FRISCO, Texas –For the first time this season, here's a look at the two big matchups I'm watching for in the Cowboys' game on Sunday.
Cowboys C Travis Frederick vs. Giants DT Damon Harrison
The Giants are a base 4-3 front, so like the Cowboys defensively, they play with one and three techniques.
Traditionally, the Giants have played with big inside players, and this upcoming season is no exception with Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins. Harrison came to the Giants from across town, with the New York Jets, and has established himself as a starter. What has been impressive about Harrison is for such a large man (350 pounds), he is extremely light on his feet. He has the size of those nose tackles from a previous era, who just sat in the middle of the line and ate blocks.
What makes Harrison different from those others tackles is in his ability to move and work down the line. More times than not, he is up the field defeating blockers, then redirecting toward the ball. Harrison doesn't just play in one spot, and his ability to work outside the tackle box is impressive.
Where Frederick has improved his game since his rookie season is dealing with these big tackles inside. There was a time where he wasn't as good when dealing with those heavy techniques like Harrison. Frederick is not going to be able to move Harrison, so his ability to cut him off from getting to the outside is going to be key in the running game.
Frederick is going to have to keep himself between Harrison and the ball and make him run over the top of him to get there -- which should allow enough time for the back to get through the hole.
Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne vs. Giants WR Sterling Shepard
One of my favorite players to study from the 2016 NFL Draft was Sterling Shepard. On my board, I had him ahead of other receivers like Corey Coleman and Will Fuller, who were taken ahead of him.
Shepard is built more like a running back than a receiver, but don't let that fool you. His sideline awareness and ability to catch the ball in his hands is special. His quickness in his routes makes him difficult to track. He does a really nice job of finding space in his routes and has a real feel to how to make adjustments on the move. For a receiver that lacks height, he can adjust to the ball over his head. He is able to get his hands up quickly and put them in position to snatch the ball, and he is not afraid to go inside for the ball.
One of his best traits while at Oklahoma was taking a pass on the move and turning it into a sizeable gain. When he catches it, he can turn the corner. He never looks off balance in his routes and has a high football intelligence. Knows where the sticks are and will extend to finish the play. Knows how to escape press coverage with quickness. Slippery runner with ball in hands.
Shepard will line up mainly on the outside and work from there. The Giants go heavy with their "11" personnel package, which means he will be seeing a lot of Morris Claiborne -- who has been the Cowboys most consistent cornerback when it has come to defending the ball.