Week 1 of the Cowboys 2016 season brings a familiar foe in the form of the New York Giants. This is the fourth time in the last five years that the Cowboys have opened the season against the Giants, with the only exception coming in 2014. Out of those four meetings, this is the third time in a row that the two will open the year at AT&T Stadium. Familiarity breeds contempt and that could not be truer in this case. With that said let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of an offense that most Cowboys fans are very well acquainted with.
The leader of the Giants offense is two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning. 2015 was a career year for Eli with career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, completions and QB rating. Of course that statistical success was not backed up in the win column as the Giants only went 6-10 last season. Eli is a very streaky quarterback, capable of carving a defense up one game while looking like a bumbling mess the next. He makes up for immobility with a quick release and a knack for getting the ball out right before taking a big hit from defenders. He is able to make all the throws although his accuracy is inconsistent from game to game or even series to series. Behind Eli in the backfield is 31-year-old journeyman running back Rashad Jennings, a solid veteran who runs tough between the tackles but he is hardly a game-breaker, never topping 900 yards rushing or six touchdowns in a season. Orleans Darkwa is Jennings’ backup, although with career highs of 153 yards on 36 carries last season Darkwa is still an unknown. Arguably the biggest threat the Giants have at running back is receiving back extraordinaire Shane Vereen. Vereen is not a traditional back with a career high of only 391 rushing yards, although he is one of the best receiving backs in the league with over 400 yards receiving each of the last three seasons. Vereen could cause the Cowboys defense serious problems if matched up one-on-one against a linebacker not named Sean Lee, or if allowed to leak out of the backfield while the secondary is preoccupied with the Giants receivers.
That brings me to the biggest threat and likely the best overall player on the Giants roster, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In only two seasons Beckham has racked up over 2,700 yards and 25 touchdowns in just 27 games. Despite being listed at only 5-11 Beckham has outstanding hands, speed, jump-ball ability, and runs excellent routes. He is clearly a top five receiver in the league, and some may even argue that he is the best. The positive news is that the Cowboys have generally done a good job with Beckham since he has entered the league, holding him to less than 50 yards three out of the four times they’ve met, although he will surely be the focus of the Cowboys defensive game-plan. The starter opposite Beckham is rookie second-round pick Sterling Shepard out of Oklahoma. Shepard had an ultra-productive senior season and displays excellent hands, route running, and quickness, although at this point he is more of a threat as a shifty, slot type of receiver as opposed to an outside receiver who can beat 1-on-1 coverage with strength, size, speed and physicality. Behind the starters is the oft-injured Victor Cruz, a player who used to be a thorn in the side of the Cowboys, although he hasn’t played a regular season game since October 2014. If truly healthy, expect to see a heavy dose of Cruz in the slot as the Giants will surely look to spread the field with 3- and 4-WR formations, although whether or not he is the player he used to be is anybody’s guess. At tight end the Giants have two functional pass catchers in Larry Donnell and Will Tye. Donnell will open the season as the starter and can hurt a defense if ignored, but neither he nor Tye is a player that the Cowboys must center their game-plan around.
The biggest liability on the Giants offense may be the offensive line. Despite investing two first-round picks and a second-round pick on the line since 2013 the Giants still struggle to protect Eli and don’t consistently open up holes for their running backs. Left tackle and 2015 top-10 pick Ereck Flowers did not impress as a rookie and has struggled this preseason. This is not surprising considering that most viewed Flowers as a better fit on the right side coming out of college and it has been suggested that he may be moved there at some point after the team recently re-signed veteran left tackle Will Beatty. Left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg have developed into very good linemen, especially Richburg who is one of the better centers in the league, but that hasn’t been enough to make up for Flowers, right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse who are all liabilities.
Where The Cowboys Can Take Advantage:
- Mediocre at best pass-protecting and run-blocking offensive line
- Eli’s immobility
- Lack of game-breakers at running back and tight end
What The Cowboys Must Fear:
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- The short passing game and Eli’s ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which could extend drives and keep the defense on the field
- Shane Vereen as a receiver out of the backfield