Can you believe the Cowboys’ first game of the 2012 season is just over 24 hours away? It doesn’t get any bigger than playing the New York Giants on national television, and a win could propel the ‘Boys toward the NFC East crown. As usual, the game will be won or lost through the air. Here are four things to watch in the passing game. . .
How will Morris Claiborne stack up against Hakeem Nicks?
Claiborne looked great in the preseason, but he wasn’t really tested too often. The Giants’ duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will be one of the most formidable wide receiver pairs Claiborne will face all season.
The majority of the time, Claiborne will likely be matched up on Nicks or Rueben Randle because Cruz frequently lines up in the slot. Actually, 46.8 percent of Cruz’s 2011 snaps
came in the slot. That’s good news for the Cowboys, because I think that if Claiborne struggles in 2012, it will be primarily versus small, quick receivers on whom he can’t get his hands.
Will Orlando Scandrick be able to limit Victor Cruz?
Cruz is the player to limit in the Giants’ offense. Their running game is below-average and Cruz, even more so than Nicks, is the main big-play threat. The task of limiting Cruz will be left up to Scandrick. Both players are extremely quick, but this matchup is one the Giants could exploit. It will come down to the Cowboys’ pass rush—if they can get to Eli Manning without blitzing excessively, it will allow the defense to help Scandrick and the other cornerbacks over the top.
Will the ‘Boys attack Giants cornerback Michael Coe?
On the opposite side of the ball, the Cowboys have their own potential advantages. Starting cornerback Prince Amukamara has been ruled out with an ankle injury, so veteran Michael Coe will start in his place. Coe, who played only 49 snaps in 10 games last year, is a huge downgrade for the Giants. Whether he’s lined up on Dez Bryant or Miles Austin, look for the Cowboys to throw his way.
Will the Cowboys’ offensive line provide Tony Romo with ample protection?
The Cowboys will be able to beat the Giants’ secondary if, and only if, they can provide Romo with time to throw the ball. The G-Men may very well own the best pass rush in the NFL, rarely blitzing because their front four can reach the quarterback so quickly. Whether it is Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, or even Rocky Bernard inside, every Cowboys lineman will have his hands full on Wednesday night.
Of course, the Giants’ most dominant pass-rushing threat is Pierre-Paul. JPP lined up on the right side of the defense on 65.7 percent of his snaps in 2011, meaning it will primarily be the job of second-year left tackle Tyron Smith to halt the defensive end. Pierre-Paul generated 86.7 percent of his sacks while lined up over the left tackle last year, so he’s certainly effective rushing from that side of the field. Even with the potential problems Pierre-Paul could cause, the offense might want to leave Smith on-one-one so they can help out struggling right tackle Doug Free on the other side.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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