The Bears came out sharp in the first quarter with Jay Cutler hitting Brandon Marshall for a touchdown and stuffing the run, while not managing much pressure on Eli Manning (has anyone pressured Eli since the NFC title game against the 49ers?). However the Giants dominated the 2nd quarter after shutting down the Bears running game. While Jay Cutler was not quite 'running for his life', he never got comfortable and finished 9 of 21 for less than a hundred yards and a touchdown before sitting in the third quarter.
The Bears badly need a true blocking fullback like Lawrence Vickers, their rookie H-back from Temple (Rodriguez?) had no chance to block Mathias Kiwanuka on one play and probably would get quickly embarassed by the much quicker Bruce/Lee duo. Cutler simply looked out of sync with his receivers not named Brandon Marshall in the 2nd quarter, including Cowboys offseason free agent target Kellen Davis drawing Cutler's ire after a blown route. I'm personally glad the Boys didn't sign Davis even with the injury to Witten as he doesn't seem to be a better receiving tight end than John Phillips despite being a better blocker.
On the other side of the ball, Dallas is in for a tough game on September 5th. The G-men's offensive line protection was more than adequate, slightly better than what Romo received from our unit against the Chargers starting defensive line. Giants rookie RB David Wilson is a much more formidable home run threat at tailback than the oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw. He looked stellar tonight against a pretty good running defense and could've finished with 200 total yards at his first half pace. Wilson gives Eli Manning some badly needed check down relief when Eli cannot step up into a pristine pocket like last year thanks to our DL.
Speaking of the two time Super Bowl winner, he still looks like a Pee Wee 5th grader when he scrambles yet always manages to avoid the sack or big hit with his superb pocket mobility. Victor Cruz and fourth year big man Ramses Barden have looked sharp against the Bears smallish starting corners. Barden's ability might help the Giants not to rush Hakeem Nicks back from a broken foot as he just started practicing on Tuesday.
If we have Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten healthy in Week 4 I don't see any reason we can't beat the Bears by eight points after abusing (5"9 1/2) Tillman and the (5"8) Jennings. The rest of Chicago's pass rush besides Julius Peppers has been unimpressive and the performance of 1st round draft pick OLB/DE tweener Shea McClellin has been a hot topic for Bears fans on sports talk radio up here. I don't think the Bears will get as many hits or sacks on Romo as I first feared in my preseason prognostications.
On the posiitve side the Bears much maligned offensive line while it can't run block or pull very well gave Cutler mediocre protection against a Giants' pass rush without Jason Pierre Paul or former Cowboy Chris Canty. With those two in the line up the Bears o-line still would've likely played better than in 2010 when they surrendered 10 sacks in one game to Big Blue. In Chicago hope springs eternal with just modest OL progress and plenty of max protect provided by Michael Bush, Cutler should be a solid no. 2 fantasy football quarterback this year. He has two big red zone targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey that can score a lot of TDs against the Lions and Vikings overmatched secondaries twice a year. The 6"4 rookie from South Carolina played well against the Giants' smaller backup corners in the 3rd quarter. Cutler also got some dunk-and-dink short yardage passes going against the Giants' 2s in the 3rd quarter before backup Jason Campbell took over. The former Washington Redskins starter threw the winning touchdown pass in garbage time against Giants 3rd string corners who're likely to be cut next week (who incidentally still looked better than AOA or Teddy Williams).
With the starters in on the offensive line the Boys should be able to move the ball well in between the 20s against the Giants, the problem as always will come in the Red Zone in Week 1. The key for Dallas in Week 4 should be keeping Cutler and Marshall out of the red zone by stuffing the Bears' run game as the Giants did with ease and attacking their suspect secondary early. If Cutler is playing catch up he tends to throw far more picks than Tony Romo.
On the down side for our chances in Game 1, I don't see the Giants missing Hakeem Nicks too much if he's not ready to go or needing a big game from ex-Cowboy Martellus Bennett to beat us (Tellus stats for the night, 3 for 3 on targets for 15 yards). Clearly their offensive coordinator's focus will be on hitting Wilson in the flats (to keep Sean Lee and Bruce Carter from A-gap blitzing) and/or crossing routes and stretch plays. Although the Bears safeties prevented the long ball to Cruz in the first half, I don't doubt the Giants would love to get rookie deep threat Reuben Randle matched up with little to no safety help against rookie Mo Claiborne. Unfortunately for our chances as well, Eli will be well aware that he's no longer throwing into a secondary with Abe Elam and Terence Newman and won't just chunk it up for Cruz only to see Carr or Church come down with it.
I expect a more-run friendly game plan from Coughlin with play action bombs to test our secondary deep on September 5th. Unfortunately for us, New York's defense if anything looks more formidable than what we faced in both games last season when Romo's excellent performances were wasted by our horrible secondary play. If Romo can escape the twists and stunts by Kiwanuka and Umenyora though either Dez or Miles should be wide open against Bruce Johnson and Cory Webster. Prince Akukamara is likely to miss Game 1 and possibly several weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered tonight, while Terrell Thomas may not be back until after the bye week if not headed for injured reserve. The Giants' injuries at corner also mean that their rookie Jayron Hosley (whom some BTBers wanted us to draft) will likely be matched up on Cole Beasley or whoever we line up in the slot (UPDATE Hosley has turf toe, it could be Michael Coe or another Giants back up we're not as familiar with in Game 1). Hopefully we can try Miles Austin in the slot with Tree on the outside to create a size mismatch. In any case whether it's Austin or Beasley in the slot you'd have to say advantage Dallas.
I think Jason Garrett won't give up on the run the first few times the G-men stuff Murray, but will allow Vickers to wear down the dinged up Giants backers. Remember while the Bears have some maulers up front their interior OL is arguably weaker than ours if Bernie and the Bengal are both healthy, and they don't have a true fullback on the roster.
Garrett must also force Keith Rivers and his cohorts to cover the flats with quick outs to Murray/Felix. Slipping Cole Beasley behind the Giants' midfield-clogging zone coverage for big gainers will also get their corners and backers frustrated early.
The main thing working in the Boys' favor are the injuries at corner for Big Blue. The G-men know Johnson and Hosley can't match up with our receivers man to man and they have to rely on zone coverage with their pass rush to get pressure early and often. When the pass rush didn't get there in Game 1 last year Romo absolutely torched the Giants secondary and had this team up by nine headed into the 4th quarter -- a game this year's Cowboys defense surely would've found a way to put away. In fact, thanks to the Giants' injuries this may be the first time Dallas is bringing the better trio of starting corners into the New Meadowlands than the home team since 2007.
Game 1 last year also showed that so long as Murray and Felix both stay healthy we can stay in the game, keep Eli off the field, and wear down the Giants backers if not their front four. Keeping their backers alert for the run means they'll be a step slow on the fake draw play when Romo delivers a dagger to Dez or Miles down field after Johnson, Coe or Hosley blow coverages in the 4th quarter.
I expect a prize fight. If we had the Senator and Jenkins healthy I'd pick Cowboys 26-Giants 23. Since Eli is so hard to sack and/or force into fumbles it's going to take plenty of tipped balls and forced picks for us to come out on top. Right now I'd give us a 40% chance of upsetting the Super Bowl champions in their house. But on the positive side even if we narrowly lose the opener at New York I expect us to beat the Bears by eight to ten points as Chicago continues to look far from dominant in rushing or on defense.