The Dallas Cowboys have made moves this offseason to surpass the Philadelphia Eagles as winners of the NFC East, but they begin their 2023 campaign in the familiar spotlight of Sunday Night Football at the New York Giants instead. Though the Giants are also expected to be a potential third contender in a strong NFC East, they serve as the best example of the advantage QB Dak Prescott gives the Cowboys in divisional games, with Prescott winning ten straight starts against the Giants.
This impressive win streak is only dampened by the fact the Cowboys have yet to win a week one game under Mike McCarthy, who now has the added gameday responsibility of calling plays for Prescott going up against an aggressive Wink Martindale defense for the Giants.
The Cowboys scored 23 points in this game at the Giants last year and 28 in a home win to sweep the Giants for the second straight year, the win in New Jersey coming with Cooper Rush filling in for Prescott. Ezekiel Elliott tied the game with a short touchdown late in the third quarter, but it was new RB1 Tony Pollard leading the way with 105 yards on 13 carries.
Noah Brown and Peyton Hendershot were the Cowboys leading receivers behind CeeDee Lamb, who scored the game’s only receiving touchdown. Wide receiver is a position group that’s turned over greatly for Dallas, and should help to find new ways to attack New York’s defense. Brandin Cooks, a healthy Michael Gallup, and Jalen Tolbert matchup with a Giants secondary still featuring Adoree Jackson and Xavier McKinney, but bolstered by newcomers Deonte Banks, Tre Hawkins and others. Early-season rust paired with a lack of meaningful reps for the Cowboys starting offense this preseason against this talented Giants defense gives this game the feel of yet another one score game between the rivals, just as both meetings were in 2022.
Prescott’s only two career losses to the Giants as a rookie saw New York take the lead in the fourth quarter, making this the type of game where a familiar face can make a difference late, or perhaps a newcomer like Stephon Gilmore for the Cowboys, or Jalin Hyatt for the Giants, add their name to the lore of this rivalry.
An area the Cowboys can lean on to create separation while they build McCarthy’s offense up to full-game speed is of course Dan Quinn’s defense, looking to remarkably lead the NFL in takeaways for the third straight year.
The Dallas defense forced Daniel Jones to drop back 37 times in week three last season, sacking him five times and taking the ball away once on a Trevon Diggs interception. Still, the narrative going into this season is that Jones is still an ascending player capable of keeping up with both Prescott and Jalen Hurts in a division race. His turnovers were down in year one under head coach Brian Daboll, and the addition of Darren Waller at tight end has quickly given him a middle-of-field target to take advantage of his strengths as a passer. Waller will be an immediate test for the second and third levels of Quinn’s defense, with players like Jayron Kearse, Damone Clark, and Israel Mukuamu to matchup.
The Cowboys offseason may have been a strong one that led to another draft haul of young defensive talent to make their team strength even stronger, but somehow manufactured pressure on McCarthy has persisted. While the final outcome of this season is obviously critical to McCarthy’s future with the team, brash predictions about the direction the Cowboys go in 2023 after an opening night game against a team they regularly play one-score games against shouldn’t carry much weight. It’s true the Cowboys have beaten the Giants with less talent then they’ll field Sunday, but the Giants coaching and level of preparation from a year ago has them ready to defend home field as underdogs.
The Giants have had a different leading receiver in their last four games against the Cowboys, coming into this matchup with Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard, and speedy rookie Jalin Hyatt. Limiting yards after the catch from this group with sound tackling will be key for the Cowboys defense, something they can do by committing numbers to the back end while trusting a pass rush led by Micah Parsons to still win up front. Andrew Thomas is the anchor of the Giants’ offensive line at left tackle, bookended by 2022 first-round pick Evan Neal who started 13 games as a rookie.
If Dallas can win the big-play differential that is so critical in any game, it could go a long way in deciding the 122nd all-time regular season meeting between the Giants and Cowboys.
For more on this rivalry, including a personal note on what it’s like growing up a Cowboys fan in the Giants’ home state of NJ, check out the Hidden Yardage podcast with Mark Lane and I - available every Monday afternoon for immediate reaction to the latest Cowboys game. In the spirit of college football being back, we also discussed how the Cowboys-Giants rivalry compares to that of a Power 5 college game.