By Paul Dottino
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The Giants will open their schedule Sunday night on the road against the Dallas Cowboys because the NFL said so – and that’s all coach Tom Coughlin needs to know.
“We’re ready to start the season,” Coughlin said this past week. “Whether you like it or not, it’s right there. We’re going to start the season.”
But are the Giants really ready? They won’t have former Pro Bowl WR Victor Cruz (calf) in the lineup. MLB Jon Beason is battling a sprained knee, so he’s not going to play, either. And we’re not even going to get into the lineup’s inexperience or the numerous ailments that have limited several players’ preseason snaps.
Here are three key matchups to watch in the game:
1. Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Witten has loing been a thorn in the Giants’ side, having always been able to get open and make key plays at will. So how does the defense – in Spagnuolo’s first year back – deal with him? SLB Devon Kennard could try getting rough with Witten at the line, preventing him from getting a clean release into his routes. WLB J.T. Thomas may try to use his speed and athletiticism to cover him. They could try to cover Witten with a defensive back or they could try different zone coverages. One thing is for sure, Spags will adjust throughtout the game if he sees something isn’t working.
2. Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Cowboys back seven. Manning has put up a career-high eight 300-yard games against Dallas and he’s going to need to turn in another one if the Giants are going to be in this game at the end. He will have to quickly pick out the mismatches and take advantage of them whenever possible while making sure not to get sloppy with a turnover. For the moment, the offense has to do its best to keep the Giants defense off the field.
3. Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs. Giants MLB Uani’ Unga. The Giants are relying on Unga to anchor their defense – that’s quite a task, no matter how well he’s prepared and how much he’s been coached up by Jon Beason (out, sprained knee). Unga, a free agent from BYU who will be playing in his first NFL game, has an everlasting motor and is quick to the ball. But Unga also admitted that he’s expecting Romo to do everything within his power to confuse him – and the veteran quarterback will come up with plenty of ways, whether it be via audibles, hard counts or improvising on the move.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 35, Giants 17