IRVING, Texas – It's amazing how much a handful of changes can affect the bottom line going into a matchup.
By and large, this is the same Cowboys team that took the field against New England two weeks ago. But there's going to be several key differences that have me excited to see just exactly what we'll be getting on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
With two weeks to get ready, here's my final impressions on what I'll be expecting when the Cowboys and Giants kick off for the second time this season.
- I believe you are going to see several different players take a shot at Giants guard Geoff Schwartz in this game. One of the best traits of this scheme is that defensive ends can slide down inside and rush from a tackle position. Schwartz really struggles one-on-one and Rod Marinelli will work to get as many of those matchups as he can. I can see Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey and even Demarcus Lawrence getting those snaps inside.
- The Giants are a little banged up at receiver, so other options for offense will likely come from Shane Vereen, Larry Donnell and Will Tye. When we saw the Cowboys' 3-2-6 package two weeks ago, it put Corey White and Byron Jones on the field. White will likely continue his role in the slot, which would allow Jones to be free to play as a linebacker or in coverage on these tight ends. It was a really nice wrinkle for the defense that they might consider using to get more defensive backs on the field.
- Even with Christine Michael getting more work with the offense, my gut tells me that Joseph Randle will get the start. On a side note, I am starting to wonder if Michael is really picking up the offense? Scott Linehan has never been interested in putting players on the field that he really didn't trust – see Ryan Williams.
- With Matt Cassel under center, his athletic ability allows the opportunity to move the pocket which plays into his strength. Throughout his career, Cassel has been a deceptive ball handler and had his success making throws off play-action passes. If the offense can find something in the running game, I believe Linehan will come up with some creative packages.
- When these two teams met in Week 1, Rod Marinelli played Odell Beckham Jr. basically straight up. In the last several weeks Morris Claiborne has drawn star coverage on the opponent's best receiver. Coaches generally don't like to change things if they believe they are working, but in this case I could see Marinelli once again going back to the way he handled Beckham last time out. I expect we will see both Claiborne and Brandon Carr staying on their normal sides and carrying him the way they did to start the season, which appeared to work just fine.
- Just my opinion, but when it comes down to the 46-man roster on game day – I am going to consider sitting David Irving and keeping Ronald Leary active. Irving didn't play as much against the Patriots, and I believe that was due to the 3-2-6 scheme the Cowboys used that day. If there is a chance we could see more of that – then I am just going to sit him and let Leary be in a backup role as protection for La'el Collins. They have been dressing Mackenzy Bernadeau and Charles Brown as the extra linemen, but I trust Leary more at guard than Bernadeau if something were to happen to Collins injury-wise or if he just doesn't play well. Keep an eye on that spot.
- Depending how much base defense you see -- and it is likely not much – I am starting Anthony Hitchens at strong side linebacker over Kyle Wilber or Andrew Gachkar. It might not be Hitchens' best position, but the move gets my best defenders on the field. I'll be interested to see if the Giants go with a two tight end package to balance the defense, keeping Hitchens on the field and running the ball. Might be their answer to attempt to keep their nickel and pass rush off the field.
- Speaking of extra tight ends for the Giants – in obvious passing situations look for them to line up Larry Donnell or Willie Tye in the backfield to help in protection. It would be a "Max" look to give them that extra guy. This is something that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo learned from his days in Green Bay. The feeling here is that they believe they can win on the outside with the one-on-one matchups by getting the ball out quicker than you can get a rusher home.
- Jeremy Mincey normally is a right-side defender, but with Randy Gregory back in the lineup, it will allow Mincey to backup Lawrence on the left side. This combination gives the defense more stoutness on that left side, where teams normally like to run the ball. After seeing opponents having success running the toss play which the Giants do – setting those edges will be a key in this game.
- I didn't give Giants safety Landon Collins much credit in the previous draft and that was a mistake on my part. I just viewed Collins as a box player that was limited in his range and ability to cover. In this defense he has shown up -- both up and on the back end. Collins will be in the mix of the action, whether it is taking on Jason Witten and James Hanna at the point of attack in the running game or delivering a big hit in the middle of the field. Where the Cowboys offensively need to be careful is not allowing Collins to sneak down and get a run from the backside as a run defender and blitzer, because he has the ability to affect the game that way if not accounted for.