If you follow my writing, you probably know that I think the Cowboys are going to win their Week 1 matchup with the Giants. The teams are equally matched, so I’ll give Dallas the edge at home. You’ll hear that the Cowboys have never beaten the Giants in their new stadium, but who really cares? That’s an incredibly small sample that has nothing to do with this game.
Having said that, I think there’s a very real chance that Dallas gets down big early. And I think the way that it might happen is if they come out running the ball. That’s the conservative approach, but it’s also the sub-optimal one. It sure hurts when Tony Romo throws interceptions, but punts should be thought of as turnovers, too. And when the Cowboys take the “safe” approach by running the ball early, they’ll be a heck of a lot more likely to punt away the ball than if they’re throwing it.
With that in mind, here are three things to watch for the Cowboys’ offense in tonight’s game.
1. Giants’ safeties
The alignment of the Giants’ safeties will tell us a lot about how they plan to defend Dallas. In all likelihood, they’re going to play a two-deep scheme in an effort to force Dallas to run the ball. One of those safeties will likely be shaded over top of Dez Bryant on most plays.
2. Underneath coverage
There are really two different forms of Cover 2 that the Giants have played against Dallas in recent years: traditional Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man-Under. They’ve especially emphasized the latter coverage because it’s best for defending the X and Z receivers (Bryant and Miles Austin, usually).
The Giants’ use of Cover 2 Man-Under is why I expect Austin and Jason Witten to both be major contributors tonight—Witten from an in-line position and Austin from three-receiver sets in the slot. It’s really those underneath routes that the Cowboys will be able to exploit because, with the safeties deep, they’ll typically be facing true man coverage.
3. Route combinations
One of the mistakes I think Jason Garrett has made against the Giants is not calling more crossing routes (the offense underutilizes them in general, too). If the ‘Boys line up in bunch formations, it will force a few defenders into a tight area. That will either 1) create a natural “rub” situation to allow the receivers to get open right off of the snap or 2) force the Giants into zone looks. Both are advantageous for Dallas.