Stadium in 2006.
New York was a 21-17 road winner over Dallas in a 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff, a game that ranks as the only postseason meeting between the franchises to date.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has a 7-7 record against Dallas as a head coach, including 6-5 since arriving in New York in 2004. Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is 3-3 against the Giants in his career as a head coach, with one of the defeats coming for his Bills team in 1999. Phillips is 4-2 against Coughlin head-to-head, including a victory for Buffalo over Coughlin's Jaguars during the 1998 season.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
New York sported the NFL's top rushing offense (157.4 ypg) during last year's successful regular-season stretch, with hulking back Brandon Jacobs delivering a second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign as the primary ball-carrier. The Giants only mustered a pedestrian 103 yards on the ground on Washington's stout defense in the opener, however, with Jacobs (46 rushing yards, 2 receptions last week) being out-produced by smaller and quicker understudy Ahmad Bradshaw, who totaled 60 yards on just 12 attempts. The team was able to move the ball effectively through the air, with Manning (256 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) deftly sharing the wealth among young wide receivers Steve Smith (6 receptions) and Mario Manningham (3 receptions, 1 TD) and sure-handed tight end Kevin Boss, who recorded 62 yards on his three catches. Smith seems to have emerged from the pack of New York's still-developing wideout group as Manning's go-to-guy, with the third-year pro posting 80 yards and being targeted eight times against the Redskins. The Giants won't be counting on a contribution from 2009 first-round pick Hakeem Nicks (2 receptions) for at least a couple of weeks, after the rookie receiver sprained his left foot in Sunday's win.
A revamped Dallas defense that replaced five starters from a year ago was far from dominating in last week's victory, as the Buccaneers put up 174 rushing yards and 450 total yards while gaining 26 first downs. The Cowboys also failed to register a sack on quarterback Byron Leftwich, a surprising development from a team that amassed a league-best 59 takedowns of enemy passers in 2008, 20 of which were generated by game-changing outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (4 tackles). Dallas did take down Manning eight times in last December's ousting of the G-Men at Texas Stadium, with Ware leading the charge with a three-sack night. Cornerback Terence Newman (9 tackles), the top cover man of a secondary with two new regulars -- second-year corner Mike Jenkins (2 tackles, 1 PD) and ex-Jaguars safety Gerald Sensabaugh (7 tackles) -- intercepted Manning twice as well in that game, helping the Cowboys hold New York to a meager 218 yards in a stifling display. The run defense is a concern, as Dallas has surrendered an unhealthy average of 192 rushing yards over its past three games dating back to last season.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Dallas can boast an enviable amount of balance on the offensive side of the ball, with a still-potent passing game complemented nicely by the inside- outside running back duo of Marion Barber (79 yards, 1 TD) and Felix Jones (22 rushing yards) and a sturdy front line. Even after Owens' departure, Romo (353 passing yards, 3 TD) still has a wealth of receiving options to choose from, as tight end Jason Witten (5 receptions) is one of the game's best at his position and Williams (3 receptions), a Pro Bowl performer with the Lions in 2006, seems much more comfortable in coordinator Jason Garrett's scheme after making little impact upon coming over in a midseason trade last year. Crayton, normally a secondary alternative in the Cowboys' aerial attack, racked up a game-high 135 receiving yards on just four grabs against the Buccaneers and connected with Romo on a back-breaking 80-yard score in the fourth quarter. Look for the playmaking Jones, who averaged an eye-popping 8.9 yards per rush in an injury-shortened rookie year in 2008, to be utilized more on Sunday after getting only six touches in the opener.
Romo will be operating against a New York secondary expected to be minus starting cornerback Aaron Ross (strained hamstring) for a second straight week, with sophomore Terrell Thomas (3 tackles, 1 PD) slated to fill in again on Sunday. The team is optimistic that dependable nickel back Kevin Dockery, who also sat out the Washington game with an ailing hamstring, will be available to lend some needed depth to the short-handed backfield. Despite their limited personnel last week, the Giants still held the Redskins to 187 net passing yards thanks to a persistent pass rush headed by Umenyiora (4 tackles, 1 sack) and All-Pro end Justin Tuck (5 tackles, 1.5 sacks). The dangerous duo accounted for 2 1/2 of Big Blue's three sacks in the opener. The defense gets back outside linebacker Michael Boley from a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy this week, although it's unclear as to whether he'll start in favor of capable substitute Chase Blackburn (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) on the weak side. New York ranked eighth in the league against the run last season and allowed just 85 yards on 21 rush attempts in Week 1.
Romo was able to reward his owners with a fantastic fantasy day in Week 1, and although he'll be facing a much sterner test on Sunday than Tampa Bay provided, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback remains a pretty safe play. Manning is worthy of starting consideration as well off his season-opening performance, but keep in mind that he'll be facing a hostile environment and the Giants may concentrate more on running the ball this week. Jacobs seems to be in line for an increased role after getting just 16 carries against Washington, so don't hesitate to use him in a matchup against a defense that struggled to contain the Bucs' ground game last Sunday. Barber also makes for a sound choice at the running back position and Witten is an every-week must at tight end, where Boss is starting to emerge as a useful player on the New York side. At wide receiver, Dallas' Williams and the Giants' Smith have good potential as the top outside threats of their respective teams, but don't read too much into Crayton's extremely productive debut.
The league's schedule-makers didn't do Cowboys owner Jerry Jones any favors by making the formidable Giants the team's opponent to officially christen the new stadium. The 2008 NFC champs have the horses to successfully move the chains on a Dallas defense that was pushed around quite a bit at the line of scrimmage a week ago, and won't likely be intimidated by the raucous atmosphere that will be awaiting them on Sunday. Including the playoffs, New York has gone 15-4 under Coughlin on the road over the previous two seasons. The Cowboys may need another mistake-free game out of Romo to make up for their shortcomings on the other side of the ball, a tall task against a Giants defense that specializes in forcing the opposition into critical errors.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 23, Cowboys 20
09/17 16:42:30 ET