When the Cowboys meet the Giants on Sept. 11 in Arlington, all eyes will be on 2 Dallas rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. But will they be game-changers?
Last year, injuries led the Cowboys to a 4-12 record. This year, they’re putting lots of eggs in the rookie basket. Tony Romo is out for at least half the season, and Dak Prescott is starting. Prescott had an amazing preseason, passing for 454 yards, with 5 touchdown passes, 2 rushing touchdowns and no interceptions.
Ezekiel Elliott will also loom large. His college career stats totaled 3,961 yards and 43 touchdowns. The Cowboys also have an offensive line that’s been called the best in the league, especially at run-blocking.
So how will the Giants defense stack up against Dallas? Last year, they produced 23 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and 15 interceptions for 2 touchdowns. But the same defense could be pretty leaky, and the Giants lost a game to Dallas in the 4th quarter by giving up 2 touchdowns. They ended the year 30th in points allowed and last in yards.
This year, they’ve made some changes, but that may be good or bad. New York drafted 10th overall rookie cornerback Eli Apple from Ohio State. However, they took cornerback Janoris Jenkins from the Rams, who, since 2012, has allowed 22 touchdowns and 39 plays of 20 yards or more. The Cowboys might want to stick to his side of the field.
The Giants defense also has injuries, including linebackers Jonathan Casillas and B.J. Goodson and free safety Darian Thompson. Altogether, it seems like Dallas could take advantage of a vulnerable defense.
So Eli Manning and the Giants offense will have to step up. But can they? In the preseason, Manning led 12 drives for no touchdowns. The team averaged 12 points per game and went 9 quarters without a score. Sure, that was preseason, but last year, Manning had a 62.6% completion rating and was intercepted 14 times. The problem was the Giants offensive line, which could not protect him.
New York’s 2015 rushing and receiving were also somewhat lackluster. Rashad Jennings gained 863 yards, but next behind him was Shane Vereen at 260. Odell Beckham, Jr. sparkled with 1,450 receiving yards, but the next best, Rueben Randle, dropped to 797. Altogether, the Giants offense will struggle against Dallas.
However, all is not peaches and cream on the Dallas defense, either. DE Charles Tapper is out with a back injury. Linebacker Rolando McClain is suspended 10 games for substance abuse, and DEs DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are also suspended. The Cowboys did not draft for defense in 2016, preferring to buck up the offense with Prescott and Elliott. So there are ongoing weaknesses, especially the pass rush.
On the other hand, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, lineman Tyrone Crawford and defensive tackle Terrell McClain are all back from injuries. There are also promising young players who could help with the pass rush.
So with both teams facing early-season obstacles, who has the best chance to pull out a win? The Giants have a shot if they rely heavily on Odell Beckham, Jr. and rookie receiver Sterling Shepard, taking advantage of the Cowboys’ pass rush problems. But the offensive line will have to protect Manning, which so far it hasn’t been able to do.
So I’m calling it a win for Dallas, with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys superior offensive line taking advantage of a soft Giants defense. I think the rookies really will figure big.