Giants vs. Cowboys: 3 things to watch

Johnathan Hankins, right, adds serious size to the Giants' defensive line. Credit: Getty Images
Rookie Johnathan Hankins, right, adds serious size to the Giants’ defensive line.
Credit: Getty Images

The Giants head down to Big D to take on NFC East-nemesis Dallas in what will be an early test for Big Blue.

The Giants have lots of injuries to key players, including stars that are still recovering but are expected to play, such as wideout Victor Cruz (heel) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back), who didn’t suit up all preseason.

The Sunday night prime-time matchup doesn’t lack for drama or storylines, as there will be two streaks on the line. The Cowboys have never lost to the Giants in a season-opening game (5-0), including last year’s defeat of New York at MetLife Stadium. The Giants have never lost at the Cowboys’ newly renamed AT&T stadium in Arlington (4-0), so something has to give.

Three things to watch for …

1. Line dancing

The Giants’ reworked offensive line must find a way to limit the impact All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware may have. With starting right tackle David Diehl out following thumb surgery — and rookie Justin Pugh in his place — Ware is due to wreak havoc on Eli Manning. Furthering the Giants’ plight is that new Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has revamped Dallas’ defense, switching from a 3-4 front (three linemen and four linebackers) to a 4-3 front (four linemen and three linebackers).

Ware will play the role of “Monster Backer,” meaning he’ll mostly attack the offense with his hand on the ground as a quasi-defensive end and will pick his spots between schooling Pugh or left tackle Will Beatty.

2. Offensive struggles

The Giants offense struggled as a whole during the preseason, as they routinely ended drives in three-and-outs and by being stifled in the red zone and in crucial short-yardage situations. The fact they’ve lost running back Andre Brown (designated injured reserve with a fractured leg), didn’t have Cruz for the final two preseason games and were treating fellow starting wideout Hakeem Nicks with kid gloves throughout the exhibition season doesn’t bode well for being on the same page. How quickly the offense jells will determine whether the Giants have a fighting chance in keeping up with an opponent who can score points in bunches.

3. Where’s the beef?

The Cowboys went into New Jersey and beat the Giants in last season’s opener on the strength of a punishing rushing attack, as DeMarco Murray trounced them for 119 yards. It was the only 100-yard performance of the season for Murray, which showed how pathetic Big Blue’s run defense was. Murray didn’t play in the rematch, as journeyman Felix Jones got the start and was held to a measly 19 yards in a Giants win. New York has since retooled their defensive interior, equipped with more sturdy players like Shaun Rogers (360 pounds), rookie Johnathan Hankins (330 pounds), Mike Patterson (310 pounds) and Cullen Jenkins (310 pounds). They also added 245-pound middle linebacker Dan Connor, a former Cowboy who can run sideline to sideline and also absorb oncoming pulling guards. If Big Blue wants to limit Murray, the middle is where it all begins.

Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.


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