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Big Picture: Cowboys, Giants Each Have Question Marks Entering Opener
(Editor’s Note: Each week, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will present “The Big Picture” for the upcoming game, presenting an overall update for each team as they head into the upcoming contest. This week, the Cowboys open the season hosting the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football.)
WHAT: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. (Central)
WHERE: AT&T Stadium; Arlington, Texas
The Cowboys enter the 2017 season as reigning NFC East champions, having won a franchise-record tying 13 games a year ago. Two of their three regular-season losses last season came against division rival New York, which held the league’s fifth-ranked scoring offense (26.3 points per game) to a combined 27 points.
While the offense’s biggest storyline this week centers on Ezekiel Elliott’s appealed six-game suspension, fellow second-year starter Dak Prescott looks poised for growth at quarterback after a productive training camp and preseason. The Cowboys are making two changes to the offensive line in front of Prescott: La’el Collins has moved out to right tackle to replace the retired Doug Free, and Chaz Green is competing with Jonathan Cooper for the left guard vacancy. The offense does return key skill players in the passing game along with rookie additions Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown.
Defensively, the Cowboys believe defensive back draft picks Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods can infuse more athleticism in a retooled secondary. All three missed time in training camp due to injury, however, and the defense will also rely on Justin Durant and a debuting Jaylon Smith to replace starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens for a few weeks. On the defensive line, veteran Tyrone Crawford (ankle) appears on track to return for the opener and help offset early-season suspensions for David Irving (four games) and Damontre’ Moore (two games). First-round pick Taco Charlton appeared to get more comfortable in Rod Marinelli’s scheme throughout preseason.
New York Giants
The Giants won 11 games last year, including the season opener at AT&T Stadium, to make the playoffs for the first time since their 2011 Super Bowl season.
One question mark for the Giants this week: the status of All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who reportedly continued to sit out of practice Monday due to the ankle injury he suffered in an Aug. 23 preseason game.
In 2016, Beckham recorded 100 catches in a season for the first time in his career, along with 10 touchdowns. The Giants added two more weapons in the passing game this offseason: veteran receiver Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram, a downfield threat at the tight end spot.
Quarterback Eli Manning, back for his 13th year with the Giants, threw for 4,000 yards for a third straight season in 2016. He and the offense undoubtedly will look to finish more drives this season after ranking 26th in points per game (19.4).
Conversely, New York’s defense was one of the most productive units in the league last season, allowing the second-fewest points per game (17.8). Defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul are back to face Cowboys All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, and the defensive line added another run-stopping talent in the first round (former Alabama standout Dalvin Tomlinson). All-Pro safety Landon Collins leads the secondary. Read