Winning five of the past six meetings, highlighted by season series sweeps last year and 2009, the New York Giants, more than any other team, have become the Dallas’ Cowboys’ biggest hurdle. Mentally as much as personnel matchups.
There’s a reason owner Jerry Jones tried to fire up a training camp crowd in California a month ago: “Come watch us kick the Giants butts.” Jones is tired of losing to the Giants.
What will it take for Dallas to reverse the trend and post an upset Wednesday night in a game that kicks off the NFL season? Here are five things to watch for:
1. Can Dallas protect Tony Romo? The Giants sacked Romo nine times in the two games last season. Romo could have success against a young Giants’ secondary but he must have time to go through his reads.
For all the criticism Romo gets for late-season meltdowns he’s actually played well against the Giants during the 1-5 slump the past three years. Romo has completed 67 percent of his passes, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions the past three years against the Giants.
A footnote: Romo was sidelined by a broken collarbone the only game Dallas has defeated the Giants the past three years. Romo hasn’t beaten the Giants since 2008.
2. How much of an impact will it be if Jason Witten doesn’t play much? Last minute word is Witten will play. How effective he’ll be remains to be seen.
Witten’s impact goes beyond being Romo’s security blanket on key third-down pass plays. He’s also a solid blocker in the running game.
3. Can the Cowboys establish their running game? Even if Witten doesn’t play, the Cowboys must be balanced offensively to slow down the Giants’ pass rush. After taking over for Felix Jones early last season, DeMarco Murray, the former OU star, was a difference maker. The Cowboys were 5-0 in games Murray had 20 or more carries.
An unsung addition in Dallas was former Nebraska/Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan, brought in to coach the offensive line. Viewed as one of the top O-line coaches in football, the Cowboys’ revamped offensive line, which includes two new starters, could control the pace of the game if the ground game is productive.
4. Was the defense’s preseason showing legit? We’ll find out. Dallas’ defensive starters didn’t allow a defensive touchdown in preseason in the equivalent of playing one full game.
Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne are upgrades at cornerback but they’ll be tested by Giants quarterback Eli Manning and receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Manning threw for 746 yards and five TDs in the two wins last year. Nicks and Cruz combined for 25 catches, 491 receiving yards and two TDs.
5. Can the Cowboys finish strong? The Giants scored two touchdowns the final four minutes to rally for a 37-34 win in Dallas last year and then won a win-or-go-home regular season finale in the Meadowlands by dominating the final seven minutes.
If it comes down to the fourth quarter once again, the Giants, at home, have to like their chances.