Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Last season, Dallas Cowboys fans developed a new mantra: “Feed Zeke!”

That would of course be their star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, who this week was granted a temporary restraining order by a judge that blocks the NFL from enforcing a six-game suspension handed down by the league following an investigation into alleged domestic violence charges.

So Elliott might be free to run wild and hungry, but the New York Giants, who are first up for Elliott and the Cowboys this season, aren’t exactly willing to do some cooking when they visit AT&T Stadium Sunday night.

Lost in an otherwise stellar debut season for Elliott was a pair of forgettable games against the Giants, against whom Elliott tallied 158 total rushing yards on 44 carries, good for a 3.6 yard average carry, a noticeable drop-off from his 5.1 season average.

The Cowboys’ struggles against the Giants last season were not exclusive to Elliott. The Giants fed the Cowboys two of their 2016 losses, sweeping the season series. Despite that sweep, the Cowboys finished the year 13-3 and earned their second NFC East title in three years.

The Giants, meanwhile, used the momentum of those two wins to propel themselves to their first playoff berth since 2011.

However, each’s playoff trip turned out to be a mere cameo, defeated by the Green Bay Packers in their respective postseason openers. Now on Sunday, without a speck of green or yellow in sight, the teams have a golden opportunity to begin their paths to the Super Bowl anew.

Season Series History

While other rivalries come and go (remember when 49ers-Seahawks was a “thing”?), Cowboys-Giants has remained one of the NFL’s everlasting showdowns. The two teams have met at least once every year since the Cowboys’ formation in 1960.

Dallas leads the all-time set 62-46-2 with the Giants winning three straight. The Giants’ sweep of the Cowboyslast season was their first since the 2011-12 season.

This is also the third consecutive season the Giants will open at AT&T Stadium, where they’re 5-3 all-time. Notably, they earned a 33-31 win in the stadium’s 2009 debut, when Lawrence Tynes’ 37-yard field goal as time expired sailed through, witness by an NFL-record crowd of 105,121.

This also marks the fifth time over the past six seasons that the Giants and Cowboys will open their respective schedules against one another.

Four of those openers have been in Arlington, with the lone exception being the 2012 debut, where the Cowboys spoiled the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI banner raising party with a 24-17 win.

That game was played on a Wednesday due to then-President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in the customary Thursday slot. It was the first time since that 1934 that the Giants had played a game on Wednesday.

Despite an otherwise strong 13-3 regular season record as the Cowboys’ starter last season, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was 0-2 against the Giants last season (the other loss came against Philadelphia in Week 17, where third-stringer Mark Sanchez had a majority of the snaps). The last non-Tony Romo quarterback to defeat the Giants was Jon Kitna, who subbed for an injured Romo in the Cowboys’ victorious first trip to MetLife Stadium in November 2010. 

Contributing to the longevity to the Cowboys-Giants rivalry are the countless close games the teams seem to play against one another. Of the teams’ past 16 meetings (in which the Giants hold a 9-7 advantage), 13 have been decided by one possession. The astonishing combined margin of victory over this span has been 93 points (5.8 per game).

 

The Competitive Edge

Unit Giants Cowboys
Quarterback X
Running Back X
Receivers X
Tight Ends X
Offensive Line X
Defensive Line X
Linebackers X
Secondary X
Special Teams X
Coaching X

 

Key Matchups to Watch

Giants LT Ereck Flowers vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

This matchup is a tale of two players searching for redemption. Nothing more really can be said about the chronicles of Ereck Flowers that hasn’t been said already, but DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys’ second-round pick in 2014, is an interesting case.

As a rookie, Lawrence burst onto the scene in Dallas’s playoff run, picking up two sacks and two forced fumbles. He went on to become one of the few bright spots of the disastrous 2015 season for the Cowboys, picking up a team-high 8 sacks.

However, last season was a bit of disaster for Lawrence, who was suspended the first four games of the season. He wound up missing seven, watching his numbers plummet to 11 tackles and single sack.

For Flowers, the Giants’ first-round pick in 2015, a great way to silence the critics would be to have a great showing in a crucial game. Flowers is coming off what some have described as his best game as a Giant in the playoff finale in Green Bay. Can he build on that momentum, or will he be the pawn in Lawrence’s game of redemption?

 

Cowboys WR Cole Beasley vs. Giants CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

While Dez Bryant was held in check against the Giants last season–strong coverage from Janoris Jenkins limited the famous X-thrower with a mere two receptions, one of which was then fumbled–slot receiver Cole Beasley emerged against the stout Giants defense.

Usually covered by the veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Beasley had 12 grabs in the two games last year, targeted 19 times by quarterback Dak Prescott.

The receptions were there for Beasley, but yards were not as Rodgers-Cromartie got to Beasley quickly, limiting him to 106 yards in those games.

The speedy Beasley has been quite the gem for the Cowboys, and if they’re to win Sunday, he’ll have to bring his top game against the Giants’ vaunted secondary.

 

Injury Report

Team Player Injury Status
Giants LB Keenan Robinson Concussion Out
Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. Ankle Questionable
Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens Ankle Out
Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis Hamstring Questionable

The Giants Will Win If…

At numerous points last season, veterans of the Giants offense repeatedly expressed desires for blowouts. With all but five of their games decided by less than 10 points, you could hardly blame them.

Now with several new names in the mix, including receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram, they have a strong opportunity to do that against a Cowboys defense that’s already missing several key names due to suspensions and injuries, and which really isn’t exactly the 1985 Bears when they’re at full strength.

If the Giants newcomers on offense can mesh with veterans and engineer chemistry, Sunday night could turn into an unexpected thrashing for the Giants.

 

The Cowboys Will Win If…

They keep their defense off the field. Over their past couple of division title seasons, the Cowboys have succeeded using long, methodical drives that eat clock and move the ball, keeping the defense on the sidelines.

Despite Elliott’s presence, the Cowboys would also be wise if they added variety in their run game via veterans Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden.

Elliott carried the ball just six times this preseason, all in the Cowboys’ third game, so his counterparts, talented as is and even more dangerous behind the much-lauded Dallas offensive line, may have to pick up the slack.

Prediction

There are four certainties in life: death, taxes, Packers over Bears, and the Cowboys and Giants playing a close game on Sunday Night Football.

On paper, the game has the makings of a shootout, but the Giants boast something that’s at a premium in today’s NFL: a championship-caliber defense.

I don’t foresee the Giants struggling to click immediately all that much on offense even though they have so many newcomers who had so little preseason snaps together.

But like so many times last year, the defense will come through for them. It’ll be close–aren’t they always?–but the Giants should escape Arlington with another thrilling victory

Giants 20, Cowboys 16