FRISCO, Texas – Here are the two matchups that I think will be the most crucial in determining who emerges from Sunday night's game with a victory.
One of the Cowboys' most important players in this matchup is making his first start at his position, while the other is one of this team's most savvy veterans. They'll both need to handle their matchups well if the Cowboys are going to defeat the New York Giants.
Here's a look:
Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins against New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul
La'el Collins, making his first regular season start at tackle, matches up against the difficult Jason Pierre-Paul. Last time out for Collins, he was more than able to hold his own battling Khalil Mack in the Cowboys' final preseason game.
Pierre-Paul might not have the explosive quickness and power of Mack, but his tool belt is just as full when it comes to how to break down a blocker. There was a time for the Giants where Pierre-Paul was the primary rusher off their right side and along the way he had to develop those pass rush skills. With the unfortunate July 4th, 2015, incident that injured his hand behind him, Pierre-Paul is back to the player he once was and that's what Collins has to prepare for.
Pierre-Paul's length could put Collins at a disadvantage unless he can get his hands on him first. Where we have seen Collins have his struggles is with his hand placement. He has been inconsistent in placement and that is where rushers have been able to cause him the most problems. Pierre-Paul is a crafty rusher and he will do his best not to give Collins any type of a hitting surface in the hope that he continues to have his issues.
Tackles that have had success against Pierre-Paul over the years have been able to show two things: patience and finish. Collins has to be patient and not fall for all of Pierre-Paul's movement off the line. All that movement doesn't get him to the quarterback. Collins will also need to finish his blocks. If he's lazy, Pierre-Paul will take advantage of him and that will hinder the Cowboys' ability to move the ball.
CB Dallas Cowboys Orlando Scandrick against New York Giants WR Sterling Shepard
Shepard had a touchdown reception opening day last season, but for the most part he was held in check. As a matter of fact, the two games against the Cowboys were his lowest-targeted contests for the season with four each.
Shepard primarily will see his work out of the slot, which means Scandrick will once again be carrying him. Shepard is sneaky quick and is not afraid to take his routes all over the field. Some of his best work is when he goes inside across the field. It's his burst and lateral quickness that gives defenders problems.
The advantage for the Cowboys is that it appears that Scandrick has once again regained his ability to match Shepard's traits. With Shepard, he is going to need to be prepared for a receiver that has good long speed -- although not great, such as Shepard's teammate, Odell Beckham Jr.
Shepard is one of those receivers that has a feeling for how to play with leverage, which he is able to use to his advantage. He is a sharp route runner coming out of his breaks. There is not much wasted movement to his routes. He is a natural hands catcher, and he doesn't fight the ball when it comes in his direction. He can be elusive, but he is not the type to break tackles. He has the ability to take it the distance, but he is not going to be that home run hitter.
With the health questions to Odell Beckham Jr. coming into this game, it will be likely that the Giants offensively lean on him and Brandon Marshall to carry the load.