The Dallas Cowboys will kickoff their 2019 by hosting the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. It’s great to get football back, and it’s nice to ease into the new season with a very beatable opponent like the Giants. The Cowboys are coming off of four straight wins against the Giants and they would like to make it six with another series sweep. But to get to six, they need to come out on top on Sunday.
Here are five things to watch when these two divisional rivals square off.
1. How much will Zeke play?
While Ezekiel Elliott is back with the team, it’s still a mystery just how much he’ll see the field on Sunday. Zeke is a smart player and running back is one of the easier positions to jump in and pick up, but there are other factors that could limit his action against the Giants.
First, his body needs to be right. From what’s been said, Elliott has kept in great shape, but is he in football shape? The last thing we’d want to see right now is one of those soft tissue injuries surface as a result of a sudden change in activity level. The team will proceed cautiously as they ease their newly-paid running back into action, and that could mean Zeke’s on a pitch count for Week 1.
Not only that, but there’s the fact that a new offensive coordinator is running things now. Elliott hasn’t been a part of the practices where those new things were introduced, so how will he fit with the offense at this point? And when you see how well Tony Pollard has picked things up, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to get Zeke a lot of action.
All these things collectively could mean a reduced role for Elliott early on. If you are uncertain about starting him on your fantasy team, I’d personally look for better options. Elliott has notoriously started slow at the beginning of the season as his first two-game outputs over the last three seasons have been: 51, 83, 104, 8, 69, and 78 yards. He starts picking things up after that, but I’d temper my expectations early on for Zeke.
2. The new old guys
The Cowboys get a couple of familiar faces back on their team this year as Jason Witten and Travis Frederick are back in action. While it’s great to have these guys back, what type of impact will they make? Witten has looked good in training camp and don’t be shocked if he just slides right into that reliable safety net role for Dak Prescott. Frederick’s return will help strengthen the offensive line, who will also get Zack Martin back in the trenches after resting his back. It will also be the team’s first look at Randall Cobb in this offense.
And along with seeing Zeke for the first time this year, we will finally get a look at some players who have spent the summer on PUP. DeMarcus Lawrence shows up just in the nick of time to wreak havoc on Eli Manning, and Byron Jones will join an already stacked cornerback group. How will all these All-Pro’s look after missing so much time?
3. Moore good stuff on offense
As a whole, the Cowboys offense didn’t play all that well last season as they finished 22nd in points scored. Things got better once Amari Cooper arrived, but the Cowboys vowed to improve their offense by switching up the playcaller. Kellen Moore now has Scott Linehan’s job as offensive coordinator, and fans are exciting about the changes that are coming.
Moore has a lot of nice weapons at his disposal. Starting with a dynamic running back tandem of Zeke and Pollard, the ground game is now running behind a offensive line that includes
three four highly paid players, and a second-year guard who has shown a lot of improvement. Not only do they have Cooper leading the WR group, but second-year receiver Michael Gallup has looked very impressive, and they’ll have veteran slot receiver running across the middle. Those three amigos will be quite the upgrade to what they had at this time last year. And let’s not forget Jason Witten, who will be joined by the Cowboys single-game record holder for touchdowns caught by a tight end, Blake Jarwin.
All of these players combined with the sorcery of Kellen Moore should help the offense regain the offensive prowess. And when that happens, the Cowboys are hard to beat.
4. The last hurrah for Eli?
It saddens me to say this, but this could end up being the last time the Cowboys face Eli Manning. The next time these two teams meet each other will be the second half of the season, and it’s possible the Giants have made a quarterback change by then. New York drafted Duke’s Daniel Jones with their sixth-overall pick, so eventually the plan is for him to take over, but when it happens is still unknown.
It’s hard imagining the team giving Manning a long leash when Jones has played well this preseason. At least with the rookie, they have a fighting chance because lately, Manning hasn’t been that game-winning quarterback he was once said to be. And when you put him side by side with the other quarterback who will be on the field Sunday, well... it’s just downright embarrassing.
5. Bringing the D back to Dallas
The Giants don’t have the hot mess of an offensive line they used to have as none of their starters were with the team before the 2018 season. With a bunch of free agent additions combined with Kevin Zeitler, who was a part of the Odell Beckham trade - the Giants have overhauled their offensive line. It’s definitely a better group, but so is this Cowboy defensive line. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins, look for the defensive line to be quite disruptive in the trenches. The last time Manning traveled to AT&T, he was sacked six times.
The Cowboys will use their star linebacker duo of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith to hunt for Saquon Barkley all game. That will put the onus on Manning to beat them. And with OBJ gone, and Golden Tate suspended - that’s going to be a hard task. The Cowboys defensive backs have done a great job covering receivers in camp, so it’s going to be difficult for Manning to get much going in the passing game.
Look for the Cowboys defense to come after Manning and force him into mistakes. Fortunately for Cowboys fans, he hasn’t disappointed lately.