We've been hearing all week long how the big, bad Giants are going to come into the new stadium and embarrass Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. I know the Giants won the Superbowl a couple of years ago but this is a much different team coming to town than the one who won it all a couple of years ago. Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer are gone. And their defense is hurting badly right now from various injuries to key players.
So why do so many people seem to think the Giants are going to win? I wish I could answer that question because I'm sick of hearing about Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and Osi Umenyiora. Winning the Superbowl buys you a lot of respect but I think people aren't seeing reality with the current version of the team. Sure the defensive line is still tough to deal with, but the offense has a very different feel to it without Plaxico there to beat the double team for big plays. The secondary is depleted by injuries. Chris Canty is out so the defensive line rotation is down a man.
I certainly don't think the game is a cakewalk but I do think it is a game the Cowboys can and should win given the circumstances. The still have a lot to prove to everyone after last season's meltdown. I do worry about the offensive line protecting Tony Romo. But I am actually even more concerned that the grand opening festivities surrounding the game may cause the team to be distracted early in the game. The team claims to be all business this year and this game will certainly test that claim.
Here is what I think the team needs to do to win the game.
1. Play better run defense. The Giants offense is only going to be successful if they are able to set up the pass with the run. The Cowboys need to shut down Brandon Jacobs early on and force the Giants to put the ball in the air. Eli Manning is susceptible to turnovers if they can put pressure on him. But the key is shutting down the running game so the pass rush can get going. Eli won't survive the game if he takes hits like the Cowboys delivered to Byron Leftwich last week. The Giants don't have the firepower to go score for score with the Cowboys. But if the Giants run successfully they can play keep away from the Cowboys.
2. Limit turnovers. This is going to sound like a broken record by the end of the season. I know that fumbles are sometimes unavoidable as is the occasional interception, but Tony Romo can not give the Giants any cheap turnovers. My worst fear is a bad start to the game that forces the Cowboys to play from behind. You don't want to have to deal with that Giants defensive line if they can feel free to rush the passer every play.
3. Expose the inexperienced Giants secondary. Jason Garrett revealed some interesting new wrinkles in the offense last week. With the reserve players being forced into action for the Giants he can probably create some great matchups with new formations and schemes. I expect to see at least a few opportunities for big plays in the passing game as a result of the offensive game plan. The only thing that will prevent the Cowboys from passing effectively in this game would be poor play by the offensive line.
4. Continue the solid play on special teams. The Cowboys played the best game of special teams that we have seen in a couple of years from the team. If they can continue to win the special teams battle it will give them a field position advantage in every game. That will help the defense force more punts and give the offense more opportunities to score. I hope to see a lot of kickoffs booming into the endzone because that would mean that the Cowboys are racking up points.
5. Force a turnover! One interception that was called back was all we saw in terms of turnovers last week. The best way to break a game open is to not only get a turnover but get several of them. I want to see at least an interception or two and a forced fumble or two. I saw the team working on forcing fumbles and recovering fumbles in training camp so I know they have put in the work. I'm ready for the Cowboys to finally get some takeaways.
This is a winnable game. Last week I had no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys would win as long as they didn't lay an egg. This week is a little different. The Giants are a proud and confident team. They won't go down without a fight. The Cowboys have to play a good game to win but I believe they are up to the task. It is way too early in the season for them to start sleepwalking into games...especially one against a hated rival. I think there will be a lot of points scored in this game. My prediction is a 37-20 victory for the Cowboys.