NFL: Season opener preview – Cowboys @ Giants

Fireworks are set to appear on the field as well as off it on Thursday morning AEST, as the New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL’s season opener. Touted to be one of the must watch games early in the season, the Giants are hoping to defend their Super Bowl win from earlier this year. The Cowboys are looking to better their 8-8 season from last year with a playoffs appearance.

Giants and Cowboys in action last season. (Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The injuries.

Both teams are getting key personnel back from niggling injuries through the preseason, with the Giants getting back star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, after he was initially under some doubt. However Giants coach Tom Coughlin came out yesterday and stated that he would play, and that the Giants decided just to hold him back from practice. Nicks understood the procedures put in place.

“I know they just want to take care of my foot. We don’t want any setbacks. It’s a big game, opening game of the season; I’m looking forward to that,” Nicks said to Giants.com.

He rejoins an intimidating offence, with Eli Manning and Victor Cruz already hitting the straps in the pre season. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was also under some doubt, but he trained on Monday and is also expected to start on Wednesday night.

Dallas also have big names expected to play, star tight end Jason Witten is expected to make a comeback, after spleen troubles held him at bay during the pre season.

“If I get cleared, we’re playing,” Witten told DallasCowboys.com. “But it would be great to get a big win up there, regardless of whether I play.”

Number one WR, Miles Austin is also tipped to start for the Cowboys, after a hamstring injury limited his preseason.

The Cowboys, led by QB Tony Romo seem to have the right names coming into the side at the right time, but lack of preseason game time might just swing to the favour of the Giants, who have had no real setbacks, bar Nicks and Bradshaw.

The lead up.

With big pay cheques and big exposure, come big words, and the NFL’s heavyweights of the NFC East have not been shy in extending the hostilities before the kickoff.

Pundits may remember that the last time these two met, they were both at 8-7. The Giants won, clinched the wildcard, and as history shows, won the Super Bowl. The Giants’ fans have no problem in taunting Dallas supporters about this, and a subsequent war of words has begun to erupt.

Way back in July, Cowboys’ high profile owner, Jerry Jones, promised the Cowboys crowd he was looking forward to “beating the Giants’ ass” this season.

In response, Giants’ linebacker Mathius Kiwanuka stated: “The Giants have been whupping his ass for a long time. It’s gotta be tough on the outside looking in on all these championships lately.”

Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and Mathius Kiwanuka. (Photo: Getty Images)

That didn’t sit well with arguably the competition’s best pass rusher, in DeMarcus Ware. Ware retorted: “When you think about when players talk, you got to walk the walk.”

It’s just a shame that these two number 94s can’t go head to head on the field, but if one thing can be guaranteed, they will both be doing all they can to ‘walk the walk’ on Wednesday night.

Key Matchups.

This game is a tantalising prospect; the Giants hoping to have aged another year well, and the Cowboys have done their best to fill the gaps in their squad to have a tilt at the championship. These are just some of the areas to look out for on Wednesday Night.

The Cowboys’ secondary vs. the Giants’ receivers.

The Cowboys have had issues the last few years with secondary coverage. They managed to pick up cornerback Morris Claiborne in the draft for a steal, and he moves into the number one spot on the right. The Cowboys also picked up former Kansas City left corner in Brandon Carr, and these two have pushed last year’s starters Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick into the second string. Barry Church fills the strong safety position, whilst Gerald Sensabaugh retains the free safety spot.

They come up against names such as Victor Cruz, former Cowboy Martellus Bennett and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz and Nicks made up over 2,600 of the passing yards thrown by Eli Manning, and combined, caught 16 touchdowns. They will cause trouble for the Cowboy defence, and seeing Claiborne and Carr try and tackle two of the best in the business could mean make or break for the Cowboys.

Cowboys’ pass rushers vs. the Giants’ pass rushers.

Both offensive units are as good as any on their day. This means that the defensive line which can break through and stop the ball from being thrown, will probably win the match.

Eli Manning will have to face the might of DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee– and a defensive team which has begun to gel, and just may be one of the most formidable in the league, come the end of the year. Ware coming off the side would have most QBs worried in the back of their mind, as he was second for sacks in the league last year, with 19.5.

Tony Romo battled pass rushers all throughout last year, and with his rib injury gone, he may just be more confident to stand up in the pocket. But the Giants’ defence should not be treated lightly, again, one of the best in the competition.

Jason Pierre-Paul is in only his third year, and the defensive end sacked 16.5 times last year, and had a combined 86 tackles throughout the year. Holding him will be Cowboy tackle Tyron Smith, and this battle will be the one to watch with great interest.

Pierre Paul harassing Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America)

Joining Pierre-Paul is teamed up with linebacker Mathius Kiwanuka, who tackled 84 times last year, as well as Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Chase Blackburn, who make up possibly the best pass rush in NFL.

DeMarco Murray vs. Giants’ defence.

The Cowboys’ new number one runner in the game, DeMarco Murray, started only seven games last year, but they proved pivotal in moving his ranking to the number one spot on the Cowboys’ depth chart. He has been dynamic in the preseason, and showed glimpses of brilliance on the back end of last season, where he ran for just shy of 900 yards. The unique thing about Murray is his ability to take a catch, and the Cowboys will look to exploit the screen.

Will the relatively unknown Murray be able to break the lines of the Giant defence? Will the use of the screen work against Chase Blackburn and Mathius Kiwanuka?

Prediction.

With the Giants looking to secure a home win first up, they’ll be a little bit too strong on the big stage (where they already know how to win). Giants to win the game, 24 – 17.

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