Giants (0-0) vs Cowboys (0-0)
The Giants closed out last season with an 11-5 record, followed by a wildcard
playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. In that game the Giants scored a field
goal in each of the first two quarters. Their defense was making a 6-0 lead hold
up, but then they gave up two quick touchdowns to close out the second quarter.
The Giants were the first team to score in the third quarter when Eli Manning
hit Tavarres King with a 41 yard touchdown pass to bring the Giants close, trailing
14-13, but it also lit a fire under Aaron Rodgers.
Despite the Giants defense
hitting Rodgers with five sacks up to this point, he was determined to win this
matchup. There were no more sacks, and Rodgers led the Packers in each of his
following drives to three more touchdowns and a field goal to secure a 38-13 win
over the Giants.
The Dallas Cowboys would face Green Bay the following week
in the divisional game and saw what they would be up against. The Cowboys put
up a good fight. They tried to overcome a questionable call by the officials that
could have altered the outcome, but in the end the score was 34-31 in favor of
- Packers Wrap-Up
The NFC East champions surprised
everyone last year. They lost top quarterback
Tony Romo before the season started and so, had to rely on their fourth round
draft pick. Dak Prescott led the passing offense, and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott
was the lead running back. It worked so well that Romo gracefully stepped aside
even after he was physically able to return, refusing to break the Cowboys winning
momentum. The Cowboys then were on an eight game winning streak, having lost only
the opener to the Giants and that, by just one point.
The Cowboys lost only
two more games to finish out the season, another to the Giants by three points,
and the last game of the season to the Eagles. They had already locked up the
No. 1 seed and had home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Prescott
started the game. Romo later came in for just one series, likely his last with
the Cowboys, and he finished it with a touchdown pass to put the Cowboys ahead
10-3. Mark Sanchez took over and the Cowboys lost 27-13 to the Eagles.
Prescott threw for 23 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions in his rookie year.
However, the passing offense, which is based on yards per game, had the Cowboys
ranked 23rd in the league. Look for them to trust Prescott more in his second
year for better downfield connections.
Prescott threw almost exactly the same number of passes to his top three receiver's
last season, and slot receiver Cole Beasley made the most of it with 75 receptions,
the best of his career. Tight end Jason Witten was next with 69, followed by wide
receiver Dez Bryant with 50.
The Cowboys relied on their offensive line and
it was one of the best. Right tackle Doug Free has retired, and left guard Ronald
Leary moved on in free agency. They expect La'el Collins to start at right tackle,
and no matter who fills in at left guard, they expect no drop-off in performance.
Elliott's running, the Cowboys ranked 2nd in the league in that category. Alfred
Morris complements him well. Elliott will play in this opening game, and could
play the entire season while appealing an NFL ruling against him.
They were the strongest defense
in the league playing against the run, allowing an average of just 83.5 yards
per game. Linebacker Sean Lee has been healthy the last two years, and his play
on the field has been remarkable. Starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens
will miss the first six games because of an ACL injury and they're looking forward
to seeing how Jaylon Smith will perform. Smith had missed all of his rookie season
last year because of a knee injury. Justin Durant was re-signed, and he can play
all the linebacker spots. The Cowboys liked defensive end David Irving's progress
last year, but he'll start off 2017 serving a four-game suspension.
had a big turnover in their secondary. Orlando Scandrick has all the experience,
and Anthony Brown is coming off a good rookie year, but Brandon Carr, Barry Church,
Morris Claiborne, and J.J. Wilcox are gone. They've added free agent Nolan Carroll
from Philadelphia, and will rely on a number of draft picks to supplement some
of the reserve talent they already have on hand. It might take some time for this
unit to jell, and that could hurt them in the first few games.
The offense struggled last season,
averaging less than 20 points a game. Somehow (yes - defense) they still won 11
games and ended up in the playoffs. What's changed in the offseason? Eli Manning's
age seemed to become a big concern. This despite the fact that he was athletic
enough to be the third least sacked quarterback while playing behind an offensive
line that was sometimes an open door. Manning had to get rid of the ball fast
while trusting his receivers to be at the right spot. He finished 2016 throwing
for 26 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.
Victor Cruz was the fourth leading
receiver, and despite the fact that he had the most yards per catch in that group
(15.0), they let him walk. Tight end Will Tye, third on that list, did not make
the 53 man roster cut last week. Top receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was injured in
the first preseason game, and is listed as questionable for this game. The Giants
rounded out their receiver group by signing free agent Brandon Marshall, a real
downfield threat, and veteran pro tight end Rhett Ellison. They also used their
first round draft pick on tight end Evan Engram and so slot receiver Sterling
Shepard may see his role reduced.
The offensive line was a real weak spot last
year, and there was no running game to speak of. The Giants were close to the
bottom team, averaging just 88.3 rushing yards per game. Having big tight ends
that can block will certainly help them in the running game and with pass protection.
Shane Vereen was sorely missed after suffering a triceps injury. The veteran running
back's specialty is being a receiver out of the backfield, and it hurt not to
have his skills available. Rashad Jennings is gone, but Paul Perkins showed he
could be relied on near the end of his rookie season. Tough running by Orleans
Darkwa rounds out the mix.
This unit showed great improvement
from 2015 to 2016 in all the major areas of defense, passing, rushing, interceptions,
sacks and turnovers. The biggest improvement, and the one most sorely needed for
the Giants to achieve their 11 wins, was in opponents points scored. They ranked
second in the NFL limiting other teams to an average of less than 18 points per
game. The pass rush improved and overworked Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon
combined for 15.5 sacks to do their part, but the Giants need more push up the
middle. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard
are gone. Jay Bromley will step up and second round pick Dalvin Tomlinson will
show what he can do. Former Giant Antonio Pierce has been working with 2016 fourth
round draft pick B.J. Goodson at the middle linebacker spot.
to be mindful of receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Jason Witten. The Janoris
Jenkins - Dez Bryant matchup will be interesting to watch. Bryant certainly wants
to make up for his poor performances last year against the Giants (2 catches for
18 yards and a fumble), but if he puts pressure on his quarterback to force the
ball in his direction, it could work against his team. Safety Darian Thompson
is back after an injury shortened season playing opposite Landon Collins. Cornerback
Eli Apple played well in his rookie year and he, along with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie,
need to stay healthy.
quarterbacks ended their careers with the Cowboys in their last regular season
game. The good - Tony Romo went 3 for 4 with 1 touchdown. The bad - Mark
Sanchez taking over going 9 of 17 with 3 sacks
and 2 interceptions. Why bring this up? It was a Cowboys give away game to the
Eagles. The Giants were the only team to beat the Cowboys when it actually mattered,
and they did it twice.
That said, a total of only four points decided those
two games, but the Giants have taken measures to address that weakness. Ben McAdoo
now has more options at hand to vary what became predictable play calling. The
weakness on the Cowboys is their passing game defense, and they may have taken
a step backwards. Considering those factors we'd have to pick the Giants to win
in this opening game of the season.
Sunday at 1:00pm Eagles (0-0)
at Redskins (0-0).
Sunday at 8:30pm Giants (0-0) at Cowboys 0-0).
and Cowboys are favored to win in these games.
Eli Manning will make his 200th consecutive regular season start on Sunday.
defense allowed just 15 passing touchdowns in 2016 (second-fewest in the league).
Giants will play the Cowboys in the opener for the 3rd year in a row, and 4th
time in the last five seasons.
Prescott was named the offensive rookie of the year after the 2016 season.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards, finishing with 1,631 for the year.
Elliott rushed for 158 yards and 1 touchdown on 44 carries in two games against
the Giants last year.
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